Sparky's 2020 Prodigiously Girthy Awards Pageant

Oh hey there. Are you tired? Because you've been Ghostrunnin' through my mind.

Motherfuckers, it is time. Time to get yourself a Yoo-hoo and a frozen burrito. Time to unbuckle that belt and lay back on your favorite filthy anime full-body pillow. Hold your breath, make a wish, count to three, then come with me to a world of puerile imagination. I'm gonna take your mind out the same way I did your mom - treat it to a nice dinner, some scintillating conversation, then kiss its cheek in a gentle farewell of gentlemanliness before getting called back to do unspeakably horrible things together on a bed of your childhood toys. I've got Ninja Turtles in places you don't want to imagine.

It's awards time.

DJ. Play my music (if the YouTube embedding feature is fixed this year).

Bangin' "Hot Sauce" of the Year

I have hot sauce in quotation there for a reason. This year's bangin' hot sauce is definitely more of a sauce than hot, so much so I almost disqualified it on account of it being more like barbeque sauce - maybe because that's what its makers are better known for. That said, it's the best thing I've been putting on burritos, tacos, and potatoes all year, so this year's hot sauce award goes to...

Stubbs Green Chile Sauce!

There's practically no heat here, so if that's what your'e after, you're going to want to accompany Stubbs with a little extra kick, be it through peppers or extra hot sauce on the side. But for my money this year, there's been no better sauce than this one. It's a little sweet and damned flavorful, unlike most green sauces out there. It's also pretty easily available, which has been a big bonus this year in particular. It also mixes extremely well in chili, soups, and cheese sauces. I've really liked it in mac and cheese and as a dipping sauce for chicken strips.

The Questionably Best Game I Played in 2020

Rage 2 probably wouldn't have made my top ten in another year. It would have been close, but I think the underwhelming story would have knocked it clear.

That said, I haven't played a lot of games this year. According to my 2020 list here on Giant Bomb, I barely played over ten, which sounds right. There isn't enough quality games on there to even make a top five for the year, let alone a top ten. Rage 2, then, by default, wins simply because it's probably the least problematic game I played all year. Valhalla is fun, but too buggy at the moment to recommend. Leisure Suit Larry: Wet Dreams Don't Dry will have its own special award later. Ark was a pleasant surprise but ground my PC to a screaming halt every time I played.

My only real problem with Rage 2 was the save system, which felt archaic and broken right from the start. The story is also bland, with some cliched characters and less zaniness than you'd expect given the way the game was marketed. But overall it's a completely solid open world game, with all the side activities you'd expect in such a thing. It's a time waster, a pleasant one that never aspires to be anything more than that. And this year, that was enough.

The Best Album of 2020

For the first time I can remember, I'm allowing a tie here because it's a dogfight. Sorry's 925 came out so early in the year, with most of its singles debuting in 2019, that I almost forgot it was released this year. It's smart, pulpy rock, sort of a dreamier, less produced version of Garbage that I freaking love. There's an uncomfortable haze to their videos too, a sleepy uneasiness that appeals to the writer in me. Starstruck and Right Round the Clock are straight up terrific songs, and if you like them, check out the rest of the album.

But then there's the 800 lb. gorilla of July Talk's Pray for It. It lacks the snappy hits and highs of their self-titled debut and Touch, but I honestly think this may sneakily be their best album to date. It's a slow, introspective, full-bodied thing, quietly vulnerable, shy, and smarter in its writing than the previous two albums. I had to listen to it a couple times before I realized how much I liked it.

The Game I'm Stunned I Really Liked Despite the Mountain of Shitty Jokes

I went into Leisure Suit Larry: Wet Dreams Don't Dry expecting to come out of it punching myself in the face for playing it. I am an unapologetic fan of the first two games of the series, and like most of the others in the series proper at a distance right up until the series went 3D. This is, thankfully, more of a nod to the original two games with some smart updates. Deaths don't matter, for example, and the puzzles make much more sense. There are still some occasional hunting and pecking problems, particularly with a ring in a fountain that escaped me for the better part of an hour. But this is, strangely, one of the better straight-up point and click adventure games I've played since The BUTT 2. I won't spoil anything, but it's willing to get weird in a way that's really refreshing.

That said, it is problematic, and anyone going into it should know there are some jokes in terrible taste, particularly when it comes to trans people. The sequel also falls into the trap of including more puzzles for the sake of padding out its length, and includes a labyrinth sequence that makes its claims about the number of environments in the game highly suspect. The second game also unfortunately makes the decision to ditch its "hold the spacebar and see the hotspots" mechanic in the areas when you'd need it most, like a portion of the game where you're using a telescope to seek out the clues about where your lost love has gone.

These games have problems, then. But if you can work through the ill-advised portions of its humor, then you'll find a completely solid pair of adventures.

Sparky's Movie of the Year (and It Actually Came Out in 2020 Too!)

I wasn't expecting an Andy Samberg vehicle to knock my socks off, and that's unfair. After all, I really like him in a lot of things, particularly Hot Rod and Brooklyn Nine Nine. But Palm Springs is one of the smartest comedies I've watched in a long, long time, since maybe I Love You, Man.

The basic plot, which is a reimagining of Groundhog Day with a much more grounded romantic sensibility to it, is heightened by sharp dialogue and a bleak existentialism shattered by Cristin Milioti's brilliant character. Seriously, despite the absurdity of the "why" of her character getting sucked into Samberg's problems, her character is one of the best female leads of a comedy, full stop. How she fixes their situation by the end of the movie is terrific. A lead actually using their brains rather than some schmaltzy romantic deus ex machina is a fantastic take on things.

I didn't watch many movies this year, but of the ones that I did, this and Shazam were real delights.

TV Show of the Year

Letterkenny sometimes suffers from its own recycled jokes and lack of character changes, particularly when it comes to its Goth meth guys and the hockey broskies, but overall it's a sharp-witted show with a core of central characters that I really love. It doesn't hurt that the low-budget and small-stakes storylines allow the focus to remain on the back-and-forth mile-a-minute jokes, which again are best delivered by its core four characters. It's a show best taken in small doses, but a couple episodes here and there and it's one of the best comedies on TV.

Also, a special mention to Stumptown and High Fidelity, gone far too soon.

(Shoutout to @sweep who shared that last song on Twitter)

Book of the Year

I've talked before about my love for Emily St. John Mandel's brilliant Station Eleven, which somehow took the apocalypse by plague and crafted it into a beautiful character study of hope and farewells. It's without a doubt one of my favorite books of all time, and this year's Glass Hotel cements Mandel's place as a writer of simple, beautiful prose and characters so real you want to grab them and hug them.

This is another character study, this time of a young woman caught up with an investor running a Ponzi scheme in 2008-09 and the characters they touch upon along the way. It is, in its own way, more haunting than Station Eleven, in that these people are more ethereal. Every person in Station Eleven mattered, while in the Glass Hotel, every person is simply part of the machinery of the world. Vincent - the young woman at the center of the story - is a brilliant protagonist who feels as real as you or me.

There are a lot of interesting parallels to Station Eleven, as this is, in fact, a parallel world to that one, with several characters getting a moment from that novel in this one. But that's almost unnecessary. This is a book all its own, one of people searching for connections even as they skim across the shallowness of their lives. It is stunningly good.

Hon. mentions include S.A. Cosby's Blacktop Wasteland, a gritty, fast-paced crime novel; Robert Brockway's Unnoticeables, a trilogy of sharply comedic horror novels and David Wong's Zoey Punches the Future in the Dick, which is a futuristic comedy actioner.

Entertainers and Website of the Year

Giant Bomb has been killing it this year. I've been tuning into more content than ever before. Trucking. Drumming. I've even been enjoying the hell out of some Nancy Drew. We needed distractions and they were provided plentifully.

And the Giant Bomb crew proper aren't the only ones who deserve credit here. The forums have been a quiet, calming place this year (at least from the outside - I'm sure the mods have been working overtime). GB Infinite is still the place to come and spend a few minutes chatting when I'm not working. The community is still, impossibly, one of the best on the Internet. This year, that's not just hyperbole, but the truth. I'm looking forward to seeing what's coming in 2021, starting with the GOTY awards. Much love to everyone on the site. You're all the best.

And that's it!

I know it's brief this year. I'm drained. You know why and it doesn't need to be said here. We have a lot to hope for in 2021, a lot of rebuilding to do, and a lot of sweat, blood, and tears yet to be shed. So let's do it, and make this the year of the comeback.

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Merry Christmas

Yeah. Merry Christmas. Happy holidays. Or just a "have a nice Friday," if you prefer. Raise a glass or a bottle or a can of whatever you got. Here's to a moment of peace and friendship. We made it through the fire. Fuck 2020, bring on 2021. Love to you all.

From your pal, my pal, everybody's pal,

Cam

23 Comments

The 2019 Sparky Game Festivus Extravaganza

Hello, and welcome to the Sparky Buzzsaw Blog of Yearly Bullshittery.

It's pretty typical at the start of these things for everyone, myself included, to say, "Ugh, that sure was a year, huh? Well, video games." We don't like to get into the specifics of why the year sucked. We don't want that kind of confrontation. Well, motherfuckers, dig out that tin of popcorn you got for Christmas. Because if you're one of those people out there bending the world over a barrel, I'm not about to go out like some punk without giving you a pair of middle fingers.

2019 sucked.

No, that's not big enough. Let me try again.

2019 sucked shit out of a tin shit can with a shit straw.

Yeah. Yeah, I like that better. Let's print it, boys and girls.

Listen. We are now fully immersed into a slimy reality Jacuzzi full of fear, intolerance, and ignorance. On every possible side, be it political, religious, philosphical, or moral, we aren't just shouting at the other side. We're warming up the barbeque next to that Jacuzzi and preparing to roast the flesh of those who disagree with us. And that isn't just the people on the opposite side of whatever made-up aisle we believe we're on, because social media or a news corporation tells us we are. We're going after our friends, our allies, anyone who doesn't slide easily into the same beliefs and values that we hold.

We can't live like that. We aren't living like that.

We are consumed now by anger, by apathy, by fear that if we speak out we're just going to be shouted down by an amorphous, constantly shifting "them." All this fire, all this shouting, all this anger is creating wild pendulum swings driven by fearmongers and sycophants who will say or do anything to feed upon the prejudices of their audience or their followers. We are now living in a world where paranoia has begun to build a hateful symbol of oppression and greed in the wall between the United States and Mexico. It has allowed for the entrenchment of values that will lead to one of the most ill-planned, ill-reasoned political and economic shifts in Brexit. It has led to the left, right, and center all feeling hopeless and enraged, two of the most dangerous feelings to have. It has led to fervent racism disguised as patriotism. It has led to idealists chopping off their fingers for the supposed sake of the hand. All this, and more.

And another election cycle is at our U.S. doorsteps. 2020 does not look to be a pleasant year.

But as individuals, we can try.

We can try to engage in discourse, not shouting. We can try to educate ourselves. We can try to work through the emotions that have derailed the world for the last four years. We can lead by example. We can open our doors, welcome neighbors, give not just money, but our time and hearts to those who need. We can try to raise all ships, not just our own leaky vessels. Is it going to suck? Yeah. Extremes are always going to be extremes. There will be no changing some people. But you also cannot stop a fire by feeding it logs and gasoline. Well... unless you're getting out in front and doing a prescribed burn, but that just completely wrecks the metaphor. Look, you get the point. The answer to everything cannot be us lashing out, or shouting at someone. Put simply, quit feeding the trolls, and they'll eventually starve.

Just... aim to be better. That's all. That's what I want to try to do in 2020.

Anyways. You're not here for a morality lesson. You're here to discuss the travesty and censorship of Tifa's boobs in 2020. You're here to listen to me talk a good game about hot sauce. You're here for mothafuckin' video games. So let's have some of that, huh? DJ! Play me some goddamn 2019 bangers!

EDIT - Uh... I seem to have broken the blog by inserting videos, so pretend I've got some great music going on in the background. Wheels on the bus go round and round! Round and round!

Buzzsaw is ready... to discuss his game of the year.

It's Assassin's Creed: Odyssey.

"But Sparky," you say with a sneer, puffing on your pipe and flicking a bit of lint off your shoulder, "that's not a game from 2019."

Well... duh, Mr. Snootypants. I very rarely play enough games from a current year to fill out these lists, so I generally make it fair game to include games from previous years. After all, they're not any worse for being older, and hey, it might inspire someone to go back and play something.

Odyssey consumed my free time for nearly a month and a half. Sure, I played a few little things in that time, but by and large, I was stuck in Kassandra's universe, stabbing the everloving poo out of some equally stabby mercenaries and cult leaders. This is a huge game, and while saying it's full of stuff to see and do would be a lie - a great big portion of the land feels empty and unnecessary - it's full of enough to have kept me happily occupied for the largest chunk of this year. I love the new RPG mechanics, equipment, and the combat systems. This refresh of the series has made me extraordinarily happy, and I've been thinking about revisiting it since I played it, a bit of a rare feeling from AAA games for me these days.

But what about my favorite game from this year?

Life is Strange 2 came awfully damn close to being my GOTY this year. I'm a huge fan of the previous Life is Strange games, and will regularly feature them on my top games not just from this generation, but of all time. Life is Strange 2 doesn't quite hit their highs, but it's still a phenomenal story-driven adventure game. And with its theme of brotherhood, survival, and enduring racism, it’s both poignant and timely.

If you're the sort who maybe lays in bed with a bottle of Jurgens thinking about the border wall while humming America the Beautiful, this might not be the game for you. It deals with racists in several chapters, and it's never coy about the horrors of these cankerous butthole blisters. The Diaz brothers' escape to Mexico is filled with tense, ugly moments reflecting on our current political clime, and those are among the game's best scenes, aside from the touching personal one-on-one conversations between the Diaz brothers and a couple other individuals.

The game does have some serious faults. The entire third episode is a huge misfire, and the game as a whole often sacrifices its best relationships in favor of telling much broader stories. Life is Strange has always been at its best when it boils down to personal moments. Life is Strange 2 has a few of these scenes, and they're generally excellent. But it often tries to ensconce its characters in scenarios that they frankly don't need. It could have been a brilliant story of two sons of an immigrant runaways on the run trying to look out for each other and the dangers that entails, and instead devolves frequently into cartoonish moments painting redundant pictures of a sickened America.

It's also unfortunately not helped by a lead actor deadset on one whiny voice for the whole of the game. Considering the voice acting of the leads in the previous games was one of its best draws due to its breathless overeagerness and hamminess, this misses the mark by a mile.

All that said, it's still a remarkably good game, and head and shoulders above most of what else is out there, save for its own predecessors. It's a must for fans of the series and anyone looking for a better-than-average story in games.

The return of the hot sauce of the year award because no one asked for it

I'm a gentleman of refined taste, and by "refined taste," I mean I like everything I eat to taste like fire and death. But this year's favored hot sauce isn't actually a super hot one - it's Cholula's Sweet Habanero. I've only just started trying it over the last month or so, and I'm a big fan. Sweeter hot sauces can be kind of hit or miss, especially if they don't blend with the hotter elements well, but this is a nice blend of both, and tastes great on chicken and pork in particular.

The tablet game of the year

Believe the hype on Grindstone. It's the most addictive puzzler I've played for a long time, and it's made with such a general high quality that it's hard not to fall in love. That it doesn't have any microtransactions is a bonus. You're basically chaining like-colored pieces on a grid to kill enough mobs to open a door. It's a simple format made slowly more complex by introducing gameplay elements at a drip, giving the player plenty of levels to work through. It does have some technical issues - the game frequently crashed on me when I left the game's hub bar where you buy health and new skills. But that's a very minor quibble, and the game is damn near perfect otherwise.

Big shout-out to Neo Cab too, which puts a fun twist on the "fighting future corporate overlords" trope by telling a simple story of a woman trying to make ends meet in a world set on leaving her behind... or so it seems. It's a neat game, and I like the emotion meter in theory, even if it sometimes feels a bit like babysitting. It's a game I definitely want to revisit and finish at some point. I love a game based around conversations, and that's almost entirely what this is.

The "I watched very little relevant to 2019" award

I find myself watching less and less TV and movies these days, but I did get a chance to watch the first season of Daybreak and didn't hate it. It's a show I sometimes have conflicting feelings about, often all within the space of just a few minutes. It intersperses moments of great fun and smart writing - the RZA-narrated episode is a highlight - with really dumb moment to moment choices. For example, it does that winking thing where it says, "Oh gee, don't you just hate it when a story ends on a cliffhanger?" and then ends on a cliffhanger. Listen, creators, being self-aware doesn't excuse you from making shitty plot decisions.

That said, it's generally a blast. I love that it's so willing to play with its own premise in order to tell a better story, and generally completely ignores logistical problems of a post-apocalyptic world in favor of its goofy characters and premises. I am looking forward to seeing more of this world.

2019's biggest disappointment that will somehow still wind up being in my GOTY list

Boy. Borderlands 3. I'm not sure where to begin with this one. Randy Pitchford seemed determined the entire year to down bottle after bottle of prune juice and just keep shitting down his pants legs, but with the announcement of Borderlands 3, I still hoped this game could be the sequel I wanted to one of my favorite games of all time.

It came out. I played it. And I deleted it.

That's kind of a big deal to me. I must have put over 200 hours into various versions of BL2. Borderlands 3, with its fantasatic gameplay and plethora of guns, should have been a lock for me to play well into 2020, at least. But at every turn, Gearbox seemed intent on wasting every bit of creative ingenuity that Tales from the Borderlands set up. Entire characters have just disappeared from the game's lore. The ending of Tales has vanished (though the death of a character is still canon, a choice I didn't think they'd actually go with). Someone at Gearbox sure seems intent on making sure Handsome Jack's name is in everything Borderlands from here until eternity. One of the best characters in the series, Rhys, has become a joke whose big plotline is that he's... obsessed with his mustache. No joke.

I'm not going to get into specific spoiler territory, but the game follows the beats of 2 almost slavishly, a decision no doubt made after the failure of Battleborn. There's a wild lack of creativity, of heart, and it makes playing the game actively dull. Ice-T's character is the sole standout in a sea of blandness, and the new teenage character is unforgivably awful and cliched in every possible way.

Bad decisions now also extend to the UI, which is so tiny it's impossible for me to read. The new guns and skill trees are okay, but Gearbox has already gotten out there and said they don't plan on DLC characters, which means Fiona and Sasha's absence isn't going to be remedied, a decision that fucking sucks, as they were among my top choices of characters of this generation. There was a lot of anger over the voice actor situation, but honestly from a fan perspective, I didn't mind the new voice actors.

Borderlands 3 doesn't suck. If it did, it would be easy to write off. But as it stands, the best-in-class gameplay is mired in such yawn-inducing shit that it's hard to recommend. As it stands, it's my firm chocie for my most disappointing game of the year.

Best surprise of the year

Horace is one hell of an unassuming game. On the surface, this appears to be another hellish platformer with the tried and true "spin a room upside down" mechanic. And really, that is what the gameplay entails, so if that turns you off, you might want to avoid it. But stick with me here, because Horace is also a terrific story of a robot and his beloved human family, full of loving references, clever jokes, and bizarre plot shifts I absolutely love. This would have been a top game of the generation if it was a simple, pure adventure game. I'm almost certain of that. The gameplay isn't terrible by any means, just overly difficult at launch (but has since been patched to be easier). And that difficulty gated the best part of the game - the vibrant story.

Give Horace a go. Please. It deserves more love and praise, and I promise you, there's a beating heart here unlike anything else that came out this year.

Best book I read this year

Alma Katsu's The Hunger takes the Donner Party expedition and turns it into a supernatural tale of horror I wasn't expecting to affect me as much as it did. It's also a pleasant head-hopper of a horror novel, something I've been itching for. There's a fine grit hidden underneath the unassuming early conversations between the party members, and waiting for the powder keg to eventually go off is just as much fun as the horror elements. Give it a read if you like horror or alternate history blended with genre fiction.

And that's going to do it for me!

Thanks for reading. Hope your 2020 is full of peace and prosperity. Don't let the world beat you down. Find a bit of happiness day to day. Have as many pina coladas as you can. High fives, cool person.

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On Being Ugly

Hey there! My name's Cameron Lowe, and I'm about to throw myself under a bus. This is me:

Ugh, I know, right? Jeez, what a loser.
Ugh, I know, right? Jeez, what a loser.

Right! I'm four hundred pounds. Sometimes it's a lot less depending on the year I'm having, sometimes it's more, but it usually winds up being around that mark. I used to be six foot even, now I'm five eight. I have glasses thicker than just about anyone you'll ever meet, and I can't use contacts or get eye surgery due to the unique nature of my severe astigmatism and eye problems, leaving me a really handsome motherfucker, especially combined with my Mr. Potatohead face.

Let's go over some things you're not seeing in this picture. FIrst, you can kinda tell that my head is tilted forward. That's due to ankylosing spondylitis, a disease that has left my back with an unnatural curve. Not only does it help make me even fuglier, but I get the joy of living my life permanently staring at chest level, which leaves me, already the fattest hunchback of Notre Dame you've ever met, looking like even more of a creeper.

Also on top of that head is a knob of bone and flesh, a leftover from skull surgery as an infant. There's a half-foot long scar running down my head, hidden by my one and only good feature - my hair (and yes, it's all natural - rawr). I have scale-like crusting all along the insides of my legs due to a pelvic injury I suffered about a year and a half ago. My toenails are regularly not clipped because I can't reach them, and there sure as hell isn't much going on below the belt. Sorry, long-time fans. I hate to disappoint you on that end.

I was bullied about all this and more for years. Not easygoing teasing either. I mean, full-on me sitting naked in a locker room crying with a fractured rib from the beating I just took from bullies because I couldn't fight back kind of bullying. Me screaming for help from other guys when I was getting the shit kicked out of me the next week kind of bullying. The kind of bullying that maybe sends you into a lifelong spiral of near-depression and a self-loathing I'll never recover from. That kind of bullying.

Yeah. I don't much like myself. And that's just for the physical reasons.

Why bring all this up? Why the holy hell would I make myself a target like this?

Well... because I want people to be better. And because of this:

No Caption Provided

Now look. I completely agree Cate Blanchett is a stunningly talented woman and incredibly beautiful. But calling out her husband like this is frankly an astonishingly petty move, especially from someone from whom I'd expect anything but comments like this. It's vindictive. It's a low blow. If this guy looks like a statistics teacher, what do I look like? What does any person considered to be ugly look like?

There are a lot of reasons to dislike a person. You want to dislike me because I'm an asshole, buddy, I agree with you a thousand percent. But this guy has done literally nothing to deserve this. Maybe he's a great guy. Maybe he's the nicest dude on the planet. Maybe he's just someone Cate Blanchett enjoys spending her days with, and her him. Or maybe they don't need a reason at all to be in love and married. Maybe that's their life, and maybe the surface-level bullshit you're judging him on doesn't actually matter.

This bugs me. This really bugs me. I've been single now for ten years. Ten freaking years. I've had a few dates here and there but that's about it. And why? It's not because women perceive me as ugly. There are loads of fantastic women out there who judge a man based on his character and strength, not his looks, and I greatly look forward to falling deeply, stupidly in love with one of them someday. I'm single because, quite honestly, I don't see myself in any good light. Part of that is personal - I am a bundle of stunted human emotions wrapped up in a bunch of life failures - but at least half of that is from the way I've perceived myself since the earliest days of my bullying. I am an ugly man. And while I can't really go back and give myself the confidence I need to even approach a normal relationship, I can at least try to stand up for a stranger (even if he'll never read this or care). And I can say this - we can be better than this.

Thanks for reading.

72 Comments

Lockdowning the E3 prediction game

It's that most magical time of the year. No, it's not your bimonthly call from your STD doctor giving you an all-clear. No, it's not the birthday you'll spend alone smashing discounted storebought cake into your mouth because it's the only thing left that gives you feeling on a day that means absolutely nothing to you anymore. No, it's not new underwear day, although hey, it could be both - treat yourself. Personally, I rock Fruit of the Loom Big Man Premium boxer briefs, the Cadlilac of swaddling asses.

It's something far more spectacular, magnificent, splendiferous than that. It's E3 in a week, mothafuckas!

DJ! Play me some sweet jams to set the mood! Somethin' rockin, somethin' kickass! Play me that goddamn George Michaels shit Gerry Rafferty business because Deadpool already did the George Michaels joke!

PREDICTIONS!

I have 'em. You have 'em. Let's talk 'em.

First, Giant Bomb E3 hero of folklore and myth @marino has made a super handy Google Doc showing you - yes, you - what times you can expect all the E3 conferences big and small, no matter what time zone you live in. How he comes up with this voodoo, I have no clue. I suspect he spends the months up to E3 bathing in the blood of ritualistically slaughtered chupacabras as the beginnings to some sort of spell, but that has not been confirmed at this time. Check out his swelling, pleasing, so-big-you-won't-be-able-to-comprehend it document here and come away one satisfied customer. I know I did. Rowr.

EA

EA's taken some of the fun out of their conference by announcing their scheduled lineup. That sounds boring on paper, but think about it this way, fellow Americans - no more tearing our nose hair out of sheer boredom when soccer, arguably the world's worst sport behind baby lawn darts, is discussed. Here's their schedule.

In any case, nothing here seems too surprising. With them making some power moves with the Sims lately, that seems like it has the most potential to see a major announcement during the stream, but I doubt we're likely to see a new Sims game. I think they're getting out ahead for a reason, and we're very likely to see EA stay strictly to this lineup.

Microsoft

Microsoft announced fourteen exclusives would be showing up at their conference this year. That's a big coup, especially since Playstation's fucking off and not doing an ill-advised fifty-eight theater walking tour for ten minute promos of its upcoming games. Seriously, Sony, making video games people walk? What the fuckity fuck?

This is, in my mind, the conference to watch. I'm going to guess Microsoft casually announces the working name of Xbox Deuce Point Five or whatever numbering convention thye've randomly picked this time, but doesn't show the hardware. I'm also going to guess that with their continued push towards backwards-compatibility across multiple systems, all games announced will be available for both the current Xbox One and its successor the Xbox 6969YOLO420BlazIt.

Please, Phil Spencer, make a Sparky's dream come true and name your machine that.

Right. Games! Fable 4. That's it. That's all they have to announce. And it'd better be a goddamn proper Fable game, or... or... or... I won't really care. Seriously, there was one great game, one good one, and those happened so long ago all I can rally remember fondly is the cool waypointing system. But this is, potentially, the next Xbox's selling point. It would be a huge tentpole for them this year with no Sony conference and most everyone else in a holding pattern until the new consoles.

We're going to see something from Halo Infinite, but I doubt it's still more than a tease. It seems like Halo Everything on PC will be the focus for the franchise, and that's perfectly great. Reach was awesome, and I will still continue to brag I'm the world's best Warthog driver when there is absolutely no empirical evidence to suggest I'm even the 1,000,000 best. That's 'millionth" to those of you who passed third grade math so your principal could afford a brand new leather chair on which he is very definitely not sitting and looking at fucked-up porn while talking to your mother about your bad behavior.

We're also likely to see some Outer Worlds DLC exclusivity and maybe a tease of whatever inXile and Obsidian have coming down the pipe. Outer Worlds will continue to give me hazy, pleasant feelings in my mental underpants.

Gears will make an obvious appearance. There will probably be overly muscled bros and brosettes broing. Wow, wild prediction.

What else, what else? Indies. Indies are a hugely safe bet for exclusives. Geometry Wars, maybe. A Playdead platformer experience. I'm gonna throw out a wild card and say Stardew Valley 2. That'd be a cool announcement.

Bethesda

Bethesda will be, first and foremost, focused on disposing of its shit-stained sheets. I thought they might gloss over Fallout 76, but they just had Todd Howard out in the wild saying gamers who play it now would be pleasantly surprised. Unless they turned Fallout 76 into a unicorn and rainbow simulator, I really don't think he's on the mark with this statement, and it feels like a pre-emptory probe to set up a DLC announcement. Fuuuuuuck. That said, though, I fully expect them to say on stage there will be another traditional Fallout game in the future and to stay tuned, because no one likes having to sleep in poo-crusted beds.

Doom Eternal and Youngblood will continue to be things. I like those franchises well enough but can't really get too excited over what are likely asset regurgitations for a bit of quick cash before the new cycle of consoles. That said, I genuinely hope they're spectacular. Hell, I hope every game ever is spectacular, for that matter.

Starfield should be the highlight of their conference, with at least an explanation of what it is, if not a major demo. I think the time is right for them to launch a new RPG in 2020, something probably early on PCs with a new console launch whenever those happen and the house of Howard is confident they won't break the machines ala Playstation 3.

Will there be anything else? Blades, probably. A new Fallout Shelter seemed likely last year, but now I gott imagine they're gun shy about the franchise.

Devolver Digital

Chaos. They will bring chaos.

PC Gaming, Brought to You By Sponsors!

There will be sponsors, and sponsors, and sponsors, and oh yeah, I think this is where THQ Nordic has said they have two unannounced games, and I wouldn't be surprised if they dropped a third. What these are, I'm not sure, but they've been out saying Dead Island 2 is still alive and I will hold to my tiny sliver of hope (not a euphemism, though it is accurate) one of the games is that. I want to hope the other is a new Saints Row, because I haven't joined the elite and thumb my nose at 3 while drinking my mimosas out of a proper wine glass and not a poorly washed out jug. Wildcard third game? Timesplitters.

I'm also thinking we see some smaller indie projects announced here, which is probably a given. I'm just not too sure as to what we'll see, actually. That new Undertale thing? Maybe that's leading to a new game announcement. Oh, right, we might see that Baldur's Gate announcement here too. That would be rad. This is also where I'm betting we'll see the next DLC character for Mortal Kombat get announced.

Ubisoft

It seems like Ubi's getting out and announcing stuff ahead of time, which leads me to wonder what they'll actually announce that's new. Watch Dogs 3 would be awesome and seems like a no-brainer given that Assassins Creed is taking the year off. I'm betting we also have a big, bombastic dance game, because that was a terrific way to open that show last year. Honestly, I almost wish Ubi opened the conferences, because that would set the mood the entire week.

I don't know. Of all these companies, I like Ubisoft more and more. Odyssey was awesome. I'm really looking forward to whatever Division 2 holds for me (and we're probably going to see some DLC for that announced). I just want some good ol' Ubi enthusiasm. New games or not, just make me happy, Ubisoft. You seem really good at that.

Kinda Funny

Greg will bathe in wing sauce. Oh, that's not an E3 prediction. Tha'ts just going to happen.

Square Enix

Hmm. Square's hard to read anymore because whatever seems to be the smart move for them, they obstinately choose to run in the opposite direction until they crack their head on a slow-moving bus. We'll probably see some FFVII Remake gameplay (ugh), that Avengers RPG will likely be loaded with lootboxes and moneymaking schemes (double up, ugh ugh), and I very much hope we see another new RPG from them. Dying Light 2 is scheduled to be published by them so I suspect it will consume a big chunk of their conference (hooray!).

I'm going to make one wild-card prediction here and say that Square partners with Nintendo to drop a new Final Fantasy Tactics Advance on Switch. Now seems like a great time for one of those. Then again, it's Square, so if they did announce it, it'll probably be a DOTA-inspired action game instead of a traditional tactics RPG.

Nintendo

Nintendo could go in a lot of different directions here, but I think they'll keep the major announcements to a minimum and instead focus on what they've already announced. I gotta imagine Mario Maker, Ultimate Alliance 3, and Fire Emblem will dominate it. There will also probably be a large focus on indie games, but I doubt we're going to see anything major be announced as far as, say, SNES ports. Of all the predictions on here I've made, that's the one I'd love to be proven wrong on most.

And that's it! What are your predictions? Got any pie-in-the-sky wished-for games coming out of E3? Anything you want to see more of that's already been announced? Hit me up, and prepare your body, your mind, and your soul for a lockdown.

15 Comments

Don't pre-order games. Also I pre-ordered a game. Here's why.

It's easy to buy into a game's hype. After all, publishers pay employees quite a bit of money to make you so anxious to play a game you'll line up for hours outside a Game Crazy at your local mall, your bag of Naugles tacos in hand while you talk about whether or not Seal could beat up all the Boyz II Men. Which he totally could, b-dubs.

Fuck, I'm old.

The point is, someone's always trying to sell you something like it's their job, right? Because it is. How impressionable you are to this is really only your concern. Hey, you want to get swept up and buy four hundred cans of Mountain Dew's new squid-flavored hypercaffeinated energy drink, it's your money. But it's no real surprise or news that pre-ordering games these days is kind of a silly thing to do. The reasons for this are numerous and have been done to death on these forums and elsewhere, but here's a quick recap - 1) game reviews are still relevant and can save you money if you're willing to wait, and 2) pre-ordering games will lead to butt cancer. I heard that on Facebook so it has to be true.

I haven't pre-ordered a thing since... oh, hell, Fallout 4, maybe? I'm not immune to pre-order hype, but as I grow older, I've begun detaching myself from a lot of the excitement of games in general and have found myself more and more capable of waiting for stuff to go on a deep discount. Having a limited income has helped with this self-control, but it really just boils down to nothing coming out in a good long while that's really stirred up my soul in the way big franchises like Final Fantasy or the aforementioned Fallout used to do. There are tons of great games that've come out in the last few years, but none of them have really spoken to me personally. And that's okay! Saves me money, at the very least.

So here's an oddity for you, then. At the beginning of this month, I decided to punch the pre-order button on a game you might think is an odd decision, considering I didn't particularly love its predecessor. That game is Far Cry New Dawn. Note that there are no spoilers ahead for Far Cry 5, but I do have to talk around some things.

I know. Of all the games to buy before reviews have come out, why the hell would I pick New Dawn? The answer to that isn't as simple as hype. I played Far Cry 5 to completion and did most every side-quest. I wasn't in love with the game. I thought the cult and the ending were intriguing ideas that unfortunately weren't very well fleshed out in ways believable to that universe, leaving me with questions as to just what the hell the plot leaders might have been thinking or doing or planning towards. I don't mean that in a "I have to know more!" sort of way. It was half-assed writing in an otherwise perfectly vanilla update to the Far Cry 3 formula. The Montana setting was fun, especially as I'm from the area, but it wasn't really a selling point for me.

But.

Curiosity killed the cat, and it slaughtered my wallet. I have to know if Ubisoft is capable of making good on any of the more intriguing aspects of that game. I am intrigued by the idea of games exploring spiritual mysticism that isn't a part of some existentialist or nihilisitic viewpoint, and what Far Cry 5 was going for is fairly unique at least in terms of games in that regard. Although it didn't earn its ending, I wholly respect the sheer magnitude of what it was trying to aim for. Maybe that's because I'm deeply in love with the similar ending to the underrated movie Miracle Mile, but I don't think so. Far Cry 5 was so close to greatness that I kind of have to see where New Dawn goes to, if just as a consumer-historian sort of way. And I realize how bizarre that sounds considering how many people across the globe will be covering New Dawn for themselves and how easy that coverage will be to access, but there's still some part of me that hopes, even in some very tiny way, that New Dawn makes good on at least some of the premises from Far Cry 5. It also really doesn't hurt that I love the open-world gameplay from these games, but that's pretty much secondary to knowing how the second chapter to this story will end.

So there you go. It's not a game I expect to hold close to my heart, and I've read some review recaps. I know what I'm in for. I'm okay with that.

So have you pre-ordered any games for an unusual reason? What are your biggest pre-order regrets?

36 Comments

Assassin's Creed Hotyssey

I'm gonna let you all in on a little secret. That newest Assassin's Creed game? It's great!

That take is hotter than 50 Shades of Sparky, I know, but I'm wildly happy with this game. I should be - I've been playing it off and on for a damn month pretty much exclusively, and with over seventy hours in, I'm barely past the 60% storyline mark. That's partly on me, because I like monkeying around in the universe and because I have a hard time spotting certain objectives or things to destroy. But it's also because I'm just having a great time exploring.

Now part of that is due to the fun I'm making for myself. I've been swapping pretty freely between weapon types, and at level 55 or so, I'm pretty much just ramming through combat encounters for funsies. That aspect was a little frustrating for the first ten or so levels, especially when it came to the mercenaries who breathed on me and I died. Now I'm playing drums with three or four mercenaries' skulls at a time while fire-lovin' ladies are spitting at me with their devil bows and I'm loving it.

Kassandra's a dope character, voiced particularly well by Melissanthi Mahut, who I hope is a name we see featured in a lot more games. Kassandra's alternately full of wonderment and brashful exuberance, and is a fantastic counter to Abubakar Salim's equally likable Bayek from the previous game. The islands aren't quite as fascinating as that setting, but navigating Kassandra's world is still a great deal of fun.

My enjoyment is also aided by books on tape, which if you haven't tried before, grab yourself a good podcast game, get to your library, and bullshit with your librarian about Overdrive on your computer or device. I've been mowing down Craig Johnson's Longmire novels playing Odyssey and the combination of cowboy procedural and old timey hackin', whackin', and stabbin' has been a riot.

And that's it, I suppose. Sometimes I just gotta give a game its due, and this is one of those times. AC Odyssey is a real delight.

7 Comments

A quiet goodbye to 2018 on Giant Bomb

Folks, this has been a year.

Let me just say this first - thank you. From the bottom of my battered and bruised heart, thank you. When I went through diastolic heart failure in June, my brother @upperdecker made a post in the forums to ask for thoughts and prayers. At the time, I was surly and downright angry from days spent in a brutally uncomfortable hospital bed waiting for any sort of person with an MD behind their name to come in and talk to me - at all. I was not the kindest to my family or friends then, which if you know me is unfortunately par for the course. But after a while I finally recovered enough to realize the ocean of kindness and love surrounding me, both personally and online, and I'm reminded of it as being the single greatest highlight of my 2018. "No man is a failure who has friends" is about damn right. I'm in the process of rereading that whole thread, and it's got me tearing up a bit.

The heart problems weren't even the worst part of my 2018. Breaking my pelvis or pissing rocks - the latter at the same time as my heart attack - weren't even the worst parts. The hardest part was losing my last remaining grandparent. Her mind had been going for a while now, and in that regard, I guess it's good she didn't need to suffer anymore, but in my honest opinion? Fuck that. She was my grandma, the woman I turned to when I needed to get away from my house for a night, who I road tripped with, whose mashed potatoes and crock-cooked beans were the freaking best. Yeah, seeing her lose her mind sucked, especially since it fell to my mom to take care of her, but you know what sucks more? The giant gaping hole where she used to be.

Fuck you, Death. Fuck you and the horse you rode in on.

With all that, I don't know. Games were played, I suppose. Some were great. Some were good. Some were bad. You can get better opinions elsewhere on all of them. I just don't have the energy to write up a big wrap-up on all of it. I'll put up a personal GOTY list and talk about the ups and down of each game, but basically it's been a year of focusing on my personal life and my work. Speaking of, I wrapped up a seven book supernatural thriller series this year, shot way the hell over a million words published, and had a couple other milestones that mean nothing to absolutely anyone but me. Should have a new book out in late January or early February, which is cool. Looking forward to a year of writing (and reading) pulpy genre fiction. It's going well. Reviews have been positive, page counts are up on Kindle Unlimited, and I even occasionally make a sale. As a way to try and get back on my feet financially (I'm legally blind and living on disability, a thing I have decideed I don't want to do anymore and am working getting that sweet, sweet lettuce), it's really a fun job. I need to focus on writing stuff with a wider market appeal and just keep grinding away.

I hesitated even writing this blog because it has so very little to do with games. But despite my sometimes-irritable and blunt, overly critical nature, I love this site. I love the people here, and I don't just mean the personalities (though the crew continues to put out a bunch of fun stuff I've been enjoying). I mean, the community. I've said this before but it bears repeating each and every time - Giant Bomb is one of the best communities on the Internet. I love the bloggers here. I love the regular chatters. I love bullshitting on Infinite. I love cussing out things with people on the forums. Despite me drifting a little ways away this year for a lot of reasons, I'm not going anywhere, and I hope you won't either.

Love and thanks,

Cameron Lowe, the sparkiest of buzzsaws

18 Comments

Win a copy of Dark Souls III by entertaining me!

Hey folks!

I have a copy of Dark Souls III (and some piece of DLC I can't be bothered to go look up) I'm looking to give away to one lucky member of the Giant Bomb community. But I'm not just interested in doing a random drawing. Oh no. You're going to entertain me. Dance for my entertainment! DANCE!

Actually, no, don't dance. Write. Stop with the groaning already, it's simple. Assuming you have 200+ posts, I want you to write me a seven word short story. That's it. You can use any combination of punctuation or sentence structure you like. Just tell me an ORIGINAL story in seven words, and you're entered. Here's the rules in a simple bullet point style, because the Internet hates reading anything longer than a goddamned - you've already nodded off, haven't you? Fuck.

-Have 200+ posts. Don't be a dillweed and go posting a bunch of spam to bump your count up.

-Short story, seven words, be original. I used to hunt down plagiarism as a job, and also IT'S ONLY SEVEN WORDS, YOU LAZY CHEATS. So don't, Chester Cheatoh.

-You are limited to ONE entry. That's (1), minus the parenthetical marks. Do you know the number of fingers you use to flip off that asshole who always starts off every conversation with, "Sure is a hot/cold/mild/smoldering ruin of a day, huh?" Yeah. That's the number of entries you get.

-Spelling, proper punctuation, and an adherence to the English language are nice, but I'll allow for creative punctuation and form given the short nature of the beast. That said, if you misuse any contractons, you're fuckin' out. That's some third-grade bullshit and third-graders shouldn't be hanging around these forums and they damn well better not be reading my curse-filled diatribes.

-Contest will close... I don't know, man, sometime Sunday night. All right, you want an exact time? Fine. I live in GMT time in the States, so we'll call it at 9:00 P.M. on Sunday my time. If you want to know what time that is, use the damn Google machine. Also see my previous comment about middle fingers.

Good luck! Wow me, entertain me! I love you all. Platonically. Don't get your hopes up.

Also, this is Steam-only. Don't whine at me about not winning a copy for your goddamn Game Gear.

57 Comments

A Hack Writer Plays Doki Doki Literature Club

Goddamn it, @zombiepie.

Those were the words I kept muttering to myself throughout the first hour or two of Doki Doki Literature Club, a visual novel developed and published by Team Salvato. There are anime girls. There's a hapless guy (you) who joins a club just to ogle said anime girls and maybe get a little thigh-fiving action with those girls by manipulating one of them into thinking he likes her by creating poetry slanted towards the words and imagery she likes. The girls are inexplicably all drawn to him despite clearly being a douche with no identifiable characteristics besides liking whatever the hell the object of his affection likes.

This should not be a game I played to near completion. I hate all that garbage. It's Japan trope 101 bullshit, and it's the worst.

"Keep going," ZombiePie insisted. "It's worth it. Trust me."

So I did. And guess what? He was absolutely right.

For those of you who don't know me, my name is Cameron Lowe. As your brilliant mind has probably figured out from the title of this blog, I'm a writer of shlock bullshit - mystic cannibal gangs, lesbian shapeshifters, and in a fit of madness, even a romance novel about ugly people who happen to be very fond of each other. Lemme tell you what, if you want to sell jack and shit, try being a guy in your thirties writing romance novel under your real name. It's a delight!

To date, I've written and self-published six books. Fuck, that's crazy to write down, but it's the truth. More importantly than that, I've got an English degree and I've read more than any sane person should ever claim in a lot of genres. Never ask me what you should read. You'll be listening to me long enough for your family and loved ones to send out a search party. I'm that kind of asshole.

The point is, I know stories. They're not just my business, they're my great love affair. I'm in danger of going completely blind and yet I'll piss away whatever vision I have left just so I can get in one last good book. I know the structure of writing (and the importance of mastering that structure so I can get to the business of ignoring it when I please). And most important to this blog on Doki Doki Club, I know tropes.

I thought I knew what I was in for when it came to Doki Doki Club in its first half hour. Through ZombiePie's chatter, I also thought I knew its twists - one of those I was right about (because he basically gave it away), but the other... well, let's dive in and find out, because it somehow manages to both be impressive and somehow squander its potential. More on that in a second..

SPOILERS AHEAD, BUT FIRST...

I can't talk about Doki Doki Club without spoilers. It's a visual novel and the story is pretty much the only point of the game. If you're looking for a quick and dirty recommendation, yes, go "play" it. It's free, and it's well worth your time even if you're not a fan of anime. Maybe especially if you're not a fan of anime. However, there are some dark themes. That's not a joke. Take the game's warnings seriously, and if that shit bothers you, go play something else. It really isn't fucking around.

REALLY, DUDE AND/OR DUDETTE, SPOILERS AHEAD

FOR REAL, THOUGH. SPOILERS.

OKAY. DON'T WHINE AT ME FOR SPOILING THINGS. WHINY BABY. ALWAYS WHINING. INFANTS ARE SUCH BABIES. THANKS MST3K FOR THAT LAST JOKE. YOU FOLKS ROCKED. ROBOT ROLL CALL! NO. NO, WE DON'T HAVE TIME. GOTTA GET TO THE POINT. SO... UHHH... HERE WE GO. SPOILERS, OKAY?

ZombiePie sold me on trying Doki Doki Club by saying this. I'm paraphrasing here.

"Sparky, you utterly devastatingly cool dude, you should put a halt to writing ten billion words of always fascinating things and play Doki Doki Club."

I set down my five-hundred pound bench press dumbbell thingie, wiped the single bead of sweat off my forehead, and laughed my ass off at him, because I sure as hell wasn't going to play a Japanese-ass visual novel that looked about as cookie-cutter as it gets. Nerdy guy lands a harem. Yay.

"Sparks - sorry, I meant sir - just try it. It really goes places you wouldn't expect."

Well, that just made me roll my eyes. Not literally. I didn't use them for craps dice or something. I started to get back in the groove of my workout. You know how it goes. I had to crunch out those flammy jam leg lifts. Gotta keep them glutes tight, know what I mean?

"Look," he wrote, seeming exasperated but probably just in awe of me, "it gets even darker than your books. It's good stuff."

That got my attention.

My books don't have twists for the sake of twists. I hate that. If a writer has a twist that fits in naturally with the progression of the story, that's great. I don't mind. But twists have often become the focus, with the rest of the story fleshed out around them like the world's most backwards human body.

That said, my books are often times dark. No one's really safe when it comes to my writing. That's not to say I drop bodies just for the sake of shock value. Like I say, it's all in service of the story I want to tell, and sometimes that means bad shit happens to good - or at least sympathetic - characters.

So why did it intrigue me in this particular case? Because darkness isn't really a thing I expect from anime-styled games. It's an unfair judgment, to be sure. I'm at least aware of how dark some anime and manga can get, even if I don't partake in them.

Even better, Doki Doki is free. Not F2P, none of that. It's free, with DLC meant to support the developer if you like the game. In this day and age, that's a rad fuckin' business model.

It didn't hurt anything to try it. So I did.

And I was immensely, instantly bored as piss.

Doki Doki LIterature Club starts off as what I imagine is a typical visual novel. Bland, boring preambles about Sayori, the plucky childhood friend, are the focus until the main character - named by you as whatever you like, so I naturally picked GoddamnItZP - agrees to join a club to appease her. Two guesses as to what one he picks, and no, it's not the Fight Club. The literature club is full of cliched anime girls - there's the quiet, studious type, the cantankerous-but-really-sweet-and-creepily-young-looking girl, the aforementioned plucky Sayori, who makes little bones about her just-under-the-surface crush on the main character, and the club leader Monika, who doesn't have much of a personality aside from being the one to keep things on track.

Holy fuck, boys and girls, do I hate this early section of the game. As your character gets to know these girls, you show less and less of a personality and start to make choices that hopefully net you the anime cliche of your dreams. This is largely done through poetry readings each afternoon of the game. For these, you're not actually coming up with poetry, but selecting twenty keywords from a list of choices. Each girl has certain words she likes or associates with, so choosing those gains you favor with that particular girl.

This is pretty much creeper territory, as you don't actually establish any actual personality yourself. You're just creating a persona for whoever it is you want to be with. Then again, I guess that's pretty much my whole young adult life described in a nutshell, so... hey, maybe it's more true-to-life than I give it credit for.

Anyways, this is a largely by-the-numbers hour or so. I do like the occasional writing tips the characters throw out there as they talk about what they like in terms of literature. It's all mostly relevant advice, and useful if you haven't taken a basic high school or college level creative writing course.

Things start to take a turn for the weird when Sayori starts acting a little strange around the main character. She's a bit despondent, her laughs and cheer are forced, and she winds up missing a day of school.

Okay. Here's where stuff gets dark, so turn away if talk about depression or suicide gets to you.

Yeah. Suicide.

After the main character is forced to make a choice between telling Sayori she's his best friend or he loves her, he goes to spend an afternoon with one of the other love interests as they work on preperations for an upcoming MacGuffin-esque school event. By this point, even knowing what was coming basically thanks to ZombiePie's warnings, it's fairly obvious things with Sayori are about to take a turn for the worst. She comes by, sees the player character with another girl, and goes into full manic cheerful mode.

The main character realizes something's wrong, but nothing quite clicks until he goes to visit Sayori at her house and finds her hanging from the ceiling fan.

Okay. That's enough to make Doki Doki interesting. Sayori's depiction of depression is actually well written, given the constraints of the game style. One particular gut-punch comes when she tells the main character, "You think I'm happy because that's the only part of me I allow you to see," or something to that effect. It's a brave, honest moment of writing. The people we love perceive us as the front we present to them, and that's doubly true of those fighting depression or other mental illness.

When I say it's a "terrific" moment, I don't mean that to imply her death is terrific. It isn't. The imagery of her hanging is disturbing and the build-up is immensely sad. But it is a terrific moment of storytelling and I applaud it as such. If I hadn't been warned about it, it would have definitely been a lot more effective, but honestly, if I hadn't known about it even in a roundabout way, I wouldn't have played this game, so I'm glad Zeep warned me. Well played, Doki Doki. You have my attention as a player, a reader, and writer.

And then Doki Doki goes fucking batshit nuts.

REALLY, STOP READING HERE AND JUST GO PLAY IT. UNLESS YOU HAVE, IN WHICH CASE, STICK AROUND. LET'S CUDDLE. FIGURATIVELY. I DON'T WANT YOU HOGGING MY BLANKETS. OKAY, SPOILER WARNING DONE. LET'S GET BACK TO WORK.

That's where ZombiePie's warnings couldn't have told me where the game goes next. The whole thing goes back out to the main title screen, where some pretty sick imagery has replaced the cheery picture of the main girls from the literary club. The game restarts, and Sayori is just... gone. She's not mentioned by anyone and her presence isn't felt. Instead, you're invited to the club by the leader, Monika, and events play out with the object of your affection becoming obsessed with you.

All the while, the game starts to play with the onscreen imagery and text in some great ways. Doki Doki isn't exactly a graphical powerhouse, so the effects are largely simple - red shaders, a demonic-styled font, etc. There are hints that some darker force is at work behind the scenes, displeased with the woman you've chosen. As she slowly slips further and further into madness, the player starts to see the game "break" with images foreshadowing what's to come.

My thought at this point is, "Oh, we're getting a representation of what Sayori's hell would be like, if they're going for that kind of a story. Interesting." It's certainly what the game seems to imply is coming.

What does happen is bizarre and gruesome, but it's not hell. At least not the kind you and I are associating with it right now.

The love interest again kills herself, this time stabbing her stomach repeatedly until you're left looking at a bloody, mangled corpse staring at you adoringly. It's messed up, and the game's writer keeps going - instead of you calling the authorities, you're just sitting there, with the body as time passes. A lot of time. So much time I thought the game was broken or something, but instead, Monika, the literary club's leader, comes back and tells you a whole weekend's passed. She sees the body, and instead of horror, she just seems fascinated by the whole thing.

This section, this whole middle third, is utterly fantastic. It's a great example of a low-budget game using its strengths to create something incredibly powerful and disturbing without having to resort to flashy tricks. The use of the fonts to contradict the cheery bubblegum bullshit with darker portents of what happened and what's to come is awesome. The visual cues create a great sense of atmosphere, and the steadily degrading music gives the whole thing a feel of sliding into some Dante-esque level of hell.

Doki Doki is worth playing for this section alone. It subverted my expectations entirely, and I wholly applaud the developer for taking such a weird, wild route to its ending.

And what an ending it is, even if it doesn't stick the landing quite the way I'd like.

It's revealed after the second suicide that Monika has been behind the whole nightmarish thing, and that she's completely aware this is a game. I should probably put "aware" in quotes because this is all just obviously scripted stuff, but the game does some neat tricks with its concept, including Monika calling the player by his "actual" name - meaning your Steam ID. There are also some files dumped to your desktop to give the whole thing a spookier feel, as though Monika has actually invaded your computer and is slowly taking the thing over. Then she essentially implodes the world, deleting the other characters from a file in your Steam folder - yes, really - leaving her and the gamer - and not the character you've created - as the sole occupants of her dream universe, wherein she admits she's been wildly in love with you.

The game "ends" here in a loop. Monika shares her philosophies on love, and what she thinks the player should do to be happy, and the things she regrets most about having a real game world to play in. It's a fascinating idea, one that unfortunately was marred by ZombiePie shouting at me to go a little bit further, just a little bit further. As it turned out, he was referencing seeing something I'd already witnessed - MOnika using my "real" name, but by that point, it was two in the morning and I couldn't take any more Doki Doki.

I came back to it the next day, sure I'd missed something. The concept is neat, as Monika is still sitting there spouting off philosophy and dreamy odes to the player, but I didn't quite "get" what I was supposed to do next until I looked up a guide. You have to actually delete Monika's file from your computer in order to get the "ending," which actually keeps going.

It's a mind-trip, but it's such an elusive, bizarre way of doing things, it actually ended up irritating me rather than amazing me. It's neat that players had to figure this stuff out, but I'm not sure I like the idea of Monika being an intelligent Ai as much as I would've liked the idea of the story playing itself out as the horror story it implied it was in that middle third.

It's unfortunate. Because that ending is special, and it does work, especially if you're smart enough to pick up what to do next. But I don't like ARG-styled games, particularly when it comes to something where I just kinda want to see the next part of the story. I don't want or need an impediment to that to enjoy myself. It's a neat concept, but imagine reading a book and the writer uses invisible ink during the last thirty pages when you have no idea what the fuck invisible ink even is or that it exists. That's me and Doki Doki. I can appreciate it, but in the end, I'm not sure I like the decisions it made.

All that aside, this and What Remains of Edith Finch make a strong case for storytelling within games making more sense than on the page. This is not an experience I could have had with a regular book. We're slowly approaching the point when storytelling in games isn't just good by the medium's standards, but good by any medium's standards. We still have a ways to go, but Doki Doki gives me hope for more and more inventive storytelling within the confines of a game's structure - or beyond it. Whatever Team Salvato works on next, I'll be paying attention.

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