Nick's Top 10+1 Games of 2017

2017 has been a rough year, both personally and globally. That's not to say there weren't some highlights, but one thing's for sure: it was another wonderful year for games. Once again I managed to play a lot of this year's releases, which made this list quite difficult. I want to thank everyone for their continued support of 2v1 - we'd be nothing without you. And special thanks to all of our recurring guests that jump in at a moment's notice when our schedule's are messy. Let's get started.

11. Hollow Knight

Hollow Knight is a metroidvania (henceforth known as pathfinder) game about a lone bug-knight traversing a weird world of insects who have lost their souls as a once majestic kingdom falls to ruin around them. The art direction is wonderful, with a ton of variety in insect designs as well as beautifully detailed backgrounds and environments. I loved poking around looking for upgrades to help me survive a rather challenging game and like any good pathfinder, thorough exploration was rewarding. Bonus points to this game for building an atmosphere not unlike Dark Souls, where tidbits of world building are done with item descriptions and limited conversations with a large cast of characters. These characters help flesh out a very grim world that is enhanced by the somber soundtrack. Hollow Knight is an excellent experience that I couldn’t leave off of my list. Look out for it on Switch early next year and PS4 sometime down the road.

10. NieR: Automata 

I have issues with Automata’s bland open world and emphasis on repeated plays but the way Nier uses those repeated plays to expand upon and further the story is something I’ve never seen in a game before. The initial pass through 2B and 9S’s quest to save the earth from alien robots is brief and confusing, but the 2nd pass fills in the gaps while adding a nice twist to the hacknslash/bullet hell/shooter gameplay. Repeated plays of a game typically add flavor like new weapons or costumes but Nier goes the route of showing the player alternate perspectives, culminating in the 3rd pass where almost everything is revealed based on prior context. It’s brilliant. The gameplay is thrilling (who’d expect anything less from the Bayonetta devs) and warps expectations by suddenly shifting the camera to make an open world game a sidescroller, or a hacknslash a bullet hell shooter. Boss battles were varied, the RPG systems are worth learning, the characters are relatable and the soundtrack set the mood for one hell of an experience in 2017.

9. PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds 

Hearing footsteps outside a door has never been more terrifying than when experienced in Battlegrounds. Large scale single life battle royale modes may have been kicking around for awhile but something really clicked with PUBG. Diving from a plane armed only with a parachute to scrounge for discarded weapons and survive as long as possible still hasn’t gotten old. A big part of my love for PUBG was trading off attempts with Josh and cataloging our experience. Getting a kill, still, is thrilling because 1. Its hard 2. I never got good at it. After many hours with a shooter, that single aspect continues to feel rewarding. The genius of this game is there’s no investment, you’re not establishing a base and gathering resources for a long haul on a server. Having the matches last only so long by pushing the players to hills keeps the game moving and typically culminates in an intense shootout within a very small area. PUBG managed to release a fun new map this year as well, proving this wasn’t a one trick pony.

8. Cuphead 

One could easily put Cuphead high on a list of Good Games from Year 20XX due to the astounding art and animation alone. But luckily Cuphead manages to also be a really good video game. Cuphead is brutal, tight and varied. The difficulty beat me down many times but not once did I consider giving up. Instead I changed up my loadout of finger guns and charms and dove right back into the fray. Cuphead is dripping with style that translates to the gameplay itself by blending platforming with Contra-style side scrolling bullet hell and I think the difficulty was perfectly tuned. It’s an incredible achievement.

7. Horizon: Zero Dawn 

There’s one aspect of Horizon I appreciated the hell out of: pacing. What first sucked me into Horizon was it’s very weird setting of tribalistic cultures surviving by rubbing sticks together to make fire in a world of highly advanced robots. But it also pulled off a drip feed of world-building over the course of 40 hours. The way the player learns about what really happened with project Zero Dawn is done so well that I couldn't put the game down until I knew it all. I loved Horizon’s story and it had probably my favorite antagonist this year in Helis. The story is primarily a sci fi trope but with a twist that really worked for me. This alone outweighs my issues with the stilted dialogue, messy combat and semi-annoying traversal. The robot animals were exhilarating to fight and the world was absolutely stunning.

6. Night in the Woods 

NITW is a simple adventure game with essentially no puzzle solving that instead focuses on the challenge of handling everyday life and relationships. The story of college drop-out Mae returning to her small working class hometown hit really hard for me. I may not have dropped out of school but anytime I visit my family I witness a similar malaise. Local businesses continuously closing, a friend stuck in a rut, recognizing someone from high school no matter where you go - NITW is so accurate it's scary. I loved the art, the music and even the really weird story wrapped up in a believable setting. The characters are relatable and it even holds minor gameplay twists that were always a treat. NITW is fantastic.

5. Metroid: Samus Returns 

Even though I recently played Metroid 2 for the first time to completion and also enjoyed the excellent AM2R last year, I still couldn't wait to get my hands on a remake of Return of Samus blessed by Nintendo. Mercury Steam did a wonderful job of turning Metroid to 2.5D and refreshing an old title with the new melee/counter gameplay. I couldn’t put this game down. Fighting the mature forms of metroids was thrilling and the animations with Samus literally tackling them was fucking awesome. I still wish this game had been pivoted for the Switch but even the 3D on the 3DS was nice. It gave depth to this previously flat world that I really appreciated. Most importantly this showed that Nintendo really hasn’t forgotten about the series and I can’t wait to hear more about Metroid Prime 4.

4. Nioh 

Did you know I love Dark Souls? Nioh is the exact kind of riff on Souls gameplay I want to see. The feudal Japan setting is a treat and provides a weirdly coherent reason for weapons and demons to litter the environment. Nioh’s brand of souls combat takes the animation dependent attacks and spices it up with high, mid and low stances that changes the moveset for each weapon. The player can switch between these (and weapons) on the fly and chain together huge attacks similar to old school hacknslash games. Paired with the difficulty and corpse runs of Souls, Nioh is a really rewarding game. The constant drip feed of equipment is a little much for my taste since it requires extensive inventory management, but I appreciated the depth of abilities/stats for everything. The levels and enemies were a little repetitive but that didn’t stop me from sinking almost 100 hours in the game - and I’m not done! This game is just damn cool and is packed with plenty of style one would expect from Team Ninja. Nioh is a must play for Souls fans and a sign that there’s plenty of room for innovation within soulslikes. 

3. Super Mario Odyssey 

Surprise, a 3d Mario game is amazing. It should go without saying that a Mario game once again set the standard for the (dead/dying?) 3d platformer genre. Guiding Mario around the small but dense kingdoms feels great and the capture mechanic of stealing enemy souls with Mario’s hat is a delight. The way capturing enemies adds to Mario’s platforming arsenal was just fun and added more options for exploring the kingdoms. It’s easy to look at Odyssey as a simple collectathon for moons, and it is, but because that simple act of exploring is so fun, it doesn’t matter. The kingdom’s are varied and beautiful, you can change Mario’s outfit and the player is rewarded for continued play after the ‘story’ is over with challenging platforming that I adored. I could have used a teensy bit more challenge overall but that’s a small gripe in an incredible experience. I was smiling the whole game (except for that last challenge holy fuck).

2. Fighting Games 

The swath of fighting games I’ve played this year is hard to ignore. Since this summer, I’ve fallen head over heels for a genre that I assumed held nothing for me - all I needed was a consistent friend with which to compete against and chat about mechanics, almost daily. The variety in styles goes so much deeper than I ever imagined. I had always loved Mortal Kombat for it’s weird universe but this was the first time I stopped and appreciated its unique combat which eventually led me to the fantastic Injustice 2 (actually released this year!). I put time into a Tekken for the first time in my life and realized “oh this is why I liked Soul Calibur back in the day.” A previously impenetrable style of fighter, anime, turned out to possibly be one of my all time favorites with Guilty Gear Xrd. Street Fighter V is wonderful and I don’t understand why everyone hates it (and I don’t care).  Marvel vs Capcom is ugly but bonkers. I even attended my first gaming event for the super niche fighting game community in 2017. This genre suddenly means a lot to me and I couldn't be happier.

1. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild 

Getting lost in Hyrule was far and away my favorite pastime this year. After re-visiting Twilight Princess on Wii U and getting bored, I started to think maybe Zelda was done for me. The series needed to be redefined and the direction of a true open world + pieces of the survival game genre blended into something unexpectedly brilliant. Breath of the Wild was an adventure all my own. I spent more than 40 hours just wandering, gathering equipment, solving shrines and taking in the gorgeous landscape before I even considered tackling the main quest. If I had the notion, I could have went straight to the final boss battle immediately.

Breath of the Wild is another sign of Nintendo evolving - incorporating modern open world RPG designs while giving it that special Nintendo twist of simple but enticing. BOTW can be boiled down to a single word: freedom. Freedom to carve my own path and eschew the main quest. Freedom to solve shrines and combat however I saw fit with a multitude of weapon types, arrows and powers. Whenever anything happened as a result of the multiple systems at work instead of by my own hand, I cheered. There were plenty of times where I solved a shrine unsure of whether it was the ‘correct’ way or if I had found a way to take advantage of the compounding physics systems. BOTW was my favorite experience this year and hopefully only the first step for a new Nintendo.

Thanks for reading and again thanks so much for the continued support from our listeners! Here's to 2018!



Lawbreakers Closed Beta Impressions

My first impression of Lawbreakers was that it was a bold-faced Overwatch clone. That stance is reductive but apt, however the most recent closed beta reminded me of how much I enjoy just playing the game. It feels great to move and shoot - an obvious key component of an FPS.

I was concerned with the slim pickings of the alpha with 4 characters but the beta introduced 3 new classes, with 2 more still shown as locked. The new characters are almost instantly recognizable as riffs on heroes from that other game but that's selling them a bit short. While all of Lawbreakers' classes could be compared to those heroes, they all have minor twists that make them feel unique - at least in terms of gameplay. I'm still not sold on the aesthetic. Nothing about the characters themselves nor the environment really do anything for me in terms of art direction. That may be unfair to judge at this early stage of the game's life. Time will tell.

This second chance to play really drove home how much I've missed these old-school inspired fast paced shooters. Movement in Lawbreakers is just so snappy and getting kills while other players are themselves flying/dashing/jumping all over the place is so satisfying. In no way did I get proficient with any class during this limited time, but I got very comfortable with the vanguard (which you can see me play in the video) - the jetpack & chaingun wielding bad bitch. Flying in to snatch up the battery just before the team scores is such a joy and almost every class can pull off something like that. Overcharge was still constantly intense, with never-ending juggles of charging then trying to eventually score once the battery was at 100%. I still don't like Turf War - the points need to move around the map. Static spots really get boring for some reason, even though I've enjoyed the classic game mode in other shooters in the past. It probably has something to do with how nerve wracking Overcharge can get versus known positions and timers of everything in Turf War.

The beta also gave a glimpse of new features outside of matches. Yes, there are loot boxes that unlock character skins, weapon skins, icons, etc. The player earns these boxes by leveling up with experience based on performance in matches. Pretty standard stuff but welcome. The available unlocks were still limited but I expect many more to be added.

I'm more excited for this game after the beta. I really liked Overwatch, but fell off pretty quick (as I expected). Lawbreakers seems to reward both objective play and kill/death ratios and since it feels so good to shoot people, I may stay interested longer.

Top Metal Albums 2016

I'm a little late on this one. 2016 is the first year where it feels like music sort of slipped away from me. Heavy and fast music has been a part of my life for so long now that I almost take it for granted. Many times this past year I thought to myself "I'm not actively listening to many albums" which is a really strange feeling - and it was another great year for the metal scene!

While music took somewhat of a backseat, there were still plenty of albums I spent some time with. I was surprised that I had managed to still hear enough to have trouble narrowing it down to 10. Like last year, there's no real order.

First, some shout-outs:

Winterfylleth - The Dark Hereafter 
Their previous album was my 2014 album of the year. Something about Dark Hereafter just didn't grab me. There's some good stuff here but I'm wondering if they maybe peaked (personally) with Divination. Either way, another competent, atmospheric folk black metal record.

Destroyer 666 - Wildfire
I love this band - but don't listen to them much. There was a period where I listened to them a ton and then suddenly stopped. I'm so glad Wildfire rekindled my appreciation of their anthems to our inner animal. Unforgiving while light-hearted black thrash that makes you pump your fist.

Grave Miasma - Endless Pilgrimage EP
I really liked their debut album, Odori Sepulcrorumand Endless is another great experience in 'cavernous' death metal. Death metal in general had a pretty standout 2016 which is why this isn't in my top 10.

Bölzer - Hero
I was anxiously waiting for a full length from these guys after 3 highly enjoyable EP's. They're a weird band - blending death/black/psychedelic rock into something pretty special. Hero is quite different from their EP's, and I love when bands experiment and grow, but some parts just don't work for me. Still worth checking out.

Abbath - Self Titled
It saddens me there was some strife within Immortal that led to the main man, Abbath, departing. Immortal is one of the oldest - going all the way back to the beginning of Black Metal as its known today. Abbath put together basically the next Immortal album under his own name and it's a good one.

Inquisition returns with another mouth-full title exploring the realm of cosmic black metal that exists beyond the veil of our pitiful mortal existence. A two-piece that has been consistently improving on an aging genre, Inquisition delivers possibly their heaviest record yet. I have a hard time wrapping my head around some of the sounds a single guitarist can produce (I can't wait to see him do it live this year with Mayhem) and the drumming is so thunderous that Bloodshed is a really standout release in an extensive discography. I think Dagon really found the right tone for his vocals on this one, too.

Sumac - What One Becomes

Sumac took my breath away with their debut, The Deal, in 2015. The Deal was easily one of my most-listened-to albums last year - a blast of sludgy riffs and heart stopping drums that wasn't afraid to revel in long droning passages. What One Becomes is an outstanding follow-up. Where The Deal felt like Sumac was trying to prove themselves, What One Becomes feels like a self-reflection on where they might be going. It makes me anxious and calm at the same time. It allows me to explore the things that make me uncomfortable. I can't wait to see what this band does next.

Deathspell Omega - The Synarchy of Molten Bones

Deathspell Omega is a band that requires study and many listens before any sort of understanding can be gained. Their style is discordant black metal - experimental, swirling and abrasive. We haven't heard a peep from them for 4 years since their last EP, Drought, which came after they completed their trilogy of albums studying the fall of Lucifer from heaven. DSO takes their work quite seriously and it's apparent in the music. Synarchy is a continuation of the more technical and aggressive stuff seen on Drought. They have a unique energy that I adore but requires a specific mood for listening.

Blood Incantation - Starspawn

Here's a gem I missed until I saw it on tons of lists this year. I won't pretend to know anything about this band - except this album deserves the recognition I've seen. It quickly became a daily listen leading up to this list. Starspawn bounces back and forth between traditional death metal and progressive sensibilities. It's diverse, engaging and just fucking rocks. At times it reminds me of Death, one of my favorite metal bands of all time. Starspawn is dreamy, terrifying and uplifting. It's short and to the point - there isn't a second wasted.

Chthe'ilist - Le Dernier Crepuscule

This is a weird one, I'll admit, and no I don't know how to pronounce the name. Plenty of bands go for the cosmic horror/Lovecraft influence but this is one that actually sounds like it hails from one of those unfathomable dimensions. I listened to Le Derneir Crepuscule a lot this year, and I'm not totally sure why. For the most part it's pretty traditional, murky death metal. But there's just something odd happening on this record that is extremely appealing to my ears. The riffs are oppressive, the vocals other-worldly at times and just overall dark as hell. But sort of bouncy and fun too? And gross.

Krallice - Hyperion/Prelapsarian

Krallice is another band that requires study. Their songs are dense, layered and chaotic. I had their 2015 album, Ygg Huur, on my list last year. While I enjoyed that album, it was rather different than their typical style of long-form, technical black metal. They began 2016 with Hyperion and ended with Prelapsarian, both of which are a return to what I typically expect and I like both so much that I couldn't just choose one. 

Everyone involved in Krallice is an absurd musician, juggling multiple projects at once, while still managing to produce these self-contained examples of sonic assault. I still can't really explain this band. I'm not musically trained and most of what's happening is probably lost on me. That sounds like weird praise - but the way they build atmosphere without ever letting their foot off the gas is consistently appealing. It feels like a triumph when I find myself in tune with a rhythm. 

Urgehal - Aeons in Sodom

How about a breath of fresh (stifling?) air after all these technical bands? Urgehal's main man passed away a few years ago and it left me wondering if they'd retire the band. Instead, they did one final tribute to him by collecting some of his unreleased tunes and gathering tons of black metal legends to provide guest vocals. Aeons in Sodom is just pure, black-thrash fun. Urgehal has always come off as tongue-in-cheek while still producing some of the most rocking black metal - and Aeons is more of that. A fitting farewell.

Vektor - Terminal Redux

The end of 2016 brought a sudden change in Vektor's lineup - all but the vocalist/guitarist have moved on from the band. Which seems strange seeing as Terminal Redux is an incredible album that appeared to be launching them into the spotlight. Internal strife aside, Vektor's third release is a thrash metal journey into science-fiction and space. Easily their most ambitious outing - it tells a story of transcending the human form and what perils that may bring. And it seems that Vektor experienced some form of transcendence themselves. Playing with clean vocals, slower passages and occasionally some black metal, Terminal Redux is a triumph and shows considerable maturity compared to their first two albums.

Gorguts - Pleiades' Dust EP

Ok so it's an EP and not a full length, but it's still 30 minutes long and just as impressive as a full album. Gorguts returned to the scene after a long hiatus in 2013 with Colored Sands - an album that floored me. I didn't do a long form written list back then but it could have easily been my album of the year. Pleiades' Dust is the long-form continuation of what we saw on Colored Sands: precise, dynamic and absolutely crushing death metal. I think Gorguts is one of the most exciting bands in this realm. Luc Lemay gathered up some of the best talent (including a guitarist from Krallice!) and put together something really special. I cannot wait to hear the next full length.

So I said I wasn't numbering this list, but there is a clear #1 for me:

Album of the Year:
Darkthrone - Arctic Thunder

Darkthrone means a lot of different things to many people that appreciate extreme metal. Influential doesn't even begin to do them justice. If you haven't heard of them, you have some catching up to do. But a good starting point is surprisingly their newest album, Arctic Thunder. For the past 10 years, Darkthrone had struck some vein of crust-punk influenced heavy metal that I seriously love. It turned off some 'true kvlt' fans but fuck them. Darkthrone does metal in the best of ways: with utter devotion and adoration of the form. Their entire discography is a love letter to heavy music. I'm gushing.

Arctic Thunder is a return to the era when Darkthrone was doing, what I feel, some of their heaviest work (Ravishing Grimness through Sardonic Wrath) while still keeping a foot in the door of the past 5 albums. Arctic Thunder just fucking rocks with some solid riffs that beg for you to bang your head. Every song is something special, with a driving rhythm that never gets old. I've listened to this album a disgusting amount of times this year and it's one of my favorites from Darkthrone ever. If the underground scene has never done anything for you - this is the one to give a second chance.

2016 was another great year for video games, and before we get to my top 10, there were 10 other games this year that I just had to give some nods to - you can see those here.

Maybe I have too much time on my hands? Because there's another game that just squeezed into 2016 that I love/possibly hate:

#? - Let It Die

Ascend the Icon: The Tower of Barbs.
I'll keep this short, because I'm still collecting my thoughts on this very weird, free to play roguelikelike punk-dark souls game from Grasshopper Manufacture. Players pilot inhuman fighters through floors of a post-apocalypse tower that suddenly rose from the Earth (and no one knows why). So far the free to play mechanics haven't hindered my enjoyable 40+ hours of playtime but I've only reached the 16th floor out of 40. I will say this is the first FTP game I put some money into, because I just wanted to support it somehow. So stay tuned on my final thoughts - this thing is dense and hard to describe but I sort of love it but maybe hate it. I definitely love Uncle Death.

#10 - Devil Daggers

Your screen will quickly fill with skulls.
Devil Daggers came out of nowhere and punched me in the face. The game is very simple: a first person shooter in which you survive as long as possible against an onslaught of unholy skulls in various forms. It presented a leaderboard chase that I didn't plan on chasing. I spent way too much time playing something comprised of runs that could last upwards of only 5 minutes. But I adored every second. I love the 90's FPS low-poly aesthetic and the most interesting aspect of its design is the audio. I relied so much on specific enemy sounds to know where they were and when they spawned. I liked to imagine that the body-less hand you play as was actually some blind monk or cleric diving into hell in a futile attempt to vanquish demons. 

What I enjoyed the most was learning the game's pattern. Yes, not only is Devil Daggers already pretty slim content-wise, but the pattern of enemies is consistent in runs. The allure of constantly improving my tactics and gaining more time survived was invigorating. I don't know if I'd have liked it as much if it were randomized like so many games nowadays. Later in the year, the devs even switched up the pattern to refresh a game that took 20 hours to grow stale for me. 

For a mere $5, Devil Daggers is my most unexpected delight of 2016.

#9 - Thumper

Those colors, man.
Thumper sucked me back into the rhythm game genre with next-level speed, deceptively simple mechanics, and disturbing & trippy visuals - the track stretching on into infinity as you hit bumps of sound along the way. The music creates a feeling of dread and anticipation of the unknown while your space beetle slams off of turns at a blistering pace. I loved getting lost in the dark and trying to build difficult combos. With only a single button and the analog stick, Thumper is impressively deep in terms of score attacking. It's a total package that makes simple visuals constantly interesting, paired with engaging and challenging gameplay, while an odd style of music assaults your heart beat. Thumper was another unexpected personal treat for me that transported my brain into another dimension. I loved it so much I reviewed it this year.

#8 - Titanfall 2

BT <3
Titanfall had great gameplay but thin content. I wanted a campaign and 2 delivered a fun and varied romp with action and first person platforming done exceptionally well. BT-7274 was a great titan companion because he actually made me laugh, often. Robot friends in games can either fail miserably at humor or nail it, and BT nailed it. Even multiplayer hooked me for a few weeks, which is very out of the ordinary, but the campaign is what really surprised me. It constantly changed pace: from on foot shooting, platforming-heavy sections, titan battles and surprising twists on the game's own mechanics. I think it says a lot about Respawn's talent that they were able to spin some sort of story out of a previously multiplayer-only game (though I'm not totally sure what happened). It's possible we'll never see Titanfall again, and that's a shame, but at least we received a surprisingly engaging entry.

#7 - Duelyst

I won this match because that dragon
could fly across the board.
If I could tie you to a chair and force you to play Duelyst I would. I loved Hearthstone, and Duelyst is the right riff on that formula. Tactical positioning paired with summoning minions and spells is a game changer. I haven't reached higher levels of play (yet) but I never see the same tactics used twice. Each deck has the option of changing its leading hero, with each hero having their own special ability. This doubles the deck variety in terms of what minions/spells are best paired with what hero. I've complained in the past about the interface for deck building in Hearthstone, and Duelyst is no different, but I find myself tooling my decks so much more than I ever did with Hearthstone. 

Unfortunately, I never hear about Duelyst from major sources. One downfall is that it doesn't appear this game is possible on mobile devices, where Hearthstone thrives. Over the past couple years I've really fallen in love with games that use grid-based tactical positioning and adding it to a card battler was such a great idea. It adds a level of strategy that isn't possible in other games of the genre and is a major factor in what keeps me coming back. There's a really weird universe going on in this game, too, that has an exhaustive amount of in-game lore. Knowing why a certain hero behaves the way they do, with the cards they have at their disposal, is a nice little cherry on top of an exceptional card battler.

#6 - Inside

Everything wants to kill you.
I was so excited for the next game from the Limbo devs. Limbo was an important early indie game for consoles that I thought lost what it had going towards the latter half. Out of nowhere comes Inside, which refined what Playdead started with Limbo in atmosphere, puzzle solving and aesthetic. Inside is consistently clever, never relying on a puzzle mechanic for too long. The animation is astoundingly detailed. Every little movement was carefully considered. Inside isn't very long, but it is the perfect length. There is an incredible sense of atmospheric dread and it's all done without dialogue and minimal audio. The puzzles never felt annoyingly challenging but were instead perfectly tuned and intuitive. 

Inside is masterful and simply must be played.

#5 - Witcher 3: Blood & Wine 

Farewell, Geralt of Rivia.
Just when you thought I've gushed about Witcher 3 too much, along comes Blood & Wine. Toussaint is a beautiful new setting - a stark contrast to the war-torn lands of Velen and the crime ridden streets of Novigrad. With the beauty came a fairly large map to explore and tons of new quests which were well written and worth pursuing. 

The main quest is even better than the base game! It introduced some cool new characters in the form of Elder Vampires, bringing unique characterization to what were previously just monsters to kill. To top it all off, Geralt gets his own vineyard that can be upgraded in a few ways and provide easy access to crafting stations. The upgrades were minor, but it felt like my home, where I could display all of my Witcher gear and marvel at the amount of time I spent in this game. While still being dark, Blood & Wine just felt light hearted - like a triumph for the end of an incredible game. I'm sad to see the series go, but Geralt's last hurrah was near perfect and maybe I cried when I said goodbye to the White Wolf.

#4 - Uncharted 4: A Thief's End

Nate & Sam's relationship was a joy to see.
2016 was the year I finally grabbed a PS4 and it just happened to include a copy of Uncharted 4. I'm not a huge fan of the series and have spoken out against the gunplay for quite some time but I was still looking forward to the final entry. Uncharted 4 was once again another enjoyable treasure-hunting romp through ancient structures and puzzles. The difference this time was that I played on the ultra easy mode - where I essentially was invincible in gunfights. 

Playing this way is what led me to have so much fun with Drake's final outing. It just felt appropriate. The series has always felt like an over-the-top action movie, where the hero is always laughing in the face of death. Why shouldn't he just mow down the droves of nameless dudes without a second thought? Easy-easy mode allowed me to focus on the story that I didn't think I cared about, with characters I didn't think could evoke emotional responses from me. It allowed me to bask in the stunning visuals and really drink in the environment I was climbing upon/swinging from/falling off of instead of dreading the next shootout. Nathan's previously unheard of brother was introduced well and fit right into the story without feeling forced (with a great performance from Troy Baker to boot). Uncharted's story was lengthy and I constantly felt compelled to keep seeing what could possibly happen next. It was another fitting farewell to a character I thought I'd forgotten - a farewell I thoroughly enjoyed.

#3 - Doom

What a god damn iconic scene.
Doom is a special series to me. I was very young when Doom 1 & 2 initially came out, so I didn't get to experience them until they were officially classics when I was about 13. One of my best friends and I got heavily invested in Doom 2 multiplayer with custom servers and mods around that time - and I continued to play almost daily up until my sophomore year of college. 6 years consistently playing what most would consider a very dated game. Doom 3 was a big deal when I was still playing 2 but it just didn't matter to me at that time. I didn't like the horror focus they went with in 3 so I was skeptical when Doom 4 was getting whispered about around the internet. How could Doom ever really be relevant again? The multiplayer beta sure as hell didn't help its case. 

Doom 2016 ended up delivering an amazing nostalgia trip for a series fan. Fluid, fast paced gameplay that was reminiscent of Bulletstorm's arcadey score attacking made Doom feel classic but fresh. It's ultra violent, which isn't something new, but required when thinking about those awfully grotesque death animation sprites from 1 & 2. But the best part about Doom 2016? It is incredibly self-aware. Doom Guy is essentially a God to the demons of hell. His story is inscribed in dark chambers scattered around Hell, relaying the tale of when the "Doom Slayer" assaulted the planes of Hell and brought ruin to its denizens. It's so ridiculous and it just works. Doom was so fun to play - the guns felt great, with modern RPG elements that were simple but welcome. Even the first person platforming felt good and the melee kills that yielded ammo/health would happen so fast and were so violent that it never got old. One aspect I didn't spend too much time with was all the secrets hidden around. I can acknowledge that the secret discovery aspect was very well done, I just never felt the need to stop the action for too long. The little secrets I found were cool and that was plenty. Doom also turned out to be a pretty ambitious package, with an entire level creating suite that is rather deep. 

Doom is back and I couldn't be happier.

#2 - Dark Souls III

Praise the twilight.
I'm a hypocrite because I constantly complain that established game series don't try anything new. Dark Souls 3 is the definitive "more of X". The Souls series is also my high water mark in terms of Action RPG gameplay. You might say I'm biased. 

I finally got around to playing Bloodborne this year, (post-DS3), so DS3 was my first experience with the new engine. It was such a welcome addition to the traditional Souls experience - adding more range of movement and prettier visuals (this game looks excellent on PC at 60 fps). DS3 managed to provide a challenge for a series vet as well, with some really enjoyable boss battles (some of the best in the series). From Software carried over some of Bloodborne's simplifications, like no upgradeable armor, that I didn't appreciate. But in typical Souls fashion, there was a ton of different armor sets to play around with. DS3 introduced 'weapon arts' which were special attacks for each weapon and weapon type which added another level of combo possibilities. My favorite part of Souls is experimenting with weapons and the arts made that all the more fun. 

I think DS3 was pretty ambitious in terms of narrative, maybe the most in the series. This led to some really cool moments that wrapped the series back on itself that at times felt too fan servicey, but still worked for a fan. I wasn't sure if I really wanted DS3 but of course I loved it - though I'm looking forward to the series coming to a close. There's one more piece of DLC coming that I'll certainly play, with the first piece being just okay, but it feels like it's time for Souls to finally let the fire die. 

#1 - Xcom 2

War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength.
My love of tactical RPG's is a fairly recent one. Last year I finally got around to playing Xcom: Enemy Unknown - a revival of a series long dead that came well before my time. I loved Enemy Unknown, and its refinement with the DLC, Enemy Within. Xcom's premise is simple: aliens have invaded and are trying to wrest control of earth from its denizens by force while also infiltrating the government disguised as humans. The sequel to the revival, Xcom 2, chooses the 'bad' ending from Enemy Within, in which humanity loses, and the aliens establish a totalitarian regime. That choice alone is one of the reasons I adored Xcom 2. Firaxis wasn't afraid to make an undesirable narrative choice in order to produce a more interesting game. Xcom 2 takes place years after the first - giving the aliens, the Advent, time to set up shop and convince surviving humans that they're just trying to help. 

What a load of bullshit.

But at least it led to them producing a new cast of varied and challenging enemies for the player to dispatch over a long campaign. Xcom 2 is very difficult - even on the normal difficulty and with save scumming, (of which I took major advantage). I would have never completed it and I praise the players who manage to do Ironman playthroughs - a setting that only lets you manage a single, autosaving file. Despite my save-scumming, I still lost some of my soldiers and I still felt the pain of defeat when I decided to abandon missions in order to cut my losses. And I loved that. I loved the anticipation of starting a new encounter and anxiety for what enemies might lay within. 

I think there's still some issues with how the game handles line of sight and the occasional mission that throws an unreal amount of powerful enemies at your max team size of 6, but figuring out the best way to succeed was really satisfying. I also really liked having a mobile home base that you navigated around the world, establishing resistance cells and slowly taking back control of earth. The entire experience just felt grand and being the one in control of every choice allowed me to craft my own story. Building up your base and cast of soldiers and constantly improving everything was really rewarding. Xcom 2 is exceptional on just about every level.

2015 Game(s) of the Year

I played a lot of games this year, including plenty of 2015 releases that couldn't make it in my top 10. I briefly want to acknowledge a few of those as this was easily the most excited I've been about video games in quite some time. This year was just great for the medium all around.

Mortal Kombat X - More of the same after the wonderful MK9 reboot, MKX was still a blast to play, with a decent story mode and surprisingly fun, new characters.
Crypt of the Necrodancer - A truly unique spin on the roguelike-like genre using beat-matching to an amazing soundtrack in order to move and attack enemies. This game is hard - I still haven't beat it, and honestly haven't devoted enough time to it.
Massive Chalice - I love that I failed to finish this game. Literally - I made it to the final battle and my kingdom was too weak and I liked that. The time mechanic was fascinating and expertly done and I couldn't stop playing all the way til the end.
Rocket League - This soccer-game-with-cars is so fun to play and its simplicity is beautiful. I will most likely have this on my 2016 GOTY when I can play it on Xbox One with more friends.
Volume - Volume takes the old form of Metal Gear Solid stealth and makes it a puzzle game. The simplistic art worked much better than I expected and the desire to speed run levels recalled my ultimate love: Super Meat Boy. Perfect.
Downwell - Another roguelike-like that managed to deliver a new mechanic in a sea of similar titles. Fast, frantic, difficult and makes a tri-color palette look great in a modern age.
Fallout 4 - Fuck this game. No seriously - I love Fallout 4 and played it for days, but it has no place in 2015. Bethesda has a lot to prove to me as a long time fan with their next game.
The Beginner's Guide - You spend more on a single meal that might take 15-30 minutes to eat than the cost of this 90 minute experience. The Beginner's Guide is a must-see. It's frustrating, eye opening, not a game, a game, sad, funny and more.
Soma - This is easily the most interesting thing I experienced this year. I played only a bit myself and opted to watch a Let's Play as I seriously hate the "hide from enemy" mechanic that caused me to never finish Amnesia: The Dark Descent. Soma is disturbing in an almost too real way - evoking not only a minor existential crisis from me, but also making me think about our future downfall to artificial intelligence in a way I never considered. There were a few story beats where my mouth was agape, horrified at what I was witnessing. This is truly a must-experience story for any fan of science fiction, whether playing it or watching someone else play it. The setting, art direction and voice
acting really nailed the themes presented. Soma poses questions that any human should consider at some point in their lives and I'm pleased that a simple video game furthered my understanding of difficult subjects.

Can you believe there's 10 more games I loved this year?

#10 - Dark Souls II: Scholar of the First Sin

Nothing beats grand views of castles and dragons.
It goes without saying that the Souls series does something special for me. DS2 was my 2014 GOTY and still made its way to this list. SotFS is technically a 2015 release and deserves some credit for refining the jumbled mess of the original and including 3 hearty, difficult content packs. DS2 is a straight dungeon crawler where I wasn't looking for narrative - I just wanted more scenarios to bang my head against with a ton of different playstyles. I dumped hours and hours into this title again. This is a great package and that 60 frames per second really goes a long, long way.

#9 - Dirt Rally 

I'm glad this game made its official release this year, because I played a whole lot of it. I'm not a car enthusiast in any way, and in fact, despise actual driving in real life. But rally games have always held my attention due to the focus on time trials. Dirt Rally is a return to Codemasters' previous experience with rally simulations where there's no flashy X-games events, just straight point to point racing (and some other stuff too). Every turn or bump in the road can spell disaster in a split second, making Dirt Rally a thrilling ride. As my first Early Access experience also, it was great to see how much Codemasters listened to the fans while also continually delivering new content. There's a lot to do here for any racing game fan - look for this game to come to consoles in 2016.

#8 - Rare Replay 

The gang's all here...except James Bond.
Rare Replay is a lot of games in a single package and was one of my favorite releases this year. Rare really hit their stride with me during the N64 era where I was just old enough to voraciously consume video games. Much of my feeling for this package is based purely on nostalgia, but this collection also added some fun, extra morsels to squeeze out more enjoyment from very dated games. The snapshot challenges, milestones/stickers that are achievements I actually want to pursue, unlocking "making of" featurettes and getting to experience the few Rare games that I actually missed (there is some genius in those ZX Spectrum games!), made this $30 well worth spending. Also, this is my last legitimate chance to have Banjo Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts on a game of the year list. Why haven't you played Nuts & Bolts yet?

#7 - Tales From the Borderlands 

Loader Bot is my homie.
One free episode convinced me to immediately purchase the season of Tales. I like the Borderlands games but never would have guessed a narrative focus set in the same universe could be so damn fun. I was down on this idea from TellTale the minute it was announced but the lighthearted-while-grim subject matter of Borderlands was captured perfectly by the characters and plot. I felt connected to everyone and the decisions felt impactful. The engine of these games needs a massive overhaul but I was so wrapped up in the story that I didn't mind. Tales is the one game on this list that lived and died by the story - and it delivered. Also, the title sequences for each episode were just incredible.

#6 - Ori and the Blind Forest 

Don't give up.
Ori is a very by-the-numbers Metroid game. There's a big map that holds many secrets hidden behind ability driven barriers. What sets Ori apart is the addition of challenging platforming that requires the occasional pixel perfect precision. I really enjoyed the difficulty of this game - it never felt too punishing and constantly brought to mind my experience with Super Meat Boy. The whole thing was wrapped in stunningly beautiful artwork that always looked great throughout, and the story, (while typical), ended on a wonderfully high note.

#5 - Undertale

The only game this year featuring a flirtatious (but shy) airplane.
Undertale gives old school turn based RPG's a new twist by introducing an action to talk to the enemies instead of fighting them. This idea made the game such an enjoyable experience because almost every encounter was different in some way. During those encounters, a level of stress is introduced with oddly challenging bullet-hell segments that gave the player something to do during the enemy turn - an aspect I really appreciated and kept me engaged during what normally might get boring in other turn based games. The writing was smart and charming, with loveable characters that warmed my heart. 

#4 - Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number

Long night...
Many thought HM2 suffered by incorporating more puzzle elements (and more guns) instead of continuing the frantic, variable, melee-focused blood orgy seen in the first game. But in reality HM2 delivered another amazing soundtrack, a bigger emphasis on plot, and a more refined approach to level design. Moving the focus to more guns didn't bother me because I actually enjoyed taking a step back and determining my next move. That sounds sacrosanct to the genius of the first game, but if Dennaton had just done more of the same, I wouldn't have liked it as much. Stepping out of an elevator dual wielding SMGs right when Carpenter Brut's "Roller Mobster" hits with a heart-stopping blast of heavy synth will forever be one of my favorite moments in video games.

#3 - Axiom Verge

AV is the product of a single person who clearly loves Super Metroid. The player moves through static screens, slowly filling in a tiled map that hides secret upgrades that aren't immediately within reach. AV is special due to the oppressive sense of atmosphere. This world is a disorienting trip of fusions between flesh and machine with glimpses of a lost, highly developed civilization at every turn. The player is out of place, and this game brilliantly explains that by building a foreboding (while slightly confusing) narrative. Axiom Verge got under my skin so much that I was constantly thinking about it. If I wasn't playing, I was listening to the soundtrack or drawing imagery that I couldn't get out of my head. No other game this year had it's claws so deep in me and it will always be a special experience I'll never forget.

#2 - Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain

I'll try to keep this short: Phantom Pain ultimately comes down to gameplay in terms of my total enjoyment. I played the hell out of this game and got deep into the Forward Operating Base stuff for a period of time. I loved infiltrating other bases and stealing people's shit. Yeah, I was that guy who ruined your day - deal with it, this is war. The reason it was so compelling was because Kojima Productions just nailed the stealth and control of Snake. I felt like I could do anything and was never struggling to stay hidden or to even flee once discovered. Sandbox game design has a new benchmark to meet in future games. So the story? Yeah it kind of fell flat and what was there was a jumbled mess. I loved how it wrapped up, though, and some major story beats really hit hard for me. It's a divisive game, but what Metal Gear hasn't been?

#1 - Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt 

My favorite love story that was lost on (probably) almost every player.
I'm a big fan of the Witcher series, so much that Wild Hunt finally convinced me to read the books that the games are based upon. 

I'm  probably biased. 

Wild Hunt is the first (and last?) of the series to make the jump to a massive open world. Too many similar RPG's rely on useless collectibles and side quests that require the player to go fetch a thing, resulting in a huge map feeling empty and lifeless. Witcher 3 still has those things. But on top of that, it brings much more depth in terms of branching side quests with engaging characters and writing. The world of the Witcher is harsh - the land is constantly wracked with war, monsters lurk in every corner and there's whispers of an impending doom in the form of the Wild Hunt. Geralt's world feels so tangible even though it drips with fantasy tropes: grieving loved ones looking for their lost sons who rode off to war, jilted lovers that turn to dark magic to win back their partner, and humans that are more monstrous than literal beasts. 

The game just sucked me in (more than the first two games) and I've talked at length about my love for it on the podcast. The gameplay left much to be desired, but that's not what I was looking for anyway. The way this game naturally fed optional quests to the player felt unique. A lot of it came from just experiencing the world or talking to NPC's, which went a long way in making me feel like I was living as Geralt. Riding your horse around the beautiful landscapes was a joy in itself. I adore the content of this universe, so I may be wearing rose-tinted glasses, but Witcher 3 is something special for fantasy fans that I feel has changed the course of how any forthcoming open world RPG's will be designed. At least, I hope other developers take note.

My Favorite Games I Played in 2014 That May Not Have Necessarily Been Released in 2014

Actual 2014 Releases Worth Mentioning But Not Worthy of a Number


No Warcraft knowledge required.
I dabbled in TCG’s over the years, I even got back into Pokemon in college, (I was also really popular). Hearthstone is exactly what I want out of a free-to-play experience. I could still hold my own without ever spending a dime, and the allure of opening a digital booster pack evoked the same adrenaline rush that I would get tearing into Pokemon cards the minute after checking out at a supermarket. Hearthstone is quick, easy to absorb, and visually appealing. I only quit playing because I felt the onset of addiction, and wanted to play other games.


In one word: Cool
It feels like I played a lot of Luftrausers, but my time on Steam is just under 10 hours. This is the definition of an arcade game. You get one life, you are very weak, but you have almost infinite maneuverability. Stopping on a dime, turning, and blowing away a horde of enemy ships is one of the best feelings of 2014. The game’s music depends on how you choose your ship’s loadout, with each piece of equipment making subtle changes to the overall sound of the same track. It’s a very cool and unique touch.

#10 - Castlevania: Circle of the Moon

I played 3 Metroidvania games this year: Circle of the Moon, Metroid II: Return of Samus, and Guacamelee. I seriously love the Metroid series, so it is really hard for me to leave it off this list, but it just doesn’t compare to Circle of the Moon. I sort of hate myself for skipping out on the Castlevania series over the years. The only one I had played was Symphony of the Night, (at least it was a good one!), and so this was the first step towards change.  I was surprised by the DSS card system, and how different combinations created different effects. It allowed me to constantly change my playstyle, keeping the gameplay fresh throughout. The game was challenging and rewarding, and cemented my plans to continue through the series.

#9 - Metro: Last Light

I still can’t exactly explain why I liked this game so much – I never even played 2033. The atmosphere and pacing were handled so well. A majority of the game avoided throwing a ton of enemies at me, and instead focused on surviving in this post-apocalyptic hell. I never had a ton of ammo, I never felt safe, I died a lot and a few times I was actually scared to take the next step – not for fear of having to replay a section, but because I could identify with the main character’s situation. I played the entire game in Russian, which added just one more touch of immersion. Last Light and 2033 were technically remastered in 2014, but that was not the version I played. I highly recommend checking those out, especially Last Light.

#8 - System Shock 2

I had just barely begun taking games seriously when System Shock 2 was released, and only had access to an N64. Over the years it was impossible to not hear about the legacy of this game. Fast forward to 2014 where almost everything is available on PC, and it was finally time to see what the hype was about. I was shocked (hehe) at how deep the RPG elements went, especially when compared to modern shooters where the most customization you get is for your multiplayer loadout. System Shock 2 still has a very eerie and creepy atmosphere 14 years later, even if the graphics are dated. I loved my time with the game, too bad the ending was seriously awful. But hey, is that anything different than most games today?

#7 - Sunset Overdrive

You grind with regular shoes.
Xbox Live did a 24 hour free trial of Sunset Overdrive, and I jumped at the opportunity. I adored the Ratchet and Clank games, and even liked parts of Resistance, so I had expectations of Insomniac. Sunset didn’t disappoint. The fact I only had 24 hours to play allowed me to avoid all side content, and focus solely on the main story. Without getting bogged down with an unreasonable amount of collectibles and throwaway missions, Sunset gave me a super focused, silly, high flying adventure. I couldn’t have asked for more. The fact Xbox offered the game for free so soon after release could be a sign that the game did not sell well, which is unfortunate.

#6 - Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare

Troy Baker is in every video game.
I don’t like military shooters, and I haven’t played a Call of Duty since the first Modern Warfare. I had just bought my Xbox One at AW’s release, so I figured I’d blow through the campaign for fun. It looked amazing and was just far enough into the future to make me forget I was playing another COD. I still don’t understand the allure of COD multiplayer, though.

#5 - Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon

"I'll bury you under 6 feet of my shit!"
Blood Dragon took the fun shooting of Far Cry 3, wrapped it in 80’s sci-fi, and ditched the poor attempt at a plot. Rex Colt is the ultimate badass, and he made me laugh the entire game. This was one of the most enjoyable expansions to a game in recent memory. It was short and sweet, and absolutely worth playing, even if you already played Far Cry 4 this year.

#4 - Destiny

I can’t believe I let this game jump from #10 to #4. But I actually didn’t let it happen – I had no choice. Within a span of 3 vacation days, Destiny went from being a really great shooter with no other draw, to a really great shooter that I can’t quit playing. There isn’t much to be said that hasn’t been said: Bungie absolutely withheld content to release as DLC, they scrapped the narrative (most likely to hit their insanely-hyped launch date), and they relegated the most interesting factoids about their universe to a bullshit, second-screen-experience app. But it doesn’t matter, because I need exotic engrams, and strange coins, and motes of light, and new gear, and new bounties…

Destiny has just about usurped Halo as my favorite multiplayer experience.

#3 - Shadow of Mordor

An homage to the cover of Doom?
What this game should actually be titled is Middle Earth: Nemesis System. No one can deny how inventive the Uruk captain nemesis system was, and even though the overall gameplay was just a blend of Assassin’s Creed and Batman, the total package of Shadow of Mordor was excellent. Well…the story sucked ass, but who cares. I never expect a good story from AAA games, and it’s unfair to expect much from anything Tolkien related because developers get little to no freedom with his lore. Better traversal than creed, with better fighting than Batman, topped off with a new approach to AI, made Mordor an engaging and rewarding experience.

#1Dark Souls II + Dragon Age: Inquisition

Who says it can’t be a tie? I was anxiously awaiting the release of both titles as a big fan of each series. Dark Souls II was easy and Dragon Age might as well not have even had gameplay.  Dark Souls II has a deep, engaging battle mechanic, while Dragon Age tasks you with holding in the right trigger. DS II has…some dialogue? And there might be a story? DA: I has fairly well fleshed out dialogue, tons of good voice acting, an actual narrative with multiple paths, and an easy-to-identify-with protagonist.

What I’m trying to say is, my 2014 Game of the Year is Dragon Souls 2: Dark Inquisition.

Shadow of Mordor - Review & Critique

Posted: 10/24/2014

My first attempt at a focused, short video on my final feelings with Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor. Now featuring editing!

Far Cry 3: Who Are These People...?

Posted: 10/19/2014

Spoilers, to be safe.

Upon completing Far Cry 3 and the expansion, Blood Dragon, I've had plenty to say. Any game of this size will have issues, and most were minor, but the character development in this game was especially frustrating.

I've been struggling with how to articulate.

Vaas is...insane
The game starts off strong, with Jason and his brother escaping from Rook Island's resident psychopath, Vaas. 
Just when it looks as if they've made it, Vaas shoots Jason's brother in the neck. The situation is appropriately intense and emotional. Jason doesn't know what to do other than hold his brother as he bleeds out. He doesn't get much time to be upset as Vaas sets dogs on him, and he must continue his escape. Unfortunately, this is the most emotion I felt for Jason, and it was the first 15 minutes of a 20+ hour game.

Fast forward through the tutorial where we meet another character, Dennis, a local who saves Jason after the escapeJason sets out to rescue his friends, who are scattered around the island and are prisoners of Vaas and his pirates. Every time a friend was rescued, I asked myself, "What was their name again?" The dialogue between Jason and
each friend always hinted at a past, which is appropriate, but I didn't feel like I should care. One of them was Jason's girlfriend. 

I think this was The Girlfriend.
I think.
After she is rescued, each time the player comes back to the hideout where the friends are gathered, The Girlfriend would say something along the lines of "I miss you", "Whats wrong", or "Talk to me.Okay, let's talk. Cue a single minute of dialogue where nothing new is learned, and the "talk" is over. Maybe a dialogue tree only available with your friends in the hideout would have helped? I'm not sure, but it was hard to feel attached to anyone when the interactions were so short.

I don't ever expect much from the player-character in games, mostly because in order for a wide audience to accept them, they have to be a somewhat blank slate. Obviously, more narrative-driven games flesh out the player-character in stronger ways, but I would hesitate to call Far Cry 3 a "narrative-driven" game. As Jason, the player is tasked with a revenge story, which is appropriate. And at the beginning of the game, it seems like Jason really does have to learn survival skills instead of coming off as a hardened, trained killer. But the player is quickly laying waste to tons and tons of enemies - an all-too-common way of approaching gameplay in big-budget video games. 

Personally I've never been able to look past how ridiculous murdering hundreds of enemies feels, but I expected this from Far CryIt wasn't that aspect that disappointed me. It was how quickly Jason was written to transform from a know-nothing newbie to a battle-hardened mass murderer. 

But..I could rule the galaxy!
I'm not a game designer, so maybe I'm delusional on how story progression should work. But after the tutorial, Jason begins acting like a know-it-all. He's disconnected from his friends, which I guess kind of works since he is murdering everyone to save them. And the fact that they, like Jason initially, had never had to even consider physical conflict outside of a "come at me bro" moment at a club makes it hard for them to understand Jason's behavioral change. He comes off as a petulant child any time he makes a threat or tries to stick up for his desire to kill Vaas and his goons. I'm reminded of how silly some of Hayden Christensen's lines sounded in Revenge of the Sith when he's explaining to Padmé how they could rule the galaxy. His voice is almost cracking, and I couldn't take him seriously. Fast forward to Far Cry 3, and you have Jason Brody, whom I laughed at the entire game and with whom I never felt a connection.

Citra goes from being a mysterious goddess to just another unfortunate female trope due to an unnecessary sex scene. I actually groaned when it happened. I don't know why I was surprised that events led to a relationship between Citra and Jason since the only other female characters in the game were powerless, nobodies who I guess were friends with
Jason at some time previously. She starts out interesting, then Jason gets laid, and she's barely in the game until the very end. We learn nothing else about her other than they showed her breasts for a split second, and she had ulterior motives unknown to Jason until the final seconds of the campaign. Another missed opportunity.

Vaas is not in the game enough. One of the best sequences of Far Cry is when you finally confront Vaas and he keeps trying to kill you. The, "Did I ever tell you the definition of insanity?" line that was used in a trailer for the game is used perfectly during this sequence. Human repetition is insanity, and Vaas keeps failing at killing the player, while Jason never gives up. It was genius. I didn't even know I was killing Vaas because it was during some weird dream sequence. There was no climax. No catharsis. Vaas just screamed at you, and oh wait, he's dead. Forget him. The most interesting nemesis in some time is tossed aside halfway through the campaign. And never spoken of again. Damn.

Vaas had a boss named Hoyt. Guess we should kill him because...why? Because video games. Because Vaas clearly couldn't be the only antagonist - even though he is on the cover art, was featured in most trailers, brought the best voice-acted performance in the game. Hoyt was just The Man in Charge, so let's bring down the entire operation while we're at it. I get the fact Jason wanted to save his brother, and Hoyt had him captive. But why not just save him and get off this insane island of hell? Video games always try to be real but never try to stray away from what makes them video games. I can picture the discussion: "Well, the game can't just end once Jason finds his brother who he thought
was also dead. We need to kill more people and have more explosions. Vengeance must be had at all costs!" 

Far Cry 3 was a really great game. I had a blast with 95% overall. This is a long essay on a very small aspect of the overall experience. It's rare for me to actually play the big-budget stuff anymore, so maybe I went into it expecting too much. But when I found myself enjoying the bad guys, Vaas especially, it made me wonder what the writers were trying to accomplish. I doubt I was supposed to hate the character I was playing as as much as I did. I also doubt I was supposed to resent the people I was rescuing. I had more of a connection with my tattoo than I did with the humans in the story. Gameplay was great, setting was gorgeous, and the IDEAS were there; the characters portraying those ideas just fell short.

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