What it's like playing Destiny

I think Ben Kuchera over at Polygon said it best. 

A low score doesn’t mean the game has no value, and I’ve found myself excited about going in for another round or two every night, despite of the large number of ways the game fails to live up to its own basic potential. I can’t defend Destiny against its many critics, because they’re accurately describing the many, many ways the game falls on its face. That being said, I’m having a pretty decent time with this particular 6 out of 10.
— Ben Kuchera, Polygon

I really like playing Destiny, despite it almost aggressively trying to be unlikable in the story department. For reasons I can't comprehend, everything important in the game is named with the exact same naming convention of "the Noun." I guess it's supposed to sound weighty and serious, but it mostly comes off sounding like Halo fan fiction, written by a 14 year old with an extremely limited vocabulary. Also, Peter Dinklage sounds like he'd rather have been anywhere else while recording lines for this game. 

And yet I want to cut this post short so I can get back to playing it. Because it's fun. Personally I'll take shooting aliens with laser guns over shooting virtual people with recreations of real life weaponry any day (that whole mixture of glorification of American gun culture and ooh-rah military bravado that Call of Duty and Battlefield traffic in really rubs me the wrong way, but that's a blog for another day). 

I don't think the reviews are too harsh. I'd give this game a 7 out of 10, but that's fine. A great story would have been fantastic, but just the sheer fun of shootin-n-lootin is doing it for me right now. I'm excited to see what the game becomes as both Bungie and Activision seem quite committed to it lasting a long time (and raking in a boatload of cash). Go play it!

Twenty Under Twenty (11-20)

Since the Steam sale is on in full force, I thought I'd put the rest of my Twenty Under Twenty list up, just in case you want to grab any of these on sale. Don't forget to check out 1-5 and 6-10.

11. Thomas Was Alone


This one technically came out in 2012, but didn’t reach more platforms till 2013. Thomas Was Alone is a puzzle platformer with an incredibly simple visual style—you literally play as a rectangle, square and other shapes. But it’s the narration, heartfelt story, and beautiful music that make it worth experiencing. The longer I played, the more I wanted to barrel through the puzzles to hear the next bit of story, which turned out to be an endearing sort of sci-fi tale. The wonderful piano and synth soundtrack is on regular rotation in my writing music playlist.


12. Antichamber


This trippy first person puzzle game will break your brain. The stark visuals and Escher-like room layouts force you to look at typical puzzles in new ways. It’s a confusing, confounding, brilliant game, that makes you feel incredibly smart, and shockingly stupid in equal measure. If you liked Portal, Portal 2, or Quantum Conundrum, you’ll love Antichamber.


13. Gunpoint


Gunpoint is a game with purpose. It introduces you to the mechanics, sets up a silly spy-for-hire story, and sets you about the business of breaking and entering. It wraps up in about three hours, not a minute longer than it needs to be, which is actually really refreshing. The witty, playful writing carries you between missions filled with hacking, super jumping and more than a bit of face punching. A surprisingly poignant and interesting ending made me want to immediately play the game over again.


14. Warframe


Warframe is technically under $20 because it’s free to play. I haven’t put any money in it, but I’d say it’s well worth a twenty. Take the co-op, objective-based multiplayer of Mass Effect 3, and mix it with cyber ninjas and item crafting, and you get WarFrame. It’s nice to see a free-to-play game that puts you on the same side as your fellow players. It eliminates the pay-to-win issues that plague competitive free-to-play games. The game has seen quite a few updates over the year, and with its launch on the Playstation 4, it doesn’t seem to be slowing down.


15. Don’t Starve


Don’t Starve wears its objective in its name. Your goal is simply to stay alive in a harsh Tim Burton-esque world filled with randomly generated monsters, ghosts, and pig men. Like Minecraft, you can craft things from other things, while building and discovering ever-more elaborate recipes for items like brick walls, torches, lights, and mystic cursed relics. There’s a ton of stuff to discover and an endless amount of replay value, plus it runs in a browser (Chrome) if you want to play it on the go.


16. Rayman Fiesta Run


Yeah, I’m including a phone game, so what. Fiesta Run is even better than the previous game, Jungle Run, thanks to a better structure, cool power ups, and an extremely challenging end game. Rayman runs through stages on his own, it’s your job to jump, punch and glide around and through obstacles. It sounds simple, but requires precise timing and quick reflexes, especially if you want to collect all 100 lums in each level (necessary to unlock the final brutal stages). The absolutely gorgeous hand drawn visuals, the near perfect difficulty curve, and mobile-friendly level elevate Rayman Fiesta Run above “fun for a phone game” to just plain fun.


17. Stealth Bastard Deluxe


Technically another 2012 game, but it saw wider release on more platforms this year (it’s under Stealth Inc on the Playstation Network) with extra levels and features to boot. Stealth Bastard combines the precision platforming of a game like Super Meatboy, with the stealth and light puzzle solving of a 2D Metal Gear. This is a game with pixel art that doesn’t seem as if it’s trying to emulate an old pixel-based game, instead it draws inspiration from more modern games like Splinter Cell and (3D) Metal Gear, with moody lighting and clean lines.


18. Kentucky Route Zero


This episodic adventure game has a quirky sense of humor and a beautiful minimalist art style. The choose-your-own-adventure writing is interesting, though having only played a bit of episode one, I’m not sure how much impact it has on the rest of the game. I’m always a sucker for a cohesive and consistent art style.


19. Monaco


Monaco is one part heist game, one part stealth, and one part Pac-Man. You play as a group of thieves, each with a unique ability, as you navigate around guards, alarms and laser traps on your way to a huge payout. The top-down visuals are simple yet vividly expressive, and the way the darker parts of the map read like a blueprint is both clever and informative. Monaco is fun alone, but really shines with another two or three players. This isn’t a trial and error stealth game, things will go to hell, and it’s usually more fun than frustrating when they do.


20. Gone Home


Gone Home is a very personal tale with granular level of interaction rarely seen in games. Set in the early 90s, you play as a daughter who’s been away traveling and has come home to an empty house. As you search the house for clues—open drawers, peak under beds, sort through papers left on a desk—an interesting and heartfelt story unravels about your family. This game is capital I indie, and not for everyone, but if you’re up for an emotional, intriguing story, check it out. 

The Twenty under Twenty (6-10)

It took a month, but I'm back with more Twenty Under Twenty. Christmas is almost here, and so is the winter Steam sale (where you'll be able to find many of these games for far less, which is a great deal, because they're certainly all worth full price). Here are five more of my favorite twenty games under twenty dollars this year. See the first five here.

6. The Swapper


This puzzle game has a dark and dreary tone and atmosphere, and a beautiful Claymation inspired art style. You play an astronaut on a strange planet, who must use a strange device—the swapper—to navigate the puzzling environment. The swapper creates identical copies of the astronaut, that move in tandem with your own movements. You can switch the astronauts consciousness to the copies to progress through a stage. With clever puzzles, a slightly creepy tone, and some open ended questions on the nature of clones and self-identity, The Swapper is a game that sticks around in your brain.

7. Spelunky


Spelunky is an evil game, in a (mostly) good way. You play as a cave explorer with one goal—make it deeper and deeper into the caves. Each stage is randomly generated and filled to the brim with spike traps, explosives, spiders, snakes, skeletons and more. The best part about Spelunky is the feeling of discovery. The more you play, the more you learn about the environments, enemies and random items you can purchase or find. Yes, you get sent back to square one when you die, but you’re sent back with sweet, sweet knowledge. Maybe you’ll make it farther next time? This game is equal parts frustrating and rewarding, and as good as it is on PC, it’s even better on Vita—the perfect jump in/jump out mobile game.


8. Guacamelee


Another game that’s as great on Vita as it is PC. Guacamelee is a combat-platformer (in the Castlevania style) with a wonderful 2D art style and a great sense of humor. You play a farmer turned wrestler on a quest to rid the world of an evil wizard. This game oozes style, with a refreshingly bright color palette. I bought it for the art alone, and was pleased to find it’s a solid and enjoyable game too. If you play it on PC, you get a few extra challenges and the ability to download custom skins for characters.


9. Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon


Everything about this game is ridiculous. Set in the far flung future of 2007, Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon puts you in the boots of Rex Colt, cyber soldier and all around badass. If you played Far Cry 3, you’ll be up to speed in no time, as Blood Dragon is just a heavily stylized, faster progressing version of that game. The super neon colors, the goofy cyber lingo, and awesome weapons are great. The game breaks the fourth wall often, and the jokes are hit or miss, but the gameplay is solid. You’ll have many of the cool and convenient abilities you had to play hours to get in Far Cry 3 within a few minutes in Blood Dragon. That alone makes it more accessible and fun.


10. The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing


This action RPG is surprisingly deep for a game under $20. You’ll find tons of great loot, an in-depth leveling and skill system, and an entertaining gothic-myth influenced story. The developers recently added controller support, ahead of a supposed console release, which is great if you’re not the type that enjoys click-a-thons. Coming off Diablo 3 on PS3, an absurdly polished  and likely endlessly play-tested game, I was pleasantly surprised with the level of polish in Van Helsing. If you’re in for a stylistic loot grind on PC, and you don’t direct control via gamepad, you can’t go wrong with this one. 

A friendly reminder about video game ratings

Fellow parents: Video games have ratings, just like movies. It's up to you to decide what's appropriate for your kid, but the Entertainment Software Rating Board has a few suggestions.

For example, Grand Theft Auto 5 comes out Tuesday. It's rated M for Mature. That means the content in the game is on par with what you'd see in a rated R movie. If you wouldn't let your 11 year-old watch Pulp Fiction or Scarface you probably shouldn't let them play that game, same goes for any game with an M rating (the rating looks like this). Grand Theft Auto 5 will include scenes of violence, drug use, crime and more (again, much like an R rated crime movie).

The video game industry is currently the whipping boy of the news media, just as violent films, death metal, and comic books were before it. So you might have heard that playing violent video games leads to violent behavior. Truth is, the jury's still out on that one. There aren't any firm, conclusive studies that say little Jason will become a criminal if he plays Grand Theft Auto too young. It probably doesn't help his mind to play that game, but that alone  might not wreck his brain.

So use your best judgement. If you think your kids can handle that stuff, go for it (this kid's parents thought so), but you'll have to buy the game for them--most retailers restrict the sale of M rated games to those under 17, you know, kinda like how most theaters won't let kids under 17 into an R rated movie. 

If you've followed me on any form of social media for longer than a week you can probably tell I'm super into video games. I love playing them, but I also love following the industry, watching it grow, keeping up with the issues it's currently grappling with and more. So if you have a question about a particular game and would like help deciding if it's right for your kids, please ask.  I wouldn't call myself an expert, but I've been paid to play and think critically about games before, so maybe that's worth something to you.

This concludes today's public service announcement. Hooray for responsible parenting!


Here's a quick aside I couldn't fit into my PSA: 

 When I was around 11 or 12 my brothers and I rented Resident Evil from Blockbuster. This was right when the ESRB started rating games, so few retailers enforced them. My mom walked in on a gruesome scene of a zombie devouring a person and immediately made us turn the game off and take it back to Blockbuster. We complained, because we were kids and moms just aren't fair. But now, I'm a parent, and see that was the right thing to do--not so much the action of making us return it, but being involved in what our brains were consuming. Sure, I just went to my friend's house and played it there later that night, but I had nightmares for several days. More importantly, I knew where my parents stood when it came to that sort of game.

These days there are a zillion more games to choose from--meaning I'll have an easier time directing my son away from Resident Evil 9 and toward something more age appropriate. Let me know if you ever need a suggestion.


The Right Kind of Dumb: Thoughts on Injustice

I don’t buy fighting games often, but I had such a great time renting the last Mortal Kombat and I like superheroes, so I bought Injustice. I have no regrets. It’s an awesome game with a solid fighting system, layered with over-the-top costumes and storylines. Playing it makes me feel like I’m watching Doctor Who. It’s so dumb at times that it’s kind of the best thing ever. Here are some more thoughts on the game:

-It looks amazing. The characters are huge, pack a punch, and the stages break apart real good.


-When all the heroes are gathered together in their ridiculously over-designed padded “armor” costumes, calling each other by name, (“Hello Aquaman”) you can’t help but chuckle. Forget the “realism” of the Christopher Nolan Batman movies, or that fact that most of the costumes in the game look to be made of plausible materials. This is straight up Saturday morning, yo-we-got-a-base-on-the-moon comic book goofery. I love it.

-Kryptonian nano technology pills. They make ya strong!

-Evil Superman is awful. Just awful. From his evil motivations, to his stupid evil shoulder-padded costume. Even his thin dumb-looking face. Awful.

-Predictably, the Joker has some of the best lines in the game. He’s fun to play as--his move set and animations are superb. However, his treatment of Harley is more abusive than I’ve ever seen it, which kinda makes me uncomfortable, but I guess it serves to remind you that despite his popularity, he IS a villain.

-Green Arrow has a few good moments too.

-Wonder Woman has GIGANTIC boobs. All of the women do, but hers are all up in your face, and especially cartoonish because she seems to always be arching her back to present them. The only sensibly dressed female is Catwoman, which must have happened by accident. If you unlock the concept art for the female characters you’ll see that they briefly flirted with making every single one of them fight in as little clothing as possible. Ugh…video games.


-Lex Luthor looks like Bruce Willis.

-Pounding out combos feels good. Most fighters have a few in common, but they all look different. I love the random weapon flourishes—Joker pulling out a crowbar or shoe blade, Deathstroke brandishing a random pistol, etc.

-Ares? As in “the god of war,” from Greek mythology? What’s he doing in this game? Comic books! (The answer is always comic books)

-The quick time events in the story are silly and make it seem like these “meta humans” have sub-human intelligence.

-The fighting system is solid. It’s deep for those who want to dig in, but broad enough for button mashers to have a good time. I’ve always been a mid-tier fighting game player. I like to get to know the intermediate strategies, but don’t care to count frames and compete online. Injustice is a fantastic fighter for players like me.

-Jennifer Hale as Hawk Girl

-Knocking someone to the bottom floor of the bat cave, then knocking them back up to the top through the elevator never gets old.


-From his gee-golly combed hair to his stupid unimaginative use of his ring, everything about Green Lantern makes me want to punch him.

-Aquaman is actually kind of cool. He gets real stabby with his trident, and his special move involves a shark.

-There are a ton of things to do outside of the story mode. I’m predominantly a single player kind of guy, so the added replay value is nice. That said, I will be bringing this into work to play at lunch with coworkers. The accessible gameplay is great for non-gamers.

Bottom line: Did you enjoy the last Mortal Kombat at all? You should play Injustice. It’s a good time.