Month: January 2017

TWRUMP

Another Friday, another WRUP. I’m repeating myself on these …way more than I should. After all, it’s usually not more than a couple of lines. Guess that comes from doing them ad-hoc without anything to say in the first place. Could “think first – write afterwards” be a solution to this problem? Is it even a problem? Aren’t we just here to let our peers know what we’ll going to play over the weekend?

Well, at least I’m not talking about politics. Right? Read more

AJ’s Picks: The 12 Best Games of 2016

January's almost over but before we get too far into 2017, I'd like to share my picks for the top 12 games of 2016. As usual, the year offered up dozens of great titles to choose from and whittling down my list to a mere 12 was no easy task. However, I feel pretty good about my selections and I'm fairly confident that you will agree with at least a few, if not several of them. So without further ado, I present to you, my picks for the 12 best games of 2016:

#12 Pokkén Tournament
Best Wii U Exlusive

-Developer: Bandai Namco
-Available On: Arcade, Wii U

Pokkén Tournament is quite an interesting title simply because of several notable distinctions. First, it was (sadly) one of only about a dozen retail releases to appear on the Wii U this past year. Second, it is the first non-portable Pokémon game to come out in almost nine years. Third, it is the first and only Pokémon game ever to be released in the arcade. And lastly, it is, to my knowledge, the only fighting game ever to be released to arcades with a console-style gamepad. (Not sure why they would even do that.)

Having been developed by veteran arcade company Namco Bandai (emphasis on the Namco part of the name), Pokkén Tournament is no slouch when it comes to delivering solid entertainment. The gameplay even bears more than just a passing resemblance to Namco's own legendary Tekken franchise, hence the name. If you are a fan of Pokémon, Tekken, or both, you really ought to check this game out.


#11 Guilty Gear Xrd -Revelator-

-Developer: Arc System Works
-Available On: Arcade, Steam, PlayStation 4

Believe it or not, even though the arcades of yesteryear are all pretty much dead and gone now, some companies are still putting out occasional releases over in Japan. While the likes of Sega, SNK, Capcom, and Namco may have been the undisputed kings of the arcades of yore, today, only one company wears the crown: Arc System Works. With nearly yearly updates and new installments to two of the biggest franchises in fighting (to say nothing of side projects like Persona 4: Arena, and non-fighting spin-off games) Arc System Works is possibly one of the hardest working companies in gaming.

2014's Guilty Gear Xrd -Sign- represented a massive, wondrous, and beautiful HD revamp to the long-running series. It was nearly perfect in every way, save for the unfortunate lack of a few fan-favorite charaters. Enter 2016's exciting follow-up, Guilty Gear Xrd -Revelator-. Everything you loved about Sign but with a more respectable roster (along with a few other tweaks and balance changes). If you missed or sat out on Sign, there's really no excuse to not own Revelator. Without question, the best fighting game of the year. Street Fighter who?


#10 Doom

-Developer: id
-Available On: Steam, PlayStation 4, Xbox One

Much like 2014's Wolfenstein: The New Order, 2016's Doom was an absolutely outstanding entry in one of id software's (and really, all of gaming's) most legendary franchises. This go-round, id has pretty much done away with the storyline distractions from Doom 3 (though whether for better or worse is somewhat debatable) and traded them for the kind of immediate and relentless action found in the first two Doom games. As with Wolfenstein, the graphics in Doom are incredible, the action is great fun, and the thrills are enough to keep you satisfied way longer than you might expect. This installment more than lives up to its pedigree.


#09 Dark Souls III

-Developer: FromSoftware
-Available On: Steam, PlayStation 4, Xbox One

FromSoftware is no stranger to best-of-year game lists. Last year, they even made it onto a few with their excellent PlayStation exclusive, Bloodborne. In 2016, they went back to their standard-bearer series with Dark Souls III. Bloodborne borrowed much from it's older brother (to its credit), and Dark Souls III borrowed a bit from Bloodborne in return. The series also benefited greatly from the jump to the newer consoles as III is by far the prettiest and most action-packed Souls game yet. It's a little baffling that FromSoftware could even find a way to make this game better than the ones that came before it, but somehow they managed to pull it off. While doubt has already been cast upon the earlier rumors that III would serve as the final entry, I can't really imagine a better way to end such a legendary series.


#08 Kirby: Planet Robobot
Best 3DS Exclusive

-Developer: HAL Laboratory
-Available On: 3DS

Few franchises are as consistently fun, yet utterly formulaic as the Kirby series. Sure, there have been a few exceptions along the way (for better or worse). Kirby's Block Ball, Kirby Air Ride, and Kirby and the Rainbow Curse, to name a few. By and large though, most Kirby games have all felt pretty much the same. Just take 2014's Kirby: Triple Deluxe as a perfect example. Great game, lots of fun, but nothing we hadn't really seen before.

This last year, however, the mad scientists over at HAL Laboratory finally came up with something ingenious (if slightly insane). The answer of course, was mechanized suits. Yes, in Kirby: Planet Robobot, Kirby gets to pilot a mech. And the resulting gameplay is just as crazy awesome as you might hope (though not necessarily expect). Kirby: Planet Robobot is without a doubt the 3DS game of the year. Watch out Gundam, Kirby came to play!


#07 Forza Horizon 3

-Developer: Playground Games
-Available On: Xbox One, PC

Upon reading through these picks, you may notice that there isn't any best Xbox One exclusive. That's because, thanks to Microsoft's new Play Anywhere initiative, there pretty much weren't any Xbox One exclusives this year. At least, none that would come close to qualifying as one of the 12 best games of the year. But if not for that pesky Windows 10 version (rest assured, I actually don't mind having more ways to play), Forza Horizon 3 would definitely be the One.

When the first Forza Horizon game debuted four years ago, it was pretty darn good. 2014's sequel was even better. But with the 3rd installment, British developer Playground games achieved near-perfection. Everything about the game is bigger, better, and more fun than those that came before it. The studio doesn't even really need to make a 4th game. If they wanted to, the entire staff could just say "mission accomplished" and all go retire to a beach somewhere. Even so, I hope there's a 4th.


#06 Inside

-Developer: Playdead
-Available On: GOG, Steam, PlayStation 4, Xbox One

In 2010, indie developer Playdead released the simple yet incredible gem, Limbo. The genius of Limbo was the surprising depth of emotion they were able to capture with  such a minimalistic audio-visual approach. Limbo received universal acclaim and was widely regarded as one of the best games of the year. 6 years later and Playdead managed to catch that very same lightning in a bottle with their fantastic follow-up, Inside. Inside boasts emotionally engaging gameplay to rival Limbo's, in addition to a much greater level of visual detail. The result is another resounding critical success for Playdead.


#05 Titanfall 2

-Developer: Respawn Entertainment
-Available On: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Origin

The first Titanfall had a lot going for it, famed developers, a huge publisher, guns and mechs... What more could anyone ask for? Well, a campaign, for one thing. Really, that was the only thing it was missing. So Respawn decided to give the fans what they wanted, Titanfall 2. Everything that made the first one so popular, plus the inclusion of a proper campaign.

​In all honesty, Respawn probably could have just slapped a simple by-the-numbers story onto the existing Titanfall 1 game and called it a day. Instead though, they overhauled the multiplayer portion with smart new maps, weapons, and features to make it much more varied and compelling than ever before. Then they topped it all off with a campaign that is simply superb. You may have had your reasons for skipping the first Titanfall (platform exclusivity, no single-player portion, etc...), but Titanfall 2 is not to be missed under any circumstances.


#04 The Witness

-Developer: Thekla
-Available On: GOG, Steam, PlayStation 4, Xbox One

Similar to Inside and its developer Playdead, The Witness isn't Jonathan Blow's first critical success. Unlike Playdead, however, Blow's second hit bears very little resemblance to his first. But that only makes what he has achieved with The Witness seem all the more remarkable.

​A first-person puzzle-solving walking simulator, The Witness takes a healthy amount of inspiration from the early '90s computer classic, Myst. While Myst was highly praised at the time of its release, it also received its fair share of criticisms. That hasn't been the case with The Witness. That's because there isn't anything critical to be said about The Witness. Not really. The puzzles are challenging but solvable, the visuals are beautiful, and the whole experience is one you are sure to treasure for years to come. So, step aside, Myst. There's a new classic in town.


#03 Battlefield 1

-Developer: DICE
-Available On: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Origin

Despite what you may assume by the misleading title, Battlefield 1 is not a remake of the first Battlefield game. Battlefield 1 is actually a shining example of revisionist history, both in terms of the series itself, and of the war the game is about. I say shining because even though Battlefield 1 is not now, and has never been the first entry in the series, it could certainly be considered number 1 as far as quality is concerned. Likewise, although many liberties may have been taken as far as historical accuracy is concerned, I don't think World War I has ever been quite so much fun. So, they want to call this game Battlefield 1? While that may not reasonably apply in every sense, I'll certainly allow it.


#02 Dishonored 2
Best Multi-Platform Game

-Developer: Arkane Studios
-Available On: Steam, PlayStation 4, Xbox One

Arkane Studio's 2012 hit, Dishonored, was a masterclass in worldbuilding. Seldom can a game so totally immerse you in such a compelling and believable, yet totally fictitious, place. Not only did they succeed at creating an amazing setting, but they then used that setting to contain a thrilling action game and a finely-crafted stealth game, both rolled into one glorious whole. Dishonored was easily one of the better games to come out in 2012; and in 2016, Dishonored 2 was one of the best. That's because that same fantastic attention to detail was married to an even better game with superior graphics, a new city to explore, improved gameplay, and an optional second character with all new abilities. Put simply, Dishonored 2 is perfection perfected.


#01 Uncharted 4: A Thief's End
Best PlayStation 4 Exclusive, Game of the Year

-Developer: Naughty Dog
-Available On: PlayStation 4

The first Uncharted was good. Not necessarily great, but very, very good. Many developers probably would have been happy with having a very good game. Not Naughty Dog, though. They went back to the drawing board, figured out how to really make their formula shine, threw in an addictive multiplayer mode, and returned two years later with Uncharted 2: Among Thieves; one of the best games of all time. You might think that that would have been enough to satisfy their aspirations of excellence. But, no, it wasn't. Another two years later and they released the somehow equally-good Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception. Evidently, they didn't want to stop there either because, just this past year, they decided to blow all of our collective minds still one more time.

Uncharted 4: A Thief's End is presumably the last game in the series, and it's hard to imagine a better way to leave it. Everything about this game is both stunning and masterfully executed. I don't know if the people at Naughty Dog made a deal with the devil or what, but they basically managed to put out the game of the year with all three of the sequels in this franchise. If you haven't played any of them yet, then you haven't experienced the very best of what gaming has to offer.


That concludes my list of the 12 best games of 2016. I hope you enjoyed reading about them almost as much as I enjoyed playing them. As always, feel free to share your thoughts or even your own picks in the comments below.


[Images: Bethesda, Nintendo, FromSoftware, Microsoft, Playdead, EA, Thekla, Sony]

What I think Star Wars is Trying to Do

So we finally have a title for Episode VIII, The Last Jedi. I doubt anyone has any second thoughts that this is going to be a reference to Rey by the end of the film. And even if it means Luke, it really doesn't matter much to me at the moment. I don't want to talk about those possibilities, Rey's heritage, or Luke’s possible death in the upcoming film. I want to talk about something a bit larger thematically.

 

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2016 Game Awards of the Year of 2011

Yes you are reading that title correctly and no this is not an awards show for the games that came out during 2016. Instead this is a look back at the year of 2011 in games. I will be awarding games as if I had never played them until this year! 

Saints-Row-The-Third

(Some games like Orcs Must Die and Saints Row The Third I actually never played that year )

header

Why am I doing this? Well a while back I had wrote an article about how to better improve gaming awards shows, and one of my suggestions was waiting five or maybe even ten years before we give out awards. Because when you actually sit down and play games from that long ago you may be surprised by both how you yourself have changed, as well as the industry at large. One example of this from said article was the year 2003, a year when Knights of the Old Republic, Beyond Good and Evil, and Prince of Persia came out. But what did tons of publications give game of the year? Madden 2004.

This wasn’t the only year like this and so this year instead of picking my favorite games of 2016 I decided to give my delayed awards show a fair shot and see what truly stood apart in 2011. In doing so I was shocked, not just by how well some games stood the test of time, but how others did not. And how games I didn’t care much for from that year such as L.A. Noire or The Witcher 2, held up far better in many categories than games I loved five years ago like Human Revolution and Skyrim.

Speaking of categories, I have never cared for the ambiguous awards given out such as “Best Action game” and the like. Judging from my reviews, one could easily tell I really like to focus on aspects that individual departments of a development studio worked on. So it would be only natural of me to do the same for an awards show. (Hey i'm already making an award system that is purposefully five years too late, I may as well continue going out of the norm.) So without further ado here are the categories that I decided to go with for the 2016 Game Awards for the year of 2011!

2011-09-06-deus ex-DXHR_screenshot_Adamstealthcover
Unbound

Now for the list of games that will be qualifying for these awards. Please understand that I am only one person on this silly quest and I don’t have all the money or time in the world to have played every single game from five years ago. For example I don't own a single Nintendo system :( So unfortunately their games are completely absent from this list. Maybe they should actually let other platforms sell their games.... Just a thought. Regardless, here are all the games I was able to get some time with. Please be aware though not every game listed here received a nomination  in the forthcoming categories.

40k Space Marine

Batman: Arkham City

Bastion

BulletStorm

Dark Souls

Dead Island

Dragon age 2

Dues Ex: Human Revelution

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

Hard Reset

L.A. Noire

Mortal Kombat 9

Orcs Must Die

Portal 2

Rage

Saints Row: The Third

Uncharted 3

The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings

2011_Mashup

Well we know the games so let's waste no more time and start the show! Starting us off it's a category near and dear to my heart.

Let’s take a look at what the best Animations where in gaming five years back.

Best Animation

What can I say? I love animation. It's what I focused on the most while learning how to make games in school, and its nominees all received high praise from me for their great use of it.

The Nominees are:

Batman: Arkham City
Dark Souls
The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings
Mortal Kombat 9

And the winner by a very narrow margin is....

Batman: Arkham City

I'll be honest I was really leaning into this or Dark Souls. Dark Souls for its amazing work on so many different character rigs for the wacky enemies you fight in that game. But the precise and fluid motions combined with key frame poses that look like they where hand drawn first, it's hard not to give the animators over at Rocksteady the credit they deserve.

Having recently played Alien Isolation for GameClub I can attest to just how important this next category is to both atmosphere as well as player feedback.

Let's have a listen to the best sounds 2011 had on offer.

Best Sound Design 

These cats do hard work that never gets appreciated and is half the feedback from any game you play. Go ahead and play the new 2016 DOOM on mute, it looses its balls. These nominees deserve a lot more than an award from an obscure gaming website five years too late.

The Nominees are:

Batman: Arkham City
Portal 2
Bastion
Mortal Kombat 9

And the winner is brutally....

Mortal Kombat 9

Every combination of Slashing, Crunching, Screaming, Ripping, and Tearing are impeccable examples of great foley work. At times the audio can upset you at a core level, even without the visuals. I don't think I've ever played a game where I could hear the sound of meat and muscle being violently pressed against an opponents bones as accurately the audio team has managed here. These extremely well crafted sounds had some careful attention to detail. They are sounds you wouldn't tend to notice in a fighting game that make the environment feel lived in. I just can't give this award to anyone else. 

Best Environmental Modeling

Speaking of Environment. Games are rarely fun to play if the space you're in is not fun or compelling to be in.  Not too be confused with a later category, Environmental Modeling takes a peculiar attention to detail and a LOT of tedious texture work. 

The Nominees are:

Batman: Arkham City
Batman_Model
Dark Souls
Souls Envoirnment
L.A. Noire
LaModel
Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception
Uncharted Modeling

Man I really hated trying pick a winner in this one. But i had to go with the one that did the best job at creating a world that would be extremely difficult to replicate...

L.A. Noire
LA_Win

Say what you will about Rockstar's games. One thing very few developers can do as well as them is environmental modeling. Yes the texture sizes aren't as large as other games due to the size of their worlds, but making textures as detailed as these in a 512x512 square is way harder. Put aside that incredible work and it would still get the win for somehow managing to perfectly replicate the city of L.A. in the 1940's. Not just replicate it's many roads and monuments that are long gone, but make it feel alive and tangible. 

Best Lighting

While a lot of the shadow mapping and technical effects don’t always hold up too great over the years, good Lighting is still something that is more than worth celebrating. It is an essential part of any visual medium and one of the hardest to master. Lighting teams hardly get any credit in any visual medium. Animation and gaming both make the job at least twice as hard. This is due to the need to create digital lighting effects that trick the eye in the first place. They don't have light sources they can just place around a room. They need to finely tweak and re-value every little aspect of any light that is created for a room or scene. Seriously, these games deserve some credit.

And the four best lighting teams where those who worked on...

Dues Ex: Human Revolution
Dues Ex lighting
Batman: Arkham City
Batman_Lighting
Dark Souls
Dark Souls Lighting
Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception
uncharted_li1ghting

And the winner is..

Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception
Unchated3_light

While there may not be as many fill lights or varied shadow types like in Human Revolution, Uncharted 3's uncanny ability to capture the lighting of so many different types of locations. From the harsh light of the desert to the looming shadows and warmth of torch lights of its many caverns, no other game from 2011 was really able to light so many drastically different locations as well as Naughty Dog. 

Best Voice Acting

There's a reason why a voice acting strike is a huge deal to the industry. Without these talented actors and actresses all our games would sound like Two Worlds. Rather than choose individual voice performances though I wanted to celebrate the game that was able to let all their voice actors shine brightest.

The nominees are:

 

Batman: Arkham City
L.A. Noire
The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings
Portal 2

And the winner is... 

Batman: Arkham City

Honestly this category was a lot closer than you would think. But yeah it's hard not to say that this game came into this category with a bit of an unfair advantage. Because while L.A. Noire had many great film and Television actors, they weren't all quite as good at voice acting as they are on screen. But between Kevin Conroy, Nolan North, Tara Strong, Troy Baker, and of course Mark Hamill, the cast here has well over 50 years of combined voice acting experience. And all of them deserve the praise they've received over the years for their performances. Every one of them has held up incredibly well. 

Best Level Design

You can have the most well modeled environments in the universe. But it won't mean jack shit if the level design falls flat. The look of a world will invite you in, but great level design will keep you there forever.

 

Here’s the best level design from 2011:

 

 

Dark Souls
Dark Souls Level Design
Portal 2
Portal 2 Level Design
Dues Ex: Human Revolution
Dues Ex Level
Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception
Uncharted 3 Level Design

And the Winner is...

Portal 2
Portal Level Design 2

One hell of a showing for a three to four hour game. But honestly, this level design team deserves it. All of the games in this category deserve some serious recognition. But Portal 2 is the only game that relies solely on the strength of the play spaces for us gamers. If the single player levels don't impress you, there's a full co-op campaign that will seriously require more reciprocity than most games that offer such a mode.  

Best Original Score

This does not include soundtrack.... It always bugs me when jukebox musicals win awards over original compositions and scores. Well, Not on my watch! The music of a game undergoes two hard tasks. One is to be the perfect fit within a game’s context both for the player and the world at large. The second task is when gamers take that sound track home and listen to it without fighting dragons or solving crimes. When music from a game can truly be appreciated and loved anywhere, you know you have a gem on your hands.

 

 

Let’s listen to some of those now:

Bastion 

Spike in a Rail by Darren Korb

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

Dragonborn by Jeremy Soul

L.A. Noire

Minor 9th by Andrew and Simon Hale

Rage

Wasteland Races by Rob Abernethy

It's categories like this that make me hate I have to pick a winner, but without further ado the winner is...

L.A. Noire

Below Track is  titled: J.J. Bop

Music, like all art, is highly subject. (So is this awards article you've been reading.) And to me, nothing sang quite as loud as the dulcet tones and snappy jazz that Andrew and Simon Hale put together.

Best Character Modeling

No, I couldn't just have one category too encompass all modeling. It would be just as insulting as putting all the art assets under 'Best Graphics' What the hell does that even mean? Plus, characters are what stick with you long after the game is over. 

Characters are the most important thing to me when it comes to a game’s narrative. It’s the characters that really stick with us over time. Both from how they are written, but also how they look. The later is what this category celebrates. Not just the great telemetry and efficiency of polygons, but creative design and flawless execution.

 

Here’s the best Character Modeling from 2011:

 

 

Batman: Arkham City
Batman_Character
Dues Ex: Human Revelution
 
Dues Ex_ Character model
Mortal Kombat 9
mk_CM
Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception
uncharted3-characters

And the Winner is...

Batman: Arkham City
daniel-moreno-diaz-batman-body-f

Now I'll be honest I really wanted to dock this game some serious points in this category because it really didn't have to create any original ideas for characters. And the ones they recreated in the game have had 70+ years of refinement to help cradle the modelers into a good direction. But when I played through everything else the year of 2011 had to offer, there really wasn't another game where I could distinctly remember as many characters as I do here. Mortal Kombat came damn close in this one too for that same reason. But clearly the technical edge goes to Rocksteady here. Their impeccable topology combined with some really subtle texture details puts their models miles above the rest. And while I know the history of many of the main characters certainly helped, everything seems appropriately exaggerated to push the characters just shy of being over stylized versions of themselves. This is even true for the many varied types of gang members and Batarang fodder you'll encounter in the game. You never feel you are punching the same guys over and over again because their body masses are so well modeled and stylized. This really was one of the hardest to widdle down to four choices, let alone pick one out of the mix. But for my money, Arkham City's character models are the best on offer from 2011. 

2011's Game of The Year

 Well you can't have an awards show without this one right? While all other categories have only had 4 nominees each, it was hard enough to narrow this down to 5. There are so many amazing games from this year and I can wholeheartedly recommend every game that was nominated for any category. But alas, they won’t let me call it a game awards show without the granddaddy of game awards.

So let's look at the nominees for the 2016 Game of the Year from 2011.

 

Batman: Arkham City
batman-on-rooftop-batman-arkham-city-wallpaper-1238
Portal 2
portal_2_wallpaper32
Dark Souls
998-0-1444522750
Mortal Kombat 9
Mortal_Kombat_9_main_menu
L.A. Noire
LA-Noire_1920x1080

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Top 2016 Games I wish I Played

Well it's the beginning of the new year so as far as I’m concerned it's still fine to make lists about 2016! And as I mentioned in my best games of the year list, I didn’t get to play as many games that came out as I would have liked too. So today I’ve decided to list the Top 5 games that I wish I got to play in 2016.

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Twinstiq Game Club Plays: Primordia

Welcome to the city of glass and light!  That’ll be five megacycles, thanks.

And now that you’re here, why don’t you join us in playing Primordia, which – co-incidentally – takes place IN the city of glass and light – Metropol set in a time where there are no more humans because of some unspecified calamity that took place in the far distant past.

Instead of humans, we have sentient builder robots who believe – through the legacy of the Gospel of Man that they should take care of the Earth.

So, let’s talk about what you need to do if you’d like to join us. Read more

Grim Dawn: A Review From Scroo

I'm into ARPG's. From the isometrics like Diablo of the 90's, to the much more modern Path of Exile and the third person Darksiders from the 2000's, they've all entertained me and kept me in the hunt for newer and better gear just as they're designed to do. Grim Dawn is one such ARPG and I'm going to go into some manner of detail and hopefully give those of you who don't know about this title a reason to check it out. Read more