List items

  • | PlayStation Vita | January 10th |

    Gravity Rush is... um... it's... hmm...

    OK, let's put it like this: I love Gravity Rush, but I don't think there was a single moment where I had fun playing it. That's a weird thing to say about an action game, considering the dull combat, tepid mission design and interminably crummy boss fights make up 95% of playing it.

    What I adored about Gravity Rush was virtually everything but the playing part. It has a gorgeous look, beautiful soundtrack, infectiously likable characters, charming localization and a warm, wonderful heart. It has a heart that made me choke up whenever it would kick in its triumphant music cues, or whenever two people would reconnect, or just... whenever I'd explore its wondrous little world just to see how my actions made people feel better.

    I thought about that a lot-- about how this game would play with my heart at the slightest hint of emotion in between bouts of frustration, resenting that such a pretty game existed within this monotonous shell. A lot of that comes down to Kat, and how she's one of the most likable, joyous, sympathetic main characters I've seen in a little while. Her unconditional kindness, little quirks and occasional clumsiness, her simple desires to just have fun; all of it comes together to make for a sincerely relatable character among dark, brooding, disconnected male power fantasy protagonists.

    I like her a lot, simply because has the power to help people, and the heart to go above and beyond even when the people she tries to save are jerks. In the end, she's just trying to help and that... that means a lot to me. Kat's character isn't breaking new ground or anything, but she doesn't really have to.

    I think what it comes down to is that there's something beautiful in Gravity Rush, and it's rapidly apparent that there is so much potential for the game part to capitalize on that. This game isn't it, but that's not to say that there isn't any merit here. I don't know if it's a "good game" or not, but I kind of don't care. I love Gravity Rush, and I hope I never have to play it again.

  • | PlayStation Vita | January 24th |

    I... beat Crimsonland? I think? I finished all the quests on normal mode, but there was no credits, or fanfare, or, well... anything.

    Actually, that's not totally true. Beating all the quests unlocked a sweet sped-up survival mode which rules because my only issue with the regular survival mode was that it was a little slow... so I guess I'll keep occasionally playing Crimsonland on bus rides and car trips?

    It's not a great twin-stick shooter, especially because it has a bland everything and boring weapon variety, but its simplicity is enticing enough for it to be an okay way to kill time. That's kind of all I need from it, so... shout outs to Crimsonland for being unremarkably average-- so much so that it's weirdly appealing.

  • | PlayStation 3 (via PS2 Classics) | February 17th |

    In what is a surprise to absolutely no one, The Warriors is still a remarkably well-crafted brawler. Not just that, but my appreciation for, well, Rockstar's appreciation of the source material grows fonder each time I play this game. The mere fact that a retelling, expansion and love letter to the original film comes through so seamlessly as a complete piece is a testament to how Rockstar really was at the top of their game in this era. I love this game even more than I did when it came out.

    I think a bulk of that newfound admiration comes up to the fact that I can appreciate the effectiveness of the game's individual elements. It strengthens the movie's original sharp sense of style, fitting it with the meaty substance that it originally, desperately needed. There's a dedication to emphasizing personality through uniform, color, unified identity through the guise of a street gang. The film did this well solely through its visuals, but the efforts in this game to hone-in on the exaggerated, fetishist perception of the gang identity is unlike what I've seen in most video games-- or at least to this level of effectiveness. The Warriors themselves consist of thinly developed main characters, but their strength as one-- and as the underdogs at that, make them exceedingly fun to root for.

    It helps the massive, chaotic brawls create a sense of meaning. It helps fuel the excitement, the passion, the rigid bloodthirst every time you bop through another gang's turf, destroying everyone and everything along the way. It's one of the few violent games that pushed my sense of morality all the way to the back of my brain. It didn't have a place here.

    I feel that it's among Rockstar's most purely violent games, putting forward the crude, primal essences of street violence in a manner that's parts sickening, parts infectious. It embodies that spirit in its every nerve, from its muddy, grimy visuals, to the eeriness of its ominous synths, all the way down to the profane dialogue that gradually inches you one punch closer to caving the next guy's face right in. At its core, The Warriors embodies the fear of the night-- there is something out there, and it wants to kill you. Chances are, you want it dead, too.

  • | PC | March 8th | Steam Edition |

    There's a bit you could say about Red Faction: Guerrilla. Its story is one-dimensional, with (mostly) unlikable characters and bland mission design. On that same page though, I would say that most of this is to its benefit-- Guerrilla sets up very quickly and relegates most of its thin story to in-game mission chatter and brief cutscenes. I feel like this is because Volition knew exactly why people would play this game: to level every building in sight.

    The unbridled of GeoMod 2.0. shines in full force, and that gimmick is entirely what makes Red Faction: Guerrilla worth playing. Everything busts up real, real good with an arsenal of great explosives (and pretty explosions alongside them), fun vehicles, very thin buildings and one very tough sledgehammer. It's a draw compelling enough to make every single other downside in Guerrilla a little less bad.

    Even if I said the story is pretty crummy, it has just enough of a presence to strengthen the game's structure-- destroy all government buildings, vehicles, propaganda, everything. It's euphoric, which is probably a testament to how satisfying I still find busting stuff up to be three playthroughs later, and how government tyranny will probably be a thing until the end of time.

    At least they're pretty dumb in video games.

    Demons of the Badlands

    | PC | March 8th | Steam Edition |

    I didn't really expect much from Demons of the Badlands, but much to my surprise, playing through this was absolutely baffling. It seems like all of the remotely unique aesthetic design was thrown into this little piece of DLC. The Marauders, though cliche for their "savage native" behavior, have a backstory that is the closest thing that Red Faction: Guerrilla's writing has ever gotten to compelling.

    There's very little of that story, mind you but for how thin it is, it's probably the only thing in the game's story that has the potential to be really cool, especially given the relatively interesting relationship between all three parties in the main story.

    It's actually really frustrating, because there's something here (compared to the nothing in comparison to what's in the main story) and it was thrown off to the side as extra content when it should have been the full game. Samanya and Vasha are the only two interesting characters in the game-- they have stakes, meaning, an attachment to the planet that was taken over. Alec Mason is an absolute nothing; the totally unlikable, emotionless dude that swoops in to save the day.

    And, like... maybe I'm being too optimistic but I cannot, for the life of me imagine why somebody would want to play as generic, shaved head dude #405 over a cool, martian-born girl with the slightest hint of emotional depth, who also wipes out dudes with a spear.

    Like, are people just that boring? Is there merit to that?

    I should start making games again.

  • | PC | March 9th |

    I think it's important to consume media of questionable quality from time to time. There's value to experiencing something that might not have gone as planned-- there are things to learn, both about creating and consuming artistic work.

    I'm not sure how to really explain it, but I don't find most games to be "bad" as much as they are just, flawed. It's tough looking at games as black and white, because major flaws don't necessarily devalue something entirely. Likewise, I don't think that strong components automatically make something great. Creation and criticism are both surprisingly complicated things, and I normally think that we should, at least regularly, approach it with that same kind of care and thought.

    I feel this way because making things is hard-- extremely hard. We accept that, but I also think we should accept that things turn out poorly, and in spite of that, there is always something we can take away from it if there's even the slightest push for innovation, if there's even just a tiny bit of ambition in your work.

    With that said, I'm really not sure what I'm supposed to take away from Homefront. It is... almost entirely void of emotion, craft, weight, anything that I can make use of. It is a completely competent military first person shooter; the act of shooting men is functional, it looks fine and carries its fair share of massive explosions and chaotic set pieces. It is likely the absolute most shameless Call of Duty knockoff I have ever played, in that it rips from the roller-coaster, heavily scripted formula of those (generally exciting) campaigns with absolutely nothing to offer on top.

    Homefront's ham-fisted attempts at portraying the brutality and atrocities of war try so hard to shock you that it dangerously borders on self-parody. It presents civilian executions, crying children, destroyed American suburbs, mass graves of slaughtered people all to a resounding indifference. It's as if these scenes were written by somebody who has never experienced human emotion before. Somebody that looked at the most shocking parts of Call of Duty campaigns and vehemently misunderstood everything that made those moments hit hard.

    It's like if I drew a picture of a dead body and shoved it in your face, telling you how you're supposed to feel about this image-- something that you have zero meaningful context for. Homefront tries _so_ hard to be horrific, to the point where it might actually kind of be endearing if the rest of the game didn't feel so soulless.

    And, I... I sit here and I just think about Homefront and like, who this game is supposed to be for. I'm wondering what this game is trying to say, what message it's trying to get across to me, if anything at all. This doesn't have the excitement of Call of Duty, and it most certainly doesn't carry the weight that it thinks it does.

    I'm... baffled by Homefront, beyond words. What is the purpose of this game?

  • | PlayStation 4 | March 18th | Remastered |

    Burnout Paradise is not the best racing game ever made. It's not even the best Burnout game ever made, but I've had a hard time thinking of any arcade racing game that has been as well-designed as this one from the past ten years.

    A testament to just how easy this game is to play is... well, that it's the only racing game that I've ever finished-- and this is my second time finishing it. Its open world isn't especially exciting, but it's fine-tuned to just be endlessly fun to roam around in. It helps that the driving itself is spectacular; with (still) the best sense of speed in any video game but there are always new things to smash, new cars to takedown, road rules to break and challenges to beat, both on and offline.

    It's not perfect, of course. The open world, aesthetically speaking is pretty boring and the event list suffers from a serious lack of variety, both in game modes and distinct paths throughout the city. Plus, Paradise feels awfully self-indulgent. The crashes are nice and all, but the awful, unfitting use of slow motion is still here in full effect, still mistimed and making crashes way too long... among other things.

    Still though, they're minor points in what is still a stellar, thoroughly enjoyable racing game ten years later. I'm disappointed that we haven't had both a new Burnout or any game that has really come close to it in terms of its robust, seamless online features, thrilling sense of speed and unparalleled fetishism of pure automotive destruction.

    Like, maybe the closest thing is Forza Horizon in terms of quality but even that leans heavily on the realistic driving model. If anything, playing Burnout Paradise ten years later has properly sunk in just how much I actually miss these sorts of fast-paced, easy going racing games. One that focuses on just fast racing with unlicensed cars, as opposed to kart racers, or weird Wipeout / F-Zero knockoffs.

    I hope the remaster sells well enough to remind people that this sorta game can still kick it in 2018... but please don't let Ghost Games touch a new Burnout game.

  • | PC | March 27th |

    I feel weird about Grand Theft Auto IV. Its depiction of Liberty City is probably my favorite world in a video game after San Andreas. It's also been a deeply formative game for my music tastes, (at one point) social life and way that I approach open-world games like this. At the same time, though, the holes in its unfocused narrative, dedicated to outdated Rockstar tropes (even at the time) and its archaic, slow, self-indulgent approach to open-world gameplay feel more apparent-- and grave than ever.

    I'm not sure how I'm supposed to feel, as was the case the other two times I finished GTA IV-- and the countless other times I stopped in my tracks after being bored with its story. What I realized from playing GTA IV ten years later is that... well, Rockstar can't write complete, compelling, focused stories. They can write good-- heck, stellar moments and set pieces, dialogue that's fun to listen to and can set the tone with a very specific style. However, the Housers' have a striking tendency to get the main plot line and motivations lost in a myriad of small, usually inessential fetch-quests, side stories and lazy satire.

    This wouldn't be so bad if these paths were actually compelling. I get lost in hours and hours of Yakuza substories and its labyrinth of character relationships--but in the best way because I find them good enough to be worth my time invested in the main story, if not self-sustaining side stories. Nothing that GTA IV diverges off into is ever fun, or worth sinking time into. The dialogue that presents it may be fine, but following predictable plot-threads from generic mobsters where you tirelessly play errand boy is bad. Real bad.

    Grand Theft Auto IV gets so tangled up in its massive cast of generally indistinguishable characters that it forgets about Niko, and "that special someone" in favor of some half-baked, preachy attempt at making a statement about the player's actions. Whether it's about homophobia, or violence, or anything, GTA IV tries to convince you that it's doing something with weight without doing actually backing it up with the emotional depth and careful build to make those things meaningful.

    I still like Grand Theft Auto IV, and I appreciate the ambition that Rockstar took with trying to create an original story, but it merely tries to present its ambition in the most superficial manner. Nothing in GTA IV actually matters-- no matter how much it tries to convince you that it's doing something goundbreaking.

    GTA IV: The Lost and Damned

    | PC | March 30th |

    The Lost and Damned is fine. By virtue of it being a smaller story, it feels like there's a little less room for it to mess up a thousand intersecting plot threads. It still has the problem with characterization; it's all too inconsistent, with very little development for anybody in the story. I don't think this story treats its characters very well, especially in regards to Jim-- unarguably the most likable member of the gang. Though, I will say that Billy's performance is among my favorites in the entire series, and his fate fits it pretty well.

    What I will give TLOD is that it's good at re-contextualizing Liberty City. The perspective from The Lost gives the whole world a much dirtier, run-down, nihilistic feel. It feels... depressing, out-dated, hopeless. It fits well with the idea of a bunch of old dudes running with an idea stuck in the 60s, trying to keep the decaying idea of a gang together. I like it.

    It's also nice to see some of GTA IV's events from different points of view. It's not much, but it helps make a little more sense of a few characters. Plus, the new weapons and vehicles are killer-- especially since a lot of missions deal so much in violence and chaos.

    I like The Lost and Damned. There's not terribly much to complain about that I haven't already spoken about at length, but it kind of makes me wish that Rockstar would stick to smaller, more focused stories instead of trying to build the biggest worlds and narratives possible. It isn't always better, y'know.

    GTA IV: The Ballad of Gay Tony

    | PC + Xbox 360 | March 31st |

    Okay, GTA IV, okay. You win.

    For once, The Ballad of Gay Tony is much better than I remember it being. There are some of the game's most likable characters in this episode, with Tony and Yusef being major highlights. I found Luis himself to be little more than generic muscle at first-- and by the end he still is, but there's something oddly likable about him for how unremarkable he is as a protagonist. Thankfully, he doesn't fall into the same traps as the other protags do for the most part; everything he does makes some degree of sense, whether for business or out of love for his upbringing. I guess that's the trade-off if your character doesn't have much of a personality.

    That's not to say that there are unlikable characters, though and the story doesn't really go anywhere until the last half. Most of it is standard GTA fare, dealing with loan sharks (which seems to be a shockingly prevalent theme in GTA IV) and serving as some pretty good perspective on events from the other campaigns. For how bombastic and over-the-top a lot of the missions are, it only really contributes a little bit to the overall narrative-- but what it does contribute is pretty important all things considered.

    On its own though, Gay Tony is what I think of the most when I think back fondly about GTA IV as a whole. Rockstar's depiction of night life is, as usual, ridiculous and gives me some sort of second hand embarrassment. However, the guns, the glitz, the extravagant lifestyles, catchy dance music and blinding lights-- it's all here, and I love it all just as much as I did back then. I love it all just as much as I've always loved the allure of the night life.

    I think this game ends on a pretty good note, too. By the end of Gay Tony, GTA IV feels complete with an ending that's more feelgood than the downers of the other two campaigns. I felt good. I feel good.

  • | PC | April 19th | The Third Way |

    This is my third time finishing Grand Theft Auto V, but I don't think that I've ever actually written about it. I guess that's because, well... I never really had anything to say about it. I still kind of don't.

    GTA V is in a weird place, because it's so fundamentally playable that I can just... experience it without any strong feelings pulling me in any direction other than "I like this."

    I guess if I can say anything, it's that compared to the kinda superficial ambitiousness of GTA IV, GTA V nails its characterization in a way that Rockstar has never really done in one of its original games before. With the varying personalities spread across three different characters, there's never really any contradictory mission stuff like it has been for literally every Grand Theft Auto game before it. It's good, even if the mission design really needs an upgrade.

    But like... apart from that, I don't have anything to say about GTA V other than that I like it a lot, and I liked it even more this time around. Maybe next time, I'll have something to say about it.

  • | PlayStation 4 | May 6th |

    I'll say something about this game. Eventually.

  • | PC | June 2nd | Siren |

    I liked Borderlands 2 a lot, and I'm glad that I finally got to finish it nearly six years later. It helps that I played it alone this time, and had podcasts or videos on in the background to accompany me while I shot lots, and lots, and lots of dudes.

    I was surprised (and for good reason) by how well-designed Borderlands 2 is. It's full of smart choices that could only come from a studio that had put a lot of thought into how information is conveyed. The use of color, visual effects and its general style of conveying what's happening in what is often an extremely chaotic fight is seriously impressive. There can be a lot going on in battle during this game and I was happy with just how seamlessly playable it is through all of that, even in the casual way that I played it.

    I also love the variety of weapon effects (even though I wish there were more), odd, plentiful loot and how powerful the skills make you feel. Lilith's Phasewalk from the first game is something I missed a lot initially; until I started upgrading Maya's Phaselock and marveled at how you can control and annihilate the battlefield through its augmentations. It's stupid fun, and it's the main reason why I want to keep playing to fill out her skill tree.

    So, yeah... I loved playing Borderlands 2, but that was mostly because I had the game's dialogue on mute for 80% of its story. This might be the most unapologetically obnoxious piece of media that I have ever come into contact with. It tries _so_ hard to be funny at literally every single turn. Not only do most of its sub-Family Guy jokes fall flat, but they just... keep coming, and coming and it never shuts up. This game never shuts up, and it nearly drove me mad just through how funny this game thinks it is.

    That's not to say that Borderlands 2 doesn't have its moments-- it sometimes has some neat, funny quest design and occasionally, genuinely great laughs but there are very few of them in comparison to the sheer volume of consistently bad humor. It's so thoroughly drenched in irony that there is little sincerity, if any.

    Apart from the fact that it was figuratively written by Reddit, I had a lot of fun playing Borderlands 2. I hope that I can get around to playing the DLC-- or at the least, Tiny Tina's D&D add-on.

    Some stray thoughts:

    - If I'm lucky, I will never have to read, listen, play or subject myself to anything written by Anthony Burch ever again.

    - Though my cynicism keeps me skeptical, I adored the wall of thank you messages from the development team during the credits. It's nice when games drive home the fact that there are real people behind them-- through the good and the bad.

    - Tiny Tina is my favorite new character and I was bummed that she got so little screen time... but thankfully there's that cool-looking DLC campaign with her in the spotlight.

  • | PlayStation 4 | June 8th | Cry Count: 9 |

    I liked Yakuza 6 a lot, which is a whole lot more than what I can say about Yakuza 5. It's definitely a lot less bulky and bloated, even if it still loses its focus among its myriad of complex relationships, betrayals and one true motivation reveal after another. It is absolutely a Yakuza story, but more so in the vein of Yakuza 3 because of its singular focus on Kiryu and his impact on the world around him.

    Like the past few Yakuza games (excluding 0) the grander details of the game's excessively interwoven narrative are a ton less interesting than the small stuff, especially when it starts to get in-depth with character relations at the top of the evil-guy hierarchy. The villains (and their motivations + secrets) just aren't as compelling as they're made out to be. More than anything, it's the performance of the main cast that sells any sort of tension in regards to that conflict.

    It's... weird to talk about these sorta things without getting into spoilers, but where the relatively flat villains and stakes fall, well-- flat on is where the strength of the main cast picks up the pieces. Yakuza 6 boasts the best, most genuinely likable cast of dudes that brown-nose Kiryu in the entire series. Considering the theme across Yakuza 6 is family, I appreciated just how much the Hirose family seem like both good people and like a bunch of hardened Yakuza that can pull their own weight. It's a nice change to have Kiryu's underlings be great at what they do-- it also helps sell the fact that Kiryu isn't as young as he used to be.

    And look, I love Haruka. She is one of my all time favorite video game characters because I admire her spirit, courage and determination amidst everything that happens to her. I seriously thought that they sold her short in the Yakuza 5 ending, and unfortunately I think the same goes here. Haruka's predicament is obviously a driving force for the entire story, but it feels... cheap to relegate the most prominent female character to a bed for most of the game, and being held at gunpoint every other time. Haruka is a great character, but it feels dumb to see her, time and time again serve as a bargaining chip for Kiryu to beat up a whole bunch of dudes. She's consistently tossed aside in spite of how consistently she's shown to be an integral part of the series.

    I... just wish that they could do something better for her, is all. I wish that they could do something better for all the women in the Yakuza series. I get that it's a story about men and dudes doing manly and dude-ly stuff but for how fascinating their female characters can be at times, it's frustrating that so many of them exist as love interests, hostages and/or characters that die for the sake of the emotional arcs of their male counterparts. It's why Kaoru Sayama is among my favorite character in the series too-- she made Yakuza 2 because she kicked ass and stood toe-to-toe with Kiryu.

    Anyway, I still felt pretty good about the story by the time the credits rolled even if it doesn't quite feel like this was the story to end Kiryu's saga. It has a much more complete ending in the way that every Yakuza game sans 5 ended. It's certainly not perfect, but its emotional notes hit me deep and its strong cast of characters drove that home.

    I'm gonna assume that for how popular this series is in Japan that this isn't going to be the last Yakuza game. Still, it's bittersweet and I'm still in the middle of processing those feelings. Again, this didn't totally feel like the homerun ending that Kiryu's saga needed, but the closing moments feel empty-- in the sense that it emphasizes Kiryu's larger-than-life, legendary presence.

    It's going to be weird without Kazuma Kiryu. It's gonna be sad, too, but I'm grateful for how good the Yakuza series has been to me over the past eight years. It is a series that won me over with its excessive melodrama, hilarious combat and touching sincerity. I still haven't really played anything like it. It's by far my favorite approach to the 'open world' because it always betted on sheer density, detail and actual immersion over scale and numbers.

    I've always had a deep fascination and admiration for cities. I love being blinded by the lights, lost in the soundscape of bumping music, scandalous rumors and violent drunks. Kamurocho, more than any virtual city ever made, feels like home to me. I think it's going to stick with me.

    Some stray thoughts:

    - Beat Takeshi, again proves that he's the best

    - I cried a lot during Yakuza 6, but only because Haruto is so adorable and I care a lot about Haruka

    - Kiryu and Tetsuya Naito getting along like giant idiot dorks was fun

    - 0 > 2 > 4 > 6 > 3 > 1 > 5

  • | PlayStation 4 | June 17th |

    Wow. Doom is good.

    Like, really good. I'm floored by how well this game captures the adrenaline-fueled essence of 90s first person shooters, which is... well, probably shouldn't be that surprising from id software. Still, the pure speed and chaos pacing all these bloody, ultra-violent arena battles brings me back to my days of playing a ton of Wolfenstein and weird freeware Quake knockoffs. It is SO much fun, and it's done with the perfect tone. Doom has always been about murdering lots and lots of demon dudes, and in spite of its efforts to sprinkle light story in every level, it is still very much a game about murdering lots and lots of demon dudes.

    I'm glad that the mood to play Doom finally hit me, especially since I ended up bouncing off both the PS4 and PC versions every time I tried to get into it.

    Some stray thoughts:

    - Mick Gordon's sick, ripping guitars and distorted electronic booms sound like they came straight out of the NHL 97/98 soundtracks and it made me so happy

    - This is a VERY pretty game and it both my PS4 and PC scream for help

    - I wish that the weapon mod upgrades were more than just "faster cooldowns" and "faster reloads" but at least the weapons are really, really fun (especially the BFG)

  • | PlayStation 4 (via PS2 Classics) | July 14th | Cheats ✓ |

    Whew... y'all ever just beat Grand Theft Auto III in one sitting? No? Just me? OK.

    If you're wondering if Grand Theft Auto III is still that good nearly 17 years later, it's still good enough for me to play it non-stop from beginning to end. Much like every other GTA game, it's dangerously easy to lose hours and hours (six, in this instance) of your life playing it, whether in missions or chaotic free roam... and boy, GTA III is CHAOS.

    Like, it's actually kind of adorable playing GTA III in 2018, given how seriously big-budget and expansive Rockstar's game has gotten ever since. GTA III feels... almost humble in a way, as in it's rough enough around the edges for it to feel like it was made by a team of human beings. It doesn't quite have the sort-of perfectionist touch that Grand Theft Auto V has, but it works very much in the game's charm. GTA III feels less like a Hollywood crime simulator and more like, well... a video game.

    Imagine that.

  • | PlayStation 4 (via PS2 Classics) | July 16th | Cheats x |

    So, I didn't beat Grand Theft Auto: Vice City in one sitting (two instead) but I did finish all but two missions, so... still a pretty good game.

    I've said it before, but I have a ton and ton of memories with Vice City, both old and new. This game means the world to me, second only to San Andreas in terms of formative GTA games when I was a kid. I'm not sure if it's nostalgia or a testament to its quality, but I think Vice City has the series' best satire and radio writing. Like III, Vice City feels like the series' adolescence, where its crassness, juvenile humor and excess violence feels all right at home with the game's excess chaos and over-the-top violence. Though it boasts a shiny voice cast and a glamorous licensed soundtrack, Vice City still feels like it comes from the era where they were figuring everything out-- the era where Rockstar didn't quite feel as overly self-serious.

    What holds up about Vice City, at least to me is that its flashy open world holds up simply because it still feels like a janky, fast-paced, cartoon-y open world. Like I said about III, it's not a living, breathing world but more like a playground built for wanton destruction. I think that, more than anything else, has continued (and will continue) to cement this game as a classic. Rightfully so, if you ask me.

  • | PC (via N64 emulator) | July 24th | Agent |

    I wanted to play GoldenEye so I did. Good game.

    | PC (via 1964 emulator w/ KB+M) | August 14th | Secret Agent |

    I wanted to play GoldenEye again, since I never played the harder difficulties before. So, I played it with a 60 fps + keyboard and mouse plugin. Pretty good way to play a good game.

  • | Xbox One (via EA Access) | August 13th | Season Mode |

    Long story short: the DOOM 2016 soundtrack reminded me of the NHL 97 soundtrack, which in turn had me watching a bunch of hockey game videos, which inevitably led to me thinking about hockey a lot. So... I signed up for EA Access and decided to play a season of NHL 18.

    I have a lot of reverence for the earlier NHL games-- the ones that were more stylish and arcade-y. They were among the first games I played on a PC and the sorta games that I played a lot with my brother. But even as a Canadian living in Montreal, I didn't really know **a lot** about hockey. Everything I learned about hockey was through the people around me, or through video games. I kinda wanted to broaden my hockey horizons a little bit.

    For the most part, I think it actually kinda worked out like that? For one, I actually learned what icing is through NHL 18's helpful commentary, and a bunch of things about penalties, offsides and the overall flow and etiquette about virtual hockey is played... which is weird, considering I spent most of the game injuring other players in high-impact checks. It also led me to watching a lot of hockey videos and compilations.

    So... I'm suddenly really excited for hockey season.

    Some stray thoughts on the actual game:

    - The authentic horns and goal songs are really neat and go a long way at helping me learn about the particulars of every team

    - I love how all the physics make for a relatively dynamic game of hockey compared to the older titles; I was constantly being blown away by the weird ways that I could score goals and hit people

    - The difficulty was... uneven. It took a lot of adjusting to get somewhere comfortable, but in the end it either felt too difficult or too easy.

  • | Android | September 2nd |

    This is a fine Ballz-like, though I don't know if it'll have the lasting appeal of Ballz simply because it actually has some sort of depth. That's a weird thing to say, but the appeal of Ballz is that it kind of has no depth, or strategy or anything. It just... is.

  • | PlayStation 4 (via PS2 Classics ) | September 3rd | Cheats ✓ |

    I already had a clear save for San Andreas on my PS4. I just wanted to play it again since I had played all the old GTA games. There's not much for me to say about this game at this point. I still deeply love this game, its scope, tone, and progression from hood violence to stealing government jetpacks and military jets. I love its callbacks, attention to detail and totally busted open-world systems. I will probably love this game until the end of time.

  • | PlayStation 4 | September 29th |

    Up until the stellar Yakuza 0, the second Yakuza game was, without a doubt, my favorite game in the series. There was something... magical about what it pulled off on the aging PS2 with its jazzy, hard-boiled story line, mesmerizing direction and super over-the-top combat. I also really, really liked Karou Sayama as a confused 16-year-old, begging for a strong, adult female character to identify with in literally any way. In my head, Yakuza 2 was always a masterpiece.

    Going through it again in Kiwami 2, I can totally see how a sixteen-year-old me fell for everything in this game. The story carries the potential for a really cool story that addresses old blood vs new blood Yakuza, foreigners in Japan and, well, an awkward cop-criminal love story. On that alone, there is something really cool brewing in Yakuza 2...

    ...yet, I think the only thing that really holds up is the rivalry between Ryuji and Kiryu. Naturally, it's the best part of the story by far given how much of the front-facing material for Kiwami 2 shows the two butting heads. Though it was never explicitly spelled out in dialogue or anything, there's something about the on-screen chemistry between these two dudes that goes beyond any sort of outsider understanding... if that makes any sense. Like, Ryuji and Kiryu see something in each other that only two meathead, muscle-y, dragon-tattooed boneheads can understand and seeing it unfold is, really, kind of magical in its own right. It was to the point where I wish the whole game was just this.

    This is where it started to crumble for me, actually. Yakuza is infamous for its overly complex, over-the-top, borderline comical story threads in just how seemingly diabolical its villains are, not to mention deeply-rooted betrayals in every direction. The whole Korean mafia story was... really a bit much, and the Koreans themselves are so thin that their literal motivations, from beginning to end are "revenge" -- nothing more, nothing less. It makes this particular thread **really** tough to be interested in when there's like... very little depth, or substance to what they're doing. Revenge can be really cool, dude but you kinda have to make it cool. It just doesn't stand on its own.

    (Kiryu's role in the Korean mafia storyline is also really, really, REALLY stupid.)

    Karou Sayama is also, just... ugh. Nothing about her makes any sort of sense. I'm not sure if she's trying to be a hard-boiled cop, or a love interest, or a piece of the Korean mafia story or what. Of course, multi-layered characters shouldn't be defined by one particular piece of their whole, but it seems like nobody-- not Karou, not Kiryu, not the writers, know what she's supposed to be. It really comes across as the consistent flaw in the Yakuza team's writing in that they don't actually know how to write women properly. Karou as a character is weighed down by the mix of tropes that they try to fit her into, and as a result I can kinda see how I forgot everything about her once I finished Yakuza 2.

    I still like Yakuza 2's story a lot, but it didn't age as well as I thought it would-- plus, the changes that they made, whether stylistically or in terms of what happens, never really worked for me... which sucks, because Kiwami 2 plays super, duper well. It feels like they actually refined upon some of the huge flaws in Yakuza 6's gameplay design (something that Kiwami 1 didn't do over 0) and some of the side stuff is really, really fun. I spent a ton of time messing around in the gorgeous open-world (as you do in Yakuza) which probably says more about how much the story aged more than anything else.

    I still have to play the Majima saga. I have no idea what the heck that is, but considering that it's new content, I'm crossing my fingers that it's something good.

    Majima Saga

    | PlayStation 4 | September 29th |

    Pandering, but it made me really, really happy.

  • | PlayStation 3 | October 14th |

    Man, Call of Duty 4 is still good.

    Like, COD4 tossed a grenade into my tiny mind and blew it to smithereens ten years ago. It had so many things that kid Ajay wanted to make in their own video game-- ridiculous set pieces, cool, calculated military lingo and very small details like motion-y reload animations and HUD elements that played a role in the game's drama. In terms of shooters, Call of Duty 4 was my dream game because it had everything that I actually wanted in terms of detail, both in single player and multiplayer.

    Looking back at this game and how its entire package set the industry standard for the next six years is pretty easy, especially if you feel cynical about how literally **everything** from racing games to ninja titty games adopted its innovations. But to go back to it and see that's still every bit as good as you remember it is... well, pretty amazing considering how badly some game-changers tend to age. I had a real tough time trying to play the original Gears of War again, but COD4's campaign still looks and feels pretty great... at least for 2007.

  • | Xbox 360 | October 16th |

    Gosh, I remember being off-the-wall excited about Modern Warfare 2. I don't blame teenage Ajay either; this game looked, sounded and played a lot better than Call of Duty 4 did. It came out at like... maximum hype with every friend I knew getting it so we could all play together on Xbox Live. It was a special time and place and even today I still haven't experienced anything quite like that year where Modern Warfare 2 was **the** multiplayer game.

    The campaign, likewise, was absolutely bonkers that totally captured the hype that Call of Duty had in 2009 into six hours of nonsensical, utter chaos. I loved it, and I still really like it today. Its specific type of ridiculous military-accent set pieces and cool, covert operations feels just as exciting and tense as they did in 2009, save for the game's ending probably. In retrospect, it really drove home how well MW2's story nailed its goals, at least in regards to making you feel either really cool or like you're actually about to get caved into a horrible castle prison.

    A few things: the Russian invasion of USA story is mind-boggling stupid in a way that I really had trouble coming to terms with. The sheer hypocrisy of "mass terrorist incident leads to misguided invasion and subsequent slaughter of hundreds of thousands of innocent people" is UNBELIEVABLE in regards to how seriously it takes itself. For the first half, I was **really** hoping that I was playing through some half-baked critique on the American military but the more hilariously tragic, destroyed American landmarks it showed me and the more it ramped up its hokey sad music cues... the more I realized that it really was all for real.

    But, if you can cast aside how exceedingly tone-deaf half of the game's campaign is, Modern Warfare 2 is still kind of the best. It's also amazing just how much of the (relative) tact they shed from Call of Duty 4 and just bet everything on making the whole story as loud and explosive as possible. It really set the tone for what Call of Duty would unfortunately later become over the years, even if the campaigns were mostly pretty alright.

    Some stray thoughts:

    - I still love the use of a big computer screen with a billion windows popping in and out as the debriefing movie. There's some super neat work in there.

    - Price's cold voice work in the game's final mission still gives me chills. Special thanks to the perfect use of Hans Zimmer's unforgettable score.

    - Soap is hot. Really hot.

    - Not the worst swan song for West and Zampella, huh?

  • | Xbox 360 | October 17th |

    Going into Modern Warfare 3 was weird because it's really the only Call of Duty campaign that I didn't remember much of. My head still kept some really odd specifics like a couple of rooms that you fight in and the off FOV of one particular scene, but in terms of story, this one was kind of one big blur.

    Boy, I can see why because Modern Warfare 3 is just non-stop CHAOS. There is rarely a moment where shit isn't exploding, or there's a storm of enemy gunfire raining down upon you, or you falling from something to your near-death, or... gosh. For as much explosions as there are in Modern Warfare 3, it's kinda tough to keep track of what's actually happening. The quick and concise info-dumps of the past games has been replaced with just very quick and very brief set-ups. I didn't really know what was going on half the time, with any sort of exposition being real hard to hear over all of the stuff blowing up in front of me.

    That all might sound like an awful nightmare, but Modern Warfare 3 is actually pretty great. If there's one thing it has over MW2, it's that its tone is consistent. Instead of juggling high-impact action sequences and corny tugs at your heart strings, MW3 goes all in on extremely ridiculous action sequences with thrills every five seconds. It's exhausting, but it's also real exciting and over-the-top in just the right way if you approach this game with the light in your brain switched off. Nothing really matters in MW3, which is funny considering it's supposed to be World War 3 and stuff.

    Actually, just thinking about it, MW3 isn't so much World War 3 as much as it is "Just Some Battles in Europe." Though, putting some thought into, well, anything that ever happens in this game is real pointless. Modern Warfare 3 exchanges the illusion of tact and intelligence from the past games for just a barrage of deafening action sequences and near-death experiences. Everything explodes and everyone dies at such an alarming pace that nothing actually matters-- not the characters, not the state of the world, nothing.

    It, uhh... kinda rules.

    Some stray thoughts:

    - For as little as Modern Warfare 3's story matters, I really do like its ending. It's probably the only emotional beat that they nail in this game.

    - I didn't know that Idris Elba did voice work in this game! Neat.

    - there are A LOT of turret sequences in this game, but they're all real fun, so...

  • | PlayStation 4 | October 19th |

    Call of Duty: Ghosts feels decidedly low-key, which is funny to say considering how deafeningly loud and explosive every frame of it is. There are no big plot twists, no subversive tricks or far-fetched attempts at trying to shock or leave a massive impact. For better or for worse, it's about as straightforward as any Call of Duty campaign has been since... maybe World at War?

    That's not to say it's bad-- it kinda rules, actually. None of the voice acting or writing is particularly great or convincing (except for some of the v/o for the older Ghosts) but the concept of this deadly squad shrouded in secrecy is pretty cool if you can look past the fact that it never lives up to its potential. Everything is oddly paced, especially near the end but the game hardly cares-- and for good reason. Ghosts is at its best when you're stealthily infiltrating high-tech factories or in chaotic gun battles.

    In a way, it feels like the tables have turned in Ghosts' campaign, where the story isn't that interesting (though totally serviceable) but the gun play is surprisingly fun, with a lot of cool, if unoriginal weapons to fire and wild set pieces to shoot through.

    I didn't expect to actually like Ghosts. I was expecting it to be sub-par and kinda boring... and well, it is relatively sub-par but it's also really fucking stupid and it was hard for me to not just, like, enjoy that. Plus, the cliffhanger caught me off guard and I, uh... um...

    ...I kinda want to play Call of Duty: Ghosts 2.

  • | PC | October 20th |

    Spec Ops: The Line is rough as hell around the edges, but it tries to do something really cool and I still admire it for that. I don't have much to say about it because I'm watching hockey right now but I just wanted to call in and say that this game is cool baby!!!!!!

    Some stray thoughts:

    - The main squad's voice work is pretty good, but I like how Nolan North goes from "Nathan Drake" to "Extremely Pissed Off Nathan Drake" by the end of the game-- cool dialogue changes included

    - It kind of leans on the "IT'S ALL YOUR FAULT, WALKER" thing a little too hard

    - A+ epilogue

  • | Xbox One + PC | October 23rd |

    I haven't officially 'finished' Forza Horizon 4, both in the sense that a) I haven't seen credits and b) I will still probably play it on occasion. Still, I've finished all the main events and basically have no reason to play it except if I wanna drive around.

    To be fair, driving around is something that I really liked doing in Forza Horizon 4. This and Burnout Paradise are the only two driving games that I have ever finished, and what they have in common is that their open worlds are tremendously fun to just cruise around in. Horizon 4's score system is especially fun to just bank score in, but even without that, the feel of the driving in this game is just really stellar. This is as someone who knows nothing about cars.

    I think what got me into this game way more than the original Horizon (the last one I played) was that there were very few invisible walls. I spent a lot more time driving through fields and off-road rallying than on any of the actual roads. It's liberating, and it still gives me this exhilarating sense of speed and freedom. It's definitely what I spent most of my time on.

    Something I really liked is that it's just such an upfront positive video game. Everyone is happy, supportive and light. Horizon 4 is also totally okay with getting goofy (Windows XP shut down horn????) and it balances it real well so that it doesn't feel forced or hokey. This was just a fun world to be in.

    This blurb feels kind of disjointed and that's mainly because, like GTA V, this game was just really playable. I got lost in it for hours without even realizing, and I never really had a 'bad' moment playing it. It's just sharp, gorgeous and well-designed. I liked it.

    Some stray thoughts:

    - PC version is A++ and transfer between XB1 and PC is effortless.

    - I did not touch the multiplayer once, and that was the big selling point!

    - Seriously, Windows XP shut down noise??? huh??

  • | PlayStation 4 | November 10th | co-op over SharePlay |

    I've played a lot of video games, and I've seen even more of them over the last few years. They're usually okay... but even when they're not, I feel like there's always something that I can say about them. Video games, more often than not, carry a sort of substance for me to do something with whether that substance is good or not. What's fun about consuming all sorts of different media is that there's always something that I can take away from it, even if it failed at doing what it was trying to.

    The Quiet Man is one of the very rare instances where I feel speechless-- no pun intended. I really don't know what I'm supposed to say about this game, because it offers literally nothing. I had a lot of laughs from how utterly busted it was, but there was nothing that I gained from playing and/or watching The Quiet Man.

    That's, honestly, the long and the short of it. The Quiet Man is nothing... at least on its initial, silent playthrough. As of this writing, the sound playthrough has been added in via a patch so I... I definitely want to see where that goes.

  • | Nintendo 3DS (via NDS BC) | November 19th |

    I didn't even know that you could beat Tetris DS...

  • | PC (via PS1 emulation) | December 17th | Chris |

    I saw Jeff and Brad play the first Resident Evil on that PS1 Classic quick look and it... uh, really made me wanna play the first Resident Evil again.

    I guess I kinda needed an excuse to play the original again, anyway. The first and only time that I finished this game was on the DS, using Action Replay codes and a walkthrough. So... this was, in a way, my first real time going through the original Resident Evil.

    At this point, the fact that it still holds up is not surprising, given how I've also played 2 and Nemesis within the past few years. This first one definitely ages the most-- its pre-rendered backgrounds are just a tiny step-up from all the sort of bland, plain 3D modelling that was going on at this time. What totally makes it stand out is the super strong, creepy art that goes into every space. Though the zombies aren't as frightening as they are in its predecessors, Resident Evil is still real creepy in how claustrophobic and non-nonsensical the whole game feels. Not only does it feel like a place that no human would live in, but it feels like a place that no person would design as a smart video game level. It's kind of baffling all around, and sometimes it feels like the people behind the level design architecture are just as mad as the creeps behind this whole mansion incident.

    So, yeah... it's good, and the survival horror stuff holds up just as well, too. A little easy, maybe given how generous the game is with ammo and healing items. Though, less inventory space feels like a contrived way to create difficulty, since it just makes playing as Chris make for more backtracking to the item box. It's one of the few parts of this game that feel truly archaic, but I've also played enough Resident Evil to find ways to apply some sort of smart inventory management.

    Something that I noticed is that Resident Evil is just... for the most part, a really boring game. Once all the enemies are out of the way, it really just consists of roaming through empty, static hallways to solve puzzles and properly manage key items. Like Dan said once, it's more akin to an adventure game than anything else, though without most of the minute-to-minute charm that a traditional adventure game would have.

    It doesn't deal much in consistent exposition too, and I think that might be my favorite part about Resident Evil's story. It doesn't hit you over the head with its story progression, instead allowing you to discover what's going on yourself through the notes and discovering more, and more of the mansion. In terms of (relatively) contemporary examples, I feel like the Resident Evil GC remake is exceptionally good at modernizing this story. Even so, it's really cool to revisit this game and see just how well it holds up and how creepy it still is-- even if zombies are way played out.

    Some stray thoughts:

    - Chris Redfield is such a dweeb, holy crap. How was he ever a lead character?? Jill, or even Rebecca are so much cooler. Actually, just about anyone else in the cast is better than Chris.

    - I genuinely adore Rebecca's actress. She overacts just like everyone else, but she is absolutely adorable and is 100% perfect for the role. She was my favorite character by far, and I hope her actress is having a great day.

  • | PC (via PS1 emulation) | December 21st | Claire A |

    The first Resident Evil isn't so much scary as much as it is perpetually unsettling. It doesn't help that the voice acting and writing are both ridiculous, and that the mansion is, for whatever reason, bathed in high-contrast colors and is always well-lit. I still think it's a great horror game, but in terms of being scary it doesn't quite get there mostly due to the fact that I am both familiar with it and clued in to its kind of tricks.

    Resident Evil 2 is, for better, a totally different beast. Rarely is anything in Raccoon City well lit, exchanging those high contrast environments for eerie, run down corridors and blood-smeared, filthy walls. I feel like it's the best thing they could have possibly done with a sequel to Resident Evil-- in that the outbreak is on a much higher, much more grim and legitimately terrifying scale. Resident Evil 2 isn't just scary because of its moody lighting, but because that sort of moody lighting depicts a very real fear-- your everyday city in shambles, left in the ruins of what used to be innocent, daily routine.

    I love Resident Evil 2 because it is consistently, actively, unapologetically stressful at all times. The music is nightmarish, the enemies loathsome and the implication of its scattered files haunting. Even my second time around, I was dreading my next encounter with... well, anything and cursing up a storm whenever something would get anything close to me.

    I still think that it's my favorite Resident Evil game just because it nails everything with envious craft. It's not only consistently terrifying, but through that it's just such an entertaining video game. I love post-CV Claire Redfield, and her adorable relationship with Sherry Birkin. I love the weapons, and the refinement on how it feels to blast away a zombie. I love it a whole lot. I don't have much more to say than that.

    | December 24th | Leon B |

    I have never finished Leon B before, which was likely why I was so fucking stressed out while playing it. The unsettling mood of Resident Evil 2 is one thing, but an unfamiliarity tacked onto that mood makes it exponentially worse. Though I always avoided him, I dreaded every Mr. X encounter and all the additional enemies made this one hell, especially since I was so bad with conserving ammo and healing items early on.

    Like any Resident Evil game though, towards the end you just have way too much ammo and healing items from saving them over the course of the game. Though I will say that much like my first ever Claire A playthrough, I barely survived to the end. I made it to the train with four seconds left on the self-destruct and I had been poisoned with no blue herbs which ate through my entire healing stash. It was definitely the skin-of-my-teeth sorta thing, which I totally wasn't expecting up to that point.

    Still a good game. Still stresses me the hell out. Leon is a dork.

  • | PlayStation 4 | December 30th |

    It's more Hitman. I literally don't have more to say than that.