Category Archives: Writing

Quick Update!

I’ve got a long month ahead of travel and various work duties, so I will be keeping posting to a minimum or null. Please do not forget about me during my absence but also don’t expect as much writing from me here!

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Zeroing In on the 2017 NBA Draft

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Last year’s draft was interesting but this year’s draft is going to be eventful. The first thing that strikes me as utterly hilarious (or contemptuous depending upon where you live) is the fact that the draft is being held in Brooklyn and yet the Nets lost both first picks of each round to the Celtics and Hawks. In return for the first and thirty-first picks they’ve got the twenty-second, twenty-seventh, and fifty-seventh. So…not really quite the steal they were going for I’d assume.

Honestly it’s such a stroke of equal parts fortune and irony for Boston that they are the overall first round pick and still in the race for a Finals appearance having just offed the Wizards in seven games and headed to a matchup with Cleveland in the Eastern Conference Finals. The Wizards get no love from the sports pantheon, but RIP John Wall- you really tried your damnedest and Bradley Beal could only flop so many times… At least the Wizards didn’t explode like the Rockets did in orbit around the Spurs when they got mugged 114-75. Speaking of the Spurs, they’re not doing so hot without Leonard so a Golden State return to the Finals is looking more probable by the day.

But we didn’t come here to talk about Chef Curry’s odd scruff or Manu Ginobili’s strange bout of utter clutch-ness, or even LeBron’s undying dominance. No, we came here to discuss some of the other interesting developments in pro basketball culture and what exactly is going on with the 2017 NBA Draft.

If you’ve been paying attention to college or professional basketball at all lately then you’ve probably heard the likes of names such as Markelle Fultz, Josh Jackson, Jayson Tatum, Lonzo Ball, and Malik Monk mentioned. It doesn’t matter that those prospects (and others) are from big name schools such as Washington, Kansas, Duke, UCLA, or Kentucky. All that matters is how they’ve played and sometimes how they carry themselves as well. Whether somebody is going the one and done route or playing out a number of years at their respective college, making it this far is a testament to their talent and commitment.

I’ve been watching the NCAA prospects, the NCAA Tournament coverage, the NBA seasonal games, and any other basketball related coverage possible over the past few months. It’s been an intriguing time. But now it’s coming down to the draft season and we only have about a month before the decisions are in. Let’s look at the current standings between a couple of sports media outlets right now:

CBS/FOX

1. Markelle Fultz, Washington (PG)

2. Josh Jackson, Kansas (SF) / Jayson Tatum, Duke (SF)

3. Lonzo Ball, UCLA (PG) / Josh Jackson, Kansas (SF)

4. Jayson Tatum, Duke (SF) / De’Aaron Fox, Kentucky (PG)

5. Jonathan Isaac, Florida State (SF) / Lonzo Ball, UCLA (PG)

6. Dennis Smith, NC State (PG) / Jonathan Isaac, Florida State (SF)

7. Lauri Markkanen, Arizona (PF) / Dennis Smith, NC State (PG)

8. De’Aaron Fox, Kentucky (PG) / Lauri Markkanen, Arizona (PF)

9. Malik Monk, Kentucky (SG)

10. Justin Jackson, North Carolina (SF) / Frank Ntilikina, International (PG)

11. Frank Ntilikina, International (PG) / Jarrett Allen, Texas (PF)

12. Zach Collins, Gonzaga (C)

13. Donovan Mitchell, Louisville (SG) / Justin Patton, Creighton (C)

14. Justin Patton, Creighton (C) / Justin Jackson, North Carolina (SF)

15. Johnathan Motley, Baylor (PF) / OG Anunoby, Indiana (SF)

16. Isaiah Hartenstein, International (PF) / Ike Anigbogu, UCLA (PF)

17. Ike Anigbogu, UCLA (PF) / John Collins, Wake Forest (PF)

18. Ivan Rabb, Califronia (PF) / Terrance Ferguson, International (SG)

19. OG Anunoby, Indiana (SF) / Ivan Rabb, California (PF)

20. Caleb Swanigan, Purdue (PF) / Donovan Mitchell, Louisville (SG)

There are a few places where both sources happen to have the same person at the same rank and yet otherwise there are subtle shifts and differences between their top twenty prospects as of right now. If we were to take these top twenty and position notwithstanding assign them to the team with that respective draft slot, it would be an interesting picture indeed. As it stands, we’ve got the usual wheeling and dealing going on behind the scenes as well and then there’s always the Ball family brand going after the Lakers hard.

Interesting enough, Frank Mason III only makes some of the lists in the top thirty- good enough for the first round but definitely at the tail end. It’s a shame that amazing players such as Mason will inevitably go much later because of aspects like size and durability which are much bigger issues in the pro league than they may be in college. Mason only stands at 5-11 and 190 pounds after all, but the senior was one of the most experienced and talented players in the country.

Similarly but on the flip side, let’s look at Caleb Swanigan who is in the top twenty at least as far as CBS is concerned. Swanigan is a 6-9 250 pound sophomore who has tournament experience and some crazy points totals at times as well. Comparative to his first season stats, he outperformed himself in every field with the exception of win shares- he played one more game this season but his rating was a 6.4 comparative to a career total 9.0. His 2016-17 season points, rebounds, and assists averages were over four points better (18.5 versus 14.4), two points better (12.5 versus 10.4), and half a point better (3.0 versus 2.4) than his career averages respectively.

If we are going to use him as a continued example and random player focus here, he also outperformed himself in terms of field goal, three point, free throw, and effective field goal percentages. His averages were 52.7, 44.7, 78.1, and 57.2 comparative to a career average of 50.1, 37.6, 76.0, and 54.3 respectively. His effective player efficiency rating (PER) also leapt from 21.5 to 26.2 so if his particular growth is representative of the other sophomores or non-one and done players, this will be an intriguing draft class indeed.

As it stands at the moment, the 2017 NBA Draft order is as follows for the first and second rounds (picks 1-60):

  1. Boston (From Nets) +1 -1
  2. Los Angeles Lakers +1
  3. Philadelphia (From Kings) +1 -1
  4. Phoenix +1
  5. Sacramento (From 76ers) +1 -1
  6. Orlando +1
  7. Minnesota +1
  8. New York +1
  9. Dallas +1
  10. Sacramento (From Pelicans) +2 -1
  11. Charlotte +1
  12. Detroit +1
  13. Denver +1
  14. Miami +1
  15. Portland +1
  16. Chicago +1
  17. Milwaukee +1
  18. Indiana +1
  19. Atlanta +1
  20. Portland (From Grizzlies, Via Nuggets/Cavaliers) +2 -1 -1 -1
  21. Oklahoma City +1
  22. Brooklyn (From Wizards) +1 -1
  23. Toronto (From Clippers, Via Bucks) +1 -1 -1
  24. Utah +1
  25. Orlando (From Raptors) +2 -1
  26. Portland (From Cavaliers) +3 -2
  27. Brooklyn (From Celtics) +2 -1
  28. Los Angeles Lakers (From Rockets) +2 -1
  29. San Antonio +1
  30. Utah (From Warriors) +2 -1
  31. Atlanta (From Nets) +2 -2
  32. Phoenix +2
  33. Orlando (From Lakers) +3 -1
  34. Sacramento (From 76ers, Via Pelicans) +3 -2 -2
  35. Orlando +4
  36. Philadelphia (From Knicks, Via Jazz/Raptors) +2 -1 -1 -2
  37. Boston (From Timberwolves, Via Suns) +2 -1 -1
  38. Chicago (From Kings, Via Cavaliers) +2 -2 -3
  39. Philadelphia (From Mavericks) +3 -1
  40. New Orleans +1
  41. Charlotte +2
  42. Utah (From Pistons) +3 -1
  43. Houston (From Nuggets) +1 -2
  44. New York (From Bulls) +2 -1
  45. Houston (From Trail Blazers) +2 -1
  46. Philadelphia (From Heat, Via Hawks) +4 -1 -1
  47. Indiana +2
  48. Milwaukee +2
  49. Denver (From Grizzlies, Via Thunder) +2 -2 -1
  50. Philadelphia (From Hawks) +5 -2
  51. Denver (From Thunder) +3 -2
  52. Washington +1
  53. Boston (From Cavaliers) +3 -4
  54. Phoenix (From Raptors) +3 -2
  55. Utah +4
  56. Boston (From Clippers) +4 -2
  57. Brooklyn (From Celtics) +3 -2
  58. New York (From Rockets) +3 -2
  59. San Antonio +2
  60. Atlanta (From Warriors, Via 76ers/Jazz) +3 -2 -3 -2

As you can see, not every team is picking up a top tier draft slot. In fact, several teams have traded away what would’ve been their slot and do not even have a single pick this year. Here’s the individual picks available to each team, from most to least:

  1. Philadelphia 76ers (5)- 16/17 Record: 28-54 (14th in East)
  2. Orlando Magic (4)- 16/17 Record: 29-53 (13th in East)
  3. Utah Jazz (4)- 16/17 Record: 51-31 (5th in West)
  4. Boston Celtics (4)- 16/17 Record: 53-29 (1st in East)
  5. Portland Trail Blazers (3)- 16/17 Record: 41-41 (8th in West)
  6. Sacramento Kings (3)- 16/17 Record: 32-50 (12th in West)
  7. Denver Nuggets (3)- 16/17 Record: 40-42 (9th in West)
  8. Phoenix Suns (3)- 16/17 Record: 24-48 (15th in West)
  9. Brooklyn Nets (3)- 16/17 Record: 20-62 (15th in East)
  10. New York Knicks (3)- 16/17 Record: 31-51 (12th in East)
  11. Atlanta Hawks (3)- 16/17 Record: 43-39 (5th in East)
  12. Los Angeles Lakers (2)- 16/17 Record: 26-56 (14th in West)
  13. Chicago Bulls (2)- 16/17 Record: 41-41 (8th in East)
  14. Charlotte Hornets (2)- 16/17 Record: 36-46 (11th in East)
  15. Houston Rockets (2)- 16/17 Record: 55-27 (3rd in West)
  16. Indiana Pacers (2)- 16/17 Record: 42-40 (7th in East)
  17. Milwaukee Bucks (2)- 16/17 Record: 42-40 (6th in East)
  18. San Antonio Spurs (2)- 16/17 Record: 61-21 (2nd in West)
  19. Minnesota Timberwolves (1)- 16/17 Record: 31-51 (13th in West)
  20. Dallas Mavericks (1)- 16/17 Record: 33-49 (11th in West)
  21. Detroit Pistons (1)- 16/17 Record: 37-45 (10th in East)
  22. Miami Heat (1)- 16/17 Record: 41-41 (9th in East)
  23. Oklahoma City Thunder (1)- 16/17 Record: 47-35 (6th in West)
  24. Toronto Raptors (1)- 16/17 Record: 51-31 (3rd in East)
  25. New Orleans Pelicans (1)- 16/17 Record: 34-48 (10th in West)
  26. Washington Wizards (1)- 16/17 Record: 49-33 (4th in East)
  27. Cleveland Cavaliers (0)- 16/17 Record: 51-31 (2nd in East)
  28. Golden State Warriors (0)- 16/17 Record: 67-15 (1st in West)
  29. Los Angeles Clippers (0)- 16/17 Record: 51-31 (4th in West)
  30. Memphis Grizzlies (0)- 16/17 Record: 43-39 (7th in West)

As you can see, some teams such as the Jazz, Celtics, and Hawks came away with quite the steal despite being pretty highly ranked in their own respective conferences. Some of the lower seeded teams such as the 76ers, Magic, Trail Blazers, and Suns came away with steals through a sheer higher number of picks as well. Meanwhile, teams such as the Grizzlies, Clippers, Wizards, Thunder, Heat, Pistons, Mavericks, and Timberwolves are all hurting for picks due to the fact they either have one or none.

As our last little bit of statistical crunching here, if we look at who made the most trades (either directly or involved via a trade) it also paints a particular picture as to who has already won or lost this draft class picks notwithstanding.

  1. Cleveland (4)- Picks/Trades Ratio: +4
  2. Philadelphia (3)- Picks/Trades Ratio: +2
  3. Brooklyn (2)- Picks/Trades Ratio: +1
  4. New Orleans (2)- Picks/Trades Ratio: -1
  5. Toronto (2)- Picks/Trades Ratio: -1
  6. Sacramento (2)- Picks/Trades Ratio: +1
  7. Denver (2)- Picks/Trades Ratio: +1
  8. Memphis (2)- Picks/Trades Ratio: -2
  9. Atlanta (2)- Picks/Trades Ratio: +1
  10. Oklahoma City (2)- Picks/Trades Ratio: -1
  11. Los Angeles Clippers (2)- Picks/Trades Ratio:-2
  12. Boston (2)- Picks/Trades Ratio: +2
  13. Houston (2)- Picks/Trades Ratio: +/-
  14. Golden State (2)- Picks/Trades Ratio: -2
  15. Utah (2)- Picks/Trades Ratio: +2
  16. Washington (1)- Picks/Trades Ratio: +/-
  17. Milwaukee (1)- Picks/Trades Ratio: +1
  18. Los Angeles Lakers (1)- Picks/Trades Ratio: +1
  19. New York (1)- Picks/Trades Ratio: +2
  20. Minnesota (1)- Picks/Trades Ratio: +/-
  21. Phoenix (1)- Picks/Trades Ratio: +2
  22. Dallas (1)- Picks/Trades Ratio: +/-
  23. Detroit (1)- Picks/Trades Ratio: +/-
  24. Chicago (1)- Picks/Trades Ratio: +1
  25. Portland (1)- Picks/Trades Ratio: +2
  26. Miami (1)- Picks/Trades Ratio: +/-
  27. Indiana (0)- Picks/Trades Ratio: +2
  28. Charlotte (0)- Picks/Trades Ratio: +2
  29. Orlando (0)- Picks/Trades Ratio: +4
  30. San Antonio (0)- Picks/Trades Ratio: +2

Now the question undoubtedly remains: who has the best steal of a deal in terms of getting picks without sacrificing them through trades? Well here’s the top ten teams for that and with this final segment that concludes my lengthy draft preview.

  1. Cleveland Cavaliers +4 *Currently @ 2nd in East, 6th Overall
  2. Orlando Magic +4 *Currently @ 13th in East, 26th Overall
  3. Philadelphia 76ers +2 *Currently @ 14th in East, 27th Overall
  4. Boston Celtics +2 *Currently @ 1st in East, 4th Overall
  5. Utah Jazz +2 *Currently @ 5th in West, 8th Overall
  6. New York Knicks +2 *Currently @ 12th in East, 25th Overall
  7. Phoenix Suns +2 *Currently @ 15th in West, 29th Overall
  8. Portland Trail Blazers +2 *Currently @ 8th in West, 16th Overall
  9. Indiana Pacers +2 *Currently @ 7th in East, 14th Overall
  10. Charlotte Hornets +2 *Currently @ 11th in East, 20th Overall
  11. (And San Antonio +2) *Currently @ 2nd in West, 2nd Overall
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Best Moments of Injustice 2’s Main Story

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In case you couldn’t immediately tell from reading the title, I am going to thoroughly spoil some of the most explosive and interesting moments from the Injustice 2 story mode- whether it be battles or epic cutscenes. That having been said, if you continue reading past this point and don’t want the story ruined for you, you’re probably in for a world of hurt. And now without further ado, let’s get this show on the road.

1. Krypton Destroyed, Kara Zor-El Revealed: It’s fair enough to state that Injustice 2 starts with as much or more of a bang than its predecessor because within (literally) the first five minutes Brainiac and his minions utterly destroy Krypton. Now this retelling that some of us may be used to while others may not- Krypton was failing of its own accord in some comics and movies, establishes both Clark and Kara’s set paths and provides a prologue of sorts for things to come in the future. Both Kara and Clark play a large role in the story of Injustice 2 and this calamitous event sparked the flame that ignites that story.

2. Superman Recruits Damian Wayne (aka Robin): While we’re still relatively in the past and tying together the plot of the first Injustice game, Batman and Robin head to Arkham Asylum to stop a grief-stricken Superman from murdering all of the incarcerated criminals. Along the way they fight the likes of Cyborg and Wonder Woman along with other foes. When they finally arrive to battle the head honcho himself, Batman easily gains the upper hand over the enraged Kryptonian and has just convinced him to leave when Damian Wayne comes back into focus. Robin has a knife to Victor Zsasz’s throat and true to his League of Assassins upbringing he slits the serial killer’s throat, fights (and loses to) his father, and then is scooped up by Superman as they fly into the moonlight.

3. Harley Fights Scarecrow and…The Joker: For those of you wondering how any incarnation of the clown prince of crime may be in Injustice (beyond popular demand alone) after the events of Injustice 1 led to his death and his alternate universe self’s exile back to his home, I’ve got you covered. During a multi-stage fight and cutscene which sees Green Arrow, Black Canary, and Harley Quinn fighting the likes of Poison Ivy, Scarecrow, and Swamp Thing, Dr. Crane doses them all with fear gas and H.Q. hallucinates Mr. Jay forcing her to kill people and generally be a bad person. As she approaches a tied up Batman menacingly with a knife she suddenly snaps out of it and starts fighting the newest incarnation of the Joker, leading to her shattering the fear gas induced hallucination in time for the trio to pursue an injured Dr. Crane.

4. Doctor Fate Intervenes in the Name of Order: In between the dynamic duo of Green Arrow and Black Canary fighting Gorilla Grodd’s Society- comprised of Bane, Grodd, Deadshot, Catwoman, Cheetah, Poison Ivy, Captain Cold, and Scarecrow, Doctor Fate shows up to warn of an impending danger which these heroes aren’t supposed to face. If you remember correctly then after the events of the first Injustice, certain heroes such as Green Lantern and Green Arrow were killed or exiled from their specific world and now occasionally show up on this one. This impending danger is of course Brainiac, which Doctor Fate will actually later not fight against because Nobu sees Brainiac as a bringer of Order amidst the Chaos that Superman and Batman’s war has caused. Doctor Fate is ready to ferry both Black Canary and Green Arrow away which in turn naturally leads to another fight.

5. Brainiac Makes His Entrance: It shouldn’t have been long before gamers put together than Gorilla Grodd’s so-called silent partner and Brainiac were actually the same being. As the machine-driven alien ships descend over the largest cities in the world carnage ensues. Green Arrow and Black Canary are picked up by a ray of light transferring them to Brainiac’s capital ship. Oliver Queen actually even asks Brainiac if he is related to Martian Manhunter thanks to the green skin but otherwise the two heroes are rudely detained and Black Canary is nearly choked to death because they both rebel against their captor. Brainiac’s end game is obviously something along the lines of what happened to Krypton and yet many details are hazy at this point and his mere entrance alone is entirely epic and ruthless.

6. Barry Allen’s Fight Through Metropolis: After the events of the previous game Barry Allen was given something of a second chance so long as he refrained from using the Speed Force. He is forced to abandon this promise when Brainiac invades and begins destroying the denizens of Metropolis and other cities. The Flash speeds from his Arctic research station to the city and quickly defeats many of the robotic enforcers vaporizing humans right and left. Make no mistake, Brainiac and the Society planned for this and Deadshot lies in wait- coerced by a bomb inside his skull (Suicide Squad much?) and able to shoot Allen in his calf and slow the runner down. Next he must fight through a veritable gauntlet of foes- Captain Cold (angered by the death of his friends and family), Deadshot (only here by coercion), Reverse Flash (trapped her by a time paradox), and Green Lantern (because he wasn’t douchey enough the last time). It’s epic and in particular the Flash x Reverse Flash matchup has the best of dialogue and references.

7. Green Lantern Meets Atrocitus and Dex Starr: In the previous Injustice Green Lantern made the dumb decision to join Superman and became a member of Sinestro’s Yellow Lantern Corps which, long story short, is a group of bad dudes. After being exiled and imprisoned by the few remaining Lanterns in the galaxy, Green Lantern has returned and is now fighting on Batman’s side and for the correct ideals for once. Hal Jordan continuously suffers minor pauses in battle and cutscenes throughout the game and these headaches stem from Atrocitus the Red Lantern (Ragey Rage Monster!) toying with his mind and feelings. When Lantern and Aquaman are defending Atlantis from Brainiac, Atrocitus takes the time to warp in and spew rage fueled blood into Jordan’s eyes whilst trying to tempt him into taking up a Red Ring. It’s all very Lord of the Ringsy but Green Lantern resists and continues to battle his emotions (as well as Atrocitus and his feline friend).

8. Firestorm Transmutes Flames Into Kryptonite: At the facility where Superman has been held (using Lex Luthor’s brand no less), Firestorm and Blue Beetle are defedning themselves from the likes of Wonder Woman, Cyborg, Robin, and Supergirl. Of all of these people Kara Zor-El is the most manipulated and innocent, however that’s not apparently obvious to herself or to her current enemies. After recovering from the initial shock of seeing a second Kryptonian, Firestorm briefly uses his power of transmutation in order to produce green kryptonite fueled flames and keep the woman at bay. It’s downright dastardly but it’s also pretty darn awesome. Of course later the whole battling to free Superman point is kind of moot when Batman releases Clark himself seeing as he may be their only shot at facing down Brainiac successfully.

9. Wonder Woman Fights (Pretty Much) Everyone: Wonder Woman is a pretty powerful gal and this is never more apparent than when she’s forced to fight the majority of the Society and even some of her own supposed compatriots. While she and Supergirl are investigating part of Metropolis, Cheetah shows up to crash the show and shoots both of them with a massive laser. Shortly afterwards Captain Cold and Reverse Flash show up to crash Diana’s party and she has an epic moment where she reflects Cold’s ice beam and freezes the yellow speedster temporarily. After fighting Cold and Reverse Flash, she steps into what looks like fear gas and soon Superman shows up- first happy and then angry about Diana’s (actual) manipulation of his actions. In her vision she stabs the man of steel through the chest before actually fighting Jonathon Crane and likewise slicing his hand. Next up, Wonder Woman (and Super Girl) down Cheetah whom Diana says deserves to die. Cue Harley Quinn intervention and Wonder Woman stabbing her in the chest. Side Note: H.Q. has been so beat up in this entry- stabbed, heart stopped and restarted, etc. Oh, and then of course Diana and Kara fight as well.

10. Brainiac (Seemingly) Vaporizes Superman: Somewhere during their continual fight and flight throughout Metropolis, which always seems to be a focal point of utter ruination and destruction on the silver screen and in video games for Superman, the man of steel meets his maker. Or at least that’s what it looks like at the time and it’s truly gut wrenching even after all that he has done to this point, if only because Kara is so visibly shaken and everyone from Diana to Bruce Wayne isn’t sure what to make of Earth’s mightiest superhuman being ground to dust. Honestly, it’s all a little reminiscent of Darkseid using his powers to vaporize the guy. Superman has been battering the shield covering Brainiac’s ship for some time when he is hurled to the center of an already blasted crater and unceremoniously pounded by rays from the ship which leave no trace of the Kryptonian. Of course we later realize he’s probably been digitized rather than vaporized.

11. Black Adam and Aquaman Take Down Brainiac’s Shields: Injustice 2 is every bit as “go big or go home” as the previous game was and no moment more readily encapsulates this than Black Adam and Aquaman’s use of the Rock of Eternity in Kahndaq to take down Brainiac’s shields. First the duo must fight a Gorilla Grodd mind controlled Green Arrow and Black Canary as well as several other foes (Blue Beetle) prior to unlocking the mystical other dimension housed in Kahndaq that leads to Adam’s Rock of Eternity. Once inside it appears to have been a trick and they battle Grodd himself before Aquarman dispatches the gorilla permanently, ending his mind control and machinations against villains and heroes alike. Black Adam stays behind to channel the mystical energy of the Rock and sends it blasting through Aquaman’s trident and across half the planet in order to down Brainiac’s shields and allow the others a chance to confront the big bad himself.

12. Batman and Supergirl are Rescued by Superman: Upon infiltrating Brainiac’s capital ship by themselves, both Kara and Batman are trapped by the villain’s mechanical tentacles and at his mercy. When he orders his minions to kill Batman since he is only an ordinary human, Superman makes his survival and presence known and appears to narrowly prevent his former friend’s death. With the combined might of Superman and Batman they fight their way through the ship in an effort to discover where Brainiac has taken Kara and what intent he has with the rest of the world beyond mere destruction and digitization. They fight a mind controlled Swamp Thing and Firestorm, eventually realizing that they can be released when Batman uses a disruptor in close proximity to both. Doctor Fate himself shows up in order to fight on the side of Brainiac because Nobu has come to realize that Brainiac is the ultimate Order. As soon as the crew defeats him, Brainiac himself shows up and plunges a tentacle through Fate’s chest after Superman has crushed Nobu’s helm. Superman proceeds to fight Brainiac and subdue him at least for the moment, leading to Kara’s release from near vivisection.

13. Absolute Power Corrupts and Betrayal is Inevitable: In the final act itself, having subdued Brainiac for the moment the ship is falling uncontrollably and in order to save the cities and people on board Superman fuses with Brainiac’s ship and mentally steers it. After this and another fight against Brainiac, Superman and Batman return the majority of the cities not outright destroyed to their rightful places in the world. By now the majority of Earth’s heroes and villains who’ve been fighting against Brainiac show up as this is a crucial moment of decisions to be made regarding what to do with the ship and the remaining equipment and powers. Just when it seems like Superman is a decent guy again Diana of course whips him into a frenzy and all hell breaks loose. The final confrontation between Batman and Superman begins here and players are given the choice between Batman (good ending) and Superman (bad ending) before watching two versions of events unfold. I won’t ruin what comes next but allow me to say that the bad ending is one of the most chilling things I’ve seen in a superhero game.

As I’m sure I’ve by now ruined the majority of the plot of an excellent game and narrative, I hope that you heeded my warning and didn’t read through the entire thing despite wanting to come into the game relatively fresh or unknowing. If you’ve played the game yourself then I hope you’ll enjoy what I’ve talked about here and comment below. If you’ve played parts of it but not the entire story then hopefully you haven’t read through past wherever you may currently be at- I labeled things pretty specifically for that particular contingency. As always, cheers!

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Pre-Review: The Surge and Injustice 2

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I’m going to do something I’m not normally wont to do today because I’m feeling overly tired but also overly excited about sharing my experience with both The Surge and Injustice 2 with other people. I’m going to talk about some of the non-spoiler yet intriguing elements of both recently released titles with you all and give you a taste of what I’ve experienced thus far, having had the games for thirty-six hours and played each for roughly twelve. Yes, I’ve had a rough and time consuming time of it and yet somehow I’ve survived to tell the tale.

I’ll start with The Surge, which has strangely enough been one of my most anticipated titles of 2017 ever since I heard about Deck13’s newest project. I was a fan of Lords of the Fallen in all of its Dark Souls glory and although Deck13 has been around for sometime that was probably their most successful and most quality-driven title to date. I mean, if you’ve played it then you can agree Venetica hardly takes the cake so prior to The Surge there weren’t really any real contenders anyway.

The Surge is everything you’ve heard it to be including a science fiction, exo-suit wearing, machine fighting Souls-style role-playing game. It sports some truly gorgeous visuals that fit right in with the rest of the realistic visuals depicting a dystopian industrial setting in a video game in the year 2017. But where it stands heads and shoulders above the competition in the Souls-game lookalike market is the combat system which is intuitive and fresh although still bears a resemblance to Lords of the Fallen.

In fact, for Deck13’s next project they could very well do something akin to Lords of the Fallen 2 if they wished and I’m sure it would be incredibly well received and also well done now that they have two triple-A caliber titles under their belt.

The combat system is dynamic and fluid in its ability to shift focus from each individual enemy limb and even different targets on the fly. It focuses on many of the same elements that Lords of the Fallen did but it also introduces a new and already critically appreciated dismemberment system like some role-playing version of Dead Space come alive again. Not only can you strategically maim foes and slice and dice your way through their exo-suits but you can also keep choice equipment and gear that you hack off if you time your strikes right.

It’s far more than a gimmick as this is pretty much the main way to grind and progress your way through the game and also it keeps the combat perpetually entertaining as you perform finisher after finisher like nothing we’ve seen since Darksiders II. Things can get a little repetitive at times but the combat keeps the otherwise same encounters fresh and constantly interesting throughout the experience when you aren’t exploring the deadly industrial setting. In some ways The Surge’s world reminds me of a smaller version of the expansive canvas that is Nier Automata. Both certainly have a lot of the same decaying urban vibe going as well as the whole mechanized foes shindig down.

So far my biggest takeaways for The Surge are that it looks and handles smoothly and beautifully, the combat is brutal and effective and entertaining, and the sheer amount of loot and cosmetic upgrades is astonishing. If any of that sounds intriguing to you and you don’t mind a little grind as you play through what will probably be at least a 40 hour experience that is already highly replayable, then I think The Surge may be a game for you to consider.

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As much as I miss some of the cast of the original Injustice: Gods Among Us who don’t return in the sequel for reasons ranging from death (in the story mode) to irrelevance in this particular universe, the updated roster is better than ever. We may have traded Ares and additions like Lobo and Scorpion but now we have Ragey Rage Monster (Atrocitus) and Swamp Thing for example.

If you couldn’t tell, I’ve moved on from The Surge to Injustice 2 and I do hope you’ll stick around if you’re only reading this particular post for one of the two games mentioned. I’ve taken the liberty of playing through and also watching (courtesy of YouTube) every ending and cutscene in the story mode in order to be sure that I’ve missed absolutely nothing in terms of narrative prior to playing multiverse and multiplayer modes. As such, I can now officially call myself an even bigger DC nerd and Injustice fan- Injustice 2 not only builds upon the structure of the previous game but it adds in more depth than really seen outside of the Mortal Kombat series (also currently held by Ed Boon and NetherRealm).

Side note: Both Deck13 and NetherRealm Studios have some of the classiest and coolest studio logos among developers, I mean let’s just take a look here. Obviously NetherRealm wins but hey points for simplicity as well.

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“Classics never die…”

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“Alert Captain Kenway immediately!”

Returning to the matter at hand and continuing my already hazy stream of consciousness (or ramble or whatever) here… Injustice 2 does everything correctly in terms of following in the footsteps of its predecessor and it also adds carefully to the cultivated mix of gameplay and story in decisive fashion. Some of the new character models look a bit strange but that’s easily remedied by unlocking new skins and animations. The setting for each stage and the rich roster more than make up for any minuscule beef I may have over character designs such as the Joker or Superman.

Injustice 1 offered a high level of replayability and it’s easy to see that Injustice 2 also offers that in the newly minted multiverse gameplay mode as well as the variety of online offerings and challenges. The mobile app seems to even be better integrated this time around and although quality wise it is a lot lesser than its peers it is still an interesting use of a mobile app for once in gaming history aside from shameless marketing plugs and Smart Glass actions.

I won’t spill the beans on the best moments although you’re welcome to watch the nearly three hours of story cutscenes and endings. However, I will say that you should definitely play the narrative if only to serve as a good tutorial for what’s to come in other modes and an introduction to the world of Injustice if you’re unused to it. You may think you know DC characters but this is an entirely different ballgame and it’s a lot more difficult to discern friends from foes. Things are significantly less confusing concerning alternate universes this time around but that’s still a thing too.

Oh and in case you wanted to know, there are some sweet cameos and moments where characters that aren’t currently on the available roster make appearances within the story mode or otherwise are referenced. So be on the lookout for the slew of interesting DLC content to surely follow as well. And thanks you NetherRealm for making me not absolutely abhor Barry Allen anymore (as much).

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Prey (2017) Review

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Arkane recently released their 1.02 Patch for Prey and with that decisive patch I’ve deemed it appropriate to finally present my review of the game in earnest. Prior to the patch the PC build of the game was virtually unplayable which was integral to my review considering I typically play through games on at least two of the three or four platforms they’re typically offered on so as to make sure there aren’t incredible differences in performance between one or another.

You’ve undoubtedly enthusiastically witnessed Prey’s opening several times by now and regardless of if you played the 2006 title of the same name and with a semi-similar setting, you’ll immediately notice that not everything is as it seems. Despite some of the similarities between both 2006 and 2017’s Prey iterations they are indeed two completely separate and intriguing games with intricate plots and fine-tuned combat mechanics. Prey (from here on out 2017) starts off slowly but gradually picks up speed and administers the steady drip drop of difficulty and balancing as you progress. In its infant stages the game is likely harder than it will ever seem due to a lack of available powerups (neuromods), so if you can make it through the first four hours or so then chances are you’ll enjoy the game.

Many of the initial revelations have been spoiled for most fans or enthusiasts I am sure however let it be known that there are at least two major revelations within Prey’s plot and I enjoyed both of them immensely. One comes only a few hours into the game and the other not until the very end of the experience. Although the ending could best be described as lukewarm at best regardless of the choices you’ve made- which, yes, are integral to the ending you receive in minuscule ways, it does do a good job of setting up the potential for a sequel assuming Bethesda signs off on that. Given the sales figures thus far however that may not be in the picture no matter how well-done Arkane has done of late with each title they’ve labored over.

Perhaps the most intriguing choice in design and gameplay is the ability to fully define who Morgan Yu (You, the player) is and just how that effectively ties into the plot as well. Throughout the game you not only determine Morgan’s gender and acquirable skills but also the moral code that he or she adheres to through choice and consequence, not through measly dialogue options or barebones plot development. This aspect of showing and not telling is ever-present throughout the game and I enjoyed the approach a lot more than inserting a bunch of useless and wasted dialogue into an otherwise perfectly ambiguous experience that is open in every sense of the word.

The set-up, if you don’t already know it, is quite straightforward from the onset: an alien lifeform known as Typhon has taken over the Talos-1 space station and you are its only hope. Whether or not you choose to destroy the Typhon, Talos-1, or even the few remaining humans on board is entirely up to you. I won’t ruin the numerous choices that you must make or abstain from making along the way but let it be known that for each and every action there is an opposite and not always expected reaction. In its opening moments Prey is less concerned with the eradication of the Typhon and more so with the survival of Morgan Yu and discovery of Talos-1 itself. Although it establishes itself as a survival horror shooter of sorts, these elements will largely fall by the wayside as Prey delves deeper into upgrades and it becomes less focused on survival and more on combat- albeit ammo and weapons still being quite scant.

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If you’ve played the PC version then you’ve undoubtedly grasped the scope and breadth of Talos-1 a little bit more than anyone else thanks to the handy function of ‘noclips’ commands. The space station seems and is rightfully represented as gigantic and titanic. Outside of cheating your way around borders and through walls the only way you can ever properly comprehend the scale of this open ended setting is by venturing outside the airlocks and floating through the cold vacuum of space in order to fast travel from certain points around the station. Talos-1 is both expansive and deep- it’s quite easy to become as invested in the architecture as it is in the characters you encounter along your journey. Perhaps the most impressive aspect of the story is that it really feels like a human versus alien struggle.

Some of the horror aspects are also maintained by the enemies themselves with specific regard to their grotesque appearance and the nightmarish ability to undergo some sort of metamorphosis as well. Mimics will lead you to never trust a weapon or medical pack out in the open ever again for each time they leap out at your poor unsuspecting character, leading to a shout and a quick bash over the head with a wrench. The musical score itself will lead you into a frenzied sea of paranoid bashing of everyday objects as you hunt for that final remaining Mimic in the area so as to assuage the tension. More fearsome foes such as the Phantoms and horrendous Nightmares will easily soak up your bullets and spit them back out before devouring you.

Combat is where Prey both lives and dies by its sword so to speak. In the early moments of the game it is equally tense and devastating, yet due to the fact that stealth is oddly never quite flushed out you’re virtually forced into combat rather than trying to sneakily make your way across the station. There are certain benefits and drawbacks to the neuromod upgrades you receive over time however the absence of them until later on forces you to attempt to tackle the experience in a much more difficult and meaningful manner. As terrifying as enemies are perhaps even more scary is the ever-present health bar hovering over their heads that barely ticks down with each wasted bullet or wrench smack. Nightmares can especially soak up an extreme amount of damage from even the game’s strongest weapons and as such as foes to be avoided at all costs.

Only when the game balances a little more in your favor does combat become both meaningful and enjoyable in earnest. After the opening few hours and after acquiring a few mods or upgrades you can feel more at ease in openly wandering the halls of Talos-1 and engaging larger foes than Mimics in close quarters. Using mods to unlock Typhon-related powers is perhaps the most enjoyable Dishonored-like aspect of the game however it also carries an unexpected narrative risk as well. If you spend too much time unlocking these intuitive and useful powers then the automated turrets which once distinguished you from foes will fail to support you and eventually open fire on your Typhon-imbued DNA as well. Of course by that point you’re more than likely unstoppable as is.

Prey is every bit the sandbox experience that it has been marketed as and you’re free to choose how your character develops and progresses just as much as you are to choose how you play through the game as a whole. Using these alien powers such as transmutation of your physical form and telekinesis (now a staple in any game its seems) is both empowering and entertaining. I’d be lying if I said combat wasn’t saved by the abilities you’re able to spend your mods on and would otherwise bog the game down way too much with its repetitive nature instead.

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Prey offers an abundance of detail and choice and I am very appreciative of that despite the fact that it sometimes falls flat and the narrative dips into uncertain waters. The experience can take you anywhere from fifteen to thirty hours dependent largely upon how invested you choose to get in the missions and side missions, as well as whether or not you search out the available mods and upgrades along the way or backtrack through previously explored sections as you gain new methods of traversal and unlock new paths. The narrative itself was intriguing to me and couldn’t be ruined by the heavyhanded ending despite leaving me a little disappointed in the final moments of the game.

The majority of the kinks that initially needed to be worked out have been patched however there are still some baseline issues to be found with the game such as design choices made along the way that we’ll just have to live with. Enemies have been and will continue to be incredible bullet sponges and only grow easier to combat once you’re virtually overpowered and unencumbered by the shackles of survival horror tropes. For all of its tense moments- zero gravity sequences and every encounter with a Mimic, there will also be hiccups such as AI reaction and patrolling and the ability to literally walk around a corner and confuse the Nightmare that has been stalking you to the point where you can take potshots at it and disappear again to avoid its rage.

The highlight of the combat experience is ironically the two most useful gadgets outside of combat- the Gloo Gun and crossbow. Whoever came up with the near-troll of an idea to have what is essentially a nerf bolt shooting crossbow in the game deserves a medal because it is just loud enough to alert enemies and knock objects off of counters and just stealthy enough to be used in a variety of ways. As for the Gloo Gun, you’ve undoubtedly seen footage of people using it to hold larger enemies down or traverse to previously unreachable paths and areas as well. All I can say is use your ammo sparingly- especially in terms of the Gloo Gun and powerful shotgun. The silenced pistol isn’t too shabby for needing a quick weapon with an abundance of ammo, albeit not packing much of a punch.

Prey isn’t without its own series of flaws at times and yet for the most part it is a thoroughly enjoyable and unique experience. One can only hope that we get to experience more of its lore and setting in the future as well as a continuation of the choice driven narrative that was mostly well played. I’m happy that Arkane continues to be one of Bethesda’s brightest studios and has encountered success with two phenomenal Dishonored titles as well as the newly released Prey’s brand of science fiction.

Concept: Stopping an alien infestation from reaching Earth is nothing new and yet Prey offers such an interesting twist on the cliche that it can’t help but be enjoyed.

Graphics: The art style mimics something of Arkane’s previous works but the architecture of Talos-1 is varied and intriguing as are the enemy models and designs. The few humans that do appear all look mostly similar however.

Sound: Both the musical score and voice work are incredibly detailed and well-done. The soundtrack perfectly captures every scare and situation and the voice work is handily delivered throughout the experience when needed.

Playability: Although it can be complicated to grasp at times the game only proceeds to open up as the space station itself opens to you and you gradually progress deeper and deeper into the experience.

Entertainment: It’s at its finest in terms of horror in the opening hours however it is still immense fun when exploring later on and combating the vicious Typhon in close proximity with an array of intriguing powers and an arsenal of diverse weaponry.

Replay Value: Moderately High.

Overall Score: 8.0

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Thought Blog: Call of Duty WWII

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Sledgehammer Games has dealt in Call of Duty stock prior to the upcoming entry in the multi-entry series. They not only worked with Infinity Ward and other subservient developers on Modern Warfare 3, but they also developed the solid Advanced Warfare as their first main addition to the Call of Duty chronology. In a series that now spans at least five confirmed timelines things can sometimes seem cluttered and jumbled, mixed up here and there year to year but otherwise a veritable mess.

In a bid to discover some of the personal glory that Battlefield 1 and DICE did with their look at total warfare in an older era, Activision and Call of Duty itself are returning to the previously overdone and oversaturated WWII market in order to rekindle some of the initial magic. As a note, Call of Duty hasn’t been to the second Great War since 2008’s World at War although some elements of 2010’s Black Ops did feature segments in and around the WWII era.

Previously Treyarch and Infinity Ward were the heavy hitters in the series however as of late and at least as of the previous three titles, Sledgehammer has picked up the slack where the other titans have fallen. Infinite Warfare was interesting and a pretty comprehensive package catering to all sorts of players and yet for many it was deemed a dud and not received as well as previous titles have been. Black Ops 3 was likewise seen as a cluttered mess that couldn’t make sense of what it wanted to be despite some interesting new features and a truly crazy single player campaign featuring the usual star studded cast.

As it stands, Advanced Warfare may be the last entry to really net a lot of praise- both for Kevin Spacey in his role within the single player campaign and for it being Sledgehammer’s first solo outing and a successful one at that. Prior to 2014’s Advanced Warfare, Call of Duty Ghosts (Infinity Ward) was deemed one of the least stellar entries in the franchise and 2012’s Black Ops II was an excellent multiplayer addition with some spectacular choice-making single player elements but otherwise started the series’ shift towards science fiction and what many consider a downward trend.

Returning to WWII is a somewhat expected approach and yet it is nonetheless a bold one as well, even if only as a direct response to Battlefield 1’s WWI setting. The critic in me cringes at the terrible naming convention that deemed it necessary to call this game ‘Call of Duty: WWII’ and yet you cannot fault it for simply encapsulating what they plan to offer: the full breadth of the total war experience across the European theater. From the start they could’ve easily used this as an opportunity to somewhat reboot the series and simply called it ‘Call of Duty’ and still made the exact same game they are making despite it being in yet another timeline and yet another setting.

As overdone as the setting was for so many years in the early 2000s, I cannot help but notice how graphically impressive the game is looking already and that it already seems to have Sledgehammer’s trademark narrative focus instead of the monumental attention to every single set-piece moment that Infinity Ward likes to push. Sure it will inevitably live up to the majority of WWII cliches- the gung-ho sergeant that wants to “kill the Nazi scum,” the calm and collected leader that wants to make it through alive and without subjecting his men to the cruelest horrors of war, and the grizzled war veteran side by side with green recruits. But I think the experience itself seems already promising enough.

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Aside from the obvious focus on some of the lesser trod battles of the European theater, the single player campaign looks to focus on the moral repercussions of war as well as the visceral nature of the fighting. I’m eager to see how a return to such ‘Medal of Honor’ gameplay as requested healing in comparison to immediate super-human healing from injuries over time works as well. The game is making it clear that although this will be a similar experience to the previous ones, it is going about things in both a more traditional and entirely different way. For that reason and surely others, WWII looks like it’ll be more than just a visually updated version of events we’ve already played through.

Focusing on single-player would hardly be fair to those of us who also enjoy the other gameplay offerings of the Call of Duty saga and so it’s also praise worthy than once again Sledgehammer Games is offering both Zombies and multiplayer components. Exo-Suit Zombies was an interesting take on the classic formula in Advanced Warfare and yet something tells me once more seeing Nazi zombies will curdle our blood and elevate our pulse in the most appropriate fashion. As for the multiplayer component itself, despite offering some of the expected PvP content it also sounds like Activision is really going after DICE and some of the Battlefield cake- large objective based battles and completely unique character class ‘divisions’ for one.

I applaud Sledgehammer for going the traditional route while still managing to find ways to inject new life into both the series and subsequently the game. It’s commendable that rather than create the same overdone science fiction super trooper tale we’ve seen for the previous few incarnations, they’re opting to return to the literal roots of Call of Duty while still producing new ideas in that older setting. Of all of the developers lately, Sledgehammer seems the most likely to take risks and reap the potential rewards of those design decisions as well. Treyarch used to be the one to do that and Infinity Ward has always stuck to a pretty similar model outside of last year’s Infinite Warfare.

I personally appreciate pretty much every Call of Duty game for the experience that they offer but even I can see the franchise fatigue constantly on the border of gamers’ hazy vision and lurking, waiting for the opportune moment to pounce and render a particular series iteration irrelevant and disdained. Black Ops 3 narrowly dodged that bullet and Infinite Warfare caught the brunt of the blast of criticism despite doing so many things differently and being quite literally out of the world to the degree where people argued as to whether or not it even deserved to be tagged as a Call of Duty game. As much as people buy the games, it’s constantly astounding to see the flak each one gets for literally no reason at times- fans complain about getting the same thing over and over again yet complain when they receive something new and different as well.

I could go on and on about my thoughts with regard to the series and this upcoming release and yet I think now is as appropriate a time as any to end it as well. What are your thoughts about the upcoming game? I personally have no doubt that Sledgehammer will do their best to give the community the most authentic and quality driven experience that they can and although I foresee some criticism in regard to the setting I do think they will fare better than both Black Ops 3 and Infinite Warfare have. Thoughts, comments or concerns? Feel free to comment and give voice to them here.

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My Favorite Games: A Decade Long Retrospective Pt. 4

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It’s been a little while since the last post in my ongoing retrospective that focuses heavily on my favorite games of roughly the past decade and the previous generation up until present day. Although I’m only covering a small chunk of video gaming history, there have been plenty more excellent releases in this time besides the ones that I’m listing- ones that I’ve predominately mastered or otherwise completed and completely enjoyed. This particular post will be emphasizing the years 2011 and 2012 and as always you can feel free to comment and let me know what you think of my favorites.

2011: Dead Space 2, Killzone 3, Crysis 2, The Witcher 2, Shadows of the Damned, Bastion, Deus Ex: Human Revolution, Dead Island, Gears of War 3, Dark Souls, Batman Arkham City, Skyrim.

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The first Dead Space game was an exercise in mastering horror and all of the genre defining cliches that often accompany it. The second title was a master stroke in adding even more action to the mixture without sacrificing much in the way of tension or outright terror. Although the third game has since let many people down on the horror side of things, the first sequel showcased the ability to ratchet up the stakes as well as the action-fueled setpiece moments. It has so much going for it and added a lot of memorable content to Isaac’s terribly great story.

Killzone 3 was the final game in the series for a long time and in many ways is still the capstone to an excellent trilogy of games despite Shadow Fall also continuing the narrative even if it avoids many of the old characters’ outright appearances. It amped up the gameplay in nearly every conceivable way and looked downright gorgeous whether it be in singelplayer or competitive game modes. It was a versatile game for many reasons and just went to show that Guerrilla Games has their heads screwed on right when it comes to gameplay first.

Crysis 2 is a brilliant and beautiful game. I have been a big fan of the series and have enjoyed the fact that each game seemingly got better and improved in at least a few ways even if the second is ultimately my favorite even over the infinite customization options offered by the third. The story in Crysis 2 was interesting and fittingly tense when it had to be as well as adrenaline pumping when the action exploded for real. It was probably the most graphically impressive game of this list and for this time period and still has beautiful visuals and smooth gameplay even today. It’s just a shame not too many people hopped on board with the fantastic multiplayer elements.

The Witcher series has long shown gamers how to successfully pull off this sequel business. The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings expanded every single element of the first game and it did so with ease and a narrative that should drag even the most reluctant fan into dark fantasy worlds and writing. Although Wild Hunt has since stunned even more players into awe inspired silence, Assassins of Kings set the tone and the pace for the bigger things that were to come and still stands out as one of the best games of all time as well as possibly the best game of 2011- especially as far as PC titles are concerned.

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To this day I’m still not entirely sure what to make of Shadows of the Damned’s darkly vibrant, gory romp of a horror adventure. And that’s entirely a good thing I think at this point. It’s deeply disturbing at times and equally interesting at other times. There are definite elements of horror and thrilling scares and grotesque creatures but within the same exhilarating experience is also crude humor and absurd encounters as well. It’s gritty when it needs to be and gutsy when it can afford to be and the amount of risk in the creative process and development just goes to show that a little thought can go a long way.

Bastion really set the tone for so many arcade games to come in terms of the independent developer scene on major consoles in the previous and current generation. Not only was it an overture for the eventual release of Transistor, but it was an intriguing and enjoyable experience in its own right- deftly melding a fantastic world and interestingly developed characters. Bastion doesn’t just share a name with one of Overwatch’s most intriguing characters, it shares the sense of quality and the intrigue and mystery of many of those characters’ backstories as well. And that’s always a compliment.

Deus Ex: Human Revolution hasn’t entirely aged well for whatever reason as far as the odd controls go, but the narrative show definitely gone on and hasn’t just continued in terms of Mankind Divided. I’m saddened to hear that Square has put the franchise on pause for the time being but it does remind me that there were greener pastures in the past as well and Human Revolution rekindled a desire I had already had for the series and its intrigue. Sure, the plot can be dense and confusing at times but you can hardly beat the set-up of a dystopian future ruled by corrupt corporations and occupied by cybernetics and titans of engineering- it’s all so Blade Runnery that I cannot help but adore it.

Dead Island is somewhat of a guilty pleasure at least compared to some of these titles but it’s no less enjoyable for that factor. There’s a paltry story at best but the gameplay is where it really shines and where the sequel could’ve had so much more promise if only it had done the right things better and paid attention to quality over quantity. The mere set-up of a quest driven zombie adventure on a massive island that has so many hidden details and secrets is enough to spark interest for most people. Couple that with some interesting enemies and a thorough weapon and dismemberment system like something out of Dead Space and you’ve got a fairly solid game.

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For the longest time it seemed like Gears 3 was it for the series and MY GOD what a fitting conclusion- like Epic’s version of Halo 3 to compare it to another potential trilogy ender. Dom, dear old Dom- RIP buddy cooperative action and memorable moments across the initial trilogy galore. If you haven’t played the Gears series you should really hop on the band wagon and buy Gears 4 so that you can get the access codes for 1-3 and Judgment- I promise you won’t be disappointed because ironically the story is oftentimes the bigger draw than the gameplay itself. Somehow Gears ended up being the most one of the more narrative focused shooters out there.

Dark Souls started the epic and terrible surge of brutally difficult games that we’ve since played- from games created by From Software to games that reek of generic Souls cloning. Without Demon’s Souls we wouldn’t have Dark Souls and without King’s Field we wouldn’t have any Souls-games, however Dark Souls marked the explosion of popularity for the series and its masochistic fans. I continue to play the first game to this day and it retains its originality and enjoyability and difficulty even now.

The Batman Arkham series is one of the best series of all time and easily the greatest superhero series outside of fighting games that feature multiple heroes across muliple stories. Although it has since has some less than stellar additions, the core trilogy of Asylum, City, and Knight are pretty spectacular (forget Origins because it was okay but bleh). Arkham City stands as the narrative highlight and offers the best quests in the series to date. Every boss encounter was original and well done. Every line of dialogue was enthusiastically delivered and believable. And boy oh boy the story was mind shattering at times.

It’s hard to believe it’s been over five years since The Elder Scrolls V hit gamers everywhere with its brilliant addition to the Tamriel universe. Skyrim is still a staple in many gaming libraries and constantly a topic of discussion as well. There has been talk of the potential for a sixth game after all, but honestly I still find myself content to traverse the realms of Skyrim over and over as Bethesda continues to tweak their MMO adaption of the series as well. I would never turn down more Elder Scrolls but I want to see the next game hit us as hard as Skyrim did.

2012: Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, Mass Effect 3, Journey, Xenoblade Chronicles, Fez, Telltale’s The Walking Dead, Sniper Elite V2, Spec Ops: The Line, Darksiders II, Borderlands 2, Dishonored, Far Cry 3.

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Forgetting the fact that Amalur was essentially a one-hit wonder that subsequently bankrupted its studio despite decent sales and critical acclaim in terms of reception, it is a spectacularly underrated game as well. It has the sense of a high fantasy role-playing game and yet for every niche cliche it establishes roots in it also branches out into uncharted territory with interesting ideas that haven’t really been done since or seen before. Not only is it an enjoyable experience and competent RPG, Kingdoms of Amalur is just a genuinely good game.

It wouldn’t be fitting to not talk about the capstone to Commander Shepard’s spacefaring experiences here, ending issues or otherwise. In the wake of Mass Effect Andromeda’s release and the issues that have come with it, let us not forget the amazing trilogy Bioware gifted players around the world with and the amount of player feedback that went into the flawed masterpiece that is Mass Effect 3- both before and after its release. When a developer loves their work enough to tweak the experience after release and offer players a more thoughtful ending, that’s when you know that something special has been made (well and screwed up a bit as well).

Journey is truly a work of art and if you need to hear more arguments about the matter I invite you to happily google video games as an art form for more data and research to support that thought. As an experience it cannot be matched, not even by today’s standards or by other equally intriguing and compelling indie games. As far as the game itself goes it both looks and feels artistic and the artistic integrity of it should never be under scrutiny either. It’s like great titles such as Limbo and Little Nightmares where it’s an enjoyable game but also a thoroughly worthwhile and thought provoking experience.

Xenoblade Chronicles has had sequel content and additions made to it but nothing has quite lived up to the amazing quality and expansiveness of the first title. I was shocked when such an epic game released after virtually hearing little to nothing about it in terms of coverage here in the west. The fact that such an epic game could be made and not much have been said about it just seemed to be contradictory in so many ways and an egregious breach of gaming’s moral code in others. If you have a Wii and haven’t played the game then you’re missing out on quite possibly the best title outside of Twilight Princess.

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Don’t even get me started on Fez 2 rumors or Phil Fish’s antics, but Fez is an indie darling even in a year dominated by Journey and a two year period shared with both Journey and Bastion. It’s a callback to the old school exploration and platforming titles and truly an authentic and enjoyable one at that. Coupled with the fact that it melds new school and old school ideas, it is also thoroughly impressive that the title was all pretty much created by the talent and drive of a single Fish himself. Love the man or hate him, his art speaks for itself.

There hasn’t really been one single defining moment in the gaming community that has sprung up around Telltale’s episodic installments quite like Episode 5 of TWD Season One and Clementine’s experience with Lee culminating in her choice to put him down or let him turn into the zombies they’ve been narrowly escaping until that point. If I just ruined an entire series for you then I apologize but you’ve had five years to see what everyone was crying about for yourself. Similarly if someone ruined the Red Wedding for you then you had like a decade to see what all of your geek friends were sobbing over after reading A Storm of Swords so hey. The episodic format is a bit stale now but you can’t beat the series that made it as thrilling as it has been at times.

Sniper Elite V2 is a how a remake and reboot should be done as it is summarily a bit of both and a bit of neither. Sniper Elite was first made somewhere in the 2004-2005 period and was a competent and interesting shooter at the time. Sniper Elite V2 has since changed many aspects and turned the series into a franchise for Rebellion Games that has spawned three main series titles and a trilogy of Nazi Zombie content as well. All of which has been invigorating and interesting, but none of which would have been possible without the reception of V2 and its dynamic slow motion kill cams. It’s like a sniper’s version of Mortal Kombat and it is gory and gratifying.

Spec Ops: The Line deserves all of the talk it gets for how it handles trauma and so many other aspects not often discussed in video games, much less so in shooters. It is a brilliant game and also a thoughtful evolution of an otherwise defunct series. Honestly, as a one-off kind of experience that may never be replicated it’s an amazing experience and one that I think many different types of gamers would enjoy. If it ever does get the sequel it would most definitely deserve then I can only hope it lives up to the legacy and the shock value established in this particular title. Maybe a jungle adventure like something out of Heart of Darkness and Apocalypse Now…

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Just like the forces of evil could not fully contain either War or Death, the release of Darksiders III cannot be contained or prevented by the death of a publisher or subsequent acquisition of developers. As thrilled as I am for another installation of the series (so much so that I blogged about it prior to any news of a new release) I also constantly revel in my enjoyment of the previous iteration of the series that leapt from the linear path of the first to the open world and embellished lore of the second. For all that I adored in the first game (a lot of things actually) I came to love and appreciate fully in the second- with its Diablo meets God of War meets Zelda structure.

You already know how big a fan I, like many people, am of Borderlands and the second game in the series by this point. Not only have I established my own series of blogs in regard to the replay of the second title but I’ve also delivered many comments and bits of discussion on the lore as well. Borderlands 2 is something that you don’t always see with a gaming generation- it is an icon and a high water mark of excellence that can’t often be replicated, whether within the same series or even within a genre. And yet I still have high hopes that Gearbox can strike gold yet again with their highly anticipated third main installment and make me feel the same way the blood and guts and loot filled adventure has in the past.

Dishonored 2 is every bit as original and as stellar a the first game but for whatever reason the game’s sales have not been reflective of that and it hurts my heart to say so. The first game is fittingly a fresh adventure into something that Bethsoft has some experience in personally but has otherwise left largely to games like Thief and Assassin’s Creed before. Dishonored features dynamic choices that actually matter and colorful characters within a colorful world that you can both interact with and affect in numerous ways. Although the sequel has expanded upon much, the lore and sheer ability to do virtually anything imaginable in the first game are what make it one of the most intriguing experiences of all time.

Far Cry 3 is an island in the series and probably because it offered the freshest start as well as the most original and unique gameplay elements in a series that was otherwise headed downhill after the flawed African safari of Far Cry 2. Although I enjoy the series as a whole and can recognize the great elements each iteration has implemented, FC3 is easily the most quality driven experience and outside of the unique setting for Primal it is the best and brightest excursion to date as well. Far Cry 4 piggybacks too much of the gameplay elements and sheer shock value in terms of colorful characters to get much love from me despite that experience still being a grand one.

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Milly Schmidt

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