Category Archives: Review

2014 in games.

1. This War of Mine (PC)

This War of Mine “In modern war … you will die like a dog for no good reason.”

I needed to reach the end of my game before I could safely say this is the best game I’ve played this year. It’s a simple survival sims, but it captures so much of what it’s like to be a helpless civilian caught in the middle of a pointless war, or so I imagine. Yet that’s its strength, that it effective communicates an experience like no other, and it does so interactively.

The sheer grind of scrounging for wood to heat your shelter through the winter, the difficult decisions to starve for just a little bit more so the food will last longer, the agony of wondering if we should loot that helpless elderly couple for their supplies. This game isn’t fun in the traditional sense, but it reaches emotions that are rarely explored in the medium, and does so with grace and authenticity. For this, it deserves my vote.

2. DreamQuest (iOS)

DreamQuest

“Don’t be afraid to eat the squirrels”

It’s perhaps to its credit that the game doesn’t track hours played, because I’m fairly certain my phone exist mostly as a dreamquest machine right now. A sublime blend of two highly compelling gameplay systems (deckbuilding and roguelikes), the game has consumed all the stolen moments in time between life. Waiting for the bus; play dreamquest. Idle moments at the bar; play dreamquest, lounging between dives; play dreamquest. Drowning out relatives constant droning; play dreamquest. The art is horrible yes, but only goes to show that strong game design can often trump the superficial need for the graphical arms race.

3. Wolfenstein: The New Order (PC)

BJ

Who would have thought Wolfenstein would provide a thought provoking meditation on the nature of war and its cost. That a game that features Nazi moon bases, clockwork robotic dogs and Nazi mad scientists engineering the end of the world would be a establish real human characters. That the name BJ Blaskowicz would invoke a soft-spoken, soulful man caught in a war of regrets. Apparently Machine games did. I haven’t wanted to play through a single player FPS like this since the original half-life, and this is so much more.

“Right now, it’s going to be loud.”

4. Dragon Age: Inquisition (PS4)


12 companions

This was always going to be on the list somewhere. DAI is the game Bioware was destined to make. Expansive open worlds to explore, secrets to uncover in every nook and cranny; A large cast of characters that joke, cajole, fight, and codex entries that could cover an entire series of books that George Martin will take the better part of a century to write. I hope the next Mass Effect takes its cue from DAI. Few game studios ever create worlds and stories like Bioware does and DAI is a showcase at just why they are top of the RPG game.

“Cassandra greatly approves”

5. Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor (PS4)

Nemesis
I struggled a little with the 5th entry on this list, trying to decide between games like Dark Souls II, Alien Isolation, or Legends of Grimrock II. In the end, Shadow of Mordor wins out with one simple reason; the Nemesis system. When it first announced, I wondered how they would do it, I wondered how it could even work. And now that I’ve played it, I think it has finally ushered in the age of next-gen gaming. It’s not graphical wonkery, nor technical mastery, it’s design

The rest of the game is a serviceable hodgepodge of gameplay systems, married to an incredibly trite story, set in world that is a little too bland. Kudos to the team though for not thoroughly defiling Tolkien’s world building which some had feared early on. It’s a shame that Mordor itself has to be the dark serious gritty brown world of brutal violence and ancient elven ruins instead of something more interesting.

On the other hand, I really like that the world existed beyond the player’s presence, with its wildlife, orcs and ghouls all reacting against one another.

Yet it’s the nemesis system that will inspire games to come, and I hope to see the future where it isn’t tied to just Orcs, but perhaps mafia dons, Templar Agents, assassin targets, et al.

“You have to visualize your goals”

The Godfather Award

1. Android: Netrunner (LCG)

SMCI still go to a game almost every week. I can’t help it. They release a new pack every month or so, and a big box every half a year. There are new card combos to try out, new concepts to build around, (My fave of the year being the Social Justice Warrior deck) new games to play, and often, new friends to make.

Few games are ever alike, (apart from the those bastards playing NBN Astrobiotics.) and each is a contest of wills, maths, and lies. There’s nothing the tension when a game can hang in a single click, or the high when your glory run connects, or the joy when your janky combo actually fires that one time.

I’ll probably be playing this far into 2015 as well, so expect to see it nominated again next year.

“Last click, Run.”

Honorable Mentions

1. Alien Isolation: A good job on bringing back the survival space horror genre, with a great AI to anchor the entire system. Shame about the pacing, the repetitive key hunts, and those last few sections.

2. Dark Souls II: It felt more like DSII was made by a bunch of talented forgers trying to ape what Dark Souls did right, but it missed out a lot of the secret sauce that held the original Dark Souls together.

3. Legends of Grimrock II: It charming to get back to the fundamentals of the dungeon crawl, even if I had to do it one step at a time.


Deus Ex: Human Review

I spent two weeks of my youth relentlessly playing the original Deus Ex.

Every night, for those two weeks, I travel halfway across the country from my army post, to spend 3 hours of the only time I had in actual civilization in the midst of computerized conspiracy. On weekends, I barely bothered with a social life that was the only thing keeping me sane amidst the military madness of my national service. It was Deus Ex, and nothing else. It’s an indelible part of my gaming history, and it seemed I was not alone. It’s depth of gameplay, sense of aesthetic, and myriad of gaming concepts touched a whole slew of then hardcore gamers, clamoring for more. 10 years later, we get Deus Ex: Human Revolution.

It isn’t perfect, but it’s close.

Creepiest level by far.

Deus Ex: Human Revolution does manage to tug the nostalgic strings of those two weeks of gaming nirvana. With all its concessions to modern gaming, it keeps many of the original’s gaming concepts that I love intact, albeit with some tweaks and iterations, and introduces a few new ones that are interesting in the context of the game. Perhaps it can’t beat how the original influenced my concept of what games can be, but it does a pretty damned good job is reminding me that this sort of game play hasn’t died and perhaps there’s hope amidst whatever new trend will emerge in the AAA space that isn’t military shooter #314, F2P madness or button press to win content tour.

I’m glad that the small open world game play is still viable. That Deus Ex hews closely to a hub city structure, where I get to criss cross on various storied side quests, unfolding the world of transhumanist sci-fi one hack at a time. I like the freedom the game gives me to explore all my options, rarely rushing me through the levels in some vain attempt to put tension on my actions. I love the attention to detail in the level design, building a place that is at once game-ified, but plausible in vision. I love that the story in Deus Ex isn’t just in the cutscenes, but in how I move through the world, uncovering bits of conspiracy, debating philosophies with terrorists and humanitarians and in all the incidental detail borne from the back story that only a geek like me might recognize.

Home, Noir, Home

It still falls short in several areas though. For one, it’s a lot more deterministic that the original’s simulationist approach to goals and levels. There are one too many consequences in this game based on decisions that seemed escapable but weren’t, and many of these consequence end up being a footnote and a reward right after. The original had consequence far down the line in the game, a convention on the Witcher was able to successfully incorporate.

Then there were the boss fights, perhaps a note passed from Squeenix, or a rogue idea that came from Metal Gear rather than the original’s approach in designing climatic encounters. Either way, they were tedious affairs that put the player in a situation from which there was little preparation. How I would love to find a kill-switch.

And the ending, oh the disappointing ending. 30 hours of stealth story gameplay, 30 hours to uncovering truths and debating nuances, 30 hours of character motivation only to be dumped in puerile philosophy lessons. There was no emotional cartharsis, no resolution to characters and their stories. No consequences from the final decision, no emotional impact. Just a series of slideshows.

It’s a shame, because up to that point, Deus Ex does a stellar job in actualizing its science fiction setting. It’s definitely got a firmer grip on its science than the original and it wisely chose to focus more on characters in the majority of the games. Major and minor characters alike felt well-realized for the setting, and nothing highlighted that more than the conversation battles, a truly innovative use of dialog trees and dialetics. Conversation as a boss fight, ducking, weaving, coaxing, crushing, empathizing to get what you want. It was a joy to play. Sure I may be debating computerized characters and pre-written dialog, but it’s a pleasure that such empathetic nuance is brought in as part of the game-play, instead of relegating it to dialog no one reads, or backstory few else cares about.

That way lies the sequel, hopefully.

I’m not sure DXHR will engender as many playthrough as I did the original. Beyond that initial two weeks, I must have played the original at least 3 or 4 times, discovering new things each time. I still have yet to try out The Nameless Mod, a massive total conversion of the original, but I’m not my eyes can stand the dated graphics, with or without augs. I’m glad that I manage to experience the game once over, and perhaps another time later if the DLCs prove worthwhile. The game play is solid, and still touches the pleasure centers of my gaming brain. There are probably certain parts of the game I’ve yet to uncover, though I suspect its modernization allows for less hidden and emergent content that the original did. Yet for a story that managed to get it hooks in me at the start, it’s disappointing ending is unlikely to be upgraded away. What a shame.

Stray Thoughts

– SINGAPORE REPRESENT! Also, the second best level by far in terms of sneaky sneaky gameplay. Only the Hengsha Docks comes close in layout, challenge and interest. Too bad it’s Singapore in name only. Now if only the guards spoke Singlish, I would have spared some of them. As it is, bunch of foreign workers here to steal our jobs and our scientists. Yeah, that’s a headshot.

– I really do like some of the characters introduced and cannot state just how disappointed I am in not being able to have a final discussion with Francis Pritchard, or to settle issues with Megan Reed, or see my Boss deal with the fallout of the events. The best moment I had was in rescuing Malik, but even then, I felt a little short-changed in how it was setup. Malik could have at least done more before and after.

– DXHR is better than Mass Effect 2, in almost all areas of RPGing, shooting and science fictioning.

– Playing DXHR makes me wanna watch Ghost in the Shell: Standalone Complex.

– That hacking mini-game is pretty neat. Best mini-game in an RPG so far.

Now that's a level worth exploring. Shame it's a Skybox


Dragon Age: Two thoughts, maybe more.

Dragon Age II’s biggest problem is putting the II at the end of its name.

Just me and homies.

Origins took a better part of a decade to develop. The writers at Bioware created an original fantasy world in the grimdark mold, highlighted by morally grey characters, where fascism, rascism and fatalism ran rampant, then build a traditional role-playing game around it. Despite its flaws, and I can nitpick a few of them, it was a polished, expansive fantasy adventure that harkened back to the days where RPGs sent you to four corners of their world, righting wrongs, fighting foozles and looting everything in between. The grimdark tone lent an aura of originality providing instances of morally ambiguous quest decision, companions with a certain amount of depth and an overall epic RPG that’s missing in games for some time.

Two years later, they released Dragon Age II.

All the single ladies.

Dragon Age II doesn’t exactly pick off where Origins, (and it’s DLCs) left off. Instead, it eschews almost everything that Origins was, and builds a wholly new idea from the bits and pieces of backstory. It’s almost a different game. Two years probably isn’t enough after all, to deliver another expansive epic adventure like Origins, so the II more wisely focuses its intent on story and combat. Specifically, the story of a champion’s rise to prominence in a single city. It’s a premise that’s laudable, with a plot format that takes advantage of act structures, and the RPG’s need to send its characters on wild side-quest along the path of the main plot. For the most part, Dragon Age II is an enjoyable experience, with hints of a good story buried underneath and enough entertaining characters to keep you enthralled for it’s 40-hour adventure. But boy, is it rushed.

Weren't they extinct? Well, they soon will be.

So much of the game needs polished. Hard battles with difficulty spikes that impale your poorly prepared ass all over the map. A User Interface that buries all the interesting bits of story and function behind minimalist negative space and odd font choices. Exploding blood bags that are greater in volume that the enemies that should have contained them and those repeating dungeons. Man, those repeating dungeons are a sure sign that this is a rush job. Level design has never been Bioware’s strong suit, but never has it been so egregious that they spent far too little time in thinking about what the game should look like in terms of location. Masters of story they may be in background, companions and plot, but Bioware has yet to grasp the idea that you can tell a story through architecture.

Then there’s ACT III, where the games themes are supposed to come together in their climatic showdown. Where all the fear, and conflict that has festered for so long has to erupt in spectacular fashion, and the drama resonates within the story. Instead, it plays out too quickly, undone by characters reciting extremist propaganda without the option to argue another way. Story beats are rushed through with efficiency, but less so the tension that needed one final push, one final reminder before bringing the entire world of Hawke crashing down on her. Dragon Age II’s ending wants to be a tragedy, and they got all the depressing parts right, as well as the commentary on modern politics, but they forgot that tragedy has to be rooted in the desire for something greater, something nobler and falling far short of that ideal. Instead, we get extremists arguing with one another and no way to shut them all up.  Where the game was kinda of good in disguising its railroading of plot in the two prior acts, ACT III simply gives up and sends Hawke down an inevitable path of destruction, whether you like or not. Bioware doesn’t even give you the satisfaction of a denouement, a proper farewell and closure to the events of ACT III. They rather set the stage for the eventual sequel.

 

Is this any worse than the exploding gibs in Baldur's Gate?

Despite all that, I enjoyed myself for two-thirds of the game, before the repetitive dungeons and rushed story bothered me. I enjoyed the character interactions and I enjoyed the ability to feel anger, frustration and joy at my companions personal adventures and philosophies. (Go Aveline! Suck a dead dog Anders!) I enjoyed that they could grow as characters depending on your relationship with them. I enjoyed the little bits of family that the game occasionally remembers to give to me, but wished they had done a better job at executing large parts of it. I enjoyed some of the second act twist, and that side quests can spin off into year long adventures depending on your prior decisions to their resolutions. I even enjoyed the conversation system, and that it’s a lot more consistent with regards to setting your personality across the game.

 

Quick! Someone react hyperbolically to this blatant disregard for social standards. Oh my!

Ultimately though, I enjoyed Dragon Age II as an experimentation of a different RPG style from Origins classic take on the genre. It’s a good idea, with great moments hammered unceremoniously together into an unpolished game. Perhaps two years isn’t enough to develop yet another expansive epic, perhaps they should have called this Dragon Age: Champion instead, Perhaps they shouldn’t have tried to copy to much from Mass Effect 2 so close to its success and invited all that backlash. Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps. I can probably hope they find a happy medium between this game and Origins and take a little more time to polish that up for the eventual sequel set in Orlais

STRAY THOUGHTS (I like the good idea, but man … that bad idea)

– I like the new character progression system, with the stats and the talents progression. They provide more interesting decision on levelling a character and creates a nice specialized roles within the character classes. Even if they are all centered around combat. But man, the UI is a beast, separating inventory, secondary stats, resistances and comparisons across seperate menus.

– I like the new companions, and the animation and the dialog that comes with their personalities. They may not be as deep as those of Origins, but most of them are a lot more fun to hang out with. (Except fundamentalist slave boy Fenris.) Bioware tends to write archtypes, with personalities that rarely change over the course of a story, whether your character has any affect on them or not, but DA2’s companions display ability to grow as characters along the course of the story depending on your relationship with them. It’s a nice touch that hopefully can be fully expanded upon in subsequent games. But man, I wished I had the ability to chat them up whenever, instead of waiting around for their quest to pop up. I wanna help Isabela, Varric and Merrill, and I wanna help them now.

– I like the new art style, with the illustrative cutscenes, the improved character models and their distinct look with that one costume, as well as all the cool upgrades to in-game weapon and armor models. But man… those inventory icons are next to worthless with the odd color selections and inability to zoom in my character’s paper-doll.

– I like Kirkwall’s backstory and it goes a long way in explaining why the events of Act III happen the way they do, but man, they should have done a better job in getting that part of the story to the forefront.

– I like the concept of centering the adventure around the growth of a character and his/her impact on a single city, but man… Bioware really needs to move away from their closed box level design. Too much of Kirkwall felt like a loading corridor and the never changes in the seven years I was there. We live in an age where we have Assassin’s Creed city technology and Grand Theft Auto. Why can’t Bioware, with the backing of EA’s money and their own success build an RPG out of that idea. Why lock us in small city areas and pretend that it’s a great metropolis.

– I like the new combat skills, and the sheer variety in their abilities, combos, styles and animations. I like the specialization of classes, and that warriors are finally back on the table as the damage dealers. I even like the inclusion of MMO style boss mechanics in some of the fight even if I’m not always a fan of the holy trinity of RPG combat design. It feels tactically satisfying once the game gets going. But man… why take out the isometric camera? I miss that. If you’re going to give me braindead AI that likes to stand in the fire and can’t handle the whelps, at least allow me greater control of my party. I hope this is not symptomatic of their streamlining and their designing simply not liking tactical depth.

– I like some of the streamlining, but man, some streamlining really is meant for the lowest common denominator.

– I probably would have like the tone and style of the game in my earlier years, but man, I’m really wishing for a more swashbuckling epic adventure. Too many fantasy RPGs these days are painted with a cynical brush of grimdark gritty realism. Where’s the escapism in fantasy?


Games of 2010: Part II

Again, this is the second part of the games that have somehow impacted me during this year. Mostly on the way I think about story and presentation in games, not so much about the game play itself. It’s by no means a definitive list and there are a bunch of games I have yet to try out. (They’re at the bottom of the list), but it does represent my thoughts on these games and how good I thought they were at what they were doing. Onwards, in descending order to Number 1.

4> Stalker: Call of Pripyat.


There’s a certain existential dread pervading the Stalker worlds, something that Fallout’s post-apocalyptic Americana kitsch completely avoids. Maybe it’s a Russian thing, after all they do like their desperate struggles for humanity’s survival. (See Tolstoy, Doestovesky, or better yet, read Stanislaw Lem and play Stalker.) Either way, it makes the third Stalker a unique experience, an often cold, desolate, depressing experience, but a unique one.

3> Starcraft II – Wings of Liberty


The story of Starcraft II is not in its cliché ridden melodramatic hackfest of a single player campaign. No, as polished as that was, it was a side show attraction to the real meat and bones of a game designed from ground up to be competitive. The real story of Starcraft II lies in its multiplayer.

It tracks the rise and fall of wannabe generals, the careful strategic planning that give way to tactical blunders, the emotional rollercoaster to near misses and inevitable death. It’s the rush of adrenaline as you think you might just have a chance, but no, no, that one muta just murdered your entire ground army. It’s the frustrations and the recriminations of your own stupidity, followed by the burning desire to do better. Just one more game, I’ll be better. I promise. Maybe I’ll just quit. No wait, I can beat them. Ok I can’t. This game sucks. I Nuked! I win.

Every story plays out differently; every story can be recorded for your playback pleasure. Every story is a personal one against your arch nemesis for those few minutes, and every story has that one moment of dramatic glory, or pyrrhic victory, or triumph that can be shared. It’s often an intense story, but man, is it a personal one.

2> Fallout: New Vegas


Obsidian knows how to build worlds. They know how to put the player in a place that’s filled with vivid adventures, and colorful characters and unique locations. They know how to write a place that’s both fantastical and dangerous, and then give you the choice on how you want to shape that world. Fallout: New Vegas is a giant RPG sandbox, filled interesting things to see, do and talk to. It’s archaeology, reconstructing stories from the past, and seeing how they’ve shaped the present.

And it’s all built with a philosophy in mind. Specifically in Fallout: New Vegas, Hegelian dialetics, how do societies in a post-apocalyptic landscape reshape themselves. How do they fit themselves into the larger world. If society is largely a collection of tribal associations, what happens when those tribal associations go to war in a harsh, unforgiving, (but oddly humourous) environment. And what do you, as player want to explore with each of these ideals? What can you do to shape it.

The games doesn’t really successfully explore all these ideas though, but it’s massively ambitious an attempt to do so, and because of that, it’s a game that rewards thinking about the consequences of your decision and the fate of this fictional world. It’s a game that goes beyond the tropes of saving the world from a great evil, or from dastardly conspiracies and manipulative overlords. It’s a world where there’s a good and bad side to everything, so what do you think is best?

Shame the game is a bit buggy though.

1> BioShock 2


No other game hit me as hard on an emotional level. No other game presented a world so detailed in its conception and so ambitious in its ideals. No other game seems to be as mature in wanting to tell a story that can be emotionally affecting in a unique way, and then giving the player the ability to experience that story in his own way, at his own pace. BioShock 2 tugged at heartstrings that few games have ever done, and is likely to rarely do. It’s a game that takes its concepts and builds an incredibly story, action and adventure around them. Then it sucker punches you.

At this point, I’m waxing lyrical about a game and fully admit bias. If I were to speak objectively, I realize the emotional impact of a game is about as subjective a topic I can get from writing about anything. Objectively, Bioshock is merely a good game with many of its nits and picks to quibble about. Objectively, the story isn’t really for everyone either.

Subjectively though, this is one of those rarefied games that will enter the annals of my influences. This is how you build a level for game-play and story purposes.* This is how you pace a game to give player’s control of their surroundings. And this is how you get me to care about the characters in your game. Not by following clichés and tropes, but by taking a single idea and exploring all the perspectives around it, and then letting me decide which one is ultimately mine.

*Fallout 3 and Fallout: NV are great, but its identikit level design has nothing on BioShock’s aesthetic goals.

Honorable Mention #1
Mass Effect 2

It was a bold experiment in RPG design; in its own words, it’s all about Big Decision and Visceral Combat now. Mass Effect 2 is streamlined space opera, an RPG cut down to its very core. It’s all-action, all story, all the time. You are Commander Shepard and man, are you getting the band together to save the universe. But first, let’s deal with your issues.

It’s too bad the streamlining undercut a lot of interesting gameplay for cinematic immersion, and a lot of world building for an encyclopedia and corridor shootfests. It’s an efficient game, (we’ll not talk about planet scanning) and in that efficiency, some soul was lost.

As it is, Mass Effect 2 is a great window into the universe, but it always felt like I’m staring at one small corner of it, wishing I could explore more, talk more; wishing I could go deeper. There are touches of brilliance everywhere, bits and pieces of awesome scenery tucked away in a skybox, and hints of historical depth in random conversations. Yet I can rarely explore them, because the game is too busy hurtling me down the action path. I have to save the universe from the collectors, but first I have to play amateur psychologist, or undercover cop, or hacker supreme. Mainly though, I just have to play a guy* who runs and guns through corridors. Alrighty then.

In the end, Mass Effect 2 ends up feeling like an awesome collection of short stories, tenuously connected by an overarching theme, played over the same game. Great in short doses for the story, but the game was ultimately kinda shallow.

*(well girl really. FemShep is the only way to play)

Honorable Mention #2

WoW: Cataclysm, (and Wrath of the Lich King)


I’m late to the party, but it’s a party that never ends.

I actually want to talk about how Blizzard seems to be getting much better at designing zones. They’re now little subsections of the world where stories can take place. Yes, sure, it’s world, where the stories are a hodge podge of fantasy tropes and pop-culture references and there’s no serious attempt at building anything, well, plausible. It’s a fantasy theme park.

So what? Theme parks are designed to be incredibly fun. Take a ride, take many rides and remember the times. WoW is a game in all its gaming glory. The stories are there, but their fun tales to be shared by drunken barflies after work. The characters are there, but they’re broad fantasy archetypes meant to paint an epic picture, not tell a nuanced deep story. It’s all very entertaining, but it’s hard to care for any of it. In fact, the only thing worth caring in Wow are numbers, and the loot to make those numbers go higher.

And that’s where the game lets me down, because sometimes, more often than not; people over-caring about those numbers, really really suck.

Games I should get to playing.

Civilization V
Amnesia: The Dark Descent
Greed Corp
Call of Duty: Black Ops


The best games of 2010: Part I

The following is my list of best games I’ve played in 2010. There isn’t really a consistent criteria, just games that have opened my eyes, given me a wholly unique experience, is a fantastic expression of an idea, or just ate away a lot of time that I’m glad I gave away. They are in some form of order.

8> Dead Rising 2.


4 years in the making; the sequel to one of my favourite games of all time is exactly what I wanted in a sequel. It’s wacky zombie killing adventure, this time chainsaw paddle blades, wolverine claws and the automated Stephen Hawking kill chair.  As zombies may be entering the mainstream pop culture du jour, Dead Rising 2 remains one of the best expressions of just how goofy the idea is, and how seriously we can take it.

Take for example the daughter part of the story, it’s a nice touch in an otherwise balls to wall game of insane zombie killing action. Sure, I can feed her medicine while dressed in a top hat and a mankini, but the intent of trying to get at an emotion beyond just awesome killing or desperate survival elevates this game just beyond B-grade enjoyable pulp. The rest of the game just mashing on the necros, but every so often, you can be reminded why we bother.

7> Nehrim


A German mod team takes 4 years to show that they have much better imagination that world creation abilities that Bethesda. Nehrim is a mod that makes full use of Oblivion’s potential, but building a world that seems at times plausible, at times picturesque, but all fantastic. Playing the game is like wandering through a fantasy novel; meeting the people and stumbling into some incredible locations, being yanked along by a plot that seems not to stop, and coming into set pieces that Bethesda can only wished they had originally dreamed off.

In Nehrim, you’ll sneak your way into a sieged city, trudging your way through its smoking ruins, you’ll delve deep into tunnels, looking for the lost mega-city buried beneath. You’ll trek cautiously through a haunted forest, only to arrive to a site of massive devastation. No two dungeons are alike, no two locations are similar. It’s a game that’s build a world out of sheer imagination and grit and it’s worth the time to see what mod teams can do, when they put their mind to it.

6> Limbo


Limbo is this year’s Braid, and arguably a much better expression of an artistic idea. It’s a game that wears its aesthetic perfectly, the quiet echo of its soundtrack against the haunting imagery of its silhouettes upon shadows, a platform game with incredible simple mechanics, telling a simple story with just art. Also, those death animations are kinda cool.

5> Shatter


Admittedly, I wasn’t expecting to be smitten by this. It originally looked to be just an update to the old Arkanoid/Breakout gameplay, with tweaks to the gameplay mechanic. Playing it, on the other hand, is a different story. Props goes to the awesome soundtrack, which I could just listen to without playing the game, but goes a long to providing that “zen thing” trance groove the game will lull you into once you get going. Whatever the case, it’s nice to see classic gameplay mechanics get a spit and polish and remind us why they are classic in the first place.

Here’s the soundtrack because it’s just that awesome.