The Great Video Game Backlog Excursion Of 2016

In an effort to barrel through my backlog of games and make sure I’m not letting anything just sit there, I’m making it a point to FINISH games in 2016, not just get halfway and then abandon them. This post is where I will detail the games I have finished, and how I felt about them.

  • Currently playing: DanganRonpa 2 (Vita), and Fire Emblem: Awakening (3DS)

UPDATE: Life has gotten busy, and updating this every time I finish a game has gotten difficult. I’ve just got a list going. See below:

Shadow Complex Remastered
Titanfall 2
Batman: Arkham VR
Actual Sunlight
100 Ft. Robot Golf
Deus Ex: Mankind Divided
Zero Time Dilemma
Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End
Call Of Duty: Infinite Warfare
Tropico 5

Grand Theft Auto V (Ps4)

  • FINISHED 4/30/16 — This took me SO LONG TO FINISH but mainly because I kept getting side-tracked with other games. I’d actually started this game three times. Twice on the Ps3, and once on the Ps4. The main reason I kept starting over was Trevor.

Far Cry 4 (Ps4)

  • FINISHED 4/19/16 — FINALLY. I’ve been plugging away at this game for the better part of three months, playing bits and pieces here and there when I could. I adored Far Cry 3, a game that pretty much made me inhabit the main character so fully that I was almost furious there was no direct continuation. Far Cry 4 has the unenviable job of following that class act, and succeeds in many areas. That being said, it really fails to tell a compelling story and (to me) that makes it vastly inferior to its predecessor.

The idea that you’re just a young man coming back to his homeland to spread his mother’s ashes is compelling. There is a wealth of story to mine there. You’ve got a player-character who is a stranger in a strange land even though it’s his heritage. You’ve got someone who is going through a ton of emotional turmoil. You’ve got an incredibly lush landscape…and yet it never congeals into something that made me driven to complete the narrative. Far Cry 4 seems to want to ape the style and structure of FC3 by giving us a colorful villain, but the civil war plotline doesn’t actually bear fruit after planting seeds for 20+ hours. The ending comes with a bang, and doesn’t offer anything interesting in terms of gameplay.

Far Cry 3 had this amazing through-line that made you question whether or not what you were doing was ethical by your standards or your friends standards. Far Cry 4 doesn’t offer any sort of foil to the player-character that makes you step back and say “Whoa, is what I’m doing what’s best for me? For Kyrat?” The choices you make in the game don’t seem to make a big difference either way. There is a small reveal in the ending of the game about your family, but it just doesn’t carry any WEIGHT.

That being said, the gameplay is fantastic. I spent a solid 5 hours just hunting, completing quests, and doing side missions before I noticed I wasn’t progressing the story. Shooting feels great. Locomotion is solid. The whole loop just works. If they can marry that to a compelling narrative then we’ll have a GOTY on our hands.

The Walking Dead — Season Two (Ps4)

  • FINISHED 4/10/16 — As someone who pretty much cannot understand why people are compelled to watch AMC’s “The Walking Dead,” I’m very interested in the game series because it affords me the ability to experience the story instead of just watch it. I’m so accustomed to yelling at the characters on screen in zombie stories that I relish the ability to make tough decisions instead of see them play out. For me, I’ll always enjoy Telltale’s games because they have a really fine layer of Choose-Your-Own-Adventure mechanics infuse with a familiar settings to create a fantastic story. The Walking Dead — Season Two ebbs and flows in a much weirder rhythm than Season One, but that doesn’t mean it is bad.

First off, Clementine is just the best. She was the heart and soul of Season One, and seeing her take up the protag’s mantle in Season Two is a great direction to take the series in. I would imagine that the impact of playing as her would greatly be lessened if you hadn’t played Season One, as there is now way to replace the hours of having her at your side while playing as Lee. Controlling Clem gives a wildly different take on the story. Lee was able-bodied, smart, and as calm as you’d want to make him. Clem tries to channel that but my choices made her battle-hardened and I really felt like I was equipping her for “the shit” that was ahead.

Clem’s connections to Luke, Jane, & Kenny felt compelling to me. Her big sister-ing of Sarah was laborious at times, but ultimately I felt like the conclusion to that story was organic and made sense. My character saved Jane, because Jane taught her that some people didn’t want to be saved. In the end I felt like I released Sarah from hell instead of keeping her there.

During Season One, I had one thought: Kenny is a loose-cannon. My most recent playthrough really highlighted this. I let him know that he was impulsive, reactive, and overly critical of everyone. I was delighted to find that Telltale brought him back (almost exclusively!) to revisit these notions. I felt vindicated when other characters started pointing this out as early as Episode 3, but thought that some of the most serious decisions involving him felt less impactful because the game kept trying to defend his actions. I spent a good game-and-a-half thinking Kenny had to leave my group or be put down, so the final decision of the game didn’t feel important to me.

Overall, the new group didn’t resonate with me nearly as much as the first season’s group. Jane was the only addition who really made me think about the landscape of the game in a new way, and I ended up going with her at the end of the game. Many of the character deaths felt less pointed than the first season’s as well. Carver could have been a compelling villain but he ended up dying unceremoniously at the end of Episode 3.

I’m not saying the game was a bad time, quite the opposite actually. The Walking Dead — Season One was my GOTY when it was released so it had a high bar to clear. Season Two showed a lot of new ideas but it didn’t have as strong of a direction as Season One. Clem is no longer trying to survive the apocalypse, she is trying to survive different people at the end of their rope. It is definitely interesting, but the shift from ‘Your Group →Carver →Your Group →Some Russians →Kenny’ didn’t do it any favors.

Still, I am excited for Season Three. Bring it on.

Hitman: GO (Vita/Ps4)

  • FINISHED 3/5/16 — I have been curious about the GO series from Square-Enix Montreal for quite some time. I still find it kind of nutty that Square publishes games like Tomb Raider and Just Cause 3. I grew up playing nothing but Final Fantasy, Vagrant Story, Chrono Trigger, etc. Seeing something like Agent 47 be branded with Square-Enix stuff gives me a sort of nostalgic whiplash. If the games are good, I don’t care. Just give me a good game.

So…it Hitman: GO good? The short answer is: Mostly. The long answer is that I enjoy the puzzle layout and definitely scratched my head a few times on some of the weirder formations. (I only looked up the solution to a puzzle ONCE!) The games does an INCREDIBLE job with teaching you the mechanics without having large swaths of text dictating what you should do, and that wins me over so so so much. It starts off easy, then before you know it you’re really trying to plan 7–8 moves ahead. It’s like chess, but you’re playing with 5 opponents. The different “levels” mix up the mechanics enough so that you never feel bored, but always adequately challenged.

The entire time I kept remembering there was a Lara Croft version of this game and I just prefer that to the Hitman brand so much more. It’s a VERY surface level gripe to have, especially since the puzzles are so sound as it is. It is very similar as to why I just cannot get into The Witcher series. I’m sure I’m dig the game but I just don’t like the design of Geralt Of Rivia.

Full disclosure: I’ve maybe only ever played a Hitman game twice, for 15 mins at a time, and that was years ago. Hitman: GO has made me curious about trying out the newer Hitman games (oh hey) so I’ll probably try a demo or something sometime soon. This game scratched my puzzle itch, but I’ll be more excited about the design when Lara Croft is solving puzzles, and not Agent 47.

Thanks for the (relatively) easy platinum trophy!

Volume (Vita)

Someone will find a way to cosplay this, and it’ll be fantastic.
  • FINISHED 2/28/16 — Boy, I really enjoyed this game. Have you played Thomas Is Alone? You should. It’s a charming little platformer made by Mike Bithell, and was one of the more neglected games I’ve had to gush over to my friends. Volume is entirely different. It’s one part Metal Gear Solid: VR Missions and one part techno-thriller set wrapped around a Robin Hood narrative. Trust me, it makes sense, and the ways that Bithell takes the Locksley character and molds it into his own fashion is pretty cool and inventive.

The core game has 100 levels, most of which involve sneaking around guards and figuring out stealth puzzles. Pretty much every level teaches you new mechanics, routines, or ways of solving it, and only lasts about 1–2 mins. It’s PERFECT for the Vita. I was able to start this game in the airport, play during my flight, and finish just before leaving for the airport 4 days later. It’s so charming and addicting that I found myself sneaking in playtime whenever I could during my vacation.

One thing I would’ve liked to have seen more of are the smaller, more narrative-based levels in the game. Every 15–20 levels or so there would be a level just ripe with codex-like clues that would add to the world, and have lots of finely acted VO. The game’s story was dramatic, but when it broke out and had fun with itself it really shone brightly.

Another thing? I platinum’d this! It was so enjoyable I went back to clean up trophies! The fact that this game will have some sort of PSVR element soon makes me keen to try that out as well.

Hey, Mike Bithell, if you’re reading this: This was just what I needed.

Firewatch (Ps4)

It’s like if PIXAR made a game about feeling isolated.
  • FINISHED 2/20/16 — I began playing Firewatch at 1:38PM today and finished at exactly 5PM. I’d been told the best way to experience this game was in one sitting, and I was devoted to that idea. I’d made sure to carve out a few hours of my weekend for R&R (since Geek Show & the day after were VERY full days) and quality game/girlfriend time.

Spoilers for the game will follow.

Firewatch is interesting. The opening of the game has you (Henry/Hank) answer a few cursory questions pertaining to a relationship your character has run away from, and then drops you into Shoshone National Forest. Your wife Julia is suffering from early onset Dementia, and you run away. Not for lack of trying to cope with it, anyway. For the rest of the game you’re tasked with reporting on the status of the forest to Delilah, the lone voice on the radio. The events that unfold are pretty ridiculous, but only in retrospect.

Around the game’s second act, Campo Santo wants you to believe that there may be something insidious at play at Shoshone. They want the player to think they’re being followed by some kind of shadow group. While it isn’t far from the truth, the game seems to go to great lengths to project a conspiracy theory that never ends up panning out. I had to wonder if they wanted us to feel isolated, or if my dialogue choices just made Henry and Delilah seem like Mel Gibson and Julia Roberts in a famous 90’s flick.

My main takeaway: In my time with Firewatch, it seems that they try to get you to feel endeared to Delilah. She’s definitely a fun person, but she ever so slightly starts to pry, to flirt, and eventually not-so-subtlely hint that she’s interested in you. The entire time I played I pushed away at this notion. MY version of Henry was running away from his life. He had swung and missed, and ran to a completely different part of the country to get away. The notion of love or lust was entirely foreign to him. (Again, in MY eyes.) The last decision the game has you make involves what will happen to Henry and Delilah while the forest continues to burn.

This was his chance! The forest was burning! Thematically this could’ve been seen as a fresh start for Henry. (Or, conversely, this could’ve thematically meant that anything Henry touches just dies…) I decided to tell Delilah to come to Boulder, CO with me so we could start over.

Then…she rebuffs the idea.

Dang. I was ready. At least I THOUGHT I was ready. Delilah says I should go back to Melbourne to see Julia and her family, if not for her then for me. Now, Delilah has seen some shit too. She indirectly caused the death of a young child and she surely needs time to grieve too, but damn, I wish the mending could happen together. Then again, maybe not. Maybe she’s right. Maybe we both need the alone time to process everything.

Re-reading the above paragraph and my indecisiveness pretty much shows me that Delilah was right. I should go to Melbourne.

People should play this game.

Games that offer a simple journey like this always please me. This isn’t a game about saving the world, it’s a game about facing something you’re too scared to look at. It’s charming, engaging, depressing, and uplifting all at once. Jane Ng and Olly Moss deserve all the praise I have to assume they’re getting for their work on the visual style of this game. I’m going to be curious to see where Campo Santo goes from here.

Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes (Ps4)

  • FINISHED 2/8/16 — I have feelings about this game. I’ve been a longtime fan of the Metal Gear Solid series. I specifically remember Metal Gear being one of the first games I played as a child on the NES. I remember finishing Metal Gear Solid on PS1 and loving it. I played Twin Snakes and loved it. I played MGS3: Snake Eater and adored that one most of all. MGS2: Sons Of Liberty was fantastic, even though most fans hated the inclusion of Raiden (at the time). I had no interest in playing MGSV:TPP due to the way Quiet seemed to be treated. Before anyone asks, yes, I know why she barely wears any clothes and I think the reasoning is really dumb. Dumb even for MGS. I was completely fine ending my MGS experience with MGS4: Guns Of The Patriots.

I told myself I didn’t need to play MGSV for a bit, until a sale came around, or until I could borrow it from a friend. I wasn’t in the business of supporting Konami with the way they handled P.T./Silent Hill, and the misogyny that pervaded MGS in recent years already made me comfortable. I wanted to play the game, I just didn’t want to support Konami to do so. Out of nowhere last week, I found a killer deal on the collector’s edition of the game, just $22! I couldn’t pass that up, especially since it was coming from a second-hand merchant.

Obviously I had to play Ground Zeroes because that is the natural prologue, and already I have feelings.

First off, the visuals are stunning. Just fantastic work all around. Kojima has always had an eye for detail and Ground Zeroes is no exception. The CQC feels a bit more functional than it did in MGS: Peace Walker, and re-learning the stealth mechanics feels like putting on an old glove. Ground Zeroes is challenging, at times directionless, but ultimately a very fulfilling stealth game. It encourages multiple playthroughs. It encourages you to explore every nook and cranny the same way that the MGS2 demo did over a decade ago.

In short: It is good.

Longer thoughts: Oh boy. Kojima is so CRAZY. The plot is just batshit insane. You can tell he loves his characters and isn’t afraid to kill his darlings. The storyline is already convoluted and required me to read an 11-page catch-up booklet before I began the game. Surely MGSV:TPP HAS to be the last game, right? They’re gone all the way into the future, and are now filling in entries in the past. We’re in 1978 and Kojima has no problem inserting anachronistic tech just to make the gameplay work.

I want to play MGSV:TPP. I’ve heard so many incredible things about the story, gameplay, and way it fits into the overall MGS mythos. I want to play it and see how they handle Quiet. I’m curious if they reconcile ANYTHING about her costume. I’ve read and heard many opinions of her being a fully-rounded character, and others punching down at those saying she’s just a bimbo with a sniper rifle. I might just write down my thoughts sequentially as I play it to see how my opinion wavers. We’ll see.

Life Is Strange (Ps4)

  • FINISHED 2/1/16 — What a special game. Life Is Strange is many things. It is a complicated high school simulator. It is a “Choose Your Own Adventure” game with severe consequences for your actions. It’s a way for me to relive my emo/scene days in my late teens. It’s also a light superhero fantasy game. Saying even a little about the story in Life Is Strange would do a disservice to those who haven’t played it, so I won’t go into details, but the throughline is succinct, effective, and very well-done. I never thought I’d want to revisit being in an arts-heavy scholastic environment but here we are! And this time I’m a lady. Neat.

I had the opportunity to play this game side-by-side with my girlfriend Liz, and it was a really fantastic experience. We were able to talk about the game and the plot points as we came across them, and really decide what we thought was best for the main character and the situations she found herself in. It’s so interesting to hear how our own life experiences informed how we felt about the story and the potential consequences that could occur. I’m THIRSTY for DONTNOD’s next game, and the fact that it is set in Victorian London with a vampiric main character makes the wait even harder.

Will definitely be playing this one again, most likely soon.

Or even tonight. I just want to play this game now.

Cibele (Steam)

  • FINISHED 1/14/16 — technically I’ve finished this one before, in 2015, but I got a little wistful about old forums and communities I’d spent time in, so I revisited it on my Mac. Cibele is just great. I should make that stand out. Cibele is GREAT. It’s a very specific type of game, the kind that almost demands you know nothing about it before diving in. Having a hungry curiosity will help you plenty, as the majority of the game is spent listening and taking in all of the information available to you through the desktop you peruse. You’re role-playing (for lack of a better term) a young woman who spends the majority of her time in an online video game as Cibele, her virtual avatar. You learn about her experiences, what drives her, and how others see her by embodying her persona. The end of this game is a gut punch. We need more like it.

Gone Home (Ps4)

Love the purple hues in this game.
  • FINISHED ON 1/17/16 — This was an interesting experience. I had heard about Gone Home from several other people, friends and otherwise, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. They had all been quite cryptic about what the game entailed. Some said it wasn’t even a game. *shrug* I spent a night on the couch with my girlfriend slowly crawling through Sam & Kaitlin’s house, exposing the story bit by bit, letter by letter. I can’t say that the game wasn’t interesting, but I CAN say I wish there was a run button. Definitely a great experience. It told its story in an intriguing way, and shed some light on a situation that I’m sure others have been through. I want to see MORE of this type of game. Gone Home exceeds in telling a good story, but it did even more in making a conversation happen. This game has been a focal point of narrative gaming conversations even since I finished it.

Persona 4: Dancing All Night (Vita)

  • FINISHED ON 1/19/16 — I’m a sucker for the Persona series, dating all the way back to Nocturne on Ps2. Given my predilection for rhythm games, seeing the Persona series married with simple music game controls was a great diversion for a few days! Ultimately the gameplay is a little too simple to get REALLY deep into it, but it’s excellent fan service for those who have traveled with Yu, Rise, Yosuke, Chie, Kanji, and Yukiko in Persona 4.

The Unfinished Swan (Vita)

  • FINISHED ON 1/2/16 — So here’s one I’ve had in my backlog for AGES. This might have been something I’ve had for YEARS, even. I spent 2–3 hours on the couch while my girlfriend played Dragon Age, and dove into this nifty little game from Giant Sparrow, makers of the upcoming “What Remains Of Edith Finch.” What a nice little jaunt! This game has a very simple gameplay mechanic that becomes more and more complex with every stage, and the art design is simple yet nuanced and full of charm. I don’t think I’d ever have the patience to go back and collect all of the balloons and secret items in the levels, but the very innocent storybook narrative and ending sequence will stick with me for quite some time. It has a slight “Baron Munchausen” quality to it.

Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor (Ps4)

  • FINISHED ON 1/21/15 — Guess what? I’m a huge LOTR fan. I know, I know. You’re all amazed. How could someone like me like The Lord Of The Rings? (Sarcasm is now over.) I bought into this game thinking it was Tolkien’s world + Assassin’s Creed gameplay and I was pretty much right. Mordor’s biggest strength was marrying itself to Celebrimbor, a character we don’t get a ton of info on in LOTR or the appendices in comparison to someone like Strider. The biggest weakness was the complete lack of agency/urgency for the player character. I found myself so enticed by the combat that I spent a large portion of the game just accomplishing tasks without actually knowing what was happening in the story. In fact, I spent the majority of my time playing with a different character skin, Lithariel, seen above. I would put good money on WB making a sequel, so hopefully they invest more into crafting a story as interesting as they combat and Nemesis system.

Mortal Kombat X (Ps4)

  • FINISHED ON 1/10/16 — I LOVED Mortal Kombat 9. Loved it. It was one of the first video games I remember truly getting lost in when I moved to Chicago. I bought MKx in 2015, played it once, and forgot about it until a snowy day kept me from going to work. I put MKX on, started the story mode, and hollllllly wow…the story mode is so good. It’s better than good. It is exemplary. How did MKX manage to do this out of nowhere? They introduced new characters that feel natural for the story, and keep old faves on standby so the tempo doesn’t get too slow.

Limbo (Vita)

  • FINISHED 1/23/16 — Here’s a five-year old game that I’ve had for a long time, even back on 360, but only completed on my Vita because that’s the ideal platform for this type of game (IMO!) Neat little title with some great platforming, though I wish the game was more like the last 4 chapters that really intensified the platforming segments.
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