Big Ol’ Early 2023 Catch-up

*blows dust off imaginary typewriter* Hello again, old friend. Friends? I don’t know who I write these to, in reality. I maintain that this blog is a way for me to chronicle my history with video games mostly for myself, but I am aware that an occasional stranger or friend might pop in and read these overly long and rambling posts. So, to you, hello. It has been a while.

A lot has happened since I last wrote, not least of which is landing a dream job with PlayStation. It couldn’t have come at a better time, too. Last summer I was mid-crisis, anxious about finishing my degree and what came next. I got a call about a copywriting position I’d applied for just two weeks prior. I’d also applied for a game testing position, sure I’d never qualify for the writing position since it was far from entry level. When I got the call, I was certain it was for the testing job. Nope. I felt incredibly lucky and honored to even get a pre-interview call, and with each subsequent round of interviews I told myself that I was just really fortunate to have gotten that far. When I got the job offer, I lost it. I couldn’t believe it was happening to me. Maybe I’ll write about it in more detail later but suffice to say it was quite a ride.

This post, as others in the past have, will focus on catching up on games I’ve played recently. Well, if eight months can be called “recent,” I guess. To manage the length (somewhat), I’ll abstain from saying much about games I’ve revisited. Animal Crossing New Horizons is currently pulling me back in, I replayed Ace Combat 7 to chip away at the platinum for that, I played Everybody’s Golf with friends until the second the servers were taken offline (RIP), and I still pop into Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, Mario Party Superstars, and Phasmophobia on the regular. I also threw several dozen more hours into No Man’s Sky at one point. But let’s talk about newer experiences.

Arcade Spirits: The New Challengers

I’ve gushed about my time with the first Arcade Spirits game, so The New Challengers was one of my most anticipated games of 2022. The colorful art style and character design, the clever writing, the retro game scene vibe — I loved it all, and the sequel fine-tuned much of what I liked about its predecessor. I really liked the original cast of characters so my main concern going into the sequel was that I might not connect with the new crew as well.

Turns out, the team at Fiction Factory Games knows what they’re doing, and I loved the new cast as much as the old. I also really liked the competitive tournament storyline and the many choices you can make about your approach to the matches and Iris, besides the obvious relationship stuff. Speaking of, the first game touched on some interesting gender and sexuality things, and the sequel adds even more, including the ability to be in a poly relationship. I’m sure it’s not the first indie game to allow it, but it still felt pretty refreshing. And I took advantage of it, because it just so happened to involve my two top relationship choices: Grace and Jynx. Best of both worlds, babyyyyy. I do still wish there were character animations and even more customizable player character models, but maybe that will come in future installments – of which I hope there are many.

The Quarry

I’ve written about my love for Until Dawn and my mixed (but mostly positive) feelings for the Dark Pictures Anthology games, so The Quarry was one of the games I was very excited for in 2022. One thing that turned me off about some of the Dark Pictures games was the settings. While I appreciate the desire to let players experience several different horrific scenarios in several different settings, like a ghost ship or an ancient cave system, there’s something about the classic bunch-of-teens-in-the-woods scenario that scratches the classic slasher itch for me. The Quarry scratched that itch even more than Until Dawn, and while the latter is still my favorite in the series, I had a ton of fun with former.

I’ll avoid story spoilers here, but the story was indeed a highlight in this entry. Having good characters is a must for ensemble horror, and I haven’t liked a cast in the series this much since Until Dawn. There has been a likable character or two in each game, but I thought this whole lineup was strong. Ted Raimi was great as Sherriff Hackett, Siobhan Williams played a great final girl (sort of?), frickin’ Lance Henriksen? Ariel Winter? Great cast. My favorite character was Kaitlyn, played by Brenda Song, though. Not only was she “a baddie,” as the kids say, she was the kind of character that you’d actually want with you in a situation like that. Smart, strong-willed, and (almost) unflinching.

Good writing goes a long way in making a good story and good characters, though, and I thought the dialog writing in particular was much stronger in this game. There was an occasional cheeseball line or cringey joke, but those are part of the horror experience, too. For the most part, I thought the characters sounded believable and natural. The graphics were also, as always, excellent. I love the realistic horror movie look, plus with forced camera angles, moody lighting, and great animation, these games still feel like the closest thing we can get to a playable horror movie. I haven’t gotten the platinum trophy yet, but I can see myself going back and cleaning that up at some point. Supermassive Games puts these games out at a decent clip, too, so I hope I won’t have to wait very long for the next one.

Resident Evil Village: Winters’ Expansion

I can’t get enough of Resident Evil Village. Well, I can’t get enough of the Resident Evil series in general, which is why I’m super stoked for Resident Evil 4 Remake later this month. But Village holds a special place in my RE-heart, and not just because of the beautiful Lady Dimitrescu. Okay, so largely because of the beautiful Lady Dimitrescu. Get it? Largely? Because she’s very big? Ahem. No, I love a lot of what Village brought to the series. The graphics and design were stunning, the balance of eerie exploration and tense action was on point, and I was invested in the Winters family’s tragic tale.

The Winters’ Expansion is woefully lacking in vitamin D (as in the Lady), but it does continue Rose’s story right from the end of the main game. It’s a short experience but there are some very cool, scary scenes. Light content spoilers ahead, though I’ll avoid story stuff. You return to House Beneviento and are once again stripped of any weapons and required to sneak your way out, solving puzzles along the way. I loved that part of the main game, so I was very happy to see another level like it. The mannequins were very creepy, to the point where I sent a short video to a friend and they wrote back “oh hell no.” As a matter of fact, oh hell yes. I haven’t yet gone through the game in third person mode, but I do like that they’ve added that option for people who prefer that perspective over first. It was a short addition to the Village story but it was as beautiful and spooky as the main game, so I had a good time with it.


Stray blew up in a way that few could have gue… oh, who am I kidding? As soon as the trailer for this game was released, I think the combination of adorable cat and atmospheric robot city convinced me and many others that this was a sure hit. And that it was, deservedly so. It’s a fairly simple and straightforward game, with just a handful of puzzles and combat scenarios, but it’s incredibly charming and emotionally engaging. I mean, come on. It’s a cat. As a cat owner myself (hi, Bella! She can’t read this. She’s a cat. But I will read it out loud to her at some point), I was instantly invested in this little feline’s fate.

Slight spoilers for the beginning of the game, but right in the very first scene you’re already heartbroken. If you’re me (and at least one of my friends), your eyes are actually welled with tears by the scene that sets the adventure into motion. There are other moving moments as well, but overall this was just a sweet, lovely experience for me. Combat and running from enemies was tense, but later I could find a cozy shelf in a library bathed in soft lighting, curl up on a pillow, and go to sleep. And I could sleep for as long as I wanted. There’s even a trophy for sleeping a certain amount of time! And it’s that kind of thing that made me really appreciate this game. They got the cat-ness right. Rubbing up against robot legs, knocking things off shelves, scratching rugs and couches when I can… It’s not an intensely realistic cat sim, but it balances the right kitty notes with a world I wanted to explore and a story that engaged me. I really liked it.

Call of Duty Modern Warfare II

I hadn’t played a CoD in a while (since… the first Ghosts?), and Modern Warfare II seemed to be getting some buzz, so I decided to give the campaign a try. I finished it, and it retains much of what I liked about previous campaigns, though there were a couple of small annoyances. While I understand the desire to produce highly scripted action set pieces, and sometimes they work well, sometimes it just felt like I was set up to fail. I feel most immersed and a part of the action when everything seems inevitable and natural. When it’s obvious that a guy is scripted to kick in a door and blast me with a shotgun as soon as I step past an invisible line, I feel more like I’m an actor in a movie, hitting my mark. Yes, I understand that these kind of invisible triggers are in most games, but in MWII sometimes they result in immediate death. It was like the developers were trying to get across the point that war is hard and death is around every corner. Which, yes, duh. But you also want me to feel like a badass who’s taking out entire squads almost single handedly, so… these two things didn’t mesh for me. I am fine with challenging games when my deaths feel like my fault. I scold myself and try again. When I feel like the game is working against me and my deaths are the result of careful scripting, I feel far less engaged and more aware of the “gaminess” of it all.

Also, please, video game developers, I’m begging you to do some research on Lake Michigan before trying to depict the Chicago lakefront. This is not the first game where you can see lights across the lake from the city, but this might be the biggest budget one with the most people working on it. You’re telling me no one involved has been to Chicago or even looked at pictures of the lake from the city? Lake Michigan is massive. By surface area, it’s bigger than nine of the US states. It’s bigger than entire countries, like the Netherlands, Denmark, Croatia, Switzerland, and Taiwan (not combined). I understand that people see “lake” and think of, like, a lake where they might go kayaking with their family on vacation but… no. Please. Justice for Lake Michigan.

Seriously, what are those lights over the water? Get outta here.

Anyway, those gripes aside, I had a pretty good time with MWII. It looks amazing, as they often do, and the gunplay and movement feel as fluid as ever. One of my favorite things about the series is the variety when it comes to mission types. I can see how it might get old if you play every single entry, but I like breaching a desert facility with a squad, then firing on several escaping enemies from an airship above, then sneakily infiltrating an area solo, then crawling through muck to snipe a compound. I could probably have done without the vehicle hopping mission, but you can’t win ‘em all sometimes. Overall, it was a fun time.

Disco Elysium

I’ll keep this relatively short because Disco Elysium is a dense game with a lot to unpack. If you are a big fan of the game or just want to hear more, we recorded two episodes discussing it on our Pretty Pixels Podcast (which is now on potentially permanent hiatus, RIP), which you can find here and here. To sum it up, I really warmed to this game over the many hours I spent with it. It was a gradual climb that ended with me loving it. My first hour with the game felt slow and confusing. The second was slightly clearer, but I found myself wondering if this game was being obtuse just to seem complicated or nuanced. With each subsequent hour, my cynicism melted away and I could see purpose behind the design choices the developers made. The amnesia, the inner voices without context, the impact of player choice… like Harry’s memory, slowly things started to come into focus.

In the end, Disco Elysium tells a complex but beautiful (if tragic) story that is not just Harry’s. It’s yours. It’s Kim’s. It’s Elysium’s. It was a ride. I was surprised, I was moved, I was provoked to really consider things like government, identity, systems of power. I started my journey in a detached and cynical way, but ended up getting misty-eyed on several occasions, none of which I want to spoil. So, like other narratively rich games, I mostly have to just urge you to play it and experience it for yourself. It might seem confusing and, depending on your tastes, overly “artsy” at first, but if you stick with it I have a feeling you’ll get a lot out of it, as I did.

Gotham Knights

Poor Gotham Knights. Gamers on social media love a punching bag, and Gotham Knights really took a beating when it came out. As is often the case, it does seem that after the launch ire dies down, people start discovering it and there is an adjustment in public sentiment when people start realizing that it’s not nearly as bad as reactionary hot-take-baiters seemed to make it out to be. I played it alone and with a friend, and while I do agree with some of the valid criticisms of it (primarily that the city isn’t as filled with the kind of rich detail and love that we’ve come to expect), I had a good time and thought it was a solid Batman story.

Yes, the city design is uninspired, but I thought the characters looked great and I was frequently snapping screenshots of Batgirl (the only character I played as) kicking ass and gliding over rooftops. The opening cinematic was rad, as was the ending sequence. One of my favorite things about the game was the costumes, though. I don’t know if this is controversial to say, but the costumes are one of the few things this game does better than the Arkham games (though I do feel it’s unfair to the devs to keep making that comparison). Batgirl alone has the awesome Knight Ops, Eternal, Beyond, and Talon suits.

Online co-op was very fun, though when my friend and I got too far from each other, we did experience some slowdown. I also do wish that the cycle travel was faster, as it felt like I was dutifully obeying local speed limits rather than zipping dangerously through the dark streets of Gotham. Still, overall, I had a really good time with Gotham Knights and am always down for more Batman games where we get substantial story beats involving Bat Family characters we don’t see in games as often. On a last note, I would bet a very pretty penny that Harley Quinn’s appearance was based on Bridget Fonda. Seriously.


That same friend I played Gotham Knights with, Paul (hi, Paul!), had been recommending Thronebreaker to me (and every one of our podcast listeners at the end of every episode) for months, so we did a game swap. He is a huge Star Wars and Mass Effect fan, so I was absolutely shocked and appalled that he hadn’t played Knights of the Old Republic yet. That game played a critical role in deepening my love of Star Wars, plus it was the launch of my love of Bioware-style RPGs that have moral alignments, choices, romance options, and all that good stuff. What I am not typically a fan of is, uh… card games. Thronebreaker, dear reader, is a card game. But I do love The Witcher 3, so in the spirit of the swap, and to keep an open mind, I downloaded Thronebreaker: The Witcher Tales and started my deck-based journey.

Right off the bat, I loved the art style. The thick comic lines, minor details, and subtle animations really made the maps, characters, and cards very pleasing to look at. Especially Queen Meve. Because she real purty. Ahem, where was I? Speaking of Meve, though, I very quickly became invested in the story. Again, no big story spoilers, but the plot involves Queen Meve being dethroned and her fight to win back her Queendom. The enemies are particularly well written, which is so important in revenge/vengeance stories because my drive to kill them painfully grows with each new slight or injustice they deliver. And my bloodlust was ready to burst once I got near the endgame. Okay, wait, I guess I should slow down and talk about the actual card battles. As I played the tutorial, and the game introduced rule after rule, and I could see how deep you could get into deck building and strategy. I could feel my brain going numb. I fumbled my way through the first few real battles before deciding to just use a guide for any battles I struggled with.

Surprisingly, it wasn’t many! I fought every battle I could for practice, and eventually I started to catch onto some of the patterns the game uses. An enemy would start laying down certain cards and I would think “ah, they’re trying to set me up for this. Well then I’ll do this.” So, yes, I did need help on occasion, but it didn’t diminish my experience. Every victory felt hard fought and my ultimate victory was very sweet. I didn’t get the best ending, because I made what I didn’t realize at the time was a bad decision, but my ending was pretty solid. Overall, I ended up having a ton of fun with Thronebreaker. And Meve can get it.

Dying Light 2

Oh, Dying Light 2. I really wanted to love you. I really do appreciate all of the work that goes into games, especially games with as many moving parts as Dying Light 2. And there are things I enjoyed in my time with the game. The gameplay loop, which is a big part of the experience, hooked me. Like the first game, I enjoyed doing runs, scoping out new places to raid, dodging zombies, levelling up, all that good stuff. And some of the early story beats, like liberating the first utility tower, made me excited about the narrative and my role in it. If you’d asked me when I was around a quarter of the way through the game what I would score it, I’d have said around an 8, maybe an 8.5. Unfortunately, that number steadily dropped as the game carried on.

Granted, some of my biggest gripes are with the last quarter of the game, which drags on at an uneven pace, making me wish at every turn that it would just end and leave me with my still mostly positive memories. But end it did not, and the final stretch had several sections that just slowed it down even more, like an infuriating and pointless duct crawling section and a terrible final boss. I got the “good” ending, but by the time I got it I just didn’t really care anymore. I was so annoyed by the last bit of the game. If I were just looking for an open world zombie game to pass the time with missions and side quests and such, I might have had a perfectly fine time. The story kind of ruined it for me.


I like to fit small indie games between bigger, AAA affairs, and Unpacking seemed like the perfect kind of low-stakes, chill, cozy experience to follow Dying Light 2 with. It was everything I’d hoped it would be. It was charming, the retro pixel art was adorable, the soundtrack was pretty bangin’, and the narrative was subtle, sad, sweet, and more. It’s a simple premise, obviously: click on a box to produce an object, find a place for it in a room (or rooms), and click on where you want it to go. You can turn things, move them around, or just lazily toss things where you like. Some things have a very specific location, and I did find myself a little frustrated when I couldn’t figure out where that spot was, but overall the game was pretty free and loose with where I could drop things.

Yet again, no major story spoilers, but I really loved the way the narrative unfolded in this game. Each room, each object, reveal new wrinkles in the story. You find yourself feeling like you really know this character you’re playing as, just by considering the kinds of items you’re handling and the space you’re unpacking them in. Each room contains clues, and this environmental storytelling felt new and rewarding. But my story might not be yours, or even “the” story. A friend of mine played and mentioned how sad it was that the player character [redacted]. But when I played, I didn’t read it that way at all. It’s not that either of us has to be “right” – we just experienced a different version of the same story. Which is pretty cool, I think. So, yeah, I loved Unpacking. While it is pleasant and charming, to call it a “palate cleanser,” as I was about to, is unfair to it, even if that’s how I used it. It’s a wonderful game in its own right.

FAR: Changing Tides

FAR: Changing Tides was another quiet, lovely game. Whereas Unpacking kept text to a minimum, FAR excludes it entirely. For a game about tending your ship, sailing the seas, and exploring the depths, the lack of narration or exposition felt appropriate. The sailing mechanics are simple and rewarding. You push in a heavy switch to raise your mast, carry down a cable to open the sail, and move the sail with a handle to control speed. You can stop quickly by releasing the handle and loosing the cable. These are the opening sailing controls, and I would have been happy enough with even just this simple setup. Slight progression spoiler, but as you get further you unlock a steam engine, then even more upgrades later. With the steam engine, you use trash you’ve collected from the seafloor or ruins as fuel, and must then balance the previously mentioned controls with occasionally feeding the engine and putting out any fires that might occur if you push it too far.

Things didn’t always go smoothly, of course, and dealing with storms, obstructions, and other barriers meant I had to always be on my toes in case I had to jump into action and halt the engine, drop the sail, and stop on a dime. This made travel itself a perpetual puzzle, but to unlock upgrades or a path forward, I also had to explore buildings, ruins, and more, solving pretty straightforward physics puzzles along the way. While these weren’t as fun as sailing, they were still rewarding, especially because I then got to scurry back to my ship, my home, my heart. The sometimes-smooth, sometimes-manic process of driving my ship was endlessly soothing. It made me wish for a fully 3D, open-world version, where I could literally just sail around and explore strange new places.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge

Man, what a blast of pure nostalgia. Shredder’s Revenge has learned the valuable lesson of recent excellent remakes and remasters, like the Resident Evil games and Metroid Prime Remastered in that it maintains the essence of the thing you once loved and polishes it with modern flair. In my fuzziest, most nostalgic memories of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles the arcade game, it plays like a dream. When I revisited it a while back, I was reminded of the reality, which is that it is an arcade game designed to snarf up as many of your quarters as possible. It was purposefully unbalanced and, at times, unfair. We can’t have you just breezing through it on a few measly quarters, can we? Luckily, I played it in The Galloping Ghost Arcade, in Brookfield, Illinois, where you pay an entry fee and can then play as much of any game that you want. Infinite continues meant I could finally beat the TMNT arcade game that I never fully beat as a kid (though I did make it to Shredder a few times).

Shredder’s Revenge takes the fuzzy part of my memories with that classic arcade game and delivers them back to me in a beautiful retro package. The sprite work and animation are bright and beautiful, the soundtrack is bangin’, and the game plays like a cleaner version of what I remember the arcade game playing like with some added special moves unique to each character. It was a pretty short game, yes, but I was able to play the whole thing with a few of friends and had a lot of fun doing it. If I’d just played it solo it would have still been a good time, but there is something extra fun about picking heroes, helping each other, and experiencing something new with friends.

Twelve Minutes

Twelve Minutes, like Gotham Knights, was a bit of a victim of gamer ire on social media when it came out. I can understand why, given the level of Hollywood talent involved, the hype preceding release, and the admittedly awful narrative twist. Removed from the drama, though, I thought it was a pretty decent adventure game that reminded me of the simple joy of a point-and-click-style narrative mystery. Like those games, you investigate objects and points of interest, and, with the power of inductive reasoning, piece together a story. There were a couple of pieces that were a little frustrating to fit together, but overall it was a pretty satisfying loop. Get it? Loop? Like… a time loop? Never mind. Yeah, the twist was very dumb, and the voice acting was a bit of a mixed bag, but it was a short and ultimately decent experience.

Metroid Prime Remastered

Metroid Prime was one of the oldest games on my backlog. I loved my GameCube and was desperate for new, exciting releases after launch. At the time, Super Metroid was on a ton of “best games of all time” lists. I felt like I’d missed out by not playing it, so when Metroid Prime came around I was determined to not miss out. Unfortunately, a couple of things were conspiring against me. First, Grand Theft Auto: Vice City was released just a couple of weeks prior to Metroid Prime, and I wasn’t ready to move on from its sunny, retro, neon-washed streets. I shipped out for basic military training two months later, so a lot of that time was spent with friends, saying my goodbyes. I wouldn’t get my GameCube shipped to me until I was in technical training, more than three months later. I tried to start Prime while I was in training, but I just wasn’t feeling it. Too many distractions. Like its predecessor, it was held up as one of the best games of all time.

The years went by, sequels were released, and I just never got around to playing it. Then Metroid Dread came along, and I decided to play Super Metroid to prepare for the release of the much-hyped Dread. And I’m glad I did, because I fell in love with it. And Dread. And Samus Returns. And Fusion. Yes, I was a total Metroid convert. I had seen the green visor-tinted light. So when Metroid Prime Remastered was announced and shadow dropped, I snapped it up right away. As the other entries in the series are, it is truly an incredible game, and an amazing remaster. As others have pointed out, it doesn’t seem like a simple up-res. It sure seems like the graphics were completely replaced with new assets. Everything looks crisp and beautiful, and it runs as smooth as Chozo butter… if there is such a thing.

Much of what I loved about Metroid Prime is what I love about the series in general. It’s atmospheric, moody, challenging, and Samus Aran is a certified badass. Every time I got stuck with a puzzle, or struggled with a boss, I worried it was going to be a massive road block that would frustrate me and cause me to walk away. But apparently Retro and Nintendo know how to make video games, because the answer to my troubles were always within grasp. With a little patience and the willingness to approach things from a different angle, I was always able to overcome challenges. Ridley was a classic Metroid boss fight. My first attempt, he demolished me. How could I beat him? Should I look up a guide? After my second try, he still beat me, but I could see his patterns. I crushed him on the third try. I love Metroid Prime Remastered and I really hope they give the same treatment to Prime 2 and 3. Also, that Phazon Suit? Sexyyyyyy.

PowerWash Simulator

My time with PowerWash Simulator was brief but intense. I don’t know what it says about my brain, but pressure washing dirt and scum from every kind of surface, building, vehicle, and structure was supremely satisfying. I don’t really even know what to say about this game that’s not obvious. You have a pressure washer with several attachments that control the strength and size of your jet, and you use it to clean vehicles, buildings, carnival rides, ancient ruins, and more. The game is forgiving in the sense that you don’t need to blast away every single molecule of dirt on a segment of whatever you’re washing. If you get around 97%, it’ll auto-complete for you, which takes away a lot of the pressure (badum-csh) that you might get stuck because you can’t find what tiny patch you’re missing.

I played this game obsessively over the course of a couple of weeks, sometimes listening to podcasts while I worked. It felt oddly productive. Like, obviously I’m playing a game, but after I completed a particularly big, complicated job, I felt seriously accomplished. The very loose and silly story was charming, and there were a couple of very fun surprises throughout. I put the game aside after I finished the campaign, but I’ll definitely be picking it back up at some point to run through the Tomb Raider and Final Fantasy VII content, and I hope Square keeps adding more levels from their IP catalog. Chrono Trigger sets, anyone?

God of War Ragnarök

God of War Ragnarök will always hold a special place in my heart because it’s the first first-party game we shipped during my time with PlayStation. I didn’t write for the game itself, just some support stuff, but seeing one of my fellow copywriter’s name in the credits was so exciting. And what a first game to be even loosely associated with. I loved God of War 2018, and I think Ragnarök surpassed it in every way. While it is a cross-gen game and doesn’t take full advantage of the PS5 hardware, it’s still gorgeous. Its beauty isn’t just about the fidelity of its graphics, though. It has exceptional character and level design, with obvious care and thought put into the smallest of details. A word of caution: visual spoilers in the pictures below.

The story and writing were also top-notch. I really don’t want to spoil anything, but I will say that they put a lot of work into each and every major character. Every line lands, and there are some really moving and breathtaking scenes. An excursion with Brock to retrieve a weapon (he said vaguely) was probably my favorite. A favorite side quest involved a couple of beautiful, glowing jellyfish-like creatures. I also love how they developed relationships between characters. Again, it’s hard to say much without spoiling anything, but the way that Kratos and Atreus’s storyline wraps up was better than I could have guessed. I’m so excited to see what the future holds for these characters.

The combat, new and old, was awesome, and [slight combat spoiler, if you haven’t already heard] I absolutely loved the spear combat. I liked the axe and blade combat from the first game a lot and, admittedly, I questioned whether a new weapon could match the simple yet rich potential of those two. It did – so much so that it quickly became my primary weapon. I also, once again, enjoyed the added complexity of using Atreus in combat to stun, distract, or damage enemies. Some random notes: the first fight with Thor was amazing. I love Fenrir. So much. I was excited to see Deborah Ann Woll, because I like her a lot. Freya is a baddie and can get it. Sif is a baddie who can get it. Sexy Valkyries are back, babyyyyyy. And the game was surprisingly funny, even more so than its predecessor. I have many more thoughts, but it’s hard to dive too deep without giving anything away. Suffice to say, I loved my time with God of War Ragnarök and it deserves all the praise it’s gotten.

Need for Speed Unbound

I wouldn’t call myself “a racing game person.” I don’t buy every big racing game, I don’t have a racing wheel, and I can be really picky when it comes to sim vs arcade racers. And yet some of my favorite games of all time are racing games. I’ve spent countless hours chucking shells in the Mario Kart games, I nearly hundred percented the first two Midnight Club games, loved knocking heads in Road Rash, and Burnout Paradise was one of my favorite games of all time. It’s been a while since I’ve played a great arcade racer, and since Need for Speed Unbound was getting some hype, I decided to check it out. I was worried that it might be another Forza Horizon experience, though, where people say it’s arcade-y but it ends up being more realistic. As is often the case, I worried for nothing. Before I knew it, I was sliding around corners, breaking dramatically through billboards, and taking down competitors with style.

It made me realize that one of the very specific things I look for in a racing game is controllable power slides. If I can’t slide recklessly around a curve, recover, and get right back in the race? Not for me. NFS Unbound definitely requires skill and focus, but it controls loosely enough to make races feel just the right amount of ridiculous. I’m a bit embarrassed to admit that I had played many, many hours before having a sudden realization: this game reminds me of Burnout Paradise! From the basic design of the open world, to starting events, to breaking billboards, it’s all so similar. Weirdly enough, it was a very subtle thing that made it click: the way the camera swings around behind your car after completing an event. I was amazed… and then I looked it up and, uh, yeah, it’s the same developers. So… duh.

I also got very into making a rad wrap for my cars. When I first looked at the customization options, I wasn’t feeling it. I thought “eh, I don’t want to ruin my perfectly beautiful paint job.” I kept scrolling through the decals. “Oh, well… that one is pretty cool. Maybe just one decal.” Scrolled more. “Ooh, dang. Alright, maybe just two.” Two hours later and my car was completely wrapped. Tweaking my design and unlocking new decals via street art was fun. Tweaking my car’s performance and unlocking new parts was also very rewarding. My only real complaint is that the difficulty is not balanced very well. Between impossibly fast AI who will zoom past you with inferior cars to cops that conveniently t-bone you out of nowhere, it really felt like the game was working against me in unfair ways at times. In the end, though, I had an excellent time with Unbound. Even after finishing the campaign, I couldn’t get enough and drove around grabbing collectibles, cleaning up optional events, and popping a few final trophies.


I loved my PS VR, so I was thrilled when a follow-up was announced, especially because the specs for it were so impressive. I always said I would take power over portability, so I didn’t mind the fact that it would be wired, since that just meant it wouldn’t be hampered by mobile processors and would take advantage of the PS5 hardware. Well, I got one at launch and it’s fully lived up to my expectations so. Granted, I haven’t had it for long, but it has everything I wanted in a new VR unit: 4K (2K per eye) OLED displays, better tracking, headset see-through, controllers designed for VR, and it even has a couple of features I didn’t know I wanted (haptic headset feedback and eye tracking). It’s not the Ready Player One leap that VR skeptics seem to be waiting for, but it smooths out many of the last-gen rough edges and I’m just hyped for the library to grow. I do wish there was a media player on PS5 that supported VR, but maybe that’ll come later.

In terms of games, I bought a handful but haven’t played all of them yet. I got Before Your Eyes, Gran Turismo 7 upgrade, and Star Wars: Tales from the Galaxy’s Edge, which I haven’t played yet. I played through the campaign for Tetris Effect Connected, but there’s not much to update there since I also played the original. Same with the few rounds of Pistol Whip that I tried. I played through the tutorial for Resident Evil Village VR, and while the game looks beautiful and the gunplay is surprisingly fun, it’s also the only game I’ve played so far that’s made me feel a little of the ol’ familiar VR sickness. I did play through the opening levels of What the Bat?, which were pretty fun.

Horizon Call of the Mountain

Again, I haven’t beat this game yet, but I’m a couple hours in and it’s great so far. It’s beautiful, the climbing is intuitive, the bow combat is precise and fun, and there are several fun little VR activities (like painting) to show off the medium’s potential. I love the Horizon games, so while I’ve been disappointed with the relative lack of Aloy, I am happy to just have an opportunity to explore the vibrant, colorful world. I’ll do a more thorough VR game post at some point, but for now I have to take another multi-month blog writing break. Just kidding! I think. I hope. No, seriously.

My Year in Gaming: 2016

I am on winter break for the next few weeks, so I’m determined to squeeze a few blogs out before the madness that is spring semester consumes me once again. I’m starting with the obvious: a look back at my experiences with video games in 2016. This outgoing year has been pretty terrible for me, in several ways, but there have been some pretty great games that have provided little shining pockets of joy in the otherwise dismal abyss.

Fallout 4

Yeah, I started playing it in 2015, but I played it into 2016, when I finished it. I can understand why some people were underwhelmed by Fallout 4. Given that Fallout 3 was my first experience with the series, and its vast, dingy, irradiated world snared and enthralled me in a way no other had, its follow-up couldn’t possibly provide the same sense of excitement and wonder that comes with a newly discovered universe.

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Having said that, it was a really great game and I had a lot of fun with it. The narrative itself was interesting enough, and I did enjoy building relationships and outposts, but wandering the Wasteland provided the most enjoyable memories for me (as it did in Fallout 3). I saw Star Wars: The Force Awakens while I was playing, so I couldn’t help but feel a bit Rey-like as I roamed around with Curie, my spherical robot companion, scavenging from old machines and kicking ass. Curie’s love of science, thirst for knowledge, and cute accent made her an obvious choice for a romantic partner, so I was happy that they included the side quest where you can transfer her mind into a human body. I don’t think Rey would do that with BB-8, but I won’t speak for her.

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I also spent a lot of time building my mansion on that isolated, enemy-free island. The building system isn’t perfect, but it was fun to mess around with, and near the end of the game I was more than happy to spend another handful of hours collecting materials for my ultimate base of operations. I had a game room, a dining room, a home theater, and a deck with a bar, a jukebox, and lawn chairs surrounded by palms and facing the sea. It was a nice way to finish off my quest.

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 Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture

Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture was a short, quaint experience, and most of my enjoyment came from imagining these people’s lives prior to their disappearances. The movement speed was infuriating, yeah, but the graphics were impressive and I loved the little details in many of the houses or yards. I do wish more of the doors were unlocked, but whatareyagonnado? The rural English countryside called to mind the sci-fi novel The Day of the Triffids, which added an odd sense of eeriness. I liked it.

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Rise of the Tomb Raider

The Tomb Raider reboot was not my first experience with the franchise, but it was done so well that I felt the same kind of magic that I do when I’m discovering a game or series for the first time. So, as with Fallout 4, I didn’t have the same kind of awe-inducing experience with its sequel, Rise of the Tomb Raider, but I did feel like it was a better game, even if only marginally. The controls are fluid and intuitive, the graphics are gorgeous, and exploration is fun and rewarding. I was occasionally distracted by Lara’s hair, because the way they rendered the surface layer of hairs individually meant that it sometimes looked like she was wearing a wig, but that was only one of a few minor complaints. I did not have much of a crush on old-school Lara, but I definitely find myself attracted to the new version. Her strength and determination, with a healthy dose of vulnerability, make her a wonderful character, worthy of obsession.

Tomb Raider

Day of the Tentacle (Remastered)

I have fond memories of Maniac Mansion for the NES, but as a ‘console kid’ I never got around to playing the PC-exclusive sequel, Day of the Tentacle. The newly remastered version gave me to the perfect excuse to finally check it out, and I wasn’t disappointed. While it does feel a bit dated, being an old-school point-and-click adventure, much of the humor and charm seems to have held up surprisingly well. It might be too quirky and tongue-in-cheek for modern audiences, but it was a fun flashback to a simpler time for me. My hope with games like this is that it will be successful enough to merit similar releases, so I have my fingers crossed for a remastered Maniac Mansion, as unlikely as that seems. I really loved that game.

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Miitomo/Pokemon Go

I lump these two together because, like many mobile games, they feel less like full games and more like mini-games to me. That may be unfair, but that discussion is for another blog. I liked Miitomo quite a bit, but its charm is almost wholly dependent on having others to play it with, and everyone I knew abandoned it within two or three weeks of release, leaving me to answer questions for an audience that didn’t exist. Before I eventually joined my friends in jumping ship, I tweeted “I like Miitomo enough, but I can’t help but wish it were a mobile Animal Crossing game.” The app seemed almost like a teaser or demo for a proper Animal Crossing game, so it just made me want the full experience. Nintendo announced that very thing not long after that tweet, but I maintain caution in my optimism. Can Nintendo (or their development partners) squeeze the entire AC experience into a single mobile app? If not, what will be sacrificed? How easy will it be to find new villages to visit? How many people can live in the same village? Will the villages be larger than what we’ve come to expect? I have a lot of questions, and I am still hoping for a new and radically improved iteration for the upcoming Switch, but I will almost certainly pick up the mobile version when it finally hits.



As for Pokemon Go, I still jump on daily, if even just to get the daily catch bonus. I can’t possibly say anything that hasn’t already been said about it, but I was as blown away by its success as anyone else. I knew it would be big, as many people did, because it’s Pokemon, but the amount of money it’s brought in is unreal, and I wonder how its success will shape Nintendo’s use of the brand in the future, or their focus on mobile gaming in general.


Firewatch is one of those short and rewarding games that make you grateful for the indie movement and the power that digital distribution has afforded it. While I do wish the early narrative sections could have been more interactive, and that the choices you made throughout the game would have really made a difference, I was beyond pleased with the game’s story and how it handled tone and pacing. There were some scenes that were quite powerful, in part due to solid voice acting and writing. It’s games like this that help build a stronger and stronger case for games as art.

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 Dying Light

Not a 2016 game, for others, but it was for me. The Dead Island games had some definite faults, but I enjoyed the experiences they offered, so I was excited for Dying Light, which feels like a sequel. Dead Inland, maybe (I’m sure someone’s made that joke already, right?). The new climbing mechanics were a bit clunky, but added some welcome depth to exploration. One of the things I liked a lot about the Dead Island games was the attention to detail that the developers put into almost every room, hallway, and outdoor area. They did a nice job of creating believably abandoned environments, with objects scattered with care and consideration. I was, however, disappointed to discover that one of the small details had been taken out. There was, when the game released, a set of magnets on a refrigerator in an apartment in your starting base that were taken from an animation group called the Clock Crew, of which I have been a member since 2001. Virtually no one has heard of the group, though, so it was a shock when someone posted a screenshot of the magnets, and I was excited to see them in person. Unfortunately, for whatever reason, the developers removed the magnets in a patch, and now they are just colored shapes. Bummer.

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 NBA 2k16

NBA 2k16 does something very interesting and uncommon with race, especially in video games: it forces your created character to have black features (because he is a member of a black family). It’s a bold and important choice, especially given the industry’s general focus on white characters. I can’t think of another game that does it. Unfortunately for me, I was unaware of this design choice, so I tried my best to make my character look like me (as I usually do with character creation), wondering why the physical traits were so limited in the creation mode. Because the physical options didn’t quite match up with my real features, the resulting ‘me’ was ugly, or as I tweeted at the time, “Jesus, my NBA 2K16 character looks like he crawled out of some swampy hole to ride hogs and smoke meth.” I quickly realized, in the first cutscene, that my character was supposed to be black, but I didn’t feel like redesigning him, so I just left it. My in-story nickname, “Freak,” was apt, anyway.

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As for the game itself, it was sort of a rude awakening. I hadn’t played a basketball game in like ten years, maybe more, and I was always a fan of the more arcade-y types (as I remember older versions of the 2k series being). It took me a while to get the hang of shooting, and I still think three pointers are more difficult than they need to be. I felt like an inept old-timer because I thought the game was too hard to master, but I’ve since had three students who play the game frequently agree that it is a difficult game to learn and almost impossible to master. So that made me feel better. A little.

Rock Band 4

Another game that I was late to the party to; I’ve spent a lot of time playing Rock Band 4 this year. My experience with transferring old Rock Band legacy DLC over makes writing about it almost painful, but I did end up getting into the game pretty heavily once everything was settled. I do wish the character creation was more robust (like, a lot more robust), but I was so happy to finally be able to create band members to join me on the road. I created, to the best of my ability, Rey from The Force Awakens (on bass), Jyn from Rogue One (on drums), and Schala from Chrono Trigger (lead vocals). I’ve played the hell out of it on guitar, and I plan on doing the same with the microphone and drums, when I get more time, but with so many songs (I’ve bought an obscene amount of DLC) I can’t imagine I’ll get tired of it anytime soon.

Assassin’s Creed Syndicate

Yep, another 2015 game that I was late in getting around to playing. And I’ve already blogged about this game, but I will briefly rehash my love for it. I know that Ubisoft pumps Assassin’s Creed games out at an annoying rate that waters the brand down like a glass of soda with too much ice, and I agree with the sentiment that longer development time usually equals better games… but I can’t deny that games like Syndicate or Black Flag are some of the best games I’ve ever played. Each game in the series seems to refine rather than revolutionize, and that can be frustration for fans expecting something new and exciting, but man are these some pretty games. Even writing this, I am fondly flashing back to the architecture of Victorian London in Syndicate and the beauty of the Caribbean seas in Black Flag. Also, I developed a bit of a crush on Evie, so I’m sad that we probably won’t see her again. But I liked this game a ton and am very much looking forward to what the next game looks like, given the extended development time.

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EarthBound Beginnings

This game was originally released on the NES in Japan as Mother, a prequel to the US’s EarthBound (Mother 2), one of my all-time favorite games. I was beyond shocked and excited when Nintendo decided to release it here as EarthBound Beginnings, and it gives me hope that they haven’t given up on the prospect of releasing Mother 3 here. Anyway, Beginnings is a lot like its sequel. So much so, in fact, that EarthBound feels like a retry rather than a true sequel. I recently read an interview with Shigeru Miyamoto from 1998, where he suggests that some of Nintendo’s early SNES games were just that: realizations of games that they’d wanted to make on the NES but didn’t have the processing power. So it makes sense that Super Metroid is essentially a beefier, prettier version of Metroid, and EarthBound is a beefier, prettier version of EarthBound Beginnings. Which means, of course, that I highly enjoyed it, though there was one innovation from EarthBound that I very much missed: the exclusion of random battles. It’s far more annoying to explore a new area freely when you’re plagued by random battles with sometimes difficult foes. Still, this was a fun playthrough that made me appreciate EarthBound even more.


I hadn’t heard of Abzu until just before its release, when I saw a trailer for it and was immediately drawn in by how pretty and soothing it looked. I bought it and was not disappointed, as it is a low-stress game that rewards exploration but doesn’t force it. It is pleasing enough just to swim around and observe the ecology, and I’m excited at the prospect of having future students play it and create their own narrative, as the game only gives you only fleeting hints about it.


No Man’s Sky

To say I’ve written ‘at length’ about No Man’s Sky is an understatement, so if you want more of my thoughts than you can handle, look no further than the Captain’s Log section of this site. I will say briefly that I understand, to some extent, why some people were disappointed at the launch version of NMS, but ultimately I still ended up loving it in spite of its flaws. I love exploring new worlds and systems, naming things based on themes, wondering if/when someone will run across my discoveries or if/when I will stumble on theirs. I have yet to play the latest update, with base building and mobile freighters, but I am looking forward to getting around to it… eventually.

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PlayStation VR

I’m just going to lump all of the PS VR games in this one section, because this blog is already too long and many of them are short, small experiences (and I blogged at length about my excitement for the system itself). My experiences have been mixed, I’d say. While some games, like Job Simulator and Arkham VR don’t seem to suffer from an obviously lower resolution, other games, like the Resident Evil 7 “Kitchen” demo and Perfect, do suffer, to the point that there is some tearing and jagged edges that become distracting. Arkham VR really shows what the system can do, though, and it’s the game I insist people try at social gatherings. No one has been disappointed in it, either. I never thought I was afraid of heights, but standing at the edge of the Iceberg Lounge makes me sweat, quite literally. And Rocksteady’s loving attention to detail and respect for lore shines through, as usual.

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PlayStation Worlds suffers from the ‘left drift’ for me, so I haven’t played more than a bit of it. Stationary games don’t give me much of a problem with queasiness, but some of the games that involve movement do. Here They Lie is a good example. You start out in a moving train, and you can both walk around and look freely around the world. I don’t know if it was a combination of all of the different movements, but it definitely made me feel sick. I’ve read that these feelings go away after a while, with more experience in VR, so I hope to come back to those games later.

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Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes is not a PS VR exclusive, but it’s one of my favorite games on the system. It’s tense — duh — and can cause some uncomfortable snipping at people you otherwise like and respect, but it’s all in good fun, and the feeling of disarming a tricky set of switches with just a couple of seconds left is incredible. Until Dawn: Rush of Blood is fun and the sense of movement is something you have to experience to fully understand how crazy VR is. I watched two people play it before I started it, and I still wasn’t prepared for how weird it felt to be moving in the game and not in real life. When the roller coaster car stops in the game, your brain tells your body you’re stopping in real life. It’s bizarre but great.

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There are other games and demos to talk about, but I’ve probably gone on long enough. I do want to mention the non-gaming experiences, though, since it’s one of the aspects of VR that I am very interested in going forward (and not just for porn, but we’re all curious about that, right?). The videos I watched in a few different apps were mostly disappointing. I understand that the resolution is halved due to splitting the image, but the videos still seemed to be a lower quality than I expected. I don’t know if it’s the headset or the hardware the video was recorded with, or compression, or what, but I hope it’s not the ultimate fate of VR video on the PS VR. The videos (be it of a shark swimming near me or a supermodel lounging on a speedboat) just didn’t fully trick my brain into thinking they were real, as some of the games did.


I won’t claim that DOOM is complex and deep. It fully embraces its old school, run-and-gun roots, and that’s not a bad thing. It’s fast, smooth, and beautiful, and it provided some much-needed stress relief after the election results came in. Is it repetitive? Sure. But it’s fun and rewarding, and I look forward to the new Quake as well.


The Division

I only just started playing The Division last week, but I’ll throw out a few thoughts about it since it’s still 2016. I was surprised by how shallow the character creation was, given that it bills itself as an RPG. The gameplay is overwhelming at first, because there is a lot going on on-screen, but I’ve gotten the hang of it pretty quickly. I like the idea of building an HQ and the assortment of side quests look fun, so I can’t wait to start doing those and building my base up. I’m not sure I’ll end up playing online with anyone except my friend Tabitha, but I can see myself getting hooked on leveling up and customizing my character’s load-out and clothing.

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I’ve been traveling and visiting family this month, so I haven’t been able to do as much ‘catching up’ as I’d have liked, but I’m getting there. I was going to throw in some thoughts on games I am looking forward to playing soon, but I’ve already written far more than I’d planned, so I’ll just do a different blog on that. Stay tuned, non-existent readers!

The Little Things

I’m not quite as old as dirt, but sometimes it feels like it. In my thirty or so years of playing games, I’ve built up a cache of experiences that I draw from every time I play a new game. It’s not a conscious or purposeful thing. I don’t play games to snidely compare them to others like them. It just happens. Sometimes it’s inescapable comparisons of ‘big’ things, like gameplay, mission structure, or premise (think Grand Theft Auto and Saints Row, or BioWare and Bethesda games).

Sometimes, though, it’s the little things, and these are the things that catch me off guard and make me think about how far games have come in terms of graphics, design, and narrative. Given the casual, personal nature of this site, I want to write about some of these moments as they happen. I don’t feel like they warrant much attention, but as the whippersnappers say, ‘I do what I want.’ So this will be the first in a series of such observations and commentary.

Having said that, I’ve been playing a lot of Dying Light lately, and I’m enjoying it pretty thoroughly. I’m a fan of Dead Island, though, and this is basically Dead Mainland, so it’s no wonder I took to it so easily. Early in the game I was running around, bashing zombies repeatedly in the head with underpowered melee weapons in the bleak urban setting, when I decided to cut across one of the few grassy areas on the map. As much as the game is designed to encourage constant movement, I had to pause at the top of the hill to admire the grass and other plants.

Dying Light Field
Dying Light – Field

I don’t know if Dying Light has the most beautiful digital greenage ever, but it’s pretty dang pretty. There is a diversity in terms of size, color, and type, and the placement makes it feel like it’s fairly realistically wild, with clumps and gaps placed where it seems they should be. A static image like this does it little justice, though, as the movement of the plants as they sway adds a lot to their realism. It’s oddly calming to behold, despite leaving you utterly vulnerable to the zombies ambling around you.

After admiring the lively field for a few moments, I moved on, but my mind kept working it over. One of my first thoughts was how, as beautiful as it was, it was still far from where it would need to be to exist as a realistic simulation in terms of an immersive virtual experience. I’m hoping that the new wave of virtual reality ‘experiences’ takes off and ushers in a new era of gaming (and general entertainment), but how long will it be before I can bend over and handle a single blade of grass, pulling and tearing it realistically, zooming in to observe individual cells? How long before leaves bounce and twist according to actual laws of physics and the variable wind patterns instead of pre-programmed swaying motions? When will I be able to pluck an apple from a tree, extract the seeds and plant them in fertile soil to grow a new tree that looks different than the last, all in a virtual world where this isn’t some core piece of gameplay? To create a truly realistic virtual reality, it’s these kinds of details that would have to be addressed. But that seems so far away, right?

At this point I was back to hacking at zombie faces in the game, but the thread of thought continued. How far we’ve come. My first memory of an open field in a 3D game was my first steps on Ocarina of Time‘s Hyrule Field.

Ocarina of Time Hyrule Field
Ocarina of Time – Hyrule Field

Stepping out into this field felt magical at the time. A real world in three dimensions. Grass, trees, mountains over the horizon. When compared to recent games, of course, it’s bland and bare, closer to the wastelands of a Fallout game than a lush and realistic field. The ‘grass’ is blurry dabs of color stretched over a flat canvas, and trees are likewise flat images pasted together to give the appearance of branches and leaves.

Hey, I’m not griping. At the time this was breathtaking, and some of gaming’s top designers worked on this. But we really have come a long way in terms of not only graphical capability, but artistic cohesion when it comes to piecing graphical elements together to make a realistic world for players to traverse. If we’ve come this far in twenty years, what will another twenty do? Maybe, just maybe, I’ll live to see a virtual world where I can pull those individual blades of grass or plants those apple seeds that I got from crushing a newly plucked apple from a tree. That would be pretty neat.


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