Saturday, December 24, 2016

IGE's Ten Favorite Games of 2016

2016 is almost over, and that means it's time to look back at the games that stood out, that stuck with me for various reasons. I actually played quite a few more AAA games this year, due to finally getting a PS4, so this list does feature several non-indie picks, but that's only because they were just that good. 

So here's my ten favorite games of year, in no particular order, along with a few honorable mentions. 


Hitman is something rare and special: an honest-to-god comeback, a return-to-form that sets the bar for all future returns-to-form. From a game that made one question if IO had forgotten what made the series special, that altered many of the series' unique features in baffling ways, to a sleek game that pushes the Hitman series to new heights.

But even putting all that aside, Hitman is a triumph of game design, with sprawling clockwork sandboxes just waiting for you to poke and prod and manipulate, each one heavy with atmosphere and clever story vignettes, with so many ways to approach each mission that a single one can last you a dozen hours, and a huge amount of additional content that challenges your assassination prowess in new ways. This is the sequel I've been waiting a decade for.

At a glance, one might question what exactly makes Inside so special. Its visuals seem muted and dull, strip away everything and it's a game of mostly traversing right and solving environmental puzzles, it's a game where the only controls are move, jump, and grab. But Inside can't be fully appreciated at a glance; it must be played to understand its excellence.

Inside is a bleak crescendo of a cinematic platformer, every aspect building upon the other until its incredible finale. The animations, how the boy stumbles and struggles, how he looks with nervous glances or hunches over in tense fear. The aesthetic, rife with countless details and a cohesive palette that accentuates the game's depressing dystopian tone. The sound design, from the subtle heartbeat of a soundtrack to the boy's hurried breathing when stealth shifts to desperate pursuit. Everything coalesces to create an oppressive miasma of unease and tension, where you never feel safe, where every mistake is met with quick ruthless death, and its lean puzzle design is always driving you forward to more haunting imagery and more surreal discoveries.

The Last Guardian
I liked Ico, and I loved Shadow of the Colossus, so I had high expectations when I started The Last Guardian. And somehow, Ueda's vision was able to surpass them. This is an incredible journey of friendship told not through cutscenes or prose, but the medium's most unique element: interactivity. No doubt many great stories in gaming have been conveyed through audio logs and expert writing and compelling voice actors, but The Last Guardian tells the story of boy and beast through gameplay, through Trico's groundbreaking animations, through your petting and cleaning of feathers and removal of spears, through the desperate saves from certain death and the graceful leaps through this world's mysterious architecture.

From that foundation emerges a cinematic platformer that pushes boundaries on myriad fronts: playable set-pieces that rival Naughty Dog's work, tense platforming over vertigo-inducing heights, smart puzzles driven by cooperation, and an gripping ending that won't soon be forgotten

Titanfall 2
My eyes were opened to the joys of online multiplayer this year, first with Overwatch and Rocket League. then Battlefield 1 and Rainbow Six Siege. But I've played one shooter more than all of them, and that game was Titanfall 2. It's a demanding game, where quick reflexes and deft wall-running are your ultimate advantage, so it took a while for me to gain the skills to not get slaughtered. But with practice comes precision, and with precision comes some of the most intense and entertaining action I've enjoyed in a long time. There's nothing quite like wall-running past a missile salvo between warring titans, or sliding around a corner to cut down an incoming enemy, or grapple-hooking an ejecting pilot to deliver a killing mid-air blow. It's fast, furious, skillful, where a typical match can produce awesome emergent set-piece moments.

But those awesome set pieces aren't reserved to multiplayer, because Titanfall 2 also comes with one of coolest FPS campaigns in a while, a lean series of missions that shifts from one cool concept and encounter to the next, all wrapped in the stylish skillful parkour and combat that defines the series.

The narrative adventure has seen a renaissance since Telltale revitalized it with The Walking Dead way back in 2012. From Dontnod's Life Is Strange to the historical 1979 Revolution, their influence has been undeniable. But while they may be the originator, Oxenfree is the innovator. Harkening back to the Spielbergian adventures of the 80s, this tale of friends on an island where dark forces lurk pushes the genre forward in wonderful ways. Its walk-and-talk mechanic allows for the kind of pacing that Telltale games and their ilk could never do, letting you make tough dialogue choices without breaking away from regular gameplay. And that dialogue is so natural, flows so smoothly, with interjections and interruptions and whatnot, a far cry from the turn-based style of conversation seen in everything from Mass Effect to Fables. Finally Night School found a clever way to do a New Game Plus within the confines of a narrative adventure, giving you another reason to revisit these likeable characters and atmospheric locales.

It's the most innovative shooter I've played in years. No really, clever joke aside, it is. SuperHOT takes the one hit kills and limited ammo and encroaching enemies on all sides of Hotline Miami, and makes it a pseudo-turn-based action puzzler through its core time-moves-when-you-move mechanic. That simple idea changes everything. It's a game of minimalism and restraint, more time spent side-stepping bullets and planning your next move than attacking. Those methodical minutes-long sequences of time-slowed action only last mere seconds in real time. Every moment is one of careful movement, since every step by you means danger is one step closer. 

The combat in SuperHOT is the stuff of Hollywood magic, scenes that are usually only reserved for scripted moments and set pieces. You snatch a gun out of the air and spin around to kill the enemies approaching from behind. Point blank shots are negated by a katana slicing the bullet in half. You weave between bullets with effortless ease. It's a low-poly dance through a rain of crystalline shards and it never gets old

Stephen’s Sausage Roll
2016 was the year of the puzzler. The Witness, Obduction, SHENZHEN I/O, Recursed, Sethian, Thoth, and more, this year was one with quality puzzle games of all kinds. But none impressed or stumped me as much as Stephen's Sausage Roll. It may not seem like much, a Sokoban-style puzzler with a low-fi aesthetic, but that's where the genius of the games lies. Stephen's Sausage Roll is an ever growing puzzle box of new mechanics, mechanics that were always there, hidden in plain sight through level design alone.

Your basic toolset of rotation and fork is so versatile, allowing for puzzles so satisfyingly diverse and tricky, it is astounding to think back to how the early puzzles were only about rotating and pushing sausages with your fork. This is an ingenious work of level design and clever puzzles that should not be missed.

House of the Dying Sun
At one point, House of the Dying Sun was a bigger game, an ambitious sprawling Mount-and-Blade-style campaign with procedural factions and an open map. But instead the finished game is a lean collection of hand-crafted missions, polished and distilled to focus on one thing: combat. Combat is House of the Dying Sun's core element, each mission dropping you into a volatile situation and asking you to seamlessly manage both intense dogfighting from your interceptor cockpit and fleet tactics from the macro RTS view. No map to travel, no trading or hangars to buy a better fleet, no smaller jobs to build up your reputation, just relentless combat where positioning and expert flight is key to survival.

But it would remiss to not single out House of the Dying Sun's stellar sound design. The audio makes the game. The muted rumble and thuds of your weapons. The rasp of your oxygen mask. The tinny chatter of your wingmen, The mechanical whir when you reload or switch weapons. The sound design draws you into the combat, gives every action an immersive and atmospheric reaction

Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun
You know a game is going to be good when a demo shifts your expectations from "Huh, seems interesting" to "I need to keep playing, please release already". In an ideal world, Shadow Tactics will be for real-time Commandos-style tactics what Divinity was for CRPGs. Polished to a mirror sheen, this is a game of weaving through vision cones, of carefully planning out precisely timed distractions and executions, of managing all your of team's special skills and abilities to overcome seemingly impossible odds. A single mission can last 2-3 hours, as you plan and study and observe and act and react and quick-save like a madman. This is one of the best stealth games of 2016, and the best Commandos-like in a long time.

Michael Brough's games have often hinged on the dichotomy of simple on the outside and surprisingly deep within, a lo-fi aesthetic contrasted by challenging strategy. His latest game Imbroglio is no different; it plays like a distant cousin of his previous roguelike 868-Hack, with a focus on positioning and smart use of your abilities, but expanded exponentially and offering surprising complexity.

Imbroglio is many things. It's a roguelike, as you tactically use different skills and turn-based movement to outlast increasingly challenging groups of enemies. It's a card game, with each class having unique skills and limitations that define the kind of deck you can build. And it's a board game, as you use those cards to build the floor of the board itself, carefully considering synergy between abilities and your health and mana and where enemies will enter the arena. Imbroglio is the kind of simple-to-play yet surprisingly complex game that you'll often find on mobile, and one of the best roguelikes the platform has to offer.

Honorable Mentions:

I've never played anything like Sethian. Essentially Arrival: The Game, it's a narrative adventure/linguistic puzzler that challenges you to learn how to read and communicate in an alien language. Wholly unique and very clever

I'd place the physics-driven platforming and slick smooth controls of the original N up there with games like Super Meat Boy as one of the forefathers of the indie precision platformer, and N++ is the culmination of 12 years of refinement on that original game, with thousands of smartly-designed stages that wringe diverse platforming challenges from a simple moveset.

Devil Daggers
If DOOM was the modern update of the old-school shooter, Devil Daggers is the other side of the coin, distilling the genre to its leanest form. You, your weapon, an arena, a cacophonous onslaught of eldritch horrors, now survive. An oppressive symphony of distorted shrieks, skittering legs, guttural roars, echoing moans brings to life a bestiary of bone and flesh and too many appendages. Devil Daggers' sound design is some of the best you'll hear this year

The most intense, most satisfying, and most draining test of reflexes since Super Hexagon, Thumper is equal parts simplicity and excess, easy-to-understand but challenging-to-master gameplay within a sensory overload of movement, color, and sound. If Super Hexagon was hypnotic in its shifting twisting geometric minimalism, then Thumper is 2001's mesmerizing mindfuck given metal life.

The Witness
Jonathan Blow's seven-years-in-the-making magnus opus is a puzzle game masterpiece, a vibrant Myst-like that wordlessly teaches you to understand its expansive repertoire of mechanics

You are not a one-man army. You are a god of death, a bringer of ruin and slaughter to the forces of hell. They fear you and rightfully so, as you unleash unstoppable fury upon them through relentlessly fast first-person shooter action

Thursday, October 13, 2016

PC Review #153: Thumper

Title: Thumper
Developer: Drool
Platforms: PC, PS4
Price: $19.99
Would it be hyperbole to say that Thumper is the most intense, most satisfying, and most draining test of reflexes since Super Hexagon? Much like Terry Cavanagh's infamously challenging arcade game, Thumper is equal parts simplicity and excess, easy-to-understand but challenging-to-master gameplay within a sensory overload of movement, color, and sound. If Super Hexagon was hypnotic in its shifting twisting geometric minimalism, then Thumper is 2001's mesmerizing mind@!%$ given metal life.
From the first section of its nine levels to its last hellish stage, Thumper hurls you into a kaleidoscopic tempest, your chrome beetle racing along twisting tracks and claustrophobic tunnels as eldritch beings of light and metal twist and unfurl within the void. It's a visual gut punch of an experience, that I can only imagine is enhanced to eye-bleeding levels in VR. But even with headphones and a regular screen, Thumper's intensity is peerless.

Imagine those classic inputs of a Guitar Hero or Rock Band - tap and hold to the beat at the right time - and you can grasp Thumper. Strip away the speed and visual chaos, and Thumper is as easy to understand as those games. Thump down on markers, turn and grind against the turns, hover over spikes and through rings. Even as more elements and nuances are introduced, the game remains a mechanically lean test of focus and reflex.
Success in Thumper is draining, exhausting, exhilarating. Like some cyberpunk birdcall, you answer the music's beat with every shockwave of your thumps and spraying sparks of grinds, until you're conditioned to react to each signal and tone with practiced skill. Success requires you to act on the fine line between focus and near-clairvoyant intuition, that zone and flow that the best in the genre let you enter.

Success in Thumper is tactile and physical in ways that few games can tout. You feel every thump, every slam into a turn, every missed beat. Your fingers hurt, you feel your heart thumping in your chest, your vision is locked on the road ahead, you twist and duck in sync with the serpentine track. Thumper is a chemical reaction in game form; every action has a reaction, that flares and explodes and flashes and shatters in response.
I've never been able to get into the music/rhythm genre. Even my favorite - Crypt of the Necrodancer - is enjoyed more for its clever roguelike design than its music game elements. But that's only a testament to Thumper's masterful design and audiovisual hellscape. It's one of those special games that can cross genre lines and even appeal to those who wouldn't normally be interested. Moving to the rhythm has never been this relentless and satisfying.

Thumper is available to purchase on Steam,, and Playstation.

Monday, October 10, 2016

PC Review #152: Thoth

Title: Thoth
Developer: Carlsen Games
Platforms: PC, Mac
Price: $9.99
Your typical dual stick shooter is all about chaos. Victory comes from overwhelming non-stop firepower and evading waves and hordes like a madman. Erase your enemies from the screen as fast and fiercely as possible. From Geometry Wars and Assault Android Cactus to Binding of Isaac, relentless offense is the best defense. Not firing only gives your enemies time to surround and corner.

Thoth is nothing like that. Sure, you have an effective means of attack - a dual-stream of bullets - and can weave and dodge with ease, and there are fierce enemies that crowd the screen, but relentless firepower will only hasten your destruction.
Much like Carlsen's previous effort 140, Thoth is an exercise in minimalism. It's dual stick shooter distilled, from your single attack to the stark aesthetic and single-screen rectangular arenas. Your vessel is a mere circle, your enemies an array of other shapes. There are no upgrades or power-ups or loadouts or other complexities of the sort.

From this foundation, instead Thoth laser-focuses on the gameplay and exploring its mechanics. It's a game without a tutorial, where you learn through play rather than text. Your movement and shooting are the tools that teach you how enemies behave, and thus every new enemy and mechanic evokes a moment of tension, another unknown variable to master and overcome.
But once you do understand the varied actions of your geometric foes, you realize that Thoth is not exactly a shooter. It's a puzzler, and shooting and movement are how you solve these spatial conundrums. When to shoot, where you shoot from, which enemy you shoot at, in what order, all must be considered. Your circular ships moves faster when not firing, and each enemy requires sustained fire to drain them from existence, so positioning and timing are perhaps the most important aspects to assess while playing Thoth.

Positioning becomes much more critical when you realize that the arena itself is linked with the enemies you face. From changing the available space to swapping the barriers that divide the stage, killing an enemy can hinder rather than help if done at the wrong time and place. Mindlessly firing without considering your location will more than likely see your ship trapped and cornered. Across the game's 64 levels, you're constantly introduced to twists and elements, forcing you to adapt regularly and wringing surprising variety from a seemingly simple format. may be a misnomer to say you kill enemies in this game. Enough bullets, and your colorful foes become structures of negative space, empty portholes into endless abyss beyond the arena, that pursue you even more aggressively. It's yet another puzzle piece to consider while dodging and weaving. Thoth's otherworldly droning soundtrack complements the imagery of that cold void wonderfully,

Much like the abyss hidden behind its minimal aesthetic, Thoth's distilled approach to the dual-stick genre hides a unique action puzzler behind the veneer of hectic shooter. You can purchase Thoth on Steam and Humble.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Screenshot Saturday - 10/8/16

Title: Dystoria
Developer: Tri-Coastal Games
DYSTORIA, a 6-axis space shooter with an 80’s arcade vibe. DYSTORIA is a diabolical zero-g space labyrinth in which you are trapped as an experiment. DYSTORIA combines a unique style of 6-axis gameplay with action packed space battles, stunning visuals and mind-bending level design all backed by an original 80’s style synthwave soundtrack.
Title: Earth's Dawn
Developer: Dracue Software
Packed with super-fast sci-fi action, Earth’s Dawn offers 2D side-scrolling gameplay in a beautiful hand-drawn style. Combat is intuitive, but deceptively deep with combos, finishers and rankings after enemy encounters all adding depth to the game, while RPG-style skill trees, equipment crafting and character evolution open up things even further.
Title: Type Knights
Developer: Type Knights team
A casual RPG with simple text commands controls
Title: Grave Danger
Developer: JB Gaming
Grave Danger is a 2D sidescrolling adventure game about utilizing unique characters to solve puzzles and stay alive. Run, jump, float, shoot, and scythe your way through puzzles involving teamwork and precision! Alternate between each hero: Dante the cowboy, Elliot the wizard, and Malice the reaper.
Title: Slime-San
Developer: Fabraz
Slime-San was minding his own business, sliming around in a peaceful forest when suddenly…A giant worm appeared and gobbled him up! Now deep within the worm’s belly, Slime-san has to face a decision: Be digested by the incoming wall of stomach acid... Or jump, slide and slime his way through the worms intestines and back out its mouth!

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

PC Review #151: Clustertruck

Title: Clustertruck
Developer: Landfall Games
Platforms: PC, Mac, Linux, PS4
Price: $14.99
Clustertruck is an exercise in simplicity. Strip everything away, and you're left with a frantic game of first person platforming across a dynamically shifting path. It's how developer Landfall Games builds upon that foundation that Clustertruck truly impresses, delivering a chaotic rush of aerial acrobatics, insane wrecks, and unpredictable levels.
In this self-described "truckformer", every stage begins the same way: you, on top of a truck, amid a convoy of similar trucks driving forward. For a split second, all is calm...and then Clustertruck's brand of chaos ensues. Drivers weave and crash, trucks tumble and jackknife and barrel onwards with reckless abandon. Somewhere up ahead lies your goal, and you must navigate these high-speed pile-ups to reach it. That alone would be a satisfying challenge, as you leap off trucks in mid-air, wall-jump off siding, and truck-surf through the chaos. The dynamic nature of the convoys makes success a matter of a keen eye and fast reflexes, as you use any truck-based surface to maintain your forward momentum.

But Clustertruck's levels aren't asphalt straightaways. Across themed worlds that range from steampunk to sci-fi, these levels are mad gauntlets of hazards and chasms and multi-tiered environments. Massive hammers smash trucks into the void. Lasers and barriers force you to evade with precision. Huge drops send you plummeting to roadways far below, aligning your descent to land atop more trucks. Gravity wells send trucks and yourself flying across levels, long soaring seconds of airtime that often challenge you to leap from truck to truck.
It's this variety in dangers, terrain, and level design that turns Clustertruck's already-intense style of first-person traversal into a wild test of platforming prowess. Every level and region introduces something new, be it a shift in how levels are designed or some new obstacle, sometimes for only a single stage.

Death is frequent but rarely frustrating, since instant restarts and relatively short stages let you quickly get into a flow of "try again and improve" on even the most hectic levels. But once you've survived the game's 90 levels, what other challenges could await a truckformer-ing master? Speedrunning and earning points by pulling off tricky maneuvers is one avenue, but more importantly is the collection of skills and abilities waiting to be unlocked, that completely change your approach to your levels.
Slow-motion alone grants you more precision and air control to deftly dodge and stick landings, the grappling hook lets you latch onto trucks and the scenery to zip forward, and unlocks like the jetpack and double jump drastically increase the distances you can leap. Additional unlocks turn the game into a truck-filled version of SuperHOT where time is linked to your movement or add additional explosions and danger for a score multiplier.

It's choosing your loadout of unlocks that flip Clustertruck on its head. Leaping from truck to truck is crazy enough, but hooking on a truck as it tumbles through the air then slowing time to leap off the truck with perfect precision to reach the end of a level is another level of satisfaction. It combines the fast-paced traversal with an element of experimentation that changes how you look at the level architecture and truck placement. Trucks in mid-air are grapple anchor points, a tunnel lets you bounce a truck spawn pellet down the track, and so on.
Clustertruck takes such a simple premise and just wrings every possibility from it, as truck-surfing evolves into daring leaps over missiles as those trucks fly across huge gaps. If the developer's levels are this insane, one can only imagine what kind of gauntlets the community will create through the in-game editor.

Clustertruck is available on Steam, GOG, and the Playstation Store. The game is coming to Xbox One soon.

Friday, September 16, 2016

PC Review #150: Flat Heroes

Title: Flat Heroes
Developer: Parallel Circles
Platforms: PC, Mac, Linux
Price: $14.99
The wave of local multiplayer games have been washing onto the PC and consoles shores for quite some time now. From Nidhogg and Samurai Gunn to Push Me Pull You and Overcooked, there's no shortage of titles in that vein. A few offer modes and gameplay for the solo player - Towerfall Ascension and Inversus to name a few - but Flat Heroes offers the best of both worlds, a finely-tuned evasive platformer featuring a sizable amount of modes for both single and multiplayer.

Flat Heroes is one of those games where its polish and style is evident straight from the menu, as its clean minimalist screens smoothly shift between menus and level selections. The set-up is simple: an acrobatic square, in ever-shifting single-screen gauntlets, don't get hit. Of course, that last part often isn't so easy. For solo player, you start in Waves mode, distinct stages and boss fights that wrings smartly-designed challenges from the game's varied hazards. From screen-filling rectangles that threaten to crush you against the walls, to swarms of homing rockets and bubbles, to ricocheting triangles that streak across the screen in a frenetic hailstorm of color, each hazard is a new test of your platforming prowess. 

Thankfully, your square's agility is more than enough to handle Flat Heroes' dangerous onslaught. With simple hops, wall clinging, and air dashes, you can leap and tumble through levels with ease and precision. The controls are perfectly balanced to always make you feel in control, but with enough fluidity to feel reckless and tense as you just barely dodge over incoming swarms or outrun a laser grid.
Flat Heroes rewards your progress through Waves with new color palettes and more importantly new game modes that cleverly twist the core foundations precise evasion and agile movement. Battle is a geometric take on deathmatch where you dash through enemies, while Runner and Catch are Flat Heroes' versions of capture the flag (with a slight dual stick shooter angle as Runner lets you shoot projectiles). Each is a hectic rush of close calls and exploding squares, and can all be played against the AI if friends aren't around.

Flat Heroes's minimalist platforming is currently on Early Access, with more modes and levels planned in future updates. But as is, the game already shines, through its responsive agile gameplay and slickly-designed aesthetic. You can purchase Flat Heroes on Steam

Thursday, July 21, 2016

The Watchlist: Astroneer

Title: Astroneer
Platforms: PC
Fall 2016
A game of aerospace industry and interplanetary exploration
Between Starbound, Elite: Dangerous, Evochron Legacy, and of course the upcoming No Man's Sky, those looking for procedurally-generated space exploration have a wealth of games to scratch that itch. Astroneer is another game to watch, promising gorgeous low-poly landscapes to explore and survive. 

Alone or with friends, Astroneer's worlds will be a challenge to conquer. While there's no combat, there will be hazards, and often the greatest one is nature itself. Looming clouds of dust on the horizon mean a sandstorm is coming your way, bringing strong winds that can tear your structures apart. Unstable terrain can cave in as you dig underground. Acid rain and other inclement weather, as well as dangerous flora and fauna such as hungry sand worms entrenched in the dunes, make surviving in Astroneer a taxing endeavor.
But not an impossible endeavor: through research, crafting technology, and planning, your traveler will be able to brave the storms and other dangers. Guidelines and tethers help you not get lost as you explore and keep you from getting blow away by the storm gusts. Using terraforming technology, you can carve barriers and shelters from the deformable terrain and tunnel deep into a planet's depths.

Research is important not just for survival but for profit. You're not braving these conditions and dangers for fun, but to extract materials and make money. As you gather funds, new equipment becomes available, from rovers and trailers to crane-armed diggers and automated rail systems, to spacecraft that allow you to leave one world and travel to countless others.
Astroneer is slated to release on Steam Early Access this fall. You can learn more about the game on its website and Twitter page.