Category: Awards

AJ’s Picks: The 12 Best Games of 2017

Happy New Year! Wait, is 2017 over already? Well, that was a (bluish) blur! Since another year has come and gone, that means it is time once again for me to share my picks for the top 12 greatest games to come out over the last 12 months. It wasn't an easy job, and it's a safe bet my selections won't resonate with everyone, but I feel pretty happy with them. So without further ado, here are my picks for the 12 best games of 2017.

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Yoda’s Top 10 Things From 2017

Well 2017 sure as hell was a year. Could have certainly gone better in many ways, for lots of people. But at least there was no shortage of great art to get lost in throughout the year. These are my favorites across many mediums. And yeah, not as many games as usual this year for me. But damn do I look forward to catching up on this years backlog, gaming had a good year.

Before we dive right into my favorite things though, I do have a couple shout outs.

Honorable Mentions

Paragon by Epic Games

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Paragon is a game so good it could easily be within the top five on my list. But it’s in early Access. I have nothing else to say.

Sunday Rain by Foo Fighters

I would have loved nothing more than to include the entire new Foo Fighters album somewhere on this list. But unfortunately the Foo Fighters 8th full length album is too long for its own good. You would think that only barely coming in over 45 minutes would mean they trimmed all the fat off the record, but no. Yeah they’re getting up there in age, so I’m aware all the songs can only go to a certain tempo, and the arrangements can’t be as complicated as they once were, but they should still be creative. There are whole songs that could easily be cut from the album. None of them are bad, and the album as a whole is MUCH better than the god-awful ‘Sonic Highways’ from 2015.

'I, I, I am a river
I, I, I am your river
I, I, I am a river
I, I, I am your river
I, I, I am a river
I, I, I am your river'

Dave Grohl

Yup. Those are real lyrics from the last album. Repeated about 5 times on the 7 minute song...

But songs like ‘Dirty Water’ or ‘T-Shirt’ just have no business being on the same album album as something like ‘Run’ or ‘Sunday Rain’. While a lot of the records big budget production sound definitely contrasts with the band's famous Lo-fi/Garage Band sound and tone, ‘Sunday Rain’ somehow seems to make them work well together. Much in the same way some of Zeppelin’s later efforts tried to imitate their more budget sounds from the early years.

 

Concrete and Gold definitely isn’t an overall miss. And songs like this show the band do still have some gems tucked away. But they could have put this record off another year and put together more tracks that would stand out in the discography. So I can’t recommend the whole record yet, maybe next time. But for now, I’ll cherish what I consider a song in their top ten best arrangements. Hopefully this politically charged album (You even named it 'Concrete and Gold', come on Dave you're more creative than that) will be a step back towards better record from this band again. I would hate for Wasting Light to be their last Great album. And maybe one day they'll get a spot on the list. But as it stands this year, they get one song from the record on my honorable mentions. 

Logan by James Mangold

Well the Oscar nominations haven't been announced yet, but I'll be shocked if this one doesn't get at least a couple at least as a nod. Obviously this movie is a love letter from Hugh Jackman who gives what might be his most human performance I've seen from him in a film, despite being anything but human. Though it's really Stewart in this movie who should get an acting nomination if it has to be one or the other. Call me sentimental but I really think Logan might be the last truly Great comic book film under a Marvel Banner we see for a while. Now that Disney will be calling the shots with basically every property imaginable. 

That aside Logan tells a very simple but relatable able story about aging, regret, purpose, and living with who you are. There are no shortage of great films this year though, and if I owned just the script to read I would more than likely include that on my list of things. For now however, I'll stay content with being able to dive deeper on this film when I inevitably re-watch it yet another time. 

Nightbringers by Black Dahlia Murder

What a stellar return to form for this band. Now I didn’t mind Rituals at all, I thought it was a pretty sweet record actually, despite being so different for the band. But Nightbringers is easily my favorite of theirs since Nocturne. Songs like Jars and Widowmaker are some of the most fun I’ve had listening to a tune this year. But unfortunately for Black Dahlia Murder, they decided to be like one of 1,000 really amazing albums that came out this year, and I find myself listening to the others on my list far more than Nightbringers and the rest.

Anticult by Decapitated

Bands change the way the sound, the way they look, and the music they play. I have never understood the notion of a band “selling out” because they decide to play music that sounds completely different from their first album. Let’s put it this way kids, every artist you’ve ever paid money for, be it music or anything else, has sold out. You don’t except a single penny for art you’ve created unless you know you have. No, bands, like people can change over time. I won’t get into the history of Decapitated here, if you want to look through the wiki for a sad story feel free. Short story is they have moved pretty far from their Tech-Death Metal roots and into a more metal-core genre. But I didn’t care when Green Day grew out of being Punk kids, I didn’t care when Linkin Park grew out of being just angst, and I don’t care that Decapitated grew out of being Scary.


This is a fantastic record. 0% filler, and comes in just short enough that when it ends you just want to play the whole damn thing over again. I really wanted this on the list. But it ultimately just didn’t fit.

Okay shout outs went a tad longer but I really liked these things okay! Without further ado, here's the real list:

10. Wind River by Taylor Sheridan 

This movie. Man. Wind River is one of those rare films that actually makes you want to learn more about a horrible situation about real people, in the real world, right after you watch it. Not only is the subject matter super relevant to what’s happening to a certain group of people in today’s world, but Wind River somehow manages to keep you engrossed entirely within itself for its run-time. You may be wondering why I’m not talking about the film’s details, well it’s because I didn’t know much going in to see it either. And I feel like the mystery within this film benefits greatly from that. I knew Jeremy Renner was in it, it took place in a frozen mountain town called Wind River, and I like frozen things and Jeremy Renner. So I went. I had a few people tell me on separate occasions it was really good so I already had some expectations for the film, but my god. 

wind

I know I already talked about how Hugh Jackman should get an award for Logan, but if Jeremy Renner doesn’t win a Oscar for his performance here, I’m not sure he ever will. Like I said I’ve always liked Renner as an actor, but I’ve never seen him really disappear into a character before. Well not only does he disappear, he becomes this character.

But the real hero of the film's accomplishment is Taylor Sheridan. Between this film, Sicario, Hell or High Water, and of course his work on Sons of Anarchy, this man is on the right path to become the next Tarantino. I implore you all to find Wind River. However you can see it, make sure you do.

9. Room Of Shadows by Pagan Alter

This is a band I didn’t get into until this year (I'm not a big Doom-Metal fan) and was really surprised by how much of their discography I liked so far. But Room of Shadows not only takes the cake as their best by my count, it’s also my second favorite album of the year. This record comes as a very bittersweet note however, as it is the band's last record after their vocalist passed away. As if the music itself wasn’t dower enough, the vocalist was the father of the lead Guitarist. They, along with their fellow band members, had been putting this album together for over 10 years when he passed. Leaving the rest of the band to work with what vocal tracks he had left in his absence, and build the record around those.

And holy shit, I’m not sure anyone could have made a better album under those circumstances. This is a magnum opus beyond compare. Terry Jones' Vocals are on point, and his son Alan's guitar melodies have an incredibly complimentary melancholy that can only be from someone who both wanted to mourn and celebrate his father. I cannot recommend this one enough. It truly belongs on the shelf of any fan of Black Sabbath, Doom Metal, or just great music in general.

8. Battlerite by Epic Games

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Finally out of Early Access, Battlerite steps into the MOBA scen- --no no no--.
Finally out of Early Access, Battlerite steps into the Fighting Game scene with a really cool take on the genre as a whole. Using a top down perspective and 2v2 or 3v3 matches, Battlerite simulates the team fights that you have within games like Dota or League by literally just being about the fight. No random damage, no random chance abilities, no farming to get more powerful, and nothing standing in your way but yourself. Despite having some creative bankruptcy in the level design department, what’s there gets the job done. Leaving all the focus on the fighters you choose and how they interact with your teammate(s). This game is a blast to play. 

While it may feel unfamiliar to a few fighting game vets at first, you will soon see there’s not much difference between this and a tag team mode in a 3d or 2d fighter. Just without the tagging in and out part. With a pretty decent free to play option, there’s really no excuse to not give Battlerite a try.

7. Date Nights / Last Rights by Tom King

This story comes out Batman Vol.3: Annual #2 (I know comics are weird) and you need to track it down. Lately Tom King has been a powerhouse in the comics industry. It wasn’t enough for the man to provide Marvel with 'Vision', their first book that is really the publisher's only required reading on the same level as DC’s Watchmen. Now King has been doing an excellent run on everyone’s favorite bat-themed superhero. Most of his arcs in the proper Bat book have been good to very good. ‘Date Nights’, and the second half ‘Last Rites’, just might combine to make his best story so far. 

Batman (2016-) Annual 002-000

I can really only talk about the first half of this book without ruining it, but I may do a single issue review of it at some point. This is really a story worth talking about in more detail, but it’s not like the first half ‘Date Nights’ isn’t a blast all on it’s own. We get too see the relationship between Batman and Catwoman. How her shenanigans find a way into his life, the dynamic chemistry between the two. And of course the obvious cat and mouse game that grows from it. 

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The art here is just simply stunning. Evoking a classic Batman style with modern sensibilities. The final page of this book will knock you off your feet. Read it, if you can find it.

6. Horizon Zero Dawn

horizon-zero-dawn1

It didn’t take long for us to start seeing big studios taking hints from The Witcher 3 did it? Between Horizon and Assassins Creed this year, CD Projekt RED’s influence over the open world genre couldn’t be more obvious. Clearly this is a good thing, and Horizon Zero Dawn benefits from the influence in ways that don’t just obviously include the care side-quests are given or the way the environments actually have detail and care put into them. 

Thankfully Horizon takes it’s biggest Witcher influence in how the characters you care about actually matter, and world is reflected on your choices tied directly to those characters. I mean I don’t think I need to talk about how incredibly well written the female characters in either game were. And yeah Aloy joins Ciri as one of the greatest characters ever portrayed in a video game.

horizon-zero-dawn-thunderjaw

Plus I mean, robot dinosaurs! How can you not call this one of the best damn games of 2017!?

5. Ladybird by Greta Gerwig

I should hate, and I mean really hate, the editing in this movie. Most of the shots are roughly the same length, and scenes tend to be similar in length as well. This obviously results in the film moving at a very steady and relatively quick pace from start to finish. Obviously I'm generalizing here, not all shots and scenes are the exact same, but many are similar to each other. I should hate this, but I don’t. Not even a little bit. I think I love it, and I think it’s a large part of what makes this one of the best films I’ve ever seen about youth, family, and coming of age. 

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The style in which this film is edited makes it almost feel like a slideshow of someone’s life. Especially since a lot of scenes don’t start by leading you into them, instead opting to cast you into a deeply emotional moment within a character's life. The rare times you do get the sense of a scene slowly building toward such a moment, you know it’s going to be even more significant. 

I have no doubt this film will be talked to death about in the years to come, and I seriously can’t think of another film that’s anything like it. This is a must see of the highest order, much like many of A24’s films. But while many of the small studio's works can divide audiences, I don't think I've ever met someone who wouldn't like Lady Bird.

4. Roughneck by Jeff Lemire

Sometimes you read something that doesn’t seen like it should exist as a comic. It feels more like actually events from someones very personal life story. Some parts of which I shouldn’t be looking at. Roughneck is the “story” of an ex-hockey playing superstar from a small town, now the local drunk and all around asshole. But was he ever not an asshole? Or is Derek living out the life he was meant to? 

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roughneck2

Well he tries to find out after his long gone sister returns to town. If only to escape her abusive boyfriend. But it’s her drug addiction that Derek really needs to help her past. In this story we see the two of them grow close again after years apart, while Lemire shows off what may be some of his best watercolor pieces to date. The near black and white frames use hints of color to accentuate key moments in the story. The only other scenes where the colors really pop, are scenes from the past. Further adding to the insult of what Derek's life has now become. Only able to see the beauty of life when thinking about his past nostalgia.

Roughneck-interior

As Roger Ebert once said, "It's not what it's about, it's how it's about it." Lemire writes and draws this story in such a profound way you will feel exhausted after reading it. The fact the graphic novel seems so easily crafted only ads more weight to how he put this together. Lemire is pretty much the hardest working man in comics right now. So much so it wouldn’t shock me if there were two Lemires. But when his work almost always stays this consistently great across both art and story, it’s hard not to praise the man.

3. Blade Runner 2049 by Denis Villeneuve

When I first heard that Warner Brothers was committing sacrilege by making a sequel to the sci-fi film that practically invented the cult classic, I was furious. Not just because I love the original film like we all do, but because I really felt that ruining some of the mystery of Blade Runner would actually taint the story within it.

Ryan Goslin, Harrison Ford, Denis Villeneuve

Ryan Goslin, Harrison Ford, Denis Villeneuve

But when the director of Sicario, Prisoners, and Arrival was chosen to direct it, I saw a flicker of hope. A flicker that turned into a much brighter light when Hampton Fancher, the original film's screenwriter, would return to write the sequel. It was when Harrison Ford, after years of saying he would never do another, signed on board after seeing the script that I gained some damn high expectations.

So how is it? Well not only is it a rare sequel that retroactively improves the original by leaps and bounds, but it's also a far superior film in my eyes. The questions it asks the audience about the nature of humanity are far more important and interesting than whether or not Deckard is a replicant. 

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Blade_Runner_2049_Lighting-865x505

2049 also stands as a magnum opus for long time cinematographer Roger Deakins (Fargo, Shawshank Redemption, No Country For Old Men) who will most likely get his 14th nomination for his work this year. Yet a film can be beautiful and still fall flat, thankfully the screenplay never lets up. Nor do the incredibly stellar performances from really everyone. 

Ford gives maybe his best acting performance in recent memory, he's actually awake for this one guys. Every actor really walks away with something they should be proud of.

blade-runner-2049-trailer-human-chambers

This is not only the best sci-fi film of the year, it may be the best of the decade. I really thought this was going to be the director's first bad film. Well not only is it of the same incredibly high caliber quality, I think it's his best one yet.

2. Last Day of June by Ovosonico 

ld

****. Just, ****. You ever watch the movie ‘Up’? Love feeling like you want to die after the first ten minutes? Well step right up ************, have I got the game for you. Spreading out a similar theme throughout a couple hour long story, Last Day of June is my favorite video game of the year. With some Tim Burton-lite elements and a plot that’s sort of the first act of the book ‘The Time Machine’, this game uses story narrative structure to create a very cool puzzle game.

Without a single word of dialogue being spoken throughout the whole game, the writers evoked some really great emotionally driven elements here. I also need to wholeheartedly recommend the soundtrack for the game, even if you have no interest in ever playing it. And to think the whole concept was based on the art in a music video!!

Truly stunning work all around from a fairly small indy team. When you look at the story as a whole, and all the different ways elements interact, it’s really a very impressive accomplishment. Unfortunately like most games of this nature to talk too in depth about even it’s core mechanics would dive a tad too far into spoilers. So you all just need to trust me on this. Get this game. Now.

And now it's time for...

Last Minute Honorable Mentions!!

There are too many things. So here's a quick list of other things I want to mention that I liked a lot from 2017!!

Baby Driver by Edgar Wright

One More Light by Linkin Park

The Last Jedi by Rian Johnson

last-jedi-poster-tall

Forever by Code Orange

Cuphead by StudioMDHR

Wonder Woman by Patty Jenkins

Villains by Queens of the Stone Age

Okay I could go on Forever but I wont. So here's the thing I liked the most this year!!

1. The Dusk in Us by Converge

cdiu

Three of my Five favorite bands of all time are still working today. Two of them released an album this year. It's just unfortunate only one made the list, and the other was Concrete and Gold. Thankfully Converge’s 2017 effort, The Dusk in Us, shows the world why Converge is just as beloved today as they were twenty years ago. This band has a really great habit of releasing albums that eerily feel like Jacob Bannon, the vocalist and album artist, wrote songs about the place I am within my life. Starting back when the album ‘No Heroes’ did that for me in ‘06, Converge has continued to be on my level with each new studio release. The Dusk in Us marks the band’s 9th studio album, five years since their last one in 2012. The wait was more than worth it.

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“Our Denial it speaks in tongues, there’s monsters among us.” Much like the rest of the album, the title track speaks to the capacity for evil within the human race. But also how those who can quell it help others shine a light on our own shadows. Even the more abrasive songs like ‘Reptilian’ have this similar Superman-esk aspirations for hope and trophing the better bits of humanity.

“We must lose sight of the Shore to know what courage means. We must lose sight of who we are to know what we can be.”

It's been a long time since an album I've listened to has closed out with a song as strong as this one.

In year like 2017 where so much of the world became under fear of itself, leaving many to question what the future may hold, it’s great to get art showing how there is hope for those who seek it. While still acknowledging the world’s great ability to hide it. All while creating some of the most fascinating compositions the band has ever created. Even having songs be led with what seems like a drum cadenza for the strings to follow. Especially in ‘I Can Tell You About Pain’ where Koller’s ambidextrous drumming makes itself as clear as day without really having to fill every bar with as many notes as possible.

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 But if you let that trick you for even a second, think again, Converge still knows what their signature sound is, and can create the catchiest grooves while tearing your face off. All of the above comes together in my mind within ‘Cannibals’, the shortest song on the record.

Opening with an extremely complex blast-beat based arrangement, letting the strings shred a rhythm melody above it while Bannon reminds you of how easy he makes the most complicated vocal noises seem. Only to lead out the song almost as soon as it began with a fun guitar riff while the bass pairs up with Ben on a killer rhythm section. Just pure joy within the darkness. Even the nature of the song title plays against your expectations within itself, “We are all just cannibals if there is nothing left to love.” A fleeting thought about what separates us from our beasts within, changes and races just as rapidly as the song's various tempos.

Every song on this record has just as much and more to dive into and get lost in. Not a single track on the album is a waste of time. Just when you’re bummed how a really great song is ending, the next one starts and you fall in love with it just as fast.

It’s for all these reasons and more that ‘The Dusk in Us’ is my favorite thing from 2017. And I’m about to go listen to it fifty more times.

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]

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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Yoda’s Top 3 Games of 2016

Okay so while I didn’t get to play a whole lot of games that came out this year (due to a certain 2011 themed project!) the ones I did get time with were all really good! And so I’m just going to get straight to the point and list my three favorites from the year! Because that's what gaming websites do :P

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Goodbye, 2015

Greywolfe Picks His Favourite Retro-Styled Games From 2015

Welcome to my retrospective for 2015 in which we talk a little about those games that invited you to think of gaming's past through the lens of what's happening right now. This list covers games that - somehow - evoked games of yesteryear, whether in their visuals or in their gameplay styles.

2015 was a pretty good year for this style of thing - I didn't play all of the games that had retro-styled conceits, [like Freedom Planet or some of the bigger RPG releases] but the games I played that used those sorts of ideas were all [more-or-less] fun.

NB! The text links in this article will open in a new page and will take you to review pages on my personal blog. Read more

Top 5 Games With The Best Cast of Characters

2015 had games with incredible stories and narratives thanks to the well written, well animated, and when necessary, well voice acted characters. This list celebrates 5 of Best Casts of Characters gaming had to offer this year, voted by over 200 survey participants. So no complaints about the results allowed!

This list will also show the result of the single most memorable character from all of the games in the survey.

So without further ado, let's dive in and find out what casts of characters we will be remembering from this year!

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Dr. S presents: The “Games you’ve never heard of, but should still try” 2015 Awards

The World is a big place. A big place, with lots to do and see. Video games are a big industry. A big industry with lots to play and… watch on YouTube/Twitch?

Combine these two facts and it becomes clear that you can’t play everything, or read about every game. Especially in a year like 2015. A year in which we saw amazing releases like The Witcher 3 and Undertale. And then Steam opened the flood gates and made everything even worse. Read more

Yoda’s Top 5 Games of the Year List

2015 was a fantastic year for games, and quite a few excellent titles made it onto this list. These are the 5 games that stood out to me the most in order from Great to my pick for Game of the Year. There are however quite a few titles that I’m sure as just as great that came out this year and if you want to hear about the top 5 games I wish I played as well as some other Twinstiq contributor’s most memorable games of the year, check out our holiday special podcast here! Without further ado, let’s take a look at my Top 5 Games of 2015.

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