Category Archives: Editorials & Articles

Oculus Quest 2 First Impressions

Rather than writing a full-scale review for the Oculus Quest 2 I’ve decided to just offer up my first impressions after my first 24 hours with the device.  There are plenty of other reviews already out there; it’s not like this is a new product, although it is new to me as it took some serious thought for me to buy this, and then I actually had to locate one after I decided I would.  I did not go into this willingly; more out of obligation to provide future VR coverage.  I have been a big fan of the Oculus Rift S since it released and I still am.  The only reason I finally conceded to purchasing the Quest 2 is because Facebook is discontinuing the Rift S this year, and game studios seem to be shifting their design focus to Quest games only.

The Oculus Quest 2 seems almost deceptively marketed with numerous features removed to keep the price point more tempting for newcomers only to pick your pocket after the purchase.  The most obvious price-determining feature is how much memory the headset has.  Since this is a standalone headset your games must be downloaded and stored on the device, unlike the Rift that simply uses whatever is on your PC.   While the $299 64GB version is more than adequate for now, games are getting bigger, and with no way to increase the storage I opted for the $399 256GB version…just to be safe.

Other quality of life features are also available for a premium price.  Out of the box, the Quest 2 has a head strap setup that seems more like a medieval torture device than something part of next-gen tech.  So make sure you add the $49 Elite Strap to your shopping cart when purchasing.  This basically replaces the flimsy straps with a firm plastic piece with a tension dial on the back – the same setup the Rift S has by default.  If you are coming from a previous headset like the Rift then you likely already have a library of games on Steam and in order to access those you will need a special cable.  Oculus is happy to sell you one for $79 or you can find a cheaper alternative almost anywhere for a third of that.  Yes, this will tether you to your PC with a 16’ cable, eliminating the freedom of a cordless device, but you will actually have access to hundreds of games on the PC instead of only dozens currently on the Oculus store.

So by the time you buy all the extra stuff to make the Quest comfortable and fully functional you’re well over $400/500 depending on your memory choice.  I haven’t done the math, but I’m pretty sure there isn’t 256GB of content on the entire Oculus Quest Store.  I suppose you could use that extra space to download movies and other non-gaming content, but the 64GB seems the wiser purchase.

The other divisive feature is the now-mandatory linking of your Oculus account to a Facebook account.  Personally, I had no problem with this.  I consider myself a low-end Facebook user, so I had no privacy issues.  I understand those who might and I also can see the resentment of having to create an account JUST to use the Quest 2.  While this is a weak attempt by Facebook to bolster their subs they can’t force you to actually use their social platform, and I know several who created accounts just to activate their Quest 2 and never used Facebook again.

Getting started with my new Oculus Quest 2 was relatively uneventful.  I appreciated the nicely designed packaging where all the contents fit with puzzle-like precision.  Out of the box the Quest 2 was already around 90% charged, so I plugged it in to top it off while I unpacked the Elite strap and read the mini-setup guides.  First thing to do was basically disassemble the Quest 2 by removing the face adapter and unsnapping the existing head strap from the sides.  The Elite strap snapped right back into place and I inserted the spacer for glasses and reattached the foam face piece.  Even with the Elite strap the weight balance if off; especially compared to the Rift S.  You really have to crank the strap tight to pull the weight of the headset off your nose, but in my case this extra tension was being transferred to my glasses which was then transferred to my nose.  After multiple hours of usage I have yet to find a totally comfortable solution unlike my Rift S that I can (and have) worn for six hour stretches.  I was worried that the 2-3 hour battery life of the Quest 2 would be an issue, but nose pain has me quit playing before that becomes a problem.

After an intro video you need to install the Oculus app to your mobile device and pair that device to your VR headset.  While you can still access the store and your app library from within the headset, the mobile app is a nice external way of managing your content without having to put on the headset.  There are a few additional steps like pairing with your Wi-Fi, linking to a Facebook account, and using the controller to paint the borders of your play area.  This creates a safe zone for you to move around in, and if you get too close to a wall or piece of furniture you’ll get a visual warning.  It’s the same system you get with the Rift but probably more useful here since you have the freedom of wireless play.

Now it was time to get some games installed on this thing.  I had no idea there were only three major Quest-exclusive games available at this time.  Star Wars: Tales from the Galaxy’s Edge was the first game released last November that gave me a slight case of FOMO.  This month’s release of The Climb 2 was the game that really tipped the scales for me.  I loved the original game and have spent more hours on my Rift S playing The Climb than all other VR games combined.  So those two games and Zombieland VR: Headshot Fever were the first new games to get added to my library, but while browsing the store I started seeing all these FREE games and realized that many games I had already purchased in my Oculus Rift store was being offered as a free download on the Quest store.  Nice perk!

Just for kicks I downloaded the first Climb game just to see how different it was from the Rift version. Having spent over 100 hours playing this on the Rift S I immediately saw some huge graphical and performance deficiencies with the Quest version…at least when the game actually ran.  The Climb constantly drops you out of the game.  The first time was picking my skin color, the second time was during the tutorial, and then my first climb within the actual game dropped me to the Quest home three times before I could reach the top.  It’s definitely something with this version because when I linked to my PC and played the Rift version on the Quest it was flawless.  Thankfully this is the only game that seems to have such issues; sadly it just happens to be my favorite VR game.

After playing the exclusive titles as well as half-dozen Rift originals re-downloaded to the Quest 2 I am not impressed.  You are limited to 3 IPD settings, none of which seemed to fit my needs, so text was often blurry.  There was also a lack of immersion with the game as the Quest headset seemed more apparent in my peripheral vision.  At first I was impressed with the built-in speakers, but once I started Zombieland I had to turn the game to max volume just to hear the dialogue.  Headphone will likely be necessary for future games; more expense and more discomfort.

After the first 24 hours I feel like I was being forced to purchase inferior hardware just to play a few insignificant exclusives and to future-proof myself against Rift extinction.  I’m seriously considering returning the Quest 2.  Even after months of being available there is no compelling reason to own one.  Steam isn’t going anywhere and there are hundreds of Rift games available, so it might be time to double-down and purchase a spare Rift S.  They’re only $299 and you won’t have to spend another $100 to effectively use it, assuming you already have a high-end gaming PC.

My future with the Quest 2 relies on two games at this point.  If The Climb 2 gets announced for the Rift I’d likely ditch my Quest 2.  There is also another game, Lone Echo 2 that I have been waiting on for years now.  It was currently coming to Rift and I fear it might get redirected to the Quest in which case I would likely have to keep my Quest 2.  It’s sad when the value of hundreds of dollars of hardware becomes rooted in these $20-40 games.  We see the same thing going on right now with PS5 and the new Xbox; fancy new consoles and no games to play on them.  I hope the Oculus Quest 2 gets its act together, and I hope it does so before the Quest 3 is announced.  For now I will continue to use my Rift S as my main destination for VR gaming.

Game Chronicles 2020 Game of the Year Awards

Welcome to our 17th Annual Game of the Year Awards where we celebrate the best games of 2020, or at least the games we actually played and hopefully reviewed. Admittedly, we don’t get to play everything that comes out, so our list will certainly be different from the hundreds of other end-of-the-year tallies flooding the Internet right now. If your favorite game didn’t make our list I’m sure it’s on somebody else’s.

As with our past awards lists, we’ll be keeping things simple with a summary of the top ten games spanning multiple systems and genres, along with a few specific shout-outs for Best VR games and Best Remake/Remaster games. We’re also including some Honorable Mentions for those games that just missed the cutoff.

 

TOP TEN GAMES of 2020

10. Godfall – Ironically, this was one of the few PS5 launch titles I had relatively little interest in, but it only took a few minutes of actually playing the game and I was hooked.  The blinding visuals and the fluid combat combine to make a fantastic brawler that redefines the genre.  And as good as this is on PS5 it’s even better on the PC.

9. Demon Souls – One of many remasters in consideration this year, this game managed to claw its way into the top ten, mostly out of nostalgia, but also thanks to its stunning visual update and near-instant load times.  This is one of the few “souls games” I’ve actually enjoyed enough to play to completion.

8. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1+2 – Yet another remaster that makes it into the top ten, again mostly through nostalgia but now with improved tight controls, amazing HD visuals, and an unforgettable soundtrack.  Two games in one and endless replay potential makes this a smash hit for 2020.

7. Ori and the Will of the Wisps – Available on Xbox and PC this stunningly beautiful platform-adventure will dazzle you with its HDR visuals and support for 120fps on console and PC.  The balance of art and music conveys more emotion and wonder than I can justify in this paragraph.  A must play game for 2020.

6. Star Wars Squadrons – EA finally does something right with their Star Wars franchise, and this multiplayer squad battle space/flight-sim will keep you glued to the controls for countless hours beyond the solo campaign, and add on some fantastic VR support and you have the most immersive space combat simulation to date.

5. Assassin’s Creed Valhalla – I haven’t been a big fan of the new direction Ubisoft took with this franchise.  Origins and Odyssey seemed like bloated time-wasters targeting OCD map-cleaners, but Valhalla turns things up with a fantastic Viking storyline and some great exploration and combat.  This will keep you playing for all the right reasons.

4. Cyberpunk 2077 – This game would be controversial no matter what place it earned, and while many still can’t play this game as they should PC gamers with a powerful PC will find one of the best open-world games of this current generation.  The sheer scope and level of detail put into this boggles the mind and the extreme level of visual fidelity finally justifies that $800 video card.

3. Microsoft Flight Simulator – I was playing this game back in the 80’s in 3-color CGA graphics and you could only fly around Chicago.  Now the entire world is at my fingertips in gorgeous HD graphics synced with satellite imagery.  Ultra-realistic planes and cockpit models will have you scrambling to buy a flight stick and VR implementation puts you in the cockpit unlike any other sim before.  Expect this game to only get better over the years and Game Pass members can play for free.

2. The Last of Us Part 2 – Honestly, this game was in a dead tie with the first-place game, but it has already won so many awards I felt it didn’t need another.  Responsible for more online discourse than a presidential election, Naughty Dog’s sequel was a game you either loved or hated but a game that redefined the adventure genre and non-linear storytelling.  Truly a masterpiece and proper sendoff for the PS4.

1. Ghost of Tsushima – Perhaps one of the most original and authentic Asian-flavored games of all time, our pick for the top spot featured amazing storytelling, gorgeous visuals, an epic soundtrack, and so many cool ways to play, visually and audibly.  As with The Last of Us Part 2, this was also another spectacular swan song for the PS4 and a game that no one should miss playing.

Honorable Mentions (In no particular order)

Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War, Spider-Man: Miles Morales, Gears Tactics, Tetris Effect Connected, Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time, Cloudpunk, Streets of Rage 4, Deliver Us The Moon, Immortals Fenyx Rising

 

TOP 3 VR GAMES of 2020

3. AGOS:  A Game of Space – Ubisoft slipped this VR-exclusive space adventure into their store at the end of the year with almost no promotion.  Perhaps they lacked confidence in their game, but I found this space-exploration adventure to be totally addictive and great fun to play.  The ability to manipulate models in 3D space and control a multi-functional space probe with responsive hand movements was refreshing, challenging, and sparked my interest in space and science.  Great for kids.

2. Yupitergrad – Another game set in space, here you must navigate a derelict space station using grappling hooks and thrusters. With a traversal system that rivals Spider-Man, the underlying humor, charming visual design, unique mobility aspects and even the fantastic soundtrack all combine to create one of the more interesting and fun experiences you can have in VR.

1. Half-Life Alyx – Come on…was there any other choice for 2020?  In lieu of a proper sequel this is the best alternative and easily slipped into the top 3 VR games of 2020 and also my favorite VR game of all-time…so far.  I’m sure something will come along to beat it and I can’t wait to see what that is, but for now, this is easily the best and most immersive FPS game you can experience in VR.  The combat, puzzles, and level of immersion is unmatched by any other game at this time.  If you own a VR headset you must play this game.

Honorable Mentions (In no particular order)

Star Wars Squadrons, The Walking Dead: Saints & Sinners, Star Wars: Tales from the Galaxy’s Edge

 

TOP 3 REMAKES/REMASTERS

3. Spider-Man Remastered – I never dreamed I would play this massive game a second time but this remastered version lured me back in and I was hooked with both the 60fps swinging and combat action, but also the massively improved visuals that now include ray-tracing if you are willing to sacrifice traffic and pedestrians.  Including all the original DLC, this was another 30 hours well spent and a great way to double-stack trophies..

2. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 Remastered – Arguably one of the best campaigns of all-time, this remaster updates the visuals, enhances the sound, and brings it all together in  a nearly flawless package.  While it lacks the multiplayer components, those looking to relive some of the biggest and best action sequences in the franchise need look no further.

1. Saints Row: The Third Remastered – Hailed by critics and fans as the best installment in the franchise, the Saints are back in this spectacular remaster with all the great music, wacky mission design, and now stunning HDR 4K graphics to really put a shine on the mayhem.  Whether this is your first time in Stilwater or you’re just reliving your misspent youth, check this out.

Honorable Mentions (In no particular order)

Mafia: Definitive Edition, Sam & Max Save the World Remastered, Burnout Paradise Remastered, Yakuza Remastered Collection

 

COMING in 2021

With the launch of two next-gen gaming consoles and all new PC hardware there is a lot to look forward to in 2021.  With games like Hitman 3, The Medium, Deathloop, Far Cry 6, God of War Ragnarok, Gran Turismo 7, Senua’s Saga: Hellblade II, GhostWire: Tokyo, HALO Infinite, Horizon Forbidden West, Oddworld: Soulstorm, Psychonauts 2, Resident Evil Village, Skull & Bones, and so many, many other titles it’s going to be a busy year ahead for gamers and nearly impossible to pick a favorite, but here we go…   Our pick for most anticipated title of 2021 is…

That pretty much wraps up our picks for the best of 2020 and what we’re looking forward to in 2021. There were so many awesome video games this year and so much to look forward to next, and we’ll be here to cover it all including all the amazing games coming for the new Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5.  Stick with us for all the latest news, trailers, reviews, live shows, and more.

See you next year…

Game Chronicles 2019 Game of the Year Awards

Welcome to our 16th Annual Game of the Year Awards where we celebrate the best games of 2019, or at least the games we actually played and hopefully reviewed. Admittedly, we don’t get to play everything that comes out, so our list will certainly be different from the hundreds of other end-of-the-year tallies flooding the Internet right now. If your favorite game didn’t make our list I’m sure it’s on somebody else’s.

As with our past awards lists, we’ll be keeping things simple with a summary of the top ten games spanning multiple systems and genres, along with a few specific shout-outs for Best VR games and Best Remake/Remaster games. We’re also including some Honorable Mentions for those games that just missed the cutoff.

 

TOP TEN GAMES OF 2019

10. Need for Speed Heat – This is our most controversial pick for the top ten since any of the honorable mentions could have filled this slot, but Need for Speed has been around forever and despite some stinkers in the franchise, Heat marks a return to greatness for the series with classic cops vs racers, a unique blend of day and night racing, and a mega-map loaded with collectibles and activities. Combined with a strong community, massive garage and parts/upgrade library, and no monetization schemes, this is the time to once again feel the need for speed.

9. Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice – Combine the design and difficulty of Dark Souls/Bloodborne with some culturally-rich themes and design, this might be one of the best games you never finish, but you’ll have an amazing time trying. This is a game that gets consistently better the better you get playing it.

8. Resident Evil 2 – Admittedly a remake, but honestly with everything that was done to bring this new version to life we couldn’t diminish it to the Remake category. This is an entirely new game that not only changes the way you play but also the way you feel while playing it. The original was fun campy horror and jump scares, but now the zombie threat is downright terrifying.

7. Concrete Genie – Easily one of the most overlooked games of the year, this PS4 exclusive (with optional PSVR support) is one of my personal favorites of the year; a game I could easily revisit in a few months given the unique premise that YOU are actually creating the game world as you play. If you have a single ounce of creativity or desire to create digital art then this is a must-play adventure for you. The VR support is an added bonus for those with a PSVR, allowing you complete immersion in this amazing world.

6. A Plague Tale: Innocence – You’ll come for the rats but you’ll stay for the gorgeous (and often disgusting) visuals and the wonderful tale of a sibling bond that will overcome oppression and carnivorous vermin. Stealth and smart puzzle design put a great twist on the genre.

5. Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown – Air combat might be a niche genre but this latest installment in the epic franchise of multi-generational games should appeal to all gamers with a fantastic variety of mission designs and aircraft and a dazzling array of upgrades. The photo-realistic visuals are as close to becoming a pilot as you’ll get without enlisting.

4. Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order – Finally, a single-player Star Wars game with a story and no monetization. An immersive upgrade tree, varied Force powers, and a customizable lightsaber all combine to create an exciting action-adventure that will entertain anyone who has dreamt of becoming a Jedi. You even get a cool little companion droid.

3. Call of Duty Modern Warfare – The franchise returns to the roots that made it great by bringing back favorite characters and creating one of the best exciting single-player campaigns in the franchise’s history. The multiplayer still has all the usual issues that eventually get sorted out.

2. Metro Exodus – If you love a novel’s worth of exposition and dialogue in your games then look no further than this epic installment in the Metro series that takes us out of the Russian underground and out into the radioactive wasteland, as our heroes look for a new home.

1. Control – Combining elements of Warehouse 13 and Stranger Things with a dash of X-Files and Men in Black agency bureaucracy, you have the perfect setting for this paranormal thriller that perfectly blends superpowers and weapons combat in one of the best Metroidvania action-adventures ever. The addition of stunning RTX support on PC easily makes this our best game of 2019.

Honorable Mentions (In no particular order)

Children of Morta, Red Dead Redemption 2 (PC), Days Gone, Tom Clancy’s The Division 2, Gears 5, Devil May Cry 5, The Outer Worlds, Mortal Kombat 11

 

TOP 3 VR GAMES of 2019

3. AUDICA – It was down to this and Beat Saber for the third pick, and as much fun as we’ve had with Beat Saber, Audica just blows it away in every facet of design, implementation, and most importantly, song library. There are so many mechanics in Audica, the potential to replay and slowly master the higher levels along with, in my opinion; a much stronger music library clearly bumps Beat Saber out of the top three.

2. Trover Saves the Universe – You don’t have to be a fan of Rick and Morty to enjoy this game (it might help) but you will have to have (or develop) a tolerance for naughty language. Trover is a great platformer, and with the clever integration of co-op mechanics and parallel gameplay, offers something truly unique beyond its excellent VR integration.

1. Synth Riders – A VR game that was clearly designed for you to experience the flow of the music with pure and instinctually body movement whether you are spiraling your hands around to match the incoming pattern of orbs or riding the waves of the curvy sustain bars. If you’re not careful you might just catch yourself dancing to this game.

Honorable Mentions (In no particular order)

Beat Saber, Vader Immortal, A Fisherman’s Tale, The Curious Tale of the Stolen Pets

 

TOP 3 REMAKES/REMASTERS

3. Catherine: Full Body – Featuring all new visuals, improved gameplay, brand new music, enhanced multiplayer and even a new character who has been seamlessly woven into the existing story to make things more fun than ever, there is just enough new content that when combined with the eight year lapse since the original, this game feels like something entirely new.

2. Ghostbusters: The Video Game Remastered – If you ever wanted that third installment then this is it. The actual mechanics of busting ghosts feel great and the script and voice acting from all the original actors makes this feel just like the missing sequel we always wanted.

1. Assassin’s Creed III Remaster – This remaster goes beyond technical improvements. Ubisoft has packed in loads of bonus content including all the original DLC; Benedict Arnold Missions, Hidden Secrets Pack, and Tyranny of King Washington; all of which will add hours to your American Revolution experience. They even included Assassin’s Creed Liberation Remastered; the 4K remaster of the PC and console HD remake of the PlayStation Vita original.

Honorable Mentions (In no particular order)

Sniper Elite V2 Remastered, MediEvil Remastered

 

COMING in 2020

Even though we are getting all new consoles at the end of this year there are still plenty of awesome new games on the horizon; so many that trying to pick a single favorite is nearly impossible.  With great games like Ori and the Will of the Wisps, Final Fantasy 7 Remake, DOOM Eternal, Half-Life: Alyx, Resident Evil 3 Remake, Dying Light 2, The Last of Us Part 2, Ghosts of Tsushima, Halo Infinite, Watch Dogs: Legion, Psychonauts 2, and next-gen system launchers like Senua’s Saga: Hellblade II,our most anticipated title for 2020 is…

That pretty much wraps up our picks for the best of 2019 and what we’re looking forward to in 2020. There were so many awesome video games this year and so much to look forward to next, and we’ll be here to cover it all including the launch of the new Xbox and PlayStation 5.  Stick with us for all the latest news, trailers, reviews, live shows, and more.

See you next year…

2018 Game of the Year Awards

Welcome to our 15th Annual Game of the Year Awards where we celebrate the best games of 2018; a herculean task given the number of truly awesome games that arrived this year.  As with our past awards lists, we’ll be keeping things simple with a list of the top ten games spanning multiple systems and genres, along with a few specific shout-outs for Best VR games and Best Retro Remakes.

I realize there are hundreds of these lists flooding the Internet at this time, and ours is merely a focused drop in the bucket based almost entirely on games that we were able to play and review this year.  If your favorite game didn’t make our list I’m sure it’s on somebody else’s.  With that in mind, here we go…

TOP TEN GAMES OF 2018

10. Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice – Originally released on PC last year, Hellblade made its way to consoles in 2018 while receiving a VR update on Steam. This epic Norse adventure mixes equal parts of puzzle-solving and intense combat with some of the best sound design of any game ever made.  It’s on Xbox Game Pass so check it out.

9. Detroit Become Human – If there was ever an award for game with the most replay value Detroit would easily win it with its sprawling spreadsheet story flow and engaging narrative that invites you to replay small and large parts of the game or even start over from scratch. This introspective look at man’s future will entertain gamers for countless hours.

8. Far Cry 5 – Mixing the creepiness of an out-of-control religious cult and the sprawling spectacle of Montana you can’t help having fun as you fight for survival in another by-the-numbers Far Cry game. Sure it’s the same formula as all the rest, but that formula is now refined and polished to near perfection right down to the cliffhanger ending and upcoming sequel in 2019.

7. Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 – Who would have thought that removing the single-player campaign and focusing on multiplayer, zombies, and one of the best battle royale modes would restore Call of Duty to its former greatness? Apparently everyone. I’m just happy that something was able to compete with Fortnight and PUBG.

6. Hitman 2 – The shortest distance between a hitman and his target won’t be discovered in Hitman 2; a game that insists you replay each mission over and over and over again, tempting you with a massive checklist of things you could have done if you had played another way. Toss in all of the levels from last year’s game, newly remastered for the updated engine and you get two games in one.

5. Forza Horizon 4 – A technical masterpiece in graphics, sound, and addictive game design, Forza Horizon 4 will keep you coming back with its ever-changing seasonal gameplay, new cars, and robust DLC offering new scenic landscapes to explore. It’s worth noting that this game was neck and neck with The Crew 2.

4. Shadow of the Tomb Raider – Lara returned to cap off her next-gen trilogy in perhaps her darkest adventure yet. The designers listened to feedback and this time we got a lot more tombs, crypts, and all the other stuff that makes a Tomb Raider game what it is. Mix in some great combat and new stealth tactics and this game, along with all the DLC, will entertain for nearly a hundred hours.

3. Red Dead Redemption 2 – A game that takes as long to play as the designers took to make it; this highly anticipated western will either captivate you with its slow-as-life-itself simulation gameplay or put you to sleep. Regardless, it’s a technical masterpiece that already has people saving their pennies to build a PC capable of playing the inevitable (but yet to be announced) PC port in 2019. Until then you have the massive single-player game and an online mode that only dreams of being as popular as GTA Online.

2. God of War – Kratos was nearly tied with Peter Parker for the top spot of 2018. The powerful god-turned-dad storyline along with a visionary new single continuous camera angle was exhilarating and had this game locked in for the top spot until a certain insect swung into town. Regardless, if you own a PS4 then God of War is a must-own game.

1. Spider-Man – Sony not only nailed Spiderman with the new Spiderverse movie, it locked in everyone’s favorite web-slinger for the top game of 2018 with some of the most thrilling open-world gameplay of any game released this year. Not since Spider-Man 2 have we experience this level of synchronicity with what it must actually feel like to swing around the majestic NYC skyline. The combat is fast and fluid, and there truly is a great story being told, both in the main game and the DLC missions that have arrived since.  This is one of those rare games that you’ll enjoy grinding your way to that platinum trophy.

TOP 3 VR GAMES of 2018

We reviewed nearly 100 VR games in 2018 across all three major platforms, but only three rose to the top and here they are…

3. Tetris Effect (PSVR) – Sure, it’s essentially the same game you played 31 years ago, but when you mix in some awesome music and hypnotic visuals Tetris becomes something quite futuristic. The added immersion of VR surprisingly makes the game even more interesting to play as you fight to focus on the game and avoid the distractions all around you.

2. Moss (PSVR, PC) – Release in February for PSVR and PC in June, Moss remains one of my all-time favorite VR games on any system to date, blending action and platforming adventure with a total lack of motion sickness while actually incorporating the player into the game design. The first book in what will hopefully become a long series.

1. Astro Bots: Rescue Mission (PSVR) – Sony swooped in at the last moment to secure this award for this adorable robot rescue mission that has you exploring some of the best VR levels you might imagine collecting robots and hidden chameleons along the way. Each level is honestly better than the last with awesome boss battles, dozens of challenge stages, and one of the best home bases ever created that you can decorate with diorama pieces won from a claw machine and then play in. This game is reason enough to purchase a PSVR.

TOP 3 RETRO REMAKES

Another growing trend in game design is remaking our past so we can either relive it or let our kids experience a forgotten era of gaming.  There were dozens of remade, rebooted, and reimagined retro games this past year but only three were worthy of this list.

3. Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy – If you loved those old Crash games from an era where controllers had no analog sticks then this trilogy of platforming terror will help you relive those aging memories with all-new updated graphics perfectly overlaid on top of that problematic gameplay. Mmmmm…just like grandma used to make.

2. Spyro Reignited Trilogy – This purple dragon is certainly more approachable than the aforementioned bandicoot, with a friendlier game design that promotes relaxing exploration vs. frantic time-challenged adventures. Both PlayStation mascots are equally adorable with their own unique set of charms and gameplay styles, but dragons beat bandicoots in real life and in these awards.

1. Shadow of the Colossus – Having already been upgraded once before, Sony’s boss battle challenge game has finally received a proper update for the PS4; a system finally capable of showcasing this game’s epic scale in landscape and imposing creature design. Climbing, fighting, and defeating these titans will be some of the best retro-reliving memories you’ll have this year.

 

And how about looking forward. 2019 is already shaping up to be another huge year for gaming with a plethora of titles already announced for the first quarter; games like Ace Combat 7, Resident Evil 2 Remake, Crackdown 3, Dead or Alive 6, Far Cry New Dawn, Metro Exodus, Anthem, Kingdom Hearts III, Devil May Cry 5, and The Division 2…and that’s just the first 90 days of the year.  There are over a dozen titles we’re hot to play, but the one we are most excited for is:

That pretty much wraps up our picks for the best of 2018 and what we’re looking forward to in 2019. There were so many awesome video games this year and so much to look forward to next, and we’ll be here to cover it all, providing you with all the latest news, trailers, reviews, live shows, and more.

See you next year…

GRIP: Combat Racing Developer Q&A

GRIP: Combat Racing will see racers hurtling their way around 22 breath-taking tracks across a variety of hostile and foreign worlds, driving one of 15 armored cars – some swift and agile, while others are brutish and heavily armored. Players must be merciless; deploying a bristling arsenal of 9 outlandish weapons and power-ups to give them the advantage to take the lead against other fierce competitors. These weapons will allow players to not only target other cars, but also the destructible environments surrounding them.

Inspired by the Rollcage games of the late 90s and backed by a highly-skilled and accomplished team, which includes Rollcage programming veteran, Robert Baker, GRIP: Combat Racing celebrates the re-emergence of blindingly fast arcade combat racers, offering a true, wheel-gripping racing experience – where utter destruction serves one true purpose: be the first to cross the finish line.

We had the chance to talk with Chris Mallinson, Co-founder of Caged Element and Game Director for GRIP: Combat Racing and get some cool info about this highly anticipated racing game.

Q: Thank you for your time. Please get us started by introducing yourself and telling us about the team working on GRIP and how Rollcage inspired this new racing game.

My name is Chris Mallinson, co-founder of Caged Element and Game Director for GRIP: Combat Racing. Back in 2014, researching Rollcage out of pure nostalgia I stumbled across a blog by Rob Baker – a developer on the original games. Rob was still updating Rollcage to keep things running smoothly on the latest versions of Windows. Clearly Rollcage was still in Rob’s mind and we soon started plotting towards a successor to the franchise.

The team as a whole is made up of industry vets and fans of the original game series – we’ve got ex-codey’ level designers, visionary artists who made fan concept art for a Rollcage “Stage 3” and seasoned programmers like Rob, all working from remote locations around the world.

Q: Please tell us about any unexpected changes/additions to GRIP that evolved during the Early Access period?   Any inspirations from community feedback?

Community has been a big part of making GRIP the game it is today. We launched in early access with what was really a proof of concept or statement of intent – a few very basic tracks and some racing physics showing more what we wanted to do rather than how the end product would look and feel. GRIP has grown massively since then and heading towards the launch version we’re now looking at 22 furiously fast race tracks and 15 beautifully crafted vehicles.

The thing that’s been really key is achieving a good balance between all of the vehicles and weapons in the game… alone we could never have put the sheer number of hours into the game that the early access community have behind them, so simply put we wouldn’t know anywhere near as much. It’s definitely made the game better.

Q: In a combat-heavy game such as this, does car selection truly impact gameplay, and if so, how did you go about balancing the vehicles?

Car selection has a big impact on gameplay and you’re right to think that balancing was one of the hardest things to get right. In the game we have 3 classes of vehicle, speedster, mid-class and tank; You could liken these to the weight classes in other combat racers, but the differences are exaggerated and become even more apparent when playing the game in a mode where vehicle damage is applied. The penalties to acceleration make taking a tank for a spin high risk but the top speed is high reward – one thing that we always think is great about the game is that the shortest route is often not the quickest – it’s down to the players to work this stuff out and keep the balance of speed and control just right.

Q: What balancing considerations went into weapons and power-up design vs defensive measures?  

Weapons have been a key area, I think it’s fair to say that myself and Rob always felt like the weapons in Rollcage, great and iconic as they are, were sometimes a little overpowered – it was way too easy to find yourself out of the race before it had even begun and this was something we were desperate to avoid.

We combat this a couple of ways in GRIP, the first is that the base power of each weapon is not too great – the savvy racer does have the ability to supercharge the weapon they hold by sacrificing another, but even at this level weapons are race changing rather than race ending. The second thing that plays a major part is the catch-up assist system – this is something that can be switched off or used to filter online games if you’re looking for a pure experience – but this essentially goes beyond just rubber banding the AI by instead applying different forces on the vehicles depending on their position. The end result is a far more competitive race that stays exciting right until the last corner.

Q: The physics and feel of the cars and the way they control seem to get better with each new update. Can you discuss the importance of physics in GRIP and how it impacts gameplay?

The physics in GRIP are totally central to the game and how it plays. We’ve put hours and days into perfecting the way the game feels. Keeping vehicles on the ceiling isn’t easy and has needed a lot of refinement. Making sure the vehicles move in the way they do has essentially led us to a point where nearly everything in terms of physics is custom code written by our team.

We started from a point of trying to make things as realistic as possible, but quickly had to acknowledge that with the vehicles’ aerodynamic properties as they are, they simply wouldn’t move in the first place. From there we’ve slowly but surely leaned towards prioritizing the best possible handling within the game. That’s not to say that we’ve disregarded realism completely – the game still maintains proper scaling so the speeds you see on the speedometer are real, making GRIP the fastest game on 4 wheels; the knock-on to this is a game which rewards control and precision above perhaps all else.

Q: Can you discuss how environmental destruction will be implemented as a combat tactic?

Destructible environments in the game aren’t something we’ve really shown off in full just yet – in some of our early access races we’ve played around with different elements which impede racers themselves rather than directly affecting your opponents. There is a large destructible set piece in one of the upcoming launch tracks which has a big knock on for the pack around you, and we haven’t been shy to include an exploding barrel or two along with some smaller elements along the way, but this is an area that we definitely think deserves more exploration in post-launch updates.

Q: The music selection is fantastic. How did you go about selecting the artists and songs? Will there be an OST offering on the Steam store?

Picking the soundtrack for the game has been a lot of fun and we’ve worked with some incredible artists from around the world. It’s safe to say we always knew what we wanted in terms of style, harking back to the original RC games but with a 2018 feel. We’ve had great support from the labels we’ve licensed from and all the tracks that are making their way into the final game really jumped out at us. We do have plans to distribute the soundtrack for the game and we look forward to sharing these details as soon as we can.

Q: 4-player split-screen could turn GRIP into the Mario Kart of the PC world. Any special game modes planned specifically for party-play?

Split-screen was always something we wanted to deliver and is a big part of the GRIP experience. We’ve spent a lot of our time so far focusing on the core racing and arena modes and think we’ve got these well balanced for both online and couch play.

I think it’s important to say we have a lot of ideas on how we can enhance the game post launch with some content already in the works. How you interact with your fellow racers is definitely something we’d like to explore down the line and we already have some ideas.

Q: I have to ask this for our growing VR gamer base; any future plans for a post-launch update that might include VR support?

Never say never – Wipeout has proven that a VR experience at these sorts of speeds is not only possible but very much playable. That said they haven’t had to worry about constantly turning players on their heads! If we bring VR to GRIP in the future it has to be right – that could take a long time and so far, we’ve had our heads down focusing on the on-screen experience.

Q: Some of these tracks reminded me of my old slot-racers with snap-together track pieces. Does your developer toolkit allow for the possibility of a track editor after launch, so the community can create their own designs?

No plans for a track editor just yet; it’s something that comes up and something we’ll look at maybe, but I think it’s easy to underestimate what it takes to design a functioning track in this game – the verticality of the gameplay makes coherent track creation a challenge even for seasoned designers.

Rather than building an editor we thought it was more important to focus on giving racers a good number of tracks ourselves for day one and we’re pleased to say that we’ll be releasing additional tracks via free updates post launch.

Q: What kind of Achievements do you have planned for GRIP? Any favorites?

We’ll be releasing the achievement list a little closer to launch but I can confirm there aren’t any online trophies.

Q: Thanks for taking the time to answer our questions. In closing, is there anything about GRIP that we may have overlooked that you would like to share?

I’d just like to say a big thank you to everyone who’s supported the game through its development – we’re super stoked to be heading towards our November 6th launch date on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch and PC. We’ll be sharing even more about the game over the coming weeks on our Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Discord pages, so come join our community.

Those wanting to experience GRIP: Combat Racing can play now on Early Access on Steam.

The Ice Merchant – Author Interview with Paul Boor

Paul Boor, M.D., is a scientist and professor at Galveston’s medical school, the oldest west of the Mississippi. His first novel, BLOOD NOTES, was a modern biomedical thriller. In THE ICE MERCHANT, Dr. Boor explores the history of the body trade, while plumbing the depths of the human frailties of those devoted to scientific discovery.  You can read our review for The Ice Merchant and check out our interview with the author below:

Q: When reading stories that place themselves within an historical context, I am always curious how much of the story is true and how much is fiction. I did some research on the ice trade of the 1800’s as well as the black market cadaver trade of the same period and found that there is a lot of truth to these events, but I was unable to find any specific account of the two things coinciding, though it makes perfect sense when presented in the book. Seeing as how you are a professor at the very same medical college in Galveston, TX as is featured in the book, I feel you probably had a unique historical perspective of events that transpired there. So, how much is true? Was there someone like Nicholas Van Horne who traded both in ice and, secretly, in bodies to the college during that time period? Without spoiling too much, how close to failure did the college come to during that time? How influential was the college in Galveston in discovering a vaccine for Yellow Fever?

A: All of the history is essentially as accurate as I could make it. The ice trade, the body trade, and the struggle of medical colleges opening as small endeavors populated largely by European-trained physicians and scientists — all pretty accurate. Did anyone ever ship bodies on ice? That was my invention, though ice was used to preserve bodies and I read where one US president (was it Lincoln or Grant) was iced (in between stops and showings) on the train that carried his body across the country. The names of the characters were in fact also Galvestonians, though I took great liberties in how i portrayed them, often combining well known historical Island figures under one name. Galveston was at the forefront of infectious disease (and still is — read about the Galveston National Lab; also THE BLOOD NOTES OF PETER MALLOW) and in fact mosquito research was active here, but more in the time period 1900-1920 (and in the present). I think all medical schools came near to failure, and many examples of town/gown issues, and actual attacks on schools exist. I give a talk to a medical student group interested in medical history on this very topic. Vaccines for yellow fever were not developed until much later, but the use of anti-serum from patient/animals and attempts at therapy (as by Rene Keiller) were time appropriate in the story. In fact, the basic ideas of research, self experimentation (Nicholas), and the idea of hypothesis testing as the basic approach in science, were then as they are now — that is one point of my writing that I continuously try to show.

Q: How did you go about researching the historical portions of the story? Were you initially drawn by how the school obtained cadavers or by the ice trade? What was the catalyst that brought all these fascinating things together for you into the story of The Ice Merchant?

A: The two ideas collided in my mind. I had written a short story about a medical school attack; it was always one of my favorites and after I left BLOOD NOTES behind I turned historical. I grew up in upstate New York and still have the family cottage on White Lake two roads down from a street call “Ice House Road.” This lake was the site of the Utica Ice Co until the 1920s, so the memorabilia of ice harvesting etc. (and harsh winters) —- something I grew up with.

Q: One of my favorite things about the book was how specific you were in describing the medical techniques of the time, and how surprisingly barbaric the world of just over one hundred years ago was. What resources did you use to describe the instruments and techniques of the time in such detail?

A: Gosh, various old medical texts I have from the period. At one time I thought about an academic “reference list” for the novel, but opted to not. Actually, I read a lot of period GALVESTON DAILY NEWS via microfiche at our wonderful local library archives. the advertisements themselves, as well as the happenings of the day (for example, medical school news, lynchings, etc.) inspired much in THE ICE MERCHANT.

Q: At one point you mention that the main character has a unique arterial aberration, but don’t go into much more detail about it. I feel like that was a reference that only medical students would understand. Could you explain what you were referring to for a layperson such as myself?

A: That was relative to Nicholas’ beat up veins from his IV drug addiction. Nothing specific except that Renée is so talented she was able to find a vein for injection… and such a thorough scientist that she would report it in the Scientific literature.

I thought this showed a lot about Nicolas’ wayward son, and how he’d changed.

Q: The simple fact that people had to get ice shipped to them from northern climes before such amenities as refrigerators, freezers, and climate control was fascinating to me. It made me realize just how much we take things like this for granted. I think the corollary, medically, is just how much we take for granted that our doctors and researchers have access to cadavers in order to aid in furthering the study of medicine. What other things, in your opinion, do we take for granted in our modern-day lives?

A: Antibiotics (now quite controversial regarding overuse).

Q:  What’s next for you? More historical fictions, or something else entirely?

A: I am working on a story set in Galveston’s med school in 1900; the Great Storm plays a major role.

FlatOut 4: Total Insanity Developer Q&A

Gamers will soon peel out of starting line as Strategy First proudly reveals FlatOut 4®: Total Insanity for Steam in development by Kylotonn Games. Fans of the legendary FlatOut racing series will experience demolition derby-style racing at its best with the Steam version enhanced to take advantage of the platform’s special features. FlatOut 4®: Total Insanity is set to release worldwide on Steam in April 2017.

We had the chance to talk about this exciting new racing game with Alexandre Assier, Producer at Kylotonn Games, and Emanuel Wall, Director at Strategy First Inc. and get some cool info about this next-gen sequel to one of our favorite racing franchises.

Q: Thank you for your time. Please get us started by introducing yourself and telling us about the team working on FlatOut 4. Any Bugbear veterans on the team?

A: (Alex Assier) It’s a pleasure to speak about this new FlatOut game. I’m Alexandre Assier, Producer at Kylotonn Games for FlatOut. I’ve been working in the game video game industry for 16 years. I have worked on a variety of types of games and platforms but my primary focus is and has always been on racing games for consoles. It’s my passion and the passion of Kylotonn. No one on our team is associated with any other studios.

It’s an honor though to take up the mantle on the franchise. We are looking to make our mark where people will refer to us as doing something great with the latest iteration of FlatOut.

Q: FlatOut fans (at least on the PC) have been closely following the ongoing development of Next Car Game/Wreckfest. Where, how, or does FlatOut 4 fit into what is really the only other demolition derby racing game for PC?

A: (Alex Assier) There is certainly enough room for both games. If you like Next Car Game Wreckfest. I am sure you will also like FlatOut 4: Total Insanity. Our game is different from theirs but keeps to the spirit of FlatOut 2 along with something new. While we think what Bugbear is doing with their new game is great, it’s been a big departure from where they came from with FlatOut. Wreckfest has swung quite far towards the realm of simulation. Which makes sense of course with their technology. However, FlatOut isn’t a sim. It’s a brand that is something altogether different and unique and never takes itself too seriously. This is pure entertainment – we push fun and humor, eject your drivers through the windshield, smash your rocket powered ice cream van into your opponent, surprise your buddy with a bowling ball barreling down the road to threaten his lead! Not the same approach, not the same game.

Q: Is there going to be any structured single-player career/campaign mode?

A: (Alex Assier) Yes, FlatOut has both career mode for single player, and multiplayer mode for playing with your friends. The single-player campaign is tournament style with medals required to progress. The campaign features a variety of styles of races and arenas.

Q: There is an impressive amount of content in FlatOut 4. Please explain a bit about how this will be “unlocked” and how much is available when you first start the game.

A: (Alex Assier) Yes, we tried to fill the game with as much content as possible. All will be unlocked during the Career and FlatOut Mode. Race wins will provide you with cash to unlock cars and upgrades. Progression with unlock tiers of cars – players will start out with derby vehicles and later unlock classic and All – Star vehicles as they progress. As you play through Career and FlatOut mode, the various Stunts and Arena challenges will unlock as well as new environments and race tracks.

Q: Can you breakdown the new Assault Mode for us? What kind of weapons can we expect? Any countermeasures like smoke, oil slick, mines, armor upgrades?

A: (Alex Assier) Yes, this is an area of the game we are particularly excited to unveil! You will have a variety of tools in your arsenal: A big mine that you can toss forward or backward from your car with targeting; a magnetic bomb to trap your opponents; a shockwave from your car to repel cars around you and the ability to set harrows coming from the ground to stop the car behind you. This is particularly fun of course in multiplayer mode with your buddies!

Q: Just how destructible are the new environments? Will the track and racing routes evolve from lap to lap?

A: (Alex Assier) This is of course an important feature players expect from FlatOut! Yes, because by destroying parts of the environment, you will find shortcuts. We put a lot of effort into providing a variety of paths to get around a track—this isn’t after all a track racer. These are non-traditional racing tracks – street racing and smashing through forests for example. Moreover, you will experience more danger on the road with all the destructible objects in your way.

Q: FlatOut is all about the epic collisions. Will there be any in-game tools for saving/editing replay footage or sharing clips online?

A: (Alex Assier) No, we use the console manufactures tools to allow for capture and video sharing.

Q: Rocket League has seen considerable success with post-release car DLC. Any plans for continued expansion with new cars or tracks and also, any plans for cross-platform multiplayer, at least between console and PC?

A: (Alex Assier) While we’d prefer to focus our comments right now on the core game, we do indeed have expansion plans already underway with post launch DLC for both console and PC!

Q: Will there be Steam Workshop support or a track-editor available so the community can create their own content?

A: (Alex Assier) Kylotonn and Strategy First are dedicated to FlatOut 4: Total Insanity and to taking advantage of all of the great opportunities available on Steam. We have a lot in store for Steam and will be able to share more announcements on this soon…

Q: What can we expect from the “thumping indie soundtrack” in the way of artists and genres of music? Will the OST be offered as DLC or part of a deluxe package.

A: (Emanuel Wall) Yes, we’re really proud of the soundtrack we’ve managed to assemble which is full of amazing indie bands from all over the world. I like Mad Parish who are a six-piece Heavy Metal Band. The Mad Parish songs encouraged me to be a little more aggressive while racing. We have a lot of metal and hard rock songs, and some tracks outside of that genre, such as The Gutter Demons, Twin Atlantic, Dead Glitter, and Bad Things. We even decided to throw in a SKA song by the Planet Smashers.

We also have some cool plans for the OST that I think people will like. Stay tuned!

Q: For our tech-gamers out there… Will FlatOut 4 make specific use of the PS4 Pro’s extra HP or just rely on the “boost mode”? Any support for HDR on either PS4 or XB1s? Are you targeting 60fps across all formats?

A: (Alex Assier) We use it as a boost mode for the resolution and general rendering of the game. We are not at 60 FPS, but its close enough to have a solid and smooth experience.

Q: Thanks for taking the time to answer our questions. In closing, is there any special about FlatOut 4: Total Insanity that we may have overlooked that you would like to share.

A: (Alex Assier) All the team has worked hard on FlatOut 4 and we hope that you will enjoy it as much as we’ve enjoyed creating it!

FlatOut 4®: Total Insanity will be available for purchase on Steam/PC in April 2017.

2016 Game of the Year Awards

We haven’t done a yearly round-up of the best video games since 2013. This decision was in part based on the fact that so many amazing games come out during a year that trying to pick the Top 10 was exhausting, and with hundreds of other Top 10 lists flooding the Internet our picks were merely a drop in a non-relevant bucket.   Hopefully, you’ve already bought and played your games based on our reviews and not our end-of-the-year summary. Even so, people do seem to wonder what our favorite games are each year and what we’re looking forward to in the next, so I’ve tried to cobble together a list of our Top 10 favorites for 2016 and a couple games that have our attention in 2017.

Before we dive into the games I did want to post my favorite picks for hardware innovations this year, which will come as no surprised as to be all about VR. 2016 was the year that virtual reality invaded mainstream gaming. Whether that invasion becomes successful will be determined in this and the years to follow, but here are my top 3 picks for VR hardware:

3. PlayStation VR (Our Review)  Last to the party, the PSVR was the most affordable VR solution of the three, and while admittedly underpowered in comparison to Rift and Vive it more than made up for those deficiencies with pure fun, accessibility, and comfort.

2. Oculus Rift w/ Touch (Our Review)  When it launched the Rift was primarily a seated experience that required a controller and only hinted at true virtual gaming. Just last month the Oculus Touch launched adding full immersive hand controls and limited room-scale gameplay making it a very close second to the Vive.

1. HTC Vive (Our Review)  The biggest perk for the Vive is the relationship it shares with Valve and Steam, bringing hundreds of games to your headset ranging from free little tech demos to full-on AAA experiences. While the motion controllers pale in comparison to the new Oculus Touch the room-scaling and level of immersion remains unbeatable.

Hardware Honorable Mention:

PlayStation 4 Pro (Our Review)  With two new mid-gen systems launching this year both Sony and Microsoft were desperately trying to cash in on the 4K-craze. While Microsoft appeared to win this battle by not only launching first, but also including a 4K Blu-ray player, Sony actually delivered the system with significant CPU and GPU upgrades allowing for true 4K gaming, enhanced 1080p gaming, and a vastly improved PSVR experience.

Now for the games…

10. Far Cry Primal (Our Review)  I’ve been a big fan of the entire Far Cry franchise but it wasn’t until they took me back to prehistoric times and had me foraging for food and crafting every last thing I needed to survive that I was truly immersed in all the interlocking systems and intricate world design required to create a game you can lose yourself in for hours.

9. Inside (Our Review) Silent movies might be a thing of the past but Inside proves you don’t need words to tell a gripping story. Evoking the simplistic design of Limbo, Inside grips you from the start and never lets go until the thought-provoking finale. Throw in a few clever puzzles and you have a few hours of quality entertainment.

8. ABZU (Our Review)  Another brilliant indie title from the art director of Journey on PS3, ABZU creates a vast undersea world to explore. Immerse yourself in dozens of species of aquatic life and one of the best soundtracks of the year in this magical adventure.

7. Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare (Our Review)  Haters gonna hate but I loved this year’s Call of Duty installment, and I’m pretty sure everyone else would have too if they had dropped the Call of Duty moniker from the title. There is very little left in this franchise that resembles the WWII roots that inspired it, but that doesn’t mean Infinite Warfare didn’t offer one of the best single-player campaigns of the year mixing space flight combat with futuristic boots-on-the-ground missions. Sure, the online multiplayer sucked but the 80’s inspired zombie action was fantastic.

6. The Division (Our Review)  While I managed to knock that Destiny monkey off my back after Taken King I am still called back to NYC in my ongoing quest keep playing The Division. I’ve finished the game months ago but exciting new DLC keeps me coming back and their latest Survival mode has basically created an entire new genre of gameplay. I’m hopelessly hooked…at least until Ghost Recon arrives.

5. Valley (Our Review) This game took me by total surprise with its simplistic run and explore gameplay set in a gorgeous universe with a powerful and dynamic soundtrack.   Collectibles and upgrades will have you losing track of time in this surprise hit of 2016.

4. DOOM (Not Reviewed) The granddaddy of FPS is back and better than ever with classic run-and-gun gameplay that is all about instincts and reflexes. And when you have cleansed the planet of demons load up the most powerful level editor ever and create your own maps to share with the world.

3. Forza Horizon 3 (Not Reviewed) One of the first PlayAnywhere titles, you can enjoy this on the PC or Xbox One with 4K and HDR support delivering graphics that defy reality. Tear across the Australian Outback or weave through rainforests or cruise the coastal surf cities in hundreds of cars racing in dozens of events.   Then hop in a chopper and head to Blizzard Mountain for ice and snow racing in the newly released DLC adding even more lost hours to your life.

2. Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End (Not Reviewed) Nathan and Lara were pretty much neck and neck and Nathan was all set to win the top spot until the 20 Year Celebration edition of Tomb Raider launched for the PS4. And in many ways, Uncharted 4 still surpasses Tomb Raider in just about every area except gameplay. The story, writing, and cinematic presentation are second to none, and you can even manage to milk a few hours of fun out of the tacked-on multiplayer if you really try.

1. Rise of the Tomb Raider: 20 Year Celebration (Our Review)   I’m lucky to finish many games I start so you can only imagine how much I enjoyed this game having finished it on Xbox One, PC, and as of last night, PS4. That’s well over a combined 120 hours raiding tombs and ultimately saving the world from religious zealots. The PS4 version took an extra year to arrive but it packs in all the DLC as well as a VR-enhanced version of Croft Manor. It is the most satisfying game I’ve played in years, and this is the most complete version available. If you have a PS4 Pro you can also enjoy 4K or enhanced 1080p gameplay as well as choosing 30/60 fps.

So there you have our Top 10 picks for 2016, but what about the games that didn’t make the cut. As always, there were so many great games released this year – many we didn’t get to review or even play, so here are a few games that definitely deserve your attention:

  • ARK: Survival Evolved
  • Battlefield 1
  • Dark Souls III
  • Dishonored 2
  • The Last Guardian
  • SUPERHOT VR
  • Titanfall 2

And how about looking forward. 2017 is already shaping up to be another huge year for gaming with exciting advances in VR and improved support for 4K HDR gaming all leading toward the highly anticipated launch of the Scorpio. There are over a dozen titles we’re hot to play, but the one we are most excited for is the delayed release of:

And while system exclusives seem to be on the decline in 2016, Sony is gearing up with an impressive library of PS4 titles including:

  • Days Gone
  • Detroit: Become Human
  • God of War
  • Gran Turismo SPORT
  • Horizon Zero Dawn
  • Spider-Man
  • Uncharted: The Lost Legacy

That pretty much wraps up our picks for the best of 2016 and what we’re looking forward to in 2017. There were so many awesome video games this year and so much to look forward to next, and we’ll be here to cover it all, providing you with all the latest news, trailers, reviews, live shows, and more.

See you next year…

Sony PlayStation 4 Pro – Initial Impressions

While we won’t be doing a full review for the new PlayStation 4 Pro console that released yesterday, I did want to give some initial impressions of my experiences and observations of the past 15 hours of “rigorous testing” with Sony’s new mid-generational console. First and foremost, this is a very specific console targeted at a very specific demographic of gamer; one who has a 4K/HDR TV or a PlayStation VR – ideally both – or is planning to get these items in the immediate future. If you are content with your 1080p display and don’t plan on entering the virtual world of gaming anytime soon then save that $400 for something else this Christmas.

ps4profront

Apparently I am the ideal consumer for the Pro, having both a PSVR and a Sony 940D HDR 4K TV. I was already impressed with the notable improvements last month when Sony implemented HDR support on the previous PS4 models. Even at 1080p, HDR makes a world of difference, so I couldn’t wait to see how this would combine with 4K resolution on the new Pro. Sadly, I would have to wait about 7 hours.

While the new PS4 Pro comes with a 1TB HDD that is still not enough in a world of 40GB disc installs and a huge digital library. In preparation of moving from my old PS4 to my new one I tried doing some housekeeping on my 2TB drive I had installed last year on my original PS4, but the best I could whittle it down to was 1.13TB. So along with my PS4 Pro pick-up from my local Best Buy I also grabbed a 2TB Seagate drive replacement. Sony has always been “consumer friendly” when it comes to users swapping out drives, but it’s even friendlier on the Pro with an easy access drive bay on the back of the system. Just snap off the plastic cover and remove a single screw to slide out the drive tray, swap the credit card-sized hard drive, reassemble and you are back in business…after reinstalling the PlayStation OS from a memory stick you must prepare on a PC.

Of course, if this is your first PS4 or you don’t need to have a massive library of games on-demand then you can certainly get by with the 1TB drive that comes with the Pro. But if you have any desire to supersize your drive I highly recommend you do it “before” you fill up that original.   While I had the luxury of having two systems and being able to use the new Network Transfer (plug both systems into the same router) that only took 6 hours, swapping hard drives within the same system requires the use of an external hard drive, and for 1TB of information you are looking at 7 hours to backup and 7 hours to restore to new drive.

ps4proback

Despite the illusion of being bigger (I think it’s the triple stack design) the PS4 Pro is actually about the same size as the original model (not the slim) with very few changes. An extra USB port is now in the back so you can plug in your VR without giving up a front port, and the power cord has changed from the non-polarized plug to the same style you see on a PC. The blue light previously on the top is now a thin strip along the front of the console, and the DualShock 4 also gets a see-through strip of light on the touchpad, but otherwise no real enhancements.

The improvement to visual fidelity is apparent from the moment the PS4 Pro launches into your main menu. Everything is so much sharper running at 4K resolution and the HDR enhancements for color and contrast are already working their magic even on your game thumbnails. There were over 20 updates for various games in my library adding support for the Pro. I wanted to check out the HDR improvements first; because once you hook up the PSVR the HDR is disabled. So while the new Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare was doing its mega-install I checked out the Pro-enhanced versions of Ratchet & Clank, Infamous Second Son, and Infamous: First Light.

infamouseflhdrRatchet & Clank was breathtaking in 4K, and the HDR was apparent from the opening splash screen with the blinding sun peaking from behind the planet horizon. The framerate was consistently fluid at the higher resolution although I did notice more aggressive motion blur when panning the camera side to side.   My jaw dropped the first time I saw Second Son in 4K HDR but nothing could prepare me for the level of improvement in First Light, the standalone DLC for Infamous. This game takes place entirely at night with a girl who uses light and neon as her superpower, so you can only imagine the impact HDR has on this situation.   Uncharted 4 and Rise of the Tomb Raider are also on my list of old games to replay on the Pro, so stay tuned for updates on those titles.

But the true test was about to be revealed as I started up the latest Call of Duty game specifically designed with the PS4 Pro in mind. Having already played most of the campaign on the PC I already knew what the game looked like running at 4K with all the fancy Ultra settings, but for as good as my PC is, it cannot do HDR. This may be a bold statement but I’m fairly certain the PS4 Pro version of Infinite Warfare looks, runs, and plays better on the PlayStation than it does on my 980ti-equipped gaming PC. The HDR graphics give the entire game a more lifelike look. The characters blend into the backgrounds better on the PS4, there is no hitching in the cutscenes, and the framerate seems to be a rocksteady 60. Until I upgrade to an HDR-enabled video card the PS4 Pro may have just become my top gaming system of choice.

Now it was time to see how much better VR was running on the new Pro. If you’ve read any of my PSVR game reviews you’ll already know I’ve found the PSVR slightly lacking, mostly due to the lack of power in the original PS4.   While juggling the HDMI cables around at the rear of the Pro I did notice the unit was running much hotter than my old PS4 – of course by now the system had been running non-stop for 8+ hours.   There was an immediate downgrade in visuals when cabling the VR box into the mix and losing HDR. The menus lost considerable sharpness and the color levels dropped in intensity. It’s enough of a variance that I encourage anyone with a Pro and PSVR to unplug the VR box when you aren’t playing VR games.

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I immediate loaded up Battlezone since that was one of the more heavily advertised games for getting a Pro boost in VR, and I was pleasantly surprised in both a resolution upgrade and overall performance enhancements that eliminated shimmering and any hint of motion sickness.   Thumper was up next and it also got a huge boost in VR performance thanks to the Pro.   I tried several other underperforming games from the past few weeks and it seemed that even without a specific patch they all exhibited some level of improvement just by playing on the new PS4 Pro. Perhaps the most stunning of all the VR titles was the newly released Robinson: The Journey. I’m still finalizing my review for this game, but I can tell you now that this masterpiece rivals anything on the Vive or Oculus Rift.

The PlayStation 4 Pro is definitely an awesome piece of tech, but again, unless you have a new 4K HDR TV – something released in 2016 because anything you bought in 2015 likely isn’t HDR – or you plan on doing a lot of PSVR gaming, then you can probably forego the upgrade to a new system at this time. But for those of you with the HDR display to appreciate what this system can deliver, prepare for a gaming experience that will make the PC community envious.