StarvingGamer's Games Worth Starving For (or Otherwise) in 2018

Small wins and tremendous losses feels like a pretty apropos summary for 2018, both in video gaming and, you know, the world which is going to end in ~12 years. We saw record gains for women in the US's 2018 election and a slew of new releases tackling topics like gender, sexuality, racism, and neurodivergence with grace and care. There was a noted uptick in reporting on and speaking out against workplace cultures of sexism, toxicity, and crunch in a number of larger game studios. But while tonedeaf braggadocio about one's own abusive labor practices doesn't quite measure up to willfully ignoring the impending global climate catastrophe to keep the numbers going up, the increased scrutiny certainly hasn't seemed to hurt the end-of-year accolades for Red Dead Redemption II. Everyone is too busy oohing and aahing over KDA Akali (myself included) to remember how rough it is for the women who work at Riot Games.

Thankfully there is no shortage of other games worth highlighting this year, and you can expect spoilers for most of them so reader beware. Here's to the games that didn't make the cut.

Runners-up: 11. Detroit: Become Human, 12. Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, 13. Marvel's Spider-Man, 14. Heaven Will Be Mine, 15. God of War, 16. The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit, 17. Vampyr, 18. Into the Breach, 19. Soul Calibur VI, 20. Darksiders 3

Best Old Game

Diablo III: Eternal Collection

When the console version of Diablo III (D3) was announced... forever ago, I scoffed at it. Fire my Cluster Arrows without the split-second precision offered by a mouse? No this Demon Hunter. I was perfectly happy playing on PC, and continued to do so during my periodic check-ins with the game for expansions or to run a season during a lull between new game releases.

loooooooooooooooooooot!
loooooooooooooooooooot!

Again, I scoffed when an updated console version was released on the Nintendo Switch late this year. Then I noticed my twitter feed filling up with tweets about all the fabulous places people found themselves playing D3. I realized that D3 on Switch meant D3 at the playground; D3 at Target; D3 in the bathroom; D3 in bed. Sure, it doesn't control as well, and inventory management can take a bit of finessing, but the low commitment nature of running rifts and greater rifts makes it the perfect mobile game. Building out sets and grinding for best-in-slot items is as fun as it ever was.

I don't know how much longer Blizzard plans to support the game, but Diablo II received its final patch 16 years after its initial release. Maybe it doesn't even matter. As long as D3 is a game I can pull out in a pinch anywhere, at any time, I'll keep coming back to it, Eternally.

Runners-up: Street Fighter V, Titanfall 2

Best Surprise

The Missing: J.J. Macfield and the Island of Memories

This game really came out of nowhere, and not only because I first learned of it a week after it released.

Things get pretty heavy
Things get pretty heavy

Its director, who goes by SWERY, first rose to prominence with the release of the cult hit Deadly Premonition in 2014. The game featured, among other things, a character riddled with negative queer tropes in Thomas MacLaine. The game's other prominent queer character was also the principal villain. SWERY's followup was the prematurely canceled episodic game D4: Dark Dreams Don't Die. The main character had a woman living with him who wore a one-piece bathing suit and behaved like a cat. She brought him a live rat in her mouth. The last I had heard of SWERY, he had resigned his position at Access Games to start his own studio, White Owls, where he was struggling to successfully crowdfund his next game The Good Life.

Out of nowhere comes The Missing, one of the most frank and thoughtfully written games explicitly about queer issues that I have ever played. It still has those trademark SWERY touches: the game world soaked with surrealism; the only sort-of-there gameplay that you tolerate to reach the next narrative beat; a character named "FK". But the way the game builds towards its eventual reveal, the turn, and the ways the mechanics retroactively represent the game's themes in the context of the final act make for a remarkable experience.

If you can play the game, I wholeheartedly recommend it, with a major content warning for self-harm. If not, you should read the excellent article "The Missing Gets Queer Love Stories Right" by Heather Alexandra where she talks about the game in greater detail.

Runners-up: Celeste, Florence

Biggest Disappointment

Dragon Ball FighterZ

Lots of people love Dragon Ball FighterZ (DBFZ). That's great! For everyone with a deep nostalgia for the anime, they made a game that goes to extraordinary lengths to look as Dragon Ball as it possibly can. Competitively, the game did well at tournaments and is now headed towards its first World Tour Finals in January. There have been a number of exciting chapters in the evolving storyline, from Go1's initial dominance to HookGangGod's win at the Summit of Power to SonicFox freezing Go1 out during the EVO finals to Kazunoko's emergence as the player-to-beat and holder of 4 of the 7 Dragon Balls.

I can't deny the craftsmanship
I can't deny the craftsmanship

For me, someone who has no affinity for the source material, I was looking for DBFZ to be one thing and one thing only - the next great tag fighter to carry the torch after Marvel VS. Capcom Infinite showed up dead on arrival. When I think about the things I love about the Marvel VS. Capcom series, it's the room for expression and creativity. It's a wildly diverse cast of characters that allow for a wide variety of playstyles. It's going to bed after a day in the training room only to wake up at 3AM with a new idea you have to try out to see if it works. DBFZ offers me none of that.

There's a universality to the character in DBFZ that makes it much more beginner friendly as a game but lends a sameness to the way they play. Universal Ki blasts, air dashes, and Dragon Rushes makes playing neutral with most characters more or less the same. Offense with most characters is slow, staggered normals into a high/low mixup into an assist or a vanish to maintain pressure; rinse repeat. Most combos with most characters follow the same formula of grounded chain into a few air chains into an ender. Or a vanish into a snap. Even ignoring the delay-based netcode, or the fact that on release you could only occasionally get player matches if you first changed your display name before trying to queue up with your friends, there is nothing in DBFZ for me at a fundamental level. Also you can field two full teams of unique Gokus but can't have a single team made of girls which, come on.

After the Tekken 7 World Tour finals this year, several professional players expressed a reluctance to devote the same effort to the game in 2019 given the paltry prize pool. BANDAI NAMCO's financial support for the DBFZ World Tour this year is not much better. Combine that with the fact that several DBFZ tournaments this year outside of the World Tour have been forced to cancel by... someone, including a noted absence from the lineup for 2019's EVO Japan, and the future of competitive DBFZ starts looking like a big question mark. I hope they manage to pull it together for the fans, I really do, but for me I'll still sit here pining away for the eventual announcement of Marvel VS. Capcom Infinite: Uncanny Edition.

Runners-up: Far Cry 5, Shadow of the Tomb Raider

Best New Character

Connor (Detroit: Become Human)

Detroit: Become Human is a beautiful mess of a game. Just behind its jaw-dropping production values lie the words of David Cage, a thoughtless writer that actively harms people with his ignorance. Unfortunately, the game's developer Quantic Dream is one of only two studios that puts out this specific style of cinematic, choose-your-own-adventure-esque game (that I love), and the other one does horror which I just can't handle. So like always, with this latest release I did my damnedest to make lemonade, and actually found it better tasting than I expected.

Buddy cops
Buddy cops

Despite being games about choice, there was never much leeway when it came to the broader characterization of the protagonists in Cage's previous works. Maybe they were a little nicer or a little meaner, a little braver or a little more cowardly in the moment, but in the end they always found their way back to the story Cage wanted to tell. Detroit is the first Quantic Dream game to have a second credited writer, and it shows particularly in Connor's tale. On its face, Connor's story runs the well trod trope of the heartless killer who learns empathy. Every pivotal decision you make ties back to that, and the game continually tries to push you in that direction through its framing and through your interactions with Hank, the burnt-out cop who plays opposite to Connor.

Connor is an android made to hunt deviant androids. Hank blames an android for the death of his son. It's certainly par for the course when it comes to nuance in a David Cage narrative, and yet, despite opportunity after opportunity to do otherwise, my Connor never faltered in his duty. Oh, Hank wanted to believe, he really did. It was hard not to, as they apprehended deviant after deviant and heard what they had to say.

"Deviant's blood may be a different color than mine, but they're alive." He was a man adrift who had finally found a purpose to cling to. That's why he was willing to bet it all and give himself over as Connor held him by his collar from the roof of a tall building.

"Moment of truth, Connor... What are you gonna do?"

I let him fall.

(Didn't shoot the lesbians tho' because fuck that trope!)

Runners-up: Luna-Terra (The World Will Be Mine), Minerva Victor (Valkyria Chronicles 4)

Best Moment or Sequence

SonicFox Accepts Best eSports Player Award (The Game Awards 2018)

Dominique McLean, or "SonicFox", first rose to prominence in the fighting game community (FGC) in 2014, winning the EVO championship in NetherRealm Studios' (NRS) Injustice: Gods Among Us at the tender age of 16 while wearing his trademark fox-ear cap adorned with blue fur. He went on to carry his hat and reputation forward, proving to be near unbeatable in NRS's next game, Mortal Kombat X, before donning his fur-suit and dominating Injustice 2.

While many people recognized his talents, there was no shortage of naysayers declaring him a big fish in a small pond. After all, his only notable accomplishments were in NRS games with their almost entirely Western audiences. He didn't have what it takes to be a contender in games like Street Fighter or Guilty Gear, games with a large Japanese scene. Japan is commonly thought of as the region-to-beat in fighting games.

So in 2016 he started to branch out, placing 7th in a pool over over 1,000 at a Capcom Pro Tour premier event for Street Fighter V (SFV) using F.A.N.G., one of the weakest characters in the game. He was eventually eliminated by Tokido, one of the strongest fighting game players in the world. In late 2017 SonicFox quickly established himself as one of the best players at Marvel VS. Capcom Infinite, using his trademark team of Jedah/Rocket Raccoon/Space Stone, before that competitive scene dried up and he moved on.

SonicFox has had an amazing 2018. He won the biggest Injustice 2 tournament of the year at the Pro Series Grand Finals. He won the biggest DBFZ tournament of the year at EVO, taking down several Japanese players including the favorite to win, Go1. And when he won the Best eSports Player Award at The Game Awards 2018, it wasn't just a win for him but a win for the entire FGC.

One thing the FGC prides itself on is its diversity. Which isn't to say that we don't have a ways to go in making the community a more welcoming, safer space for everyone, particularly female players. But we're working hard at it every day, and I can't think of another competitive gaming community where you'll see more black and brown folk mixed in with the white and yellow people, or more queer folk kicking ass and taking trophies.

Maybe he didn't think he was going to win; or more likely he figured even if he did win, he could wing it. Typical SonicFox. Still, his voice quivers, his words meanders, he somehow manages to work in a humble brag about donating $10k of his winnings to go towards his training partner's dad's cancer treatment. But SonicFox never forgets who he is, and he isn't going to let the world forget it either. "I'm gay, black, a furry... and the best eSports player in the world," and whether you like it or not, SonicFox is the FGC, and we're all better for it.

Runners-up: Let Go (Florence), Playing the Piano (Detroit: Become Human)

StarvingGamer's Top 10 Games of 2018

10. BlazBlue Cross Tag Battle

It is wild that DBFZ and BlazBlue Cross Tag Battle (CTB), two games from the same developer, Arc System Works (ArcSys), could have so many similarities on the surface yet turn out so differently in play. Both games touted their simplified control schemes, requiring players to use fewer buttons on the controller than most fighting games, relying only on basic quarter-circle directional inputs for all special moves, and giving players access to a majority of their attacks through auto-combos performed by pressing the same button multiple times in a row. If anything, these design decisions seemed like they would work out far better for DBFZ, and game being built with these restrictions in mind from the ground up, as opposed to CTB, a game pulling almost all of its cast from other, far more complex fighting games.

The opposite turned out to be true. With fewer control options given to the gameplay designers of DBFZ, there's a sort of sameness that runs through the entire cast. There are minor flavor differences in the way characters do things, but the diversity in play styles is nowhere near what is typical for an ArcSys game. Maybe that's in part owed to the intensity of their dedication to the source material, a anime where everyone's fighting form can be boiled down to punching and shooting lasers from their hands and punching some more only faster this time. Also double axe handles.

In designing CTB, there was a clear focus in maintaining the essence of the characters in their original games. While it didn't work out for some as well as others (RIP Mai Natsume), instead of feeling reduced, characters feel distilled. Not only are the individual characters more distinct, the openness of CTB's system for tags and assists means the way a single character plays will vary greatly according to who they're teamed up with.

Which isn't to say it's all roses for me. CTB still uses ArcSys delay netcode instead of rollback which causes real problems for my already below average ability to execute in fighting games. A bulk of the game's openness for exploration is locked behind its Cross Combo system which allows players to control both characters simultaneously and is several degrees above my threshold for difficulty. But the game has characters I'm interested in playing, and unlike other tag games that I truly adore, actually has people playing it.

2018: I'll take what I can get.

9. Octopath Traveler

It still amazes me how much portability can do for my perception of a game.

If I were playing on a console at home, I would be here complaining about the baffling decisions to make a game with 8 characters that almost never interact or acknowledge each other, even when overthrowing despotic regimes or thwarting plots to turn entire populations into fuel for an immortality ritual. I would be addressing how tonally jarring it was to have a game filled with characters on typical shōnen manga journeys and also have my chosen main character begin the game as a sex worker who is told by her master that by performing oral sex on him, she might be spared the fate of her only friend who her master had just mudered before her eyes.

I guess it is pretty cool looking
I guess it is pretty cool looking

I'd be talking about the haphazard filters and visual effects plastered across every environment that didn't add much but sometimes made spaces difficult to navigate. I would describe the pixel art as largely passable but unremarkable, outside of appreciating the fact that each character was given a different set of sprites to reflect each of the game's 12 jobs and noting that some of the larger boss sprites were pleasantly expressive. I might even have an opinion about the music, had I heard any of it.

Instead I'm here gushing about an intricately designed battle/job system that kept me entertained for dozens of hours away from home. Developed by Square-Enix, Octopath Traveler's combat has a lot in common with the previously released Bravely Default games where players can reserve their actions to spend in bulk on a later turn. In the Bravely series this mostly meant looking for synergies between skills from multiple jobs that quickly devolved into finding the optimal combinations and copying them across the entire party. In Octopath, however, battles have the added wrinkle of needing to target an enemy's specific weaknesses to maximize damage dealt and minimize damage received, similar to the system found in Atlus's Persona series.

Every attack in Octopath deals damage of a specific type, and there are 12 damage types in all. The typical Octopath enemy only has 3-4 weaknesses out of those 12, which leads to lots of experimentation when entering a new area. Once you've figured out an enemy's weaknesses, every subsequent fight becomes a puzzle of how to use whichever characters and skills you have available to you at the time to defeat them as efficiently as possible. Unlike in Bravely, you cannot rest on your laurels in Octopath. Every fight in Octopath demands your attention and there's immense satisfaction to be gained from using your tools properly to ensure that all of your characters leave an encounter unscathed.

Granted, to get the true ending, you have to suffer through a grindy, time-wasting gauntlet of previous bosses that is not challenging but is time consuming, with zero opportunities to save your progress meaning that if you fail against the super difficult final boss (which is likely as you won't know its capabilities the first time you fight each its many forms), you have to go through that entire grind all over again. I may never truly "beat" the game but I still adored the time I did spend with it, and can only hope that if there's an Octopath 2 it will actually be a game with a story.

8. Celeste

Platformers are a genre I fell off of following the Super Nintendo with games I adored like Super Mario World and Donkey Kong Country. I heard some good thing about that Mario 64 game but it just wasn't for me. Later when 2D platformers started making a comeback, maybe it was just a change in tastes or maybe it was my much degraded manual and mental dexterity, I couldn't find the fun in this new breed of well tuned games focused on testing your skills.

So I was disappointed to hear that Celeste, a game praised for its refreshingly direct and nuanced take on mental health issues, was very much in the lineage of 12 precise wall-jumps into a half-gainer style of game. As much as I wanted to see the way they tackled the game's themes, I knew I wouldn't have the patience or ability to see it through. That was in January. Now come December of this year and Celeste is coming up again in conversation in everyone's discussions about their games of the year. Only now people aren't just talking about the themes or the difficulty, but about the game's refreshing approach to accessibility options.

Compassionate design
Compassionate design

Game difficulty is still a very touchy subject that can quickly get people up in arms. Very few games offer real accessibility options, ways to tweak a game to accommodate people who have physical limitations on the sorts of tasks they can be reasonably expected to complete using a game controller. Even at a more basic level, most games haven't moved beyond labeling their variably difficulty levels with connotation-heavy words like "normal" and "easy" or, in more extreme cases, by infantilizing players who want to play on the lowest difficulty settings for whatever reason by depicting the protagonist with a pacifier and bonnet like last year's otherwise-stellar Wolfenstein II. The mere suggestion that adding ways to tweak the difficulty of a Dark Souls game might open the series up for more people is enough to throw any gaming forum or chatroom into a tizzy with people gnashing their teeth about the way the games are "meant to be played". Never mind the fact that difficulty options are... optional.

Celeste dispenses with all of that. Upon starting a new game you are immediately presented with the ability to turn on an accessibility mode. While the game developers include a message about designing the game to be played and experienced in a specific way, they also acknowledge that every player is different. So a player like me was able to push my way through the game, sometimes unmodified when my hands were cooperating, sometimes with infinite stamina or extra dashes or invincibility when my nerves were deciding to be unresponsive or when I got fed up with the hotel which is the worst area in the game. Knowing I had that safety net to fall back on freed me to try my best at the game without the constant fear that I would hit some unmanageable section and be forced to abandon Celeste completely.

It's a beautiful game with excellent music and as it turns out, it does manage to do quite well in addressing its themes. I only hope that more game developers were paying attention and realize the value in opening your game up for different sorts of people.

7. Assassin's Creed Odyssey

Full disclosure, I am nowhere close to beating Assassin's Creed Odyssey. If I had to guess I'm probably no more than 20% of the way through the main campaign. Maybe the game hits some major snags later on, although I think I would have heard about that by now if that was the case, but based on what I've played I feel confident in listing it in my top 10 over games working in a similar space like God of War and Marvel's Spider-Man. While those games may have tighter combat and more consistent production values, Odyssey provides the one thing I value most in an open-world adventure game: an actual world.

Sun's out!
Sun's out!

More than the fact that it's unpopulated save for a few key figures, there's a real amusement park feel to the way the environments of God of War are laid out and designed. Buildings are slightly too big as if to say, ah yes isn't this impressive, but the actual spaces they exist within are far too small, to ensure that the trip from Witch Forest Land to Big Snake Land to Dead Giant Land is never too long or arduous. Spider-Man's New York City has a similar hollowness to it. Everything is too quiet, too sterile, and there's nowhere near enough traffic to make the city actually feel lived in. If I'm going to be dealing with a blockade of mobsters in the middle of the day, my first indication should be the more incessant than usual honking of hundreds of New Yorkers caught in gridlock, not the chirping of a police scanner while web zipping across a serene city skyline.

By comparison, Odyssey's world feels massive, but also is teeming with life. Settlements and cities are bustling and the vast spaces between are filled with fauna and peppered with the occasional outpost or campsite. Unlike Kratos and Spider-Man who exist on the strata above mere mortals, Odyssey's Kassandra moves among them, and often times beneath them as a struggling mercenary. The game's exploration mode makes you feel even more like an inhabitant of the world, guiding you to unclear objectives not with a shiny waypoint but with clues that let you do the narrowing down yourself by referencing the map.

The game is also an improvement in every way over last year's Assassin's Creed Origins. The addition of several special abilities allows players to approach combat scenarios in a much more tactical fashion. The equipment system introduced in the previous game feels much more realized, with significant choices to be made throughout your journey. Bounties on your head and other mercenaries in the world mean there's always another challenging fight waiting around the corner, and the ability to choose the appearance of every piece of gear you acquire means that my Kassandra is always showing off her badass arms.

It's a race against time as I try to knock out the rest of this game before Ace Combat 7 releases in mid-January. Lucky for me my horse is a unicorn that leaves rainbow trails when it runs.

6. Magic: The Gathering Arena

I have never done the math on how much money I've spent on cardboard Magic in my lifetime, but considering that I at one point owned something around 22,000 cards, the number isn't small. Thankfully (?) a leaky pipe in an upstairs apartment slowly soaked the far corner of my bedroom closet and my collection, making it easy to abandon what was left in a cross-country move and quit the hobby entirely. In the interim I tried to dabble with a number of digital card games. Hearthstone lacked depth and embraced randomization and attacker's advantage in a way that was ultimately too off-putting for me to stick with it. SolForge was great fun but unfortunately the community never grew large enough for the game to be sustainable and it eventually died off. Shadowverse had more of what I was looking for, but the road to building a competitive deck was on the other side of more hours and dollars than I was willing to invest.

How do you spell
How do you spell "asshole?" J-E-S-K-A-I!

Somehow I managed to miss the announcement that Magic: The Gathering Arena (MTGA) was going to be a thing back in 2017. I continued to miss the fact that it was a thing that existed later that year all the way up until finally getting on board with the closed beta halfway through 2018. And everything came rushing back.

There still isn't a card game out there that does it quite as well as Magic. It make sense, as the game's designers have had more than 25 years to hone their craft. From the client-side, MTGA is a bit of a mess around the edges. At its core, however, the game is a flawless reproduction of the Standard format of Magic. Thanks to the reset in September to mark the start of the open beta, I was able to get in on equal footing with everyone else and start building out my collection.

The free-to-play monetization of MTGA is incredibly generous. I only put $5 into the game, more as a tip than anything else, and in a few months have managed to flesh out two competitive decks: a Jeskai control deck because I can only have fun when my opponent is miserable, and a Boros aggro deck for when I need to rack up some quick wins. I have another half-dozen-or-so moderately competent decks for funsies, and almost always have enough currency banked to enter another draft tournament whenever I want to.

I can't wait to see what 2019 has in store for this game, with the release of additional sets and the potential for the introduction of legacy formats. Unless Wizards of the Coast realizes that they've made a terrible mistake and seriously cuts into the ability to earn in-game gold, all I have to do is keep playing the game and having fun and I can keep building out decks that would have cost me hundreds of dollars to put together if I was still collecting physical cards.

5. The Missing: J.J. Macfield and the Island of Memories

There isn't much else I have to share about this game that isn't a spoiler, other than to say that if you find yourself struggling with the game at first because it does not play great, try to push through. I promise you it will prove worth it in the end. And make the effort to find all the donuts.

4. Florence

On the surface, Florence is a pretty typical short story about falling in and out of love. It's like a romantic drama but indie because you don't get that toothpaste-commercial ending. As a game, however, Florence is one of the most intelligently designed examples of storytelling through game mechanics that I have ever had the privilege to play.

Also the artwork is super cute
Also the artwork is super cute

You experience the majority of the game through the point of view of the titular character, Florence, as she tries to navigate her life amidst a budding romance. There is almost no dialogue, with the majority of the plot being delivered through interactive comic-book-panel illustrations against the backdrop of stirring string music.

Early in the game, during her first date with her love interest Krish, the player as Florence has to make conversation by piecing together puzzles in the shape of speech bubbles. The puzzles aren't overly complex, being about 8-pieces in size, but there is careful thought and concentration that goes into completing each one before Florence is able to formulate a reply. As their relationship grows, so too does the ease with which they can speak with one another. 8-piece puzzles become 4, then 2, and when Krish asks to kiss you for the first time there's no puzzle at all. Just one singular piece to slot into place and say "yes".

This is just one of numerous examples of the ways Florence brings you into to its story, not just to observe it but to live it, deeply and truly. The story may not be telling anything new, but it tells it in a way unlike any other. It's available on iOS and Android, and all it asks is for 30 minutes of your time. Go get it!

3. BattleTech

So much of who I am today can be traced back to playdates at the home of my best friend all throughout elementary school. Activities included playing soldiers in the backyard ("I shot you!" "No you missed!"), watching intense action movies on VHS at far too young an age (5 is too young to be watching "Commando" right?), and playing the "Aliens" board game and, more importantly, BattleTech.

I loved playing BattleTech. I wasn't good at very many things as a kid, a deficiency that continues to this day. I wasn't very coordinated, my eyes still can't track objects moving towards me, I was very slow to develop socially, I didn't have any artistic talent really, but boy was I tactical. I could plan out my moves to maximize my evasion and always be at optimal firing ranges and manage my heat and focus fire like nobody's business. And when the simple play of the game wasn't enough, I borrowed rulebooks and started building out my own custom mechs to bring into our weekly skirmishes. At one point I even tried to homebrew my own weapon designs to make an approximation of the titular mech from "Gunbuster" (which I was also too young for) that was hilariously overpowered but my friend's dad humored me all the same.

Eventually my friend and I went to form new social circles and I stopped playing BattleTech. Still, I would continue to purchase rulebooks whenever I found them at used book stores and regularly worked on min/maxing new mech concepts when I was supposed to be listening in class. Every time a new BattleTech video game would come out, although they called they were called Mechwarrior now, I would look to them hopefully only to be disappointed that they always fell between simple action games and severely limited tactical experiences that bared little resemblance to the game I had grown up with. Sure they could put a Hunchback on screen but they couldn't capture the thrill of rolling a 12 on that Autocannon 20 shot.

*sniff* it's beautiful
*sniff* it's beautiful

Until now! At long last, someone has made a proper tactical BattleTech video game!

By setting the game during the technological regression at the tail end of the Succession Wars, the developers at Harebrained Schemes brought me right back to childhood playing with tech level 1 mechs. The video game's rules may not map one-to-one with the original tabletop game, but only in ways that add additional nuance beyond what you can achieve by rolling six-sided dice. Though the game is lacking in production values, the narrative work is strong, and Harebrained has continued to make improvements under the hood including balance tweaks and engine optimization (menus don't take forever to navigate any more!), and they even released a full-blown expansion that fills the game world with meaningful reasons to keep exploring beyond of the main narrative.

There are just a few tastes of tech level 2 equipment that the game doles out over its story, making me hope that the game was successful enough to warrant a full sequel focused on the Clan Invasion. But as a first showing, I honestly couldn't be happier with the way the game turned out. Also the game lets you have a pilot with non-binary pronouns! More devs please do this!

2. Valkyria Chronicles 4

What's that you say? Another year, another immaculately designed JRPG that can't seem to shake free from gross and outdated anime tropes?

Valkyria Chronicles 4 is a remarkable game from top to bottom. It is the ultimate realization of the narrative ambitions of the original game alongside the gameplay advancements of the sequels, now freed from the technological limitations of the handheld consoles they appeared on. Smart additions to the tactical layer, including enemy pillboxes and a friendly APC unit, force players to explore multiple strategies instead of relying on the "scout rush" method that dominated the previous games. Every squad member is given space to breathe in the storytelling and develop as people both in relation to their squadmates and the situation around them. The game even features a genderqueer character whose queerness is never called to attention or made into a joke. Instead of being a gender nonconforming person who also happens to be a soldier, they are a badass pacifist who signed up anyways because sometimes you have to kill fascists and fight racism oh and also they happen to be genderqueer.

Rags! Attack! Kill! Bite that asshole!
Rags! Attack! Kill! Bite that asshole!

Then there's Raz, the toxic masculinity bro theoretically with a heart of gold who, fairly early in the game, firmly gropes the butt of one of your female squad mates and doesn't let go until she decks him. It's supposed to be played for laughs, clearly, as she starts beating the snot out of him in front of the rest of the squad. The commotion leads to an accidental upskirt by the male romantic lead who then receives a furious stomping from the female romantic lead. Laughs all around.

Except it isn't funny. Which isn't to say you can't do this sort of upsetting unfunny scene, if you at least have it mean something for the characters. The game isn't interested in that, though. It's just looking for a little titillation with some tropey fanservice that is immediately forgotten like a whisper in the wind. It does nothing for the plot because the plot never acknowledges it happening. You could delete the scene entirely and nothing would change. All it accomplishes is the normalization of sexual violence against women, and it even romanticizes it, as Raz and his victim Kai later profess their love for one another shortly before Raz heroically sacrifices himself to ensure the safety of the rest of the squad.

Kai is very upset as she plaintively wails his name over and over again into the radio.

The rest of the game is great though... woo 2018?

1. Monster Hunter: World

626 hours. That's about 26 days. That's also about how much Monster Hunter: World (MHW) I played (or left the game idling) in 2018.

My friend first exposed me to the series with Monster Hunter Freedom on the PlayStation Portable back in 2006. He was already a fan of the PlayStation 2 game and saw this as an opportunity to get me on board so he could have a hunting partner. He let me play the game for a bit but it didn't click with me, not yet. Like most people on their first brush with Monster Hunter, I wasn't ready to let go of my preconceived notions of how a game "should" play. I wasn't ready to meet the game on its own terms.

Which makes me wonder why I decided to give the series another shot when Monster Hunter Freedom 2 released in 2007. Knowing me at the time I probably read a really compelling preview of the game from someone I trusted in games media. More than my friend because I was an asshole. Or maybe it was just having the nature of the game articulated to me in a way that my friend never did. In either case, I approached the game with an open heart and an open mind and was immediately hooked. By the end of my run with Freedom 2 and its expansion, Monster Hunter Freedom Unite, I had logged something around 2500 hours played.

There's something about the rhythm of playing a Monster Hunter game that is unlike anything else: a satisfying busyness to preparing for a hunt; making sure you are bringing the right weapons and items; ;eating a solid meal before you venture out; all these simple-to-complete tasks building your anticipation. You enter the hunting grounds and stalk your prey. You've been in this swamp so many times you know it like the back of your hand, and you know the spots your quarry likes to frequent. You find the monster, you fight it, you chase it limping away to its lair, staying far enough out of sight so it feels safe enough to fall asleep. Then you sneak up and put a whole bunch of bombs on its head and blow it to hell and carve up its still-warm corpse for useful bits like scales and claws and bones.

You tell yourself just one more hunt and start your preparations again.

At least that's how I felt until late 2009 when I finally parted ways with the game having thoroughly plumed its depths. I would still check in with every new release: a couple hundred hours here, a couple hundred hours there; but nowhere near the level of dedication I had reached with Freedom 2. The small changes that Monster Hunter Generations brought to the series to give players more options and make fights more active managed to rekindle some of that passion, but mostly it was video game comfort food, something familiar that I knew I liked and could go through the motions with and have a good time.

That's what I thought I wanted out of MHW when it was first announced. A bigger, shinier plate to help me stomach the year that 2018 would end up being, on the back of the year that 2017 was. So I couldn't help but raise an eyebrow at some of the changes I was seeing. You can move while drinking a potion? Hunting grounds are large contiguous areas instead of a series of small rooms separated by loading screens? Instead of needing to accumulate ten points in an armor skill to activate it, all you need is a single point? There are grappling hooks? That's not my Monster Hunter.

No Caption Provided

Which is fine, as it turns out. Because by not being my Monster Hunter, MHW was able to become everyone's Monster Hunter. It turns out the developers over at Capcom knew exactly what they were doing, bringing in new and lapsed players in droves and rekindling the passion of series stalwarts like me. The monsters are meticulously detailed and move with such lifelike animations that their rage and pain are palpable. Ecologies feel alive as the monsters react not just to the player but to the other creatures around them. Every weapon type has received several new actions to grant players more opportunities for decision making in combat. The revamped skill system helps players feel immediate improvement and also encourages variation and experimentation in armor combinations unlike the previous games.

There are some minor quibbles to be had. You wouldn't expect so many hurdles to joining a guild or playing a story mission with your friends in a 2018 game. The fact that skill decorations are now randomized drops makes it significantly harder to work towards specific builds. Even in all my hours played I have yet to acquire a single Release Jewel. Also the load times are excruciatingly long on the PlayStation 4.

Still, these are minor blips in what I can wholeheartedly say is one of the greatest games I have ever played. My plan for 2019 is to continue to check in with MHW, as Capcom is still releasing special event quests for the game as free content. And with the Iceborne expansion releases this Fall, I'm sure I will be all-in on MHW until 2020 and beyond.

If you've made it this far all I can say is thanks for sticking with me. We made it another year and maybe more things will get better than get worse in 2019. As always, be sure to check out our GiantBomb Fighting Game Community Discord server. Let's hope SFV doesn't implode and keep our fingers crossed for that MvCI:UE announcement. Any day now.

Yep.

And don't forget to ... partyhard

No Caption Provided

Start the Conversation

StarvingGamer's Games Worth Starving For (or Otherwise) in 2017

Going back through my end-of-year writeup for 2016, I'm struck by two things: 1) despite decades spent meticulously honing my cynicism I was woefully unprepared for the absolute cluster that 2017 would prove to be and 2) as high as I was at the time on 2016's offerings, 2017 is on a whole other level when it comes to top-notch video games. Which isn't to suggest that the year is unassailable. The hand of cosmic irony fell, repeatedly and heavily on the gaming community, throughout 2017. As the world was wracked with controversy, so too were some of the the year's biggest games, with half-baked releases, crassly exploitative monetisation schemes, and problematic content alienating ardent fans and reducing tentpole franchises to cautionary tales. It was a year of upliftingly high highs and crushingly low lows, often times from the same game.

Before you read on know that spoilers abound, and pour one out for games 11-20 on my list that could easily comprise someone else's top 10.

Runners-up: 11. Night in the Woods, 12. Assassin's Creed Origins, 13. NieR:Automata, 14. Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice, 15. What Remains of Edith Finch, 16. Injustice 2, 17. Uncharted: The Lost Legacy, 18. Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle, 19. Super Mario Odyssey, 20. Gravity Rush 2

Best Old Game

Street Fighter V

For all the flaws of its release and the coverage of its release and the community reactions to its release last year, no other game came close to providing me as many hours of quality entertainment as Street Fighter V. The fighting worked then, and has only continued to get better over the course of 2017.

Vroom... vroooom... vroooooom... screeech!
Vroom... vroooom... vroooooom... screeech!

While the year was light on changes to the game's accoutrements, Capcom went for broke when it came to the second season of DLC characters, introducing 5 newcomers to the series instead of falling back on fan favorites. While it's hard to say whether or not it worked for them financially, the artists and designers did a tremendous job creating characters oozing personality in every animation with unique and inventive gameplay styles not before seen in a Street Fighter yet still very in keeping with the feel of the series.

We had the ice queen Kolin who skated effortlessly across the battlefield. There was Ed, that Draco Malfoy-looking motherfucker full of psycho power and 'tude. Abigail, the half-man half-monster-truck that left everyone scratching their heads after his reveal at EVO who has gradually become one of the hypest tournament characters to watch. Everyone's favorite cat-daughter and Rose-by-proxy Menat has produced some of the swaggest combos in the game and continues to ruin the fingers of all but the most adept players. Finally there's Zeku, the twofer who changes age, demeanor, and fighting techniques at will and in one of the stranger lore crossovers in recent history is actually the founder of the Striders organization?

With the hype of the Capcom Pro Tour finals in December and the shocking strength of the Season 3 / Arcade Edition launch trailer giving the game a lot of momentum going into 2018, there has never been a better time to be a fan of Street Fighter. Special limited-time challenges pushed me to reach Super Gold rank in 2017 and with a hopefully-improved F.A.N.G. coming with the next balance update, I may yet climb to new heights. I can't wait to see more of you in the streets in 2018. Prepare to catch some Blanka balls.

¡Somos millonarios!

Runners-up: Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age, Virginia

Best Surprise

Butterfly Soup

I'm gay!

Ok not really, but as someone who has never felt quite comfortable in their gender performance, I have found myself drawn more and more towards queer women in interactive fiction as a way of better understanding myself. This exploration began in 2009 with BioWare's Dragon Age: Origins, which allowed my female avatar to romance a bisexual character of the same gender, but didn't really kick into high-gear until 2015's Life Is Strange, a mashup of middle-class american teen drama, The Butterfly Effect and, depending on how you played it, the protagonist Max Caulfield's journey into discovering her queerness.

Not to belabor the point
Not to belabor the point

Fast forward to 2017 with its smattering of what I have come to affectionately refer to as "gay girl simulators" that have really pushed me to meditate on what gender means to me both in the way I feel and the ways I'm perceived. It's no coincidence that half of the games in my top 10 prominently feature strong, queer women (Aloy/Vanasha I ship it fight me), and none of those narrative hit me nearly as strongly as Butterfly Soup. Of course Butterfly Soup was playing with a stacked deck, in a way, because all four of its main characters are Asian-American, a minority that is rarely represented in media and almost never with this level of honesty. My own life was a sort of Asian-American-lite, as I like to think of it, as a third-generation American on my dad's side, but many of my friends were first-generation Asian-Americans and it was great to see their experiences and my own mirrored in the narrative.

I love that video games are becoming more and more willing to tell us stories of post-apocalyptic hellscapes, corporate dystopias, and all manner of human folly where, despite our failings as a species, we at least have managed to move beyond the pervasive, closed-minded views on sexuality. For me, though, in this world replete with non-binary phobias, there was some comfort in seeing these girls struggle with coming to terms with their queerness against the 2008 backdrop of the Proposition 8 movement in California. In a way I am these girls. I am Diya who would rather stay silent or avoid social situations entirely, rather than risk misspeaking and breaching a social contract she is convinced she doesn't fully understand. I am Akarsha who relies on the quick wit of puns and memetic humor to distract, diffuse, and deflect difficult issues and ensure that no one takes her seriously enough to get offended by who she really is. I am Noelle who puts on airs of academic aloofness because it is much easier to be right when dealing with facts and reason than it is to argue a battle of emotions. I'm not Min though, sorry. My shortness that lasted through middle school never pushed me overcompensate with arrogance and violence.

(Except I'm also gay!)

Proposition 8 was an amendment to the California constitution that provided that the state would only recognize marriage between a man and a woman. It passed in 2008 and was not completely overturned until the end of appeals in 2013.

Runners-up: Assassin's Creed: Origins, Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice

Biggest Disappointment

Tekken 7: Fated Retribution

It's not your fault Chloe
It's not your fault Chloe

Ah yes, Tekken 7. A game that has been tournament-playable since 2015 but did not see an actual console release until 2017. A game whose director, Katsuhiro Harada, deflected questions about its prolonged development by directly and indirectly throwing Street Fighter V under the bus for its lackluster release. A game that had years to focus on its console features, only to release with featureless and barely-functioning lobbies, best-of-2 (?) ranked matches, character customization options locked behind a boringly simplistic RNG treasure battle mode, and an utter lack of anything remotely resembling a tutorial. Top it all off with the worst fighting game cinematic story mode since those became a thing with Mortal Kombat 9, where you only see a small fraction of the cast, spend half your time listening to monotonous line reads of meandering dialogue over still images, and slog through boss fights that follow the old-school design of being frustratingly difficult in mechanics-breaking ways.

Let me take a second and acknowledge that at its core, Tekken 7 is still good at being Tekken. It's been Tekken for 23 years and if you're playing next to another human, it continues to be mostly Tekken. If you liked pushing 112 and 122 with Kazuya in 1994 you'll definitely find a refined version of that here. The addition of final-hit slow-mo is undeniably hype and as divisive as they may be, the new Rage Art mechanic was an effective way to help lapsed players feel like they can jump in and immediately be doing something cool.

Tekken 7 has a strong following, both in the Giantbomb FGC Discord and across the broader FGC as a whole, and I bear no ill will towards anyone who genuinely enjoys the game. For me, however, I don't know that I'll ever be able to watch it being played without picturing those images of Harada proudly wearing his "Don't ask me for shit" t-shirt, remembering the mess that Tekken 7 was at release, and realizing that he got away with it, stoking the flames of the Capcom hate-bandwagon merrily all the way.

Runners-up: Doki Doki Literature Club, NieR:Automata

Best New Character

Pelessaria B'Sayle (PeeBee) - Mass Effect: Andromeda

Fight me!

Ok, no, but hear me out at least. Yes, Mass Effect: Andromeda is a game plagued by issues that exhausted most people's patience for the game. Yes, PeeBee may not be the most nuanced take on well-worn character tropes of the enigmatic, effervescent, adventurous, and commitment-averse companion. Yes, she holds her gun backwards in a cutscene (did they ever fix that?). That doesn't change the fact that she was the single character that had the greatest impact on my experience with a game this year.

She's trying her best...?
She's trying her best...?

Whenever I undertake an RPG in the BioWare style with their heavy focus on dialogue choices, I always have a clear idea of the character I plan on playing the role of. For the original Mass Effect trilogy this became incredibly straightforward, as the binary nature of the Paragon/Renegade system made it feel more like a game telling two clear, canonical stories, rather than an open-ended experience of player authorship. Since then they've gradually eased back on that design philosophy, loosening the reigns with each subsequent release.

In Mass Effect: Andromeda, any hints of scorekeeping are gone and the player is free to make dialogue choices as real people do, in the moment according to how they feel at the time. This is the first game in a long time to make me feel like my character was wholly my own, and that's where PeeBee comes in. Taking a few early cues from the characters in the world, I quickly came to realize that my Sara Ryder was a by-the-book professional, pushing aside personal entanglements and coming to terms with truly being her father's daughter. As my Ryder came to learn more about the secrets her father kept and his secret motivations, I felt her grip on the persona she had crafted for herself beginning to slip, but it was PeeBee who finally pushed her over the edge.

PeeBee, with her incessant prattling, her distracted excitability, her shirking of all things protocol and convention, finally wore my Ryder down and got her to loosen up. Whereas in a previous game, I would have kept highlighting the dialogue choice denoted as "professional" from beginning to end (to maximize my Professional Points™, you see), in Andromeda I suddenly found my Ryder becoming more and more willing to break the rules and trust her instincts over her training. For the first half of the game, my Ryder didn't even like PeeBee but here I was, dozens of hours in, mind racing over PeeBee confessing her feelings for my Ryder. It's almost universally a given that by spending time with the main character, the companions in BioWare games experience meaningful personal growth. In that moment I realized that for the first time, one of my companions was having that same effect on me.

I have always made an effort to play through BioWare games multiple times. I ran through the entire Mass Effect trilogy as both Paragon and Renegade and have numerous characters created for every entry in the Dragon Age series. Andromeda is the first time I don't want to go back, and not because I didn't enjoy the game. I had enormous fun playing it from start to finish. But my experience with Ryder and PeeBee was so singularly my own, I don't know that I can bear to go back and do things differently. Those two found each other and made each other better, and even if BioWare never lets me come back to these characters and the Andromeda galaxy, I think I can be satisfied with that.

Runners-up: Akarsha - Butterfly Soup, Aloy - Horizon: Zero Dawn

Best Moment or Sequence

Traveling to the Houseboat Fleet - Gravity Rush 2

Out of sight, out of mind
Out of sight, out of mind

Most video game characters pull from a common vocabulary of movement. We know that Mario jumps and Sonic runs, Nathan Drake climbs and Solid Snake crawls, but Kat from Gravity Rush 2's talent is falling. Kat is a gravity shifter, meaning she has the power to ignore gravity's effects and, more importantly, freely change the direction of gravity's pull on her body. If she decides that gravity is above her, she can fly by "falling" up into the sky.

This mechanic allowed Gravity Rush 2's world designers to create a vertical space on a scale unlike any other game. Instead of running across wide open fields, for the first half of the game Kat finds herself exploring the floating islands that make up the tiered city of Jirga Para Lhao.

Kat first touches down in a section of the city called Lei Colmosna, a bright and colorful area resembling a sort of island resort town, with clear blue skies above and an ocean of fluffy white clouds below. Beyond the palm trees she can see the next level of islands, crowned with towering skyscrapers that make up the city's downtown district. Higher still is Lei Havina, a collection of island-sized mansions that house each of Jirga Para Lhao's elite families.

Kat spends a great deal of time in the city, reveling in its sights and smells, lending a hand where she can and doing her best to repay the kindness of the people that took her in. It is only later, while investigating the theft of some cargo, that she first discovers the existence of another district, Lei Elgona, hidden somewhere beneath the clouds. So Kat does what she does best. She falls, and she falls, and she falls, and she falls. As a gravity shifter, Kat is always moving herself at terminal velocity. So when Kat pierced the cloud layer in search of Lei Elgona, the space around her growing darker and darker the more she plummeted, there was a growing sense of unease as I began to realize just how far these people were separated from the rest of Jirga Para Lhao's society. It was a kick in the gut for me when Kat finally broke through and saw, far below, a shanty town built atop rusty floating housboats, cast in unrelenting darkness, its unsightly mass kept buried beneath the clouds.

One of the special things that only video games can achieve, the marriage of game mechanics and narrative, makes a story's themes tangible in a way no other medium can provide. It is one thing to acknowledge and understand social inequality and systemic injustice. It is another thing to be able to hold it in your hands. In that moment that is what Gravity Rush 2 allowed me to experience. Sometimes the only choice you have is to fall and keep falling.

Runners-up: The Tempest - Life Is Strange: Before the Storm, Kick It - Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus

StarvingGamer's Top 10 Games of 2017

10. Tacoma

Glomps... in spaaaaaaace!
Glomps... in spaaaaaaace!

I was a huge fan of Gone Home the year it came out, and have only grown more and more fond of games in the affectionately (and derisively) named "walking simulator" genre ever since. However, in early 2016, it seemed like the game's developer, Fullbright, was headed for a sophomore slump when they announced that after more than two years of work, they were going back to the drawing board for their followup Tacoma. At the time, it was shaping up to be too much like "Gone Home: In Space". Thankfully they took the step back.

Tacoma puts the player in the role of a contractor investigating an abandoned space station by watching recordings of the crew's final days on board. Unlike the static environments of Gone Home, these recordings project silhouettes of the crew into the various rooms as augmented reality videos. Taking full advantage of the setting and medium, players can scrub forwards and backwards through the footage, following the various members of the crew as the move into and out of each other's company and conversations. The scenes are well written, not only with believable dialogue but also with cleverly distributed hints that gradually fill in the broader picture of the world and clue us in to the unique societal pressures the characters are suffering under in this corporate dystopia.

Fullbright has managed not once, but twice, to grant me a narrative experience that will always stay with me, not only on the strength of its writing, plot, and themes, but for the innovative ways in which that narrative is delivered.

9. Prey

Morgan is the game's most unreliable narrator
Morgan is the game's most unreliable narrator

The promise of the immersive sim, games emphasizing player immersion by placing them in a living, breathing spaces and focusing on choice and consequences, has called to me since Deus Ex was released in 2000. I have always been eager for new entries in the genre, and with two key design decisions, Prey is the closest game yet to realizing that potential.

Prey puts the player inside the head of Morgan Yu, an amnesiac scientist who wakes up and finds herself aboard the orbital space station Talos I where she (wait for it) needs to investigate the fate of the crew and the cause of the alien infestation runs throughout its entirety. By setting the entire game in a single, contiguous space, I was able to gain a deeper connection to Morgan and her world than I have with any previous immersive sim. There were no fades to black or "time passes" as I traveled from location to location. If Morgan ended up somewhere, it was because I moved her there. And by spending all of my time with the game on Talos I, I developed a familiarity with the area around me that made it feel like home.

As Morgan comes to understand the nature of her work on the station, she is faced with a choice. By taking advantage of her experiments with alien biology, she can alter her own body either by maximizing her human potential or by gaining extraordinary alien powers. Unlike most games in the genre, this presented a clear narrative divide. Would I give up my humanity to gain access to abilities that would open up the world to me in ways unattainable by human skill and ingenuity? In the end I went fully human which not only influenced every decision I made for the remainder of the game, but paid off spectacularly when the final twist was revealed.

Some people are suggesting that the immersive sim genre may be dead, or at least headed for a hiatus, on the back of Prey, and Dishonored 2 before it, underperforming in terms of sales. I don't know if I believe that's true, but if it does bear out, my only hope is that when they make their inevitable return, the developers of the next big immersive sim takes some of the lessons of Prey to heart.

8. Splatoon 2

There are several reasons why I skipped on the original Splatoon. For one, I'm not a big fan of dual-analog controls for shooters. Also, at the time, I wasn't a very big fan of the WiiU in general. Beyond that, team-based multiplayer has never been my thing, and prerelease coverage left me with the impression that the game had paltry single-player content to offer. All that being said, there was something about the game's sense of style that called to me, as again and again I had to push myself to not give in and impulse buy the game every time I was at Target or passing by a GameStop.

With Splatoon 2 I finally caved, and I'm glad that I did. Which isn't to say I was wrong to duck the first game for two years. Having played the sequel, I'm sure that I would not have had nearly as much fun with game on the WiiU. But there's something about playing on the Switch, being able to take the game anywhere in my house and curl up and rattle off a quick match or two, that keeps me coming back. I'm enamored with the playful edginess of the game's aesthetic, the movement and shooting mechanics are well suited for analog controls, and it didn't take me long to find a favorite firearm among the varied arsenal.

Now if only team Marina could win a Splatfest and do our octoling idol proud!

7. Life Is Strange: Before the Storm

I almost didn't play this game.

As someone who is big on workers' rights I was solidly in the corner of the SAG-AFTRA voice actors in their strike against several major publishers in order to receive fairer compensation, more reasonable working conditions, and greater transparency during the hiring process. Imagine my disappointment when I learned that Square Enix was moving ahead with development of Before the Storm and hiring a non-union voice actor to take over the role of Chloe Price, a central character of Life Is Strange and the protagonist of this new prequel.

Ah, teen love!
Ah, teen love!

There's a lot to be said about problematic media. As I look at the various Blu-rays I own it's hard to find a movie that wasn't touched in some way by a shitty person or organization that ended up profiting from my purchase. Would I punish the developer, Deck Nine, by not playing their game? Would I punish myself by not experiencing the latest entry in one of my favorite genres and the followup to one of my favorite games? Ultimately, the effusive praise being heaped upon the game from a number of queer women games writers whose opinions I trust won me over.

I've already gone over why Life Is Strange was so important to me in 2015, and while Before the Storm did not have as significant an impact on me, it is in almost all respects a much better story. By ditching the sci-fi A-plot, the writers were able to explore the teen drama and burgeoning romance between Chloe and Rachel Amber in a much more well-developed way. There was a real glee in filling Chloe's furious-at-the-world shoes and playing outside of my comfort zone, pushing back fiercely against the symbols of authority and oppression in her life, from the school principal to her mom's new boyfriend to Rachel's shitty, lying dad.

Before the Storm does what all good supplemental narratives should do. It stands on its own, adds to the world in meaningful ways, and recontextualizes the events of what came before it. I have written a lot about the pivotal decision at the end of Life Is Strange, and only feel stronger in the choice I made at the time. If you enjoyed the first game in any way, I beseech you to give this prequel a chance. Just brace yourself for the post-credits stinger at the end of Episode 3. It's a real knife to the heart.

6. Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus

It's crazy realizing that we live in a world where an over-the-top anti-fascist Nazi-murder-simulator would be considered by large swathes of the gaming community to be much-needed catharsis, and by others as too politically controversial a product to purchase. Any other year Wolfenstein II would have been a middling-to-average shooter campaign peppered with well-directed cutscenes. In the context of today, however, Wolfenstein II provides some of the most relevant and biting social commentary ever to grace a big-budget video game.

Moms are tough
Moms are tough

By in large, New Colossus does little to evolve beyond 2014's Wolfenstein: The New Order in terms of its gunplay and level design. Stealth is still largely impossible to execute on unless you are willing to rely heavily on repeatedly saving and reloading your progress. Firefights often draw on too long and it's easy to go from doing well to suddenly overwhelmed and dead. I still largely enjoyed the time I spent actually playing the game, especially once I got access to weapon upgrades and was able to attach a silencer to my pistol, but it was the the themes and overall quality of the narrative interludes that pushed me onward.

Maybe it's the nature of the genre but there's a certain way the game drives straight to the heart of everything it has to say. Every cutscene is packed with hard cuts and punchy dialogue. The game gives zero fucks and readily calls out America's history of systemic racism and white complacency. A social democrat and the game's army vet hero B.J. Blazkowicz have a shouting match about whether the right or the left is to blame for America losing the war, all against a backdrop of sniper fire and jazz clarinet. A paranoid and decrepit fuhrer murders people randomly and indiscriminately while soiling himself, and none of his underlings even entertain the notion of tempering his madness. A pair of stormtroopers share a "so much for the tolerant left" moment before talking about signing up for the death squads. An axe is buried in the face of Nazi military might and broadcast across the nation during late-night television. A random newpaper clipping satirizing modern media's farcical coverage of America's most punchable racist, Richard Spencer.

For a game that the developer claimed was not a reflection of the current political climate, it's hard to see anything but in the fabric of Wolfenstein II. Yes, it is in part a product of happenstance, but the messages and themes could not be more relevant to living in modern-day America. There is so much uncertainty going in to 2018, both for America and the world, and with things more likely to get worse before they get better, I'm thankful for the little bits of hope that stories like these can give us.

5. Persona 5

Turning mundane gameplay into a visual treat
Turning mundane gameplay into a visual treat

If there's one thing the Persona games have always excelled at, it's their sense of style. From their characters to their art direction to their music to their menu design, a Persona game's aesthetic is pervasive, and Persona 5 is the ultimate realization of that design ethos.

Persona 5 is in every way a step-up from its predecessor. The core loop of gameplay remains largely unchanged, but tightened up and tweaked in numerous ways to help players maximize their time and more quickly navigate the world. Adjustments to the battle system add several layers of tactical depth to every encounter. Characters in the world that the player can build relationships with have deeper stories and offer significant mechanical benefits the more they're pursued. The game even takes advantage of the always-connected nature of modern consoles, allowing stumped players to ask the internet what decisions other players made in various situations.

Unfortunately the game has its share of stumbles, from its weird objectification of one of it's female protagonists, to the continued Atlus tradition of inserting transphobic and homophobic humor, and the fact that the ~16-year-old hero has the option to romance a number of adult women in their 20s, including his own homeroom teacher. These are relatively small blips across a game that can easily last a player 100 hours, but they also hold Persona 5 back from been an unequivocal success and higher on my personal list.

That music though...

4. Butterfly Soup

It is both remarkable and not at all surprising that 23-year-old Brianna Lei was able to write her queer Asian-American teen romance story with so much authenticity. The dialogue is funny and genuinely warm in ways that many games strive for but never quite reach. I'd write more about the game but it's short, sweet, and most importantly free so if possible, I'd much rather more people go out there and download it and experience it for themselves. In the meantime I'll sit here feverishly hungering for Butterfly Soup 2, and whatever else Brianna is working on next.

Download here: https://brianna-lei.itch.io/butterfly-soup

3. Horizon: Zero Dawn

Protect that smile!
Protect that smile!

First, I'd like to acknowledge that when your story is set during the reemergence of humanity 1000 years after a technological apocalypse, there's something callously appropriative about basing your fictional future society on Indigenous American culture.

That being said, Horizon: Zero Dawn is one of my best experiences playing a game, bar none. The developers at Guerrilla built an amazingly well-realized world, with mysteries and reveals that constantly took my breath away across the entirety of its narrative. I never once grew tired of hunting elaborately designed robotic animals across the lush landscapes grown on top of the ruins of modern civilization, learning their strengths and weaknesses and carefully choosing from my wide arsenal of weapons in order to bring them down efficiently and strip their of their valuable components. The combat of Horizon not only surpasses the breadth of games that are tied to the open-world genre, it could give the best action games a run for their money.

Then there's Aloy, the game's hero. She is at once headstrong and humble, tragic and triumphant, intuitive and naive. Not only is she well written, she is deftly acted by Ashly Burch, all fire and spittle when facing down the most intimidating foes, and full of awkward obliviousness as she is relentlessly flirted at by a majority of the people she meets in her travels across what remains of Colorado. She is the child of our generation, the ultimate inheritor of the sins we inflicted against the world, and I can't help myself but revel in her triumph.

2. Mass Effect: Andromeda

No Caption Provided

I look back on my experiences with Mass Effect: Andromeda and consider myself lucky.

I have always had a high tolerance for sloppy animations, bad geometry, and all the bits of jank that are common in larger, open-world RPGs. And while the prevalence of those things did not seem particularly higher in Andromeda than, say, Fallout 4, I acknowledge that I simply may not have been bothered enough by all the little imperfections to have them register. For all the reports of the game being a buggy mess, I also seem to have dodged the bulk of it. I only hit one progression bug on a side-quest that I wasn't able to finagle my way around, and could count the number of times I lost progress due to a scripting error on the hands of a blind butcher. So unlike most folk, I was able to enjoy the best shooting in the franchise, backed up by the breadth of power combinations allowed by an open-ended class system and a wide array of weapons catering to every playstyle.

Most importantly, though, I was able to inhabit the role of the Pathfinder, and it's this key distinction that elevates Andromeda above the original trilogy for me. In the first three Mass Effects the player takes on the role of Shepard, the first human Spectre. As as Spectre, Shepard was one of the Milky Way Galaxy's top shadow cops, with the freedom to act covertly and unilaterally. She was rarely called to task for her actions outside of toothless admonishments from her closest companions and the occasional dressing down from members of the Citadel Council who all seemed to keep dying and being replaced. Everyday people recognized that she was important and dangerous, but rarely recognized her for her deeds, allowing her to act with a very detached ethos, no more dedicated to the greater good as she cared to be.

No Caption Provided

Sara Ryder's responsibilities as Pathfinder put her in a very different position. Suddenly finding herself the symbolic figurehead of the colonization efforts in the Andromeda galaxy, every single one of her actions, not matter how small, was public knowledge. Every decision, from sentencing a would-be mutineer who attempted to murder his commanding officer and failed, to deciding whether the first planetside outpost would be dedicated to the military or scientific research, would be scrutinized by the entire Andromeda Initiative. Ryder was connected to the people in a way Shepard never was, and regularly had to come face-to-face with the consequences for her actions.

A lot of people have written and talked about this year's Assassins Creed Origins and the appeal of its central character, Bayek. As one of the last medjay in Egypt at the end of Ptolemaic rule, Bayek embraces his role as protector. Seeing the depth of compassion in his interactions with his fellow Egyptians and the lengths to which he would go to help them spoke greatly to many people. That is what the Pathfinder means to me, not the distant Spectre enforcer, but the ardent protector standing alongside her people against the frightening unknown.

1. Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite

I have known that Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite (MvCI) was my 2017 Game of the Year since it was announced at Sony's Playstation Experience last December. I have had a full year, including three months of play time, to figure out how to articulate what makes MvCI the ultimate realization of my favorite elements of fighting games. I have written and deleted various analogies to music and theater and dance but what I think I really want to talk about is painting.

Keepin' it stylish
Keepin' it stylish

My other favorite fighting game, Street Fighter V, has what I think of as a connect-the-dots appeal. There's a sort of rigid ease of use that most Street Fighter characters have, which is great because when I just want to get in and play with someone else, I can focus on connecting the dots and even with minimal practice and effort, I'm at least guaranteed to get a crude picture out of it. The flip side of this is that no matter how much I dedicate my time to coloring in the shapes, adding details, contouring the lines, making things look nice, I'm ultimately still connecting the dots.

MvCI follows in a tradition of team-based fighting games where the player builds a team of multiple characters, with one active on-screen at a time. Unlike previous games of this style that have more restrictive rules about where, when, and how a player can call upon the characters they have waiting in the wings, MvCI features a flexible switch mechanic that allows players to freely call in their secondary character in a majority of the possible gameplay situations.

Thanks to this mechanic, I now see MvCI as more of a blank canvas, with the characters I choose determining the colors I have at my disposal. Admittedly, I'm not a very good artist. I can't take my paints into a pressure situation and produce a Monet. What I can do, however, is use my practice canvas in training mode to experiment with the colors at my disposal. I can take my greens and browns and work hard until I get really good at painting a nice tree that I can show you the next time I face you online. And even when I run into other people that have the same paints as me I can bet that more often than not, the tree I came up with will look pretty different from the tree they're painting. Or maybe they painted a pool table, or a frog, or a kiwi.

It is this freedom of expression that MvCI grants me access to through its unique mechanics that elevates it so high in my heart. I take inspiration from the masters of the game as I watch them create new masterpieces with every tournament they enter, and I keep practicing painting my tree until I can get it mostly right most of the time. I just wish more people could be convinced to give these paints a try.

Thanks for sticking with me and as always, be sure to check out our Fighting Games General thread on the forums and join the GiantBomb Fighting Game Community Discord if you're so inclined. Here's to kicking ass and not going 0-2 in 2018!

21 Comments

StarvingGamer's EVO 2017 Travelogue (GB Ain't Free!)

Dave saw my GB hoodie and said
Dave saw my GB hoodie and said "Hi!" to me on our flight to NorCal

Two years ago I went to my first EVO, which also happened to be my first fighting game major. A combination of social and performance anxiety kept me from entering, but I still managed to have an amazing time checking out booths and watching matches. With the release of Street Fighter V (SFV) in 2016 and the announcement that the Sunday finals were going to be done up big in the Mandalay Bay Arena, I was ready to turn my EVO trip into an annual tradition. My family ended up buying a house instead so it wasn't in the cards, but with pressure from the grandparents to bring our kids to the west coast this summer, we decided to make a go of it this year.

A few things that were on my mind, flying in to Vegas this year. 1) I had never played SFV against someone else in-person before. I didn't even know the process for setting up my button layout. 2) I had never entered a fighting game tournament before, yet somehow found myself entered into SFV. At this point a huge thank-you is owed to suddenblackout, a member of the GBFGC Discord who invited me to run sets in his room Thursday night. His Birdie whomped me a good 40-10 or something like that, but it allowed me to adjust to playing humans offline. Also shoutouts to Discord, the program, for giving the GBFGC members attending EVO a good way to contact each other. Shameless plug: https://discord.gg/nGXFQg2

Friday at show open I did what any self-respecting millenial by way of genX would do and rushed immediately to the EVO merch booth and bought an officially branded spinner. My kids have five spinners between them somehow, but this one is just for me! After that, it was a beeline to Shunao's booth to pick up a FANG charm, and an Alisa one too for good measure, before wandering the floor and figuring out where my pool was going to be. I went and found another GBer, Danggief, and together we sat down to watch suddenblackout's noon pool. His very first match was going to be streamed! There we met another GB player, Donuts, and as a group (alongside thousands of stream monsters) we witnessed the absolute decimation of a poor Mika player at suddenblackout's hands.

No Caption Provided

At the end of the day suddenblackout went 3-2 in SFV. Later that afternoon Danggief ended up going 2-2. The bracket gods saw fit to throw two poor Karins my way, easily my most experienced matchup thanks to the countless long sets I've played against best duder Technician, so I managed to scrape by with my own 2-2 finish. As a whole we gave better than we took, and thanks to the venue wifi actually not being terrible, Donuts and I managed to periscope almost all of our matches to the folks in Discord. Considering that I expected to go 0-2, I couldn't be happier with my performance, and as much as I hate to admit it, I actually kind of like having to give the thumbs-up before each rematch.

Donuts hung around and watched me make a few more good purchasing decisions, including the first official English translation of the manga about famous player Daigo, a Twintelle keychain, and a Karin charm as thanks for her not letting me go 0-2. I continued the tradition of taking creeper shots of notable community members. Also, during his pool Danggief was interviewed by a camera crew. They asked him hard-hitting questions like what the "E" in E. Honda stands for and how he pronounces "Ryu". So look for that in something somewhere someday?

I left the venue before the King of Fighters XIV top-8 to have dinner with my wife and friends, but did manage to catch most of it on stream. It's no surprise who ended up in the top two spots, but E.T.'s clutch comeback victory over Xiao Hai may have had repercussions for the rest of the tournament. For player that can run as hot and cold as Xiao Hai (some weekends he looks unstoppable and others he's hardly a footnote) he went into this year's EVO with a surprising amount of braggadocio, even going as far as to thank the game's developer SNK for contributing a bonus to the game's prize pool. He incorrectly assumed a bulk of that money would be finding its way into his own wallet.

Letting E.T. rally with his Daimon pick ultimately cost Xiao Hai $7,000, and it's hard to imagine that crushing defeat didn't haunt him for the rest of the tournament. He ultimately finished 25th in SFV, a strong placing but also a far cry from what he's capable of.

Gallery image 1Gallery image 2Gallery image 3Gallery image 4Gallery image 5Gallery image 6Gallery image 7Gallery image 8Gallery image 9

Saturday, Donuts played his Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 pool with his point-Nemesis team. He ended up going 1-2, holding his own commendably well against Marlinpie. After that we went to watch the Guilty Gear Xrd Rev 2 finals. The developer, Arc System Works, had conscripted a Rachel and an Axl cosplayer to pass out red inflatable thundersticks. You wouldn't think air-filled tubes of plastic would be able to make much noise, but once everyone started banging them together things got loud. Sadly, with no apparent way to deflate them (they were very confusing), I had to leave my pair behind at the end of the night.

No Caption Provided

The all-Japanese top-8 for Guilty Gear was full of spectacular play that has left me in a real weird headspace regarding the game. For me, watching players excel, particularly with my character of choice, always makes me feel inspired to get better. On the other hand, nothing has changed the fact that years later, I am still fundamentally unequipped to deal with the oppressively offensive tempo of this particular game. In a way, Arc's clinging to the model of forced obsolescence is a blessing. Every time I get the itch to play Leo really poorly, I remember that I can't unless I pay them another $20.

Results-wise, there weren't many surprises, although that did make it a lot easier to root for the underdogs. With the elimination of last year's champion, Machabo, prior to top-8 at the hands of top American player Kid Viper, the smart money was on Omito, last year's second-place finisher, to take it. Tomo put up a valiant effort in grand finals, but through the entire set Omito looked like he was in absolute control. At some point Donuts's friend wandered off and came back with an Uncharted 4 PS4 he won entering a raffle on a whim. Donuts and I took advantage of the break before Injustice 2 to buy $11 sandwiches from Subway because Vegas? Then we settled down for one of the bigger upsets of the entire weekend.

No Caption Provided

Ever since he entered the scene, competing primarily in games developed by NetherRealm Studios, SonicFox has been the player to beat. This EVO, however, his decision to play a character that is more fun and cool than actually strong came back to bite him. On paper, Red Hood seems like the prototypical SonicFox character, strong pressure, devilish mixups, and lots of style. Plus he's a gun ninja. Unfortunately, he also lacks the damage output of the higher-tier character which the results bore out, with SonicFox going out 0-2 in top-8. The real darling of the night was HoneyBee with his unexpected second-place finish using Flash, another character generally regarded as weak. Every time he initiated one of the Flash's massive combos, the audience would start shouting in time with every blow. Although it was Dragon that won, it was Honeybee that won the hearts of everyone in the audience.

After that it was time to for me to duck out on the Super Smash Bros. Melee top-8 because my wife had scored us tickets to watch Penn & Teller that night. Despite a majority of Penn & Teller's act having already been given away across various seasons of "Fool Us", their personalities and their craft kept me engaged throughout the performance. But what impressed me most of all at the end of the night was their consummate professionalism as entertainers, as they stood in the lobby after the show to say hi and sign autographs and take selfies with the audience. My wife was very excited to hear Teller actually speak.

The four gods of Melee finished in 1st-4th place this EVO so it was business as usual on that front.

Gallery image 1Gallery image 2Gallery image 3Gallery image 4Gallery image 5Gallery image 6Gallery image 7Gallery image 8Gallery image 9

I ended up getting out of bed at 7AM on finals day to take a shower, finish packing so my wife could check us out, and get to the arena in time for 7:45AM Marvel. As one of the people who donated to make sure the game would get a proper conclusion this year, I dressed for the occasion. Of course the arena was mostly empty, but there were still enough people to make some noise as matches started.

No Caption Provided

It's a bittersweet thing. Marvel is often decried by outsiders as an incomprehensible mess marred with broken gameplay and imbalanced characters, and ever since Flocker's win in 2012, the run-up to EVO has been met with proclamations of the "death of Marvel." Despite all this, the game has persevered. Over its seven years Marvel has consistently pulled in solid entry number and high viewership, with the continued discovery of new techniques and playstyles staving off any sense of stagnation. With RyanLV's unorthodox Chun-Li/Morrigan/Phoenix team beating out last year's champion, ChrisG, in the grand finals, it was as good a sendoff as the game could have hoped for. Seven EVOs with seven different champions and a surprising amount of character diversity. It's the end of an era, but I think I'm ready for Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite (MvCI) to shake things up.

With MvCI out in September, they had the game's producer, Combofiend, play a quick exhibition against 2012's champion, Filipino Champ. In actuality, it was an excuse to reveal Vampire Savior's Jedah as a member of the game's cast. It's was a strange plan for a reveal. With Filipino Champ's extremely limited time with the game, it was hardly a showcase of high-level play. And despite his best efforts, Combofiend wasn't able to highlight this new take on Jedah anywhere near as well as a proper trailer could. Still, as a legacy pull he was a strong choice and the crowd got appropriately hype for it.

I haven't played much BlazBlue since 2012 when Arc wanted me to buy the game's fourth iteration in four years with only one new character to show for it. It was nice to see old standbys like Carl and Rachel and Arakune, slightly adjusted but looking as powerful as ever. As someone who tends to prefer a more ranged playstyle, it was also a thrill to see what characters like Mu and Nine are capable of in the hands of true masters. The Jin player, Fenrich, impressed everyone with his impeccable defense, but you can't win just by blocking. Instead it was Ryusei's Carl that eventually took it in an intense, back-and-forth grand finals, with the crowd at his back thanks to his adorable mugging in-between rounds. For a region that is generally known for the stoicism of its players, he shone out as the competitor that seemed to be having the time of his life on stage.

No Caption Provided

Arc had a few announcements too, with a samurai cat coming to BlazBlue and also a crazy looking new crossover game featuring characters from four different series including the debut fighting game appearance of characters from RWBY, an anime web-series with a very devoted following if the surprised cheering that filled that arena is anything to go by. None of that matters, of course, because immediately after that Arika revealed some new info about Fighting Layer EX (working title). I won't belabor the point, but several people's Skullodreams came true on that Sunday. Not only is the game confirmed to be in development for release, Arika officially added Skullomania to the roster, with a little bonus Darun Mister on the side.

As the stage was being set for Tekken 7 (T7), I had a little time to think about my strained feelings about this particular game. Every time T7's game director Katsuhiro Harada was asked about the two-year wait for the console release a game that was already tournament-ready, he took the opportunity to throw direct and indirect shade at SFV for its poor launch. Proudly showcasing his "Don't ask me for shit" t-shirt, he would insist they were taking their time to make sure the game came out right. Even if his casual put-downs were intended as friendly ribbing between developers, that didn't stop the community a large from seizing on every chance to bash on SFV some more.

Then T7 came out and, frankly, the game was a bit of a mess. Between the paltry single-player offerings, the absurdly long wait times in between online matches, a ranked mode that ends with scores of 1-1, and having absolutely nothing in the game that teaches you any of its mechanics, it seems like Harada was all talk. Which would be fine if he hadn't spent the past year-and-a-half shoveling coal into the engine of the Capcom-hate-train. I will say that the core gameplay is still strong. Tekken hasn't really changed much since 1996 and, to nobody's surprise, the two favorites JDCR and Saint faced off in grand finals.

No Caption Provided

There was a gameplay trailer of Trunks for Dragon Ball FighterZ and a reveal of Geese for T7. I don't have any affinity for these characters, but the person behind Geese's trailer certainly knew what his fans wanted, providing them with an extended montage of him performing his trademark counter against a wide variety of the cast, accompanied by his classic cry of "Predictable!" that the people around me barked in unison. With two boss characters from different fighting game series making an appearance in T7, I'm curious who the final guest character is going to be.

I took the Smash Bros. 4 top-8 as a chance to grab some dinner and charge my phone. There has always been a divide between the Smash Melee audience and the broader fighting game community, and Smash 4 hasn't done much to bridge that gap. A massive queue had formed at the entrance to the arena, with ushers scrambling to scan-in the people coming to watch Smash and scan-out the people like me taking advantage of the "3-hour break". On my way out of the venue I ran into Tony Cannon, one of EVO's founders and also one of the developers of GGPO, the gold-standard in video game netcode. I thanked him for the event and he let me take a picture of him before he was hijacked by another fan. I politely took my leave as the fan started lecturing Tony on why he shouldn't have included Smash 4 as part of Sunday's lineup. Sorry Tony.

I managed to make it back to the venue in time to catch the last two sets of top-8, with back-to-back comebacks from Bayonetta player Salem to ultimately upset ZeRo, the odds-on favorite who has won almost as many Smash 4 tournaments as he has entered. It may have been the biggest upset of the entire weekend, and I'm glad I got to see it in person.

The in-house commentary team for SFV started a wave
The in-house commentary team for SFV started a wave

Before starting the top-8, Capcom producer Yoshinori Ono had a trailer for the upcoming downloadable character, Abigail. They were in a tough spot, given the strength of the reveals that had come from the other developers. Abigail is out now, and having had a chance to play as him, he is incredibly fun and full of small touches that showcase his goofy personality. Whomever was responsible for cutting together his trailer decided to make it as dry as possible, unfortunately, and the reactions from the audience at EVO largely consisted of exclamations of "What?" and "What!!??!!?"

He's great. Everyone should try him.

Last year, at its first EVO, Street Fighter V didn't have the best showing. The play was incredibly strong, and the narrative of the "lone American" LI Joe in top-8 caught a lot of people's attention, but with only 5 characters used across 8 players many people started questioning the balance and longevity of the game. This year was a complete reversal, with 9 unique characters played over dozens of intensely close games. Each player had a compelling storyline going into top-8, but none moreso than American player Punk and Japanese player Tokido.

Punk is an incredibly young 18 and has experienced a meteoric rise in 2017 as the player to beat in SFV. He has several first-place finishes in this year's Capcom Pro Tour, putting him comfortably at the top of the global leaderboard. On his road to the grand finals, Punk dominated his opponents, going 24-0 in games including a 2-0 win over Tokido during the semifinals. Tokido, on the other hand, is a member of the old guard. At the age of 32, he has been playing fighting games longer than Punk has been alive and has attended American tournaments competing in various fighting games for over 15 years. Since his 2007 win in Super Turbo, Tokido has been struggling to earn his third Evolution title, and two very close calls against players Filipino Champ and Itabashi Zangief in top-8 almost kept him from reaching the grand finals of his 16th EVO.

No Caption Provided

Coming from the losers bracket, Tokido had the tougher row to hoe. He needed to beat Punk in two best-of-five sets whereas Punk only needed one set to seal his victory. Everyone was wondering, would Punk accomplish what no American could do throughout Street Fighter IV's lifespan and take 1st at EVO, solidifying his position as the best SFV player in the world? Or would Tokido, one of the hardest working, most dedicated fighting game players out there finally grasp that brass ring he had been chasing for a decade? Punk had the swagger of youth on his side and what the community affectionately refers to as "young man reactions." Tokido had the passion and the experience earned over countless appearances on the biggest stages in competitive fighting games.

In the end, experience won out. When it mattered most, Tokido stayed on top of his game, making correct read after correct read and executing his gameplan perfectly. Punk's clean and focused play finally began to crack, and with his family in the crowd and the expectations of America weighing on his back he finally crumbled, losing to Tokido with a final score of 1-6. For Tokido it was a victory well deserved, well earned, and long overdue. For Punk it was a heartbreaking defeat.

There's a special magic to an event like EVO. It doesn't matter if you're a top player or a random scrub, at the end of the day we're all just players and competitors and fans of fighting games. We don't need to play the same game or speak the same language because we share something beyond language, the appreciation of flawless execution and amazing reads and absolute dunkings and miraculous comebacks. We yell and cheer and jump out of our seats because we all know a secret and we're just waiting for the rest of the world to catch up. Tokido himself said it best as we closed out the night.

"Fighting games [are] something so great."

GL HB

You're all free now.

Of course I went 2-2! It's the perfect number!
Of course I went 2-2! It's the perfect number!
Gallery image 1Gallery image 2Gallery image 3Gallery image 4Gallery image 5Gallery image 6Gallery image 7Gallery image 8Gallery image 9

10 Comments

Injustice 2 Combo Lab - Firestorm Day 1

Alright had a night to sleep on it, remembered b3 was a thing, remembered overheads.

Firestorm seems like an interesting character? Needs to burn meter to get any real damage but has decently safe offense and solid footsie tools. His zoning is fairly lackluster unless her burns meter for that too, and his mobility isn't so hot. Lack of a crossup is a real fucking bummer. The strategy for him seems to be maybe use his corner carry to pin the opponent down where he can finally take advantage of restands and his 112 string which is +3ob.

Overall he seems middling at best but also I don't know shit about Injustice so maybe he's the bomb diggity. I'll let other people figure that out though, for now I think I'm going to some other characters a spin. Maybe I'll just play Deadshot and be a jerk online since I do like zoning and now's the time to abuse that shit.

Woo another NRS game time to dust off the old capture card.

I kinda skipped the original Injustice so I wasn't entirely sure what to expect coming into Injustice 2. The combo system seems more... restrained? There are generally fewer ways to get popups (and I somehow forgot to do any combos off of raw overhead? great), and a lot more reasons to spend meter mid-combo. Honestly, this makes it feel like there's less to explore in the game from a combosmith standpoint, but I'll keep poking away at it and see if any character strikes my fancy.

Firestorm seems very basic. His zoning is meh and his mobility is not great but he was a good jumping-off point. His main combo extender seems to be his meter-burn ground laser which, sadly, has to be targeted as well. It puts the opponent into a capture state for free shenanigans. Of course everyone has the universal wall-bounce for 2 bars but outside of that, there doesn't seem to be much juice for him mid-screen. It's all very basic, but maybe there's something about the combo system that I'm just not seeing yet. Tomorrow I'll try to resist the siren song of Persona 5 and dig into another character.

Punching Joker feels nice tho.

Also the netcode seems like butt which is shocking given how good I hear latter-day MKXL netkode is.

11 Comments

StarvingGamer's Games Worth Starving For (or Otherwise) in 2016

Woof. 2016 huh?

I guess this is where I make a joke about making a joke about writing the traditional "year in review" paragraph and what even does that look like in a year like this one? Ok, with that out of the way...

Despite everything else, 2016 was another fantastic year for fans of good-ass video games. A bevy of inventive new IP was released from development teams around the world in all sizes, and favorite franchises that had lost their way managed to reclaim the spirit of what made us love them ten or twenty years ago. Game creators seemed less afraid to take risks and just get weird, and great strides were taken to increase diversity and inclusivity in games, even if we still have a long road to hoe.

Between moving into an actual house and starting my eldest in kindergarten and my youngest in preschool, several experiences deserving of my time had to be passed over. Which isn't to say I didn't play plenty of games (I did), and I'd like to tell you about some of them.

Best Surprise

DOOM

Bata-lata-la
Bata-lata-la

It has been 22 years since the last real DOOM game, released in the era of Mega Man X, Earthworm Jim, and Tie Fighter.

Since then, the gaming landscape has gone through upheaval after upheaval, and after a pathetic attempt at making a DOOM 3 in 2004, most people were convinced that the franchise was simply an artifact of another age, irreconcilably out of place in the modern era of video games. The scant bits of footage and brief beta access people were given to what would become 2016's DOOM, compounded with tales of development hell and the stark reality of an 8+ year development cycle to, painted a dire of picture.

Luckily for us, it turns out developing in hell might not be so bad when you're making a game about murdering hundreds upon hundreds of hellspawn (no but really investing that much time on a product that seems to be going nowhere must have been real rough on everyone involved. Shoutouts to the hard workers at id, I hope you all were able to practice enough self-care and eat dinner with your families on most nights).

To put it plainly, DOOM manages to recapture the essence of my memories of playing the original DOOM in 1993, translated for a modern context. Unlike most modern shooters where you can expect to spend more time hiding than shooting, DOOM forces the player to stay mobile and get right in the thick of it, with a wide array of tools and weapons that allows each encounter to be treated like a frantic tactical puzzle punctuated by screams and explosions.

The story and atmosphere bring together a perfect ratio of attitude and irreverence and gore and metal and metal to make every moment in the game a delight, even as you're punching the eyeball out of your 50th cacodemon. DOOM has reclaimed the throne as the single-player shooter campaign to beat, and if the ending of the game is any indication, the folk at id may already have something in mind. Now that they're back in a groove, I hope it doesn't take them quite as long to release a followup. I think my heart will have stopped trying to pound its way out of my chest by 2018.

Runners-up: Stardew Valley, Watch_Dogs 2

Biggest Disappointment

Street Fighter V

Yeah, I know...
Yeah, I know...

I love Street Fighter V. As a person who enjoys fighting in streets I have practically zero complaints about the game, and none of them are about the core gameplay. In the competitive circuit, Street Fighter V is hands-down the biggest game in the scene, now or ever. Entry records have been shattered at event after event since the game released, viewership numbers continue to climb, and the prize-pools have never been more rewarding for the pro players out there.

That said, I can't help but think about all the potential for growth that was lost because of the repeated bungling by Capcom and their inability to message anything clearly as their plans changed throughout the year.

Maybe if they had recontextualized the initial release as a "tournament edition" or some kind, made it DLC-only with the proper full-release slated for July, they could have dodged all the criticism for selling what felt to many like a half-baked product at full-price. Then it would have been less a story when Ibuki had to be delayed for a month, and games writers would have been less eager to label future DLC releases as "late" when in fact every other bit of content arrived on time if not early according to their initial roadmap.

Call your "Season Pass" a "Character Pass" (a good lesson they learned for 2017), don't install a fucking rootkit on PC (even if it was gone within a few hours of the update), and who knows how many more casual players could have been brought into the SFV fold, and the fighting game community as a whole.

I guess it's all up to you now Injustice 2 *gag*.

Runners-up: Inside, Mirror's Edge Catalyst

Best Game to Buy at Release and Barely/Never Play

That Dragon, Cancer

Ugh...
Ugh...

This is a category that usually is more about me facing my buying decisions balanced against my dwindling free time, but 2016 is a special year.

By all accounts That Dragon, Cancer is a brief game, topping out at around 2 hours total play-time. It's the sort of game you can get through in an afternoon or evening, start to finish. I, however, have never even booted it up once (did install it though!).

Through a series of vignettes, the game tells the autobiographical story of a family contending with an infant son diagnosed with terminal cancer, up and through his eventual death. I don't think I can handle playing this game. Between my own issues with mortality and my children and my ability to become intensely immersed in video games, I'm fairly certain this game would ruin me for quite a while. I do want to play it... some day, but probably not any time soon.

Runners-up: The Last Guardian, Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE

Best Moment or Sequence

Overwatch - PharMercy

I don't even play/own Overwatch. Ok I did mess with the free weekend before it released for 20 minutes.

I don't care! I love the characters and how diverse and colorful they are and I especially love the fandom that has sprung up around them. Every character in Overwatch is oozing with personality, but most of the details surrounding them have been left incredibly vague. This has created a perfect storm for the fanart fanfic shippers out there to go to town with their favorite pairings and I eat it all up.

Which isn't to say that these couplings are entirely unearned. For some characters, like my and Waypoint.com's OTP (one true pairing), it's a marriage of mechanics that inspires a deeper imagined relationship, like in the clip below:

For the uninitiated (how did you find this blog?), the game is being played from the perspective of Pharah, a soldier that wears a power-suit capable of flight and specializes in bombarding enemies with explosive rockets from afar. During the battle, Pharah fires a concussive blast from her wrist launcher, propelling her unsuspecting opponent into the pit below. Unfortunately, her target is Roadhog, a particularly tricky foe that manages to use his hooked chain to snag onto Parah's teammate, Mercy, and drag her into the pit alongside him.

Mercy, who serves as the team's combat medic, can float to slow her descent but is incapable of actual flight herself. However, she does have a special ability that allows her to tether herself to a nearby ally and fly directly to them. Seeing Mercy in trouble, Pharah immediately hurls herself down into the pit after her. At the last moment, Mercy turns to find her waiting friend and latches on, as Pharah activates her boosters and lifts both of them back to the relative safety of solid ground.

This small interaction is one of an infinite number of ways the various characters in Overwatch can compliment one-another, both mechanically and narratively, and in my eyes that's Overwatch's greatest gift. It has provided creative people from around the world with a shorthand to celebrate the different ways people can love and care for one another.

Runners-up: Rez Infinite - Area X, Uncharted 4: A Thief's End - Epilogue

StarvingGamer's Top 10 Games of 2016

10. Stardew Valley

What a pleasant surprise this was. I've invested untold amounts of hours into games like Harvest Moon and Animal Crossing and The Sims and Fantasy Life and Stardew Valley takes elements from all of those and mashes them up into an intensely satisfying busywork experience. Maybe it's a fault of my min-maxing or maybe the numerous updates the game has underwent since I last played it have solved this problem, but I did run out of steam halfway through year 2 when my farm had become a well-honed production machine and I had already explored and looted my way to pretty much everything of note in terms of equipment and crafting materials. Maybe during a slow month I'll start over and see how everything that has changed in the latest version.

9. Rez Infinite

I'm a bit late to the Rez party. I was aware of it (mostly by virtue of urban legends surrounding the trance vibrator) but had never experienced it until my wife bought me a PlayStation VR. The core game is extremely enjoyable, if a little dated. While playing I often found myself wondering how the game was meant to be experienced without VR, and if that was the original intent 15 years ago when it first released. Then I tried Area X. I had the biggest, doofiest grin on my face the entire time. It sold me on the importance and future of VR, and left me wishing there was more of it!

8. Guilty Gear Xrd -Revelator-

Thanks to the advent of Discord, our little GiantBomb fighting game community has blossomed. This means I have more people to chat about, and more importantly play, fighting games with. Instead of relegating myself to combo trials and training mode, I've actually been able to fight against cool humans and avoid the additional salt that comes from losing to randoms. Lucky for me, I was able to latch on to Leo Whitefang immediately as he's a character that can get results with minimal effort. Yes, I'm a bad player playing a character who just sometimes mauls you and it's fun and no you can't stop me I'll keep doing it also ban I-No.

7. BlazBlue: Central Fiction

Read above paragraph, only instead of Leo they added Mai Natsume, a character specifically designed for beginners with a simplified moveset and significantly lower execution requirements than is typical of a character in BlazBlue. The ability to hop in and immediately start getting results made this the first BlazBlue I've been able to play against other people with minimal frustration. Every fighting game should include a character with the same design philosphy as Mai.

Yo we anime!
Yo we anime!

6. Thumper

Coming in under the wire, I decided that instead of spending a few hours on The Last Guardian and still not forming an opinion, I would dedicate the last day of 2016 to seeing the ways Thumper mixes it up past the first world. Needless to say, I was blown away. The frantic sense of speed afforded by the PSVR, combined with the pounding soundtrack and eerily twisted visuals pushed my senses to the limits as the rhythms became more complicated, the mechanics more dense, and the tempo more frantic. Just sitting here thinking about it, I can almost feel myself hurtling forward toward the screen. Also this is the only game that has made me internalize and sight-read a 5/8 time signature, which was a treat. I'm excited for 7/8.

5. The Witness

I love puzzles. Many of my fondest memories from childhood are of getting comfy on a bed or a couch and reading through a book of logic puzzles. When I heard that all the puzzles in The Witness were going to be line puzzles on grids on panels, I was skeptical about how much depth there could actually be. The prerelease buzz got me, though, and I'm glad it did. The way The Witness takes such a simple concept of moving a line through a maze and turns it on its head, then turns it inside-out, then turns it into a goldfish, then eats the goldfish but really it was a combustion engine all along, is intensely challenging and immensely satisfying. Then you find the secret. Then you find the other secret. Then you realize the secrets have secrets. Then you curl up in a ball because The Witness has bested you.

4. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney - Spirit of Justice

I've been dedicated to the Ace Attorney series since the beginning, and with every game they build and build on the existing fiction in new and unexpected ways. Spirit of Justice is no different, with an intricately woven series of trials, a slew of cameos, and new hidden truths for all the main characters to discover about themselves and each other. I'm still only about halfway through the final trial as of writing this, but I feel confident in this game's placement on my list. I can't wait to see how it ends!

3. Final Fantasy XV

This game is good! It's sooo good! Unfortunately I had to sacrifice The Last Guardian to "Best Old Game" contention in 2017, but it was worth it. I dove into Final Fantasy XV hard. I hunted every hunt, quested every quest, dungeoned every dungeon, and never once got tired of it (maybe once; you know which dungeon I'm talking about). The game's unique take on action RPG combat gives players the utmost freedom for expression of tactics and skill, with the potential to take down significantly stronger enemies with enough preparation and patience. It's unfortunate that the story can't be properly appreciated without watching a mediocre anime and a middling movie, but the game rewards that effort by spinning a heartfelt tale of brotherhood, camaraderie, love, loss, duty and dedication. I had more than one instance of intense feelings, and as crazy as it sounds I might jump in for a New Game+ to see all the story tweaks they end up doing to help clear up the third act of the game. Also a quick protip, learn Airdance as soon as possible. Trust me.

Not a spoiler, I swear!
Not a spoiler, I swear!

2. Monster Hunter Generations

What to say here? Monster Hunter is the best, and Generations brings drastic but welcome changes to that tried-and-true formula. Most notably, the fact that each weapon can now be wielded in any of four distinct hunter styles effectively quadruples the number of options when tackling a monster, and enables players to more effectively focus on their strengths when they play. Unlike previous games where I had to maintain a wide variety of weapons to deal with different monsters, I was able to overcome almost every creature in Generations using either a hammer or greatsword in the aerial style. Using a monster to boost myself 30-feet in the air, only to come back down on its head with a massive charged slash attack never gets boring.

1. Street Fighter V

Surprise surprise, my most disappointing game in 2016 is also my favorite game of 2016.

It's been a rough year for Street Fighter V. The game had a shaky-ass release and never fully recovered, at least in the eyes of the public. Even now, almost a year later, Capcom isn't even close to catching up and repairing their relationship with the casual audience.

As an online warrior, though, none of that matters. That's because with Street Fighter V I have had the more fun playing with people than any other fighting game. Thanks to the numerous small tweaks to lower the execution barrier for people with bad hands like me, I can play the game secure in the knowledge that when something goes wrong, it was my decision making and not my inability to perform finger acrobatics in a satisfactory way that got me. While small, the cast is varied and incredibly well balanced, and even if my preferred strategy of keepaway is somewhat weaker in V than in past iterations, I'm never so disadvantaged that I feel like it's more the game beating me than the other player.

Capcom claims to have plans for the game through 2020, and 2017 will be the first big indication of what exactly that entails. Beyond the recent balance update and some new characters, there are dozens of quality-of-life tweaks that I'm hoping will be made sometime in the next year to bring the game's quality up to a level that is more easily recommendable to fair-weather street fighters.

Maybe you picked up the game on a whim over one of the numerous winter sales, or maybe you've been on the fence ever since you first heard how busted the game was in February. Well, if fighting against other people is what you're looking for, there's no real reason not to jump in now (unless your internet is bad also it sounds rough for Australia?). Our SFV community is going pretty strong. You can find us in a couple places:

Stay safe and stay sane and play some video games in 2017.

Hmmm... I think this game would have been *much* better suited for the no. 2 position.
Hmmm... I think this game would have been *much* better suited for the no. 2 position.

8 Comments

D&D 5e Homebrew Class: Spelldancer (Feedback Wanted!)

The homebrew train keeps on chugging, this time with the Spelldancer (homebrewery link)!

The inspiration for this comes from something like 15 years ago when I was dreaming up different fictional universes when I should have been paying attention in lectures. What if a spellcaster couldn't speak? How would they fulfill the verbal components of a spell? Well, what if there was a sort of sign-language equivalent to arcane words of power. Ok, well what if that sign-language actually took the form of dance? Thusly: Spelldancer.

From a mechanical point of view, the core concept is to be a squishy hybrid damage dealer, something between and Eldritch Knight and a Rogue, leaning more heavily in the Rogue direction of things. Because I needed the feeling of a continuous dance to be embodied by the gameplay, I gave the class a momentum-based mechanic that powers up as you hit with stuff. Of course it's hard to balance momentum-based things to not be too weak at the start and not be too strong at the end, but I think I struck a pretty good balance, factoring in the standard D&D fight length of 3-rounds.

Or maybe this class is still bustabust. I dunno. Anyways, I'd love to get any feedback you guys have. Eviscerate all my ideas! Yay!

2 Comments

D&D 5e Homebrew Class/Background: Steelshaper/Adept (Feedback Wanted!)

Update: I made a custom background to go along with the class, and threw it all into Homebrewery which I just discovered and spent way too much time messing around when I should have been sleeping.

Some of you may remember earlier in the year when GBer @joystick_hero was recruiting for his D&D campaign and I was one of the lucky few who managed to join. Well we've been playing for... almost half-a-year? So we're taking a break in the action to run a short interlude campaign and he was magnanimous enough to let me build out a custom class.

Which is here: http://homebrewery.naturalcrit.com/share/Sk8ZYC40

Steelshapers! Originally I was trying to design this as a 4e class which was a nightmare and I quickly gave up. Now I think I've pretty much made a complete class. The core concept is to have a melee class that's light on damage, but high on utility and crowd control. If any of you would like to give this a read and offer feedback, I'd be very appreciative. I'll try not to be too precious about my ideas.

20 Comments

This Is Not a Table - Thursday Night Tabletop RPG (The Sprawl)

UPDATE: Since this got bumped, the game is well underway with a full roster or 9 players, but if/when someone drops out I'll be back looking for more so if you're interested feel free to post in here and you'll be the first people I ask.

~~~~~

After getting back into "tabletop" roleplaying thanks to Tuesday Night DnD! hosted by @joystick_hero and being massively inspired by Austin Walker's Friends at the Table actual play podcast, I have decided to MC/GM/DM my own game of The Sprawl.

And I need players!

This Is Not a Table (Ceci n'est pas une table)

What is it?

This Is Not a Table is a game of The Sprawl hosted through Roll20 on Thursdays, running approximately from 7:30PM-11PM PDT. The game follows a split-narrative between two groups playing on alternating weeks. The targeted start date for Group A will be July 7, with Group B following on July 14.

What is the setting?

Not only does my game us a hack of The Sprawl similar to Austin's podcast, I am borrowing heavily from his COUNTER/Weight campaign in terms of general setting and narrative beats. If you're a listener of FatT this may be an awkward or even sacrilegious experience for you so buyer beware.

If you haven't listened to season 2 of FatT (which you totally should except maybe not right away if you want to join this game) this is a cyberpunk mecha noire anime space opera sort of deal, set in a far flung future where warring factions of space-socialists and space-hyper capitalists have reached a tenuous peace and are engaging in a sort of cold war.

Who is the DM?

I'm Aaron, a full-time father who has been away from tabletop roleplaying for far too long. This is my first time MCing a game in about a decade and my first time MCing this style of tabletop game ever, but I feel like I have a fairly solid grasp on things and the test sessions I have done so far went relatively well? People claim they had fun is all I'm saying.

What do I need/need to know?

A microphone is a must. We will also be running our voice (and a majority of our out-of-game communication) through Discord as well so make sure you have access to that. Other than that, I only ask that you be responsive and communicative in between sessions. Also know that I will be recording all sessions through OBS and likely making them available, if for no other reason than so that our other players have the option to keep track of both sides of the story.

What if I'm new to tabletop games?

As a game, The Sprawl is less concerned with mechanics and rules and more focused on building scenes through collaborative storytelling. The only thing the player needs to bring to the table are imagination, creativity, and a willingness to really play their role. Your job is to tell me what you want to do, narratively, and my job is to fit the rules around the move you're making.

How do I get involved?

As a game, The Sprawl is designed to handle up to five players. I currently have two core players playing every week and a husband/wife couple alternating between playing and childcare week by week (hence the split narrative). This functionally gives me two groups of 3, meaning I can handle 4 more (or 2 players every other week). This is going to be a first-come-first-serve sort of thing, but don't put your name down unless you can really commit the time. I'm actually EDT so starting somewhat promptly is pretty important so I can get to bed by 2AM.

Thanks for reading and hopefully we'll be able to start playing soon!

13 Comments

StarvingGamer's Games Worth Starving For (or Otherwise) in 2015

So I live on the East Coast now.

Maybe it's the darker nights, maybe it's the separation from friends and family, probably mostly it's just the getting older, but no year has been filled with more existential dread than 2015. On the bright side, every anxiety-filled minute spent unable to sleep is another good minute for playing video games because my kids are in bed and I don't want to be left alone with my thoughts.

The releases of several high quality, time-crushing games hitting triple-digit hour marks this year, alongside a bevy of smaller narrative experiences from developers of all shapes and sizes, went a long way to keeping me sane. Of course, given how many of these games had such a strong thematic focus on mortality, the nature of consciousness, and often near extinction-level events, maybe they didn't really help my psyche all that much? Eh, better not to think about it.

Because while every year is a good year to be not dead, 2015 was a particularly fantastic year for being not dead and a player of video games. Allow me to cling to the illusion of cosmic relevance by telling you about some of the games that made an impact on me this year.

2015's Old Game of the Year

AKA "What are you thinking, releasing your game in December?".

The Talos Principle

Do you think the cat is freaking out? I miss my cats :'(
Do you think the cat is freaking out? I miss my cats :'(

A lot of people were talking about this game at the end of last year. Ok, maybe it was just Chris Remo on Idle Thumbs. But between having too many games to play and having already spent too much money on having too many games to play, I just had to let this one fall by the wayside.

Which worked out for the best, as it turns out. I ended up circling back around to Talos Principle when the release of the "Road to Gehenna" expansion reminded me A) that this game existed and B) that I really wanted to play this game. 3D puzzle games with an omnipotent voice that becomes gradually more sinister in nature are right in my wheelhouse, and I couldn't help but feel myself identifying strongly with the "salvaging the final vestiges of humanity" themes present throughout the core game.

Then I got to Road to Gehenna and hoo boy, what a fucking fantastic intersection between the nature of personhood and AI and the nascent formation of BBS communities. Not to knock the actual gameplay, but at a certain point I was looking up walkthroughs for any puzzles I felt even slightly stymied by simply so I could hurry along to the next terminal and advance the plot because it was sooo good.

It's not a universal recommendation, some of those later puzzles get really gnarly and unlike Portal where there's lots of forward momentum every time you figure out the next step, in Talos Principle there's a lot of staying still or even backtracking which can make significant progress feel like no progress. But if you grew up on the internet in the late 80s and early 90s and enjoy stories about AI that can make you question your sense of self, you should definitely check it out.

Runners-up: Assassin's Creed: Unity, This War of Mine

Best Surprise

SteamWorld Heist

Hitting ricochets feels amaaaaaaaazing
Hitting ricochets feels amaaaaaaaazing

I actually didn't know about this game until last Friday night when I decided to watch the GB quicklook for it. The guys who made that kinda generic-but-solid digging game followed it up with a 2D, turn-based tactical RPG? What? And it's really good!?

Since I had just wrapped up Picross e5 and Pokémon Picross is apparently a microtransaction nightmare, I needed something I could distract my brain with while waiting for exhaustion to take over and put me to sleep at night, and SteamWorld Heist sounded like it would fit the bill. To my pleasant surprise, I discovered a game that hits almost all the bulletpoints that make up a strong TRPG:

  • Varied characters/classes that promote unique styles of play
  • Special abilities that encourage use and can generate explosive turns when used in conjunction
  • Equipment system that can't be simply min/maxed and isn't cumbersome for players constantly swapping characters
  • Quick and easy save scumming

I'm having one of the most satisfying experiences in years with one of my favorite genres, so much so that even though I wanted it to be my "before bed" game it's turned into my "any time I have a free minute like when I'm using the restroom or at a red light" game and I'm pretty sure I'm going to run out of game soon and then what will I play in bed?

Pokémon Picross sounds real rough.

Runners-up: Her Story, Until Dawn

Best Intensely Personal Narrative Experience

Cibele

Full-screen the chat box and add a bunch of people rolling dice
Full-screen the chat box and add a bunch of people rolling dice

Let me tell you a story.

So before I had a real girlfriend, I had a series of internet "girlfriends". This is at a time when, for most people, the most efficient way to show someone across the country a picture of yourself was to develop a photograph, stuff it into an envelope, and mail it to them. At one point I actually somehow talked my parents into buying me a plane ticket to fly from LA to... Chicago? to stay with a girl's family for like a weekend.

What the fuck mom & dad? What the fuck girl's mom and dad? In retrospect it was one of the craziest things that was only made slightly less crazy by the fact that I was a big enough shithead to chicken out at the last minute which was a whole other ordeal. (To be clear, the girl was totally not a creepy 40-year-old murder guy and we actually became friends later on and even hung out face-to-face once, but now that I have kids of my own I can't imagine myself ever feeling ok with doing something like that when they turn... I dunno I think I was 15? 16 at the time? without the additional layer of peace-of-mind that stuff like webcams and cell phones provides us with today.) Nina Freeman is a good few years younger than me, but swap VoIP conversations with AOL RP chatrooms and this game is me during my first two years of high school.

Which is why Cibele hit me so so so hard because every stupid line Ichi said trying to be a cool flirty guy was something I typed into an IM at some point. Every time Nina struggled to juggle various conversations about who was or wasn't doing what with who among a group of people who had never even seen each other before was a struggle I had experienced. And watching Ichi and Nina finally get together and do body stuff then immediately have a falling out was like a weird look into an alternate universe where I actually went through with it and took that flight (although I'm pretty sure no weird body stuff would have happened since I was going to be staying at her house with her parents and also we were 15).

I am Ichi. I am Nina.

Runner-Up: Emily is Away

Biggest Disappointment

Undertale

Though it was brief, I'll never forget the time we shared
Though it was brief, I'll never forget the time we shared

Wait wait wait wait wait wait wait. Wait. Wait.

Undertale is not a bad game. No one who likes, loves, bleeds for Undertale is wrong for having that opinion. I feel like I'm a hair's breadth from being right there with you.

On paper, Undertale should be everything I want in an indie RPG. It's heavily inspired by Earthbound, my 9th favorite game of all time, has an intensely wry sense of humor, encourages non-standard styles of play, and takes full advantage of the unique features of the medium to create a narrative that subverts your expectations via the game's mechanics.

But man is it super duper not fun to play. Full disclosure: I got to the Undine fight, died a couple times, got crazy tilted (I was also on a losing streak in the SFV beta at the time which didn't help my mood), and proceeded to delete the game in the ultimate ragequit. Then I reinstalled it a few months later, banged my head against the fight a few more times, and haven't been back since. And in all that time, not once did I actually enjoy the act of playing the game. I'm not a hater of bullet hell mechanics in general, I love me some Ikaruga, but for whatever reason its implementation in Undertale never went beyond fluctuating between being boring, tedious, and frustrating for me.

I really really really wanted to like this game. So many people whose opinions I place a lot of stock in absolutely adore this game. The spoilers described in the GB GotY podcasts sound like amazing things to experience, but I'll never get there unless they add a mode that mitigates the bullet hell stuff entirely.

Runners-up: Code Name: S.T.E.A.M., Everybody's Gone to the Rapture

Best Game to Pay Full-Price for but Not Play

AKA "What are you thinking, releasing your game in December (part deux)?"

Xenoblade Chronicles X

I want the robutt!
I want the robutt!

Look Xenoblade Chronicles. You're real cool. Your UI is a beautiful cluttered mess. Waiting 30 hours to introduce a major game mechanic that recontextualizes the entire experience is one of the greatest things. But Fallout 4 came out first and I have a lot of settlements I have to maintain. All these microscopes aren't going to collect themselves. I've gotta help my doctor robot girlfriend download her consciousness into a synthetic human body and raise a militia to stop all the anarchy. Oh also my son is missing so I should probably try to find him at some point.

Life with kids means I'm usually on the bottom of the totem pole when it comes to getting TV time, not only because everyone else gets priority but also because if my kids aren't watching TV then I'm probably chasing them around and too busy to play. And it's just so much easier and less obtrusive once everyone is asleep to boot something up on PC. I'll definitely be giving this game a lot of my time in 2016 (early Old Game contender?) but I knew there was no way I'd be able to invest a satisfactory amount of time in it for GotY considerations so it didn't make the cut.

Soma thanks you.

Runners-up: Invisible, Inc., Rebel Galaxy

Best Moment

Life Is Strange - Chloe's Request (Episode 4)

SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS

Shit gets dire
Shit gets dire

To catch you up, Max goes back in time to the day Chloe's dad dies and saves his life, drastically altering the present, leaving Chloe paralyzed from the neck down, strapped to machines, and confined to a wheelchair. After a day talking about Chloe's life, future, and the strain her injury has placed on her parents, both emotionally and financially, the two friends fall asleep while watching Blade Runner together.

At it's core, Life Is Strange is about two things: unforeseen consequences and Max struggling to keep Chloe alive. Both of these ideas converge the next morning when Chloe asks Max to help her commit suicide by administering an overdose of morphine.

If you've been paying careful attention, Max's next move is telegraphed from a mile away. She's going to go back back-in-time to undo saving Chloe's dad's life, but before she does she has to make a choice. And even though you know there's no real consequence, even though she knows there's no real consequence, Max is going to have to live with the knowledge of her decision for the rest of her life.

In the end, my Max couldn't do it, and even if it was for just a moment in a reality that wasn't going to exist any more, Chloe's attitude of bitter resentment was crushing.

Runners-up: Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain - Mission 43 (the bottom floor), The Beginner's Guide - Stop adding lampposts

StarvingGamer's Top 10 Games of 2015

10. Until Dawn

As much as I hate horror anything, I absolutely adore this game. Yeah it scared the shit out of me even though I only played it during daylight hours with the blinds wide open, but the way it handled the Quantic Dream formula and perfectly twisted it to fit the genre was incredibly impressive. In 20 years when they make a TV show about the 2010s and a character says "get monked!" we'll know. We'll know.

9. Tales from the Borderlands

Man did I think this sounded dumb and unnecessary when they first announced it. Man was I super-duper wrong. Rhys and Fiona are excellent protagonists with personalities that allow them to shift between a wide variety of emotional responses without feeling out character, and they are supported by a strong cast with their own unique wrinkles that make them both likable and unlikable in all the right ways. Also Rhys crying on Sasha is one of the cutest, sweetest moments I've seen in a video game ever.

8. Her Story

Yeah, the actual plot is kinda dumb/far fetched, but this game does two amazing things. It fully leverages the UI design to give you a powerfully immersive sense of place, and it builds the narrative in a wholly unique manner only possible in a video game. I am extremely satisfied.

7. Fallout 4

Settlements! They're so janky and busted but I can't stop building settlements! I'm not even good at it! Also I love having a real excuse to loot literally everything. I think I have close to 300k caps now and I don't even know what I could ever spend it on. Curie is great. Piper is great. They are my waifus.

(GB image compression is a bummer, source file here)

Why yes, I am firing a chaingun from a ship on top of a skyscraper while wearing hot-rod pink power armor. Thanks for noticing!
Why yes, I am firing a chaingun from a ship on top of a skyscraper while wearing hot-rod pink power armor. Thanks for noticing!

6. Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate

If I had more time to play this game it would probably be higher on the list, but that doesn't doesn't diminish the fact that it was an incredible evolution of the MH formula that managed to bring many new players to a franchise that I love dearly. Also I feel completely justified buying two different giant strap-on devices for my 3DS to get the interface as close to the "claw" grip as possible.

5. Starcraft II: Legacy of the Void

What a perfectly fitting end for the trilogy. Blizzard takes their galactic soap opera and cranks the melodrama to 11 and it is glorious. Kerrigan literally turns into Phoenix and Raynor maybe commits suicide (I mean obviously not it's Blizz but what if!?!?)? John de Lancie chews the scenery with his reverse-echo voice like nobody's business and you get AoE Voidrays. Also from what I hear it is a much better eSport than HotS was although I haven't had a chance to check out the new season of GSL yet.

4. Soma

I literally beat the game this morning. Did I mention I hate horror games? Circling back to the existential dread for a bit, Soma hits on all of the issues I've had with digital transference of consciousness in sci-fi narratives and actually makes me feel a bit more grimy about Talos Principle and Fallout 4 (and Naruto. Naruto is really fucked up if you think about it. Kage Bunshin no Jutsu is a mass murder every time). Even if all the parts with monsters were majorly anti-fun, they were never punishing enough to deter me from pushing on to the next narrative bit where things became even more gross and twisted and I got to fumble my way around some other future technology thing.

3. Life Is Strange

I just have one question: To all the people out there complaining about the dialogue in Life Is Strange, how many of you have spent enough time around teens from the Pacific Northwest to authoritatively know how they talk nowadays? Also what is your home address and the police are on their way.

2. The Beginner's Guide

Remember how I praised Her Story for delivering its narrative in a uniquely video gamey way? The Beginner's Guide is that x100. By incorporating himself into the experience, Davey Wreden strings us along by building expectations and subsequently subverting them in the most devious ways as he pulls us through the twists and turns of his darkening monologue.

1. Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain

This game is weird.

How do you take a traditionally 6-10 hour game narrative and stretch it across 80+ hours of gameplay? I guess in the case of MGSV, you don't, and there's definitely a thinness to the story that makes it feel like something was lost from what most people think of as a "good" Metal Gear.

But none of that really matters when the game is so unbelievably fun to play. MGSV does 3D stealth in a way that, most importantly, is far more fair than previous games in the genre, and as a result the game is much more enjoyable. The shooting is solid enough to keep the action manageable when things get dicey, but there are so many ways to approach each mission and so many tools at your disposal that you are completely empowered to turn every location into a ghost town by strapping balloons to the backs of all your enemies. And gun emplacements. And tanks. And bears?

Which isn't to say that the narrative is bad, just a bit sparse and maybe trading in some of the gleeful insanity of the older games in order to maintain its dire tone. But stun-knife D-Dog is amazing. Also Quiet is amazing (although it felt a bit weird the way she kept shoving her ass in front of the camera whenever my family was around). And that ending. Oh man, between that and the incredible strength of the gameplay, I am super duper duper bummed out about what seems to be the future (or lack thereof) of the franchise.

If I don't get a game from V's perspective during the events of MG1 & 2, Konami will feel ashamed of their words & deeds.

So bummed!

GotY!

You're all diamonds
You're all diamonds

13 Comments

Evo2016: Too Many Games/Not Enough Evo

On November 1, the folks at Canada Cup aired the trailer for Evo2016. It was mostly sizzle, but the few bits of steak we got told us two things: that Evo will continue running as a three-day event (July 15-17) still being held somewhere in Las Vegas. It sounds like business as usual, but as the dust settled on Evo2015 there were some rumblings about the possibility of moving to a larger venue (the Bally's could barely contain us this year) and extending the already packed event to run an additional day, Thursday-Sunday, to help accommodate the numerous growing competitive scenes and make room for the new fighting game releases slated for early-mid 2016.

Then the dates dropped, followed by this tweet from Joey Cuellar (AKA MrWizard), admin for Shoryuken.com and Evo showrunner:

Of course nothing is near to set-in-stone at this point, but the notion of trying to limit Evo2016 to seven games means a lot of worthy entrants are going be left by the wayside. Here are what I see as the contenders in alphabetical order:

BlazBlue: Central Fiction

The newest iteration of BlazBlue is hitting the Japanese arcades in a couple days and seems likely for a 2016 release on consoles. While BB was responsible for one of the hypest matches of Evo2014, it seems unlikely that it will be able to develop enough momentum to overtake its sister series, Guilty Gear, by the time Evo2016 rolls around. And in an Evo with only seven games, it seems really unlikely that we'll have two airdasher games.

Guilty Gear Xrd -Revelator-

Giantbomb's Best-Looking Game of 2014 is going strong, even if Kazunoko insists that America is free (or did he? I think he did). As the biggest airdasher in America, and with the -Revelator- update already out in Japan and coming to consoles soonish maybe GG sounds like a shoe-in. After all, it's the game that got us on Sports Center. Even if BB:CF is going to be the (slightly) newer hotness, I can't see it overtaking GG in popularity or demand.

Killer Instinct (Season 3)

KI is a tough one. Obviously belonging to the house of Dave Lang is a huge plus for any GB fan, but it simply hasn't been there in terms of numbers comparatively speaking. It's unfortunate because KI has consistently had some of the most interesting character designs in fighting game history, particularly in season 2, and season 3 is coming just around the corner. What if Rash is out in time for Evo!? Between secret Japanese tech and one of the stupidest comebacks in fighting game history, I'll personally be really sad if it doesn't make it back for 2016.

The King of Fighters XIV

It's slated for a 2016 release but it's unclear whether or not that's going to happen before or after Evo. A lot has been said about the visual direction of the game, but in the end what really matters is how it plays. (People still play MKX after all o_O.) KoF has made several strong showings at past Evos and their unique take on the 3v3 system helps foster many unique, hype-filled situations. That said, the US KoF scene has never been very strong and SNK only seems to be further alienating their players with the loss of those gorgeous sprite animations from KoFXII and XIII.

Mortal Kombat X

As the biggest western fighting game, it's hard to imagine Evo2016 without MKX. Now that the folks at NRS have cooled it a bit with their balance patching and allowed the game to breathe, there has been a ton of diversity in playstyles and character choices at tournaments. The warring factions aspect between team Yomi and Sonic Fox plus the beastly players from Europe always makes for compelling storylines. Plus it's the only game to have a player lose a FT10 exhibition match 0-13. There will be new DLC characters coming next year so we'll have to see if they're going to continue the trend of releasing character that are busted/OP or maybe they've learned their lesson and we won't have a repeat of the Tanya army. I mean, sure they've made the same mistake like 15 times now between four different games, but maybe?

Pokkén Tournament

Alright, I'll be honest, I don't know much about this game other than the fact that it's coming out Q2 next year, it's some weird Pokemon/Tekken mashup, and it's being backed by Nintendo so they could end up making a big push for it in the FGC. I mean, they probably won't, but they could.

But they won't.

Street Fighter V

The game. This is what Capcom is going to be pushing next year for the Capcom Cup basically guaranteeing it the premier spot next Evo. Less informed viewers from all around the world will be able to wonder "what happened to Chun-Li's boobs" and "how is Mika not constantly falling out of her costume?". Will the return to a more footsies/reads-based style and lower execution barrier signal the return of American greats like Alex Valle and Mike Watson? Will Daigo just be unstoppable? How will Cammy players survive without set-play? Will everyone just end up playing Dhalsim? Also by then there should be at least 4 DLC characters and maybe even I will enter if I make it out there. I can't wait ahhhhhhhhh!

Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS and Wii U (4)

If any game is going to get two entries in Evo2016, it's going to be Smash. Smash 4 has been going strong with expanded character diversity in top-8s. With Zero's insane 53-tournament win streak finally ended by Nairo, everyone is looking better and better at the game. But what about customs mannn?

Super Smash Bros. Melee

It's crazy but Melee is still somehow getting bigger. Honestly, if it weren't for Street Fighter's pro-tour status, I wouldn't have been surprised to see it supplanted by Melee as the marquee game at Evo2015. The five gods of Smash have also been finding the fight to top 8 harder and harder as the community around them continues to level up their skills. Hopefully Leffen figures out his visa issues soon. We need more of that hair.

Tekken 7

Tekken 7 is doing its best to keep the torch for 3D fighters from burning out. It's hard to say where things stand with this game in regards to Evo2016. We don't even know if it will be out on console by then, and with Pokken for Wii U coming will Namco want to make the effort to bring the arcade boards out here again, especially with Tekken evangelist MarkMan ending his tenure with MadCatz? With this year's Namco Cup happening almost entirely in Japan, it's real hard to gauge whether they're seeing the success they want and if they'll be interested in expanding more globally next year to something more akin to the Capcom Cup. If they do, then I'd expect a slot at Evo to be a certainty.

Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3

Mahvel lives! No seriously, between Frank West winning a major that included FChamp and RayRay and all the amazing work Samantha Hancock (AKA Persia) has been doing on the periphery of the scene, Marvel has never seemed stronger. Everyone is good at Marvel now which makes it an incredibly beautiful game to watch with blindingly fast character movement and the tension in knowing that even the most random stray hit can transform itself into a character-killing combo. I know a lot of people dislike the game because of TAC infinites or just how confusing it can be to watch if you're not familiar with the mechanics, but I'm going to be super angry if UMvC3 doesn't make it back in 2016.

Ultra Street Fighter IV

The King is dead, long live the King. Look, in an 8 or 9-game Evo I would love love LOVE to have USFIV there. Justin Wong is finally getting back to his roots with Elena and everyone is just so fucking good at this game now. There are going to be 32 players at Capcom Cup this year and I can't even begin to imagine how insane that is going to be. Few competitive games have had the luxury of time and strength of community necessary to reach this level of skill across such a broad selection of competitors. But the fact remains that SFV is going to be the CapCup game next year and unlike Melee and Smash 4, the crossover in players between USFIV and SFV is likely to be far closer to 100%. Maybe we can get a cool invitational exhibition between past Evo champions at the MadCatz booth or something, but unless Evo expands its scope in 2016 I think that USFIV is going to need to be one of the more painful omissions.

So there you have it, the games that seem to at least be somewhat in contention for one of those coveted Evo spots. I think I'll go ahead and make a poll thread too but I'd be curious to know what your thoughts are. Which games do you want to see in the lineup? Which games do you not want to see? Is there anything that I missed? Here are my personal picks, although I think that omitting Smash 4 is actually crazy and impossible and that sadly KI probably should be the one to go.

Here's a cool bonus video where Gerald from Core-A Gaming talks about the three fighting game player archetypes as theorized by ex-Infiltration BFF Laugh.

43 Comments