Living in the Fringe
Posted by Articles [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 7 January 2015, 3:57 pm

I’ve always thought of myself as a mainstream gamer. I don’t mean that I’m the demographic picture of your typical gamer — 42 years-old, with a mortgage, 2 kids, a heart condition and a job in marketing might not be, exactly, prototypical — I mean that when it comes to my gaming predilections, I trend toward the stock-standard AAA titles.

I’m not entirely sure when that stopped being true, but now taking stock of the situation I have to admit that it probably hasn’t been true for a while.

On a whim I reviewed my Steam purchase history for 2014 to see what all has come into my greedy, gaming hands. Having done so, I have three thoughts. Allow me to convey them to you in the traditional language of middle-aged-corporate-lackeys across the world: bulletpoints.

* Oh, that’s where all my money went.
* I remember playing, like, half of these games.
* Where are the big releases for 2014?

Be glad I didn’t make a PowerPoint deck. I was sorely tempted.

If I go back to ten short years ago and look at the most popular games of that year, it’s basically a who’s-who of games Sean played that year. Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas — played it. Half-Life 2 — duh. Halo 2 — start to finish, baby. Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater — didn’t love it, but hell yeah it was in the mix. World Of Warcraft — seriously, do I even need to say anything? Knights of the Old Republic II, Far Cry, Burnout 3, NFL2K5, Fable, Chronicles of Riddick, and on and on.

Setting aside the fact that it’s only just occurring to me that 2004 can make a damn fine argument as being a great year in gaming, at 32 years-old I was still deeply in the thick of the gaming zeitgeist. Now, even the few higher-profile games I managed to buy barely made a dent into my gaming time for the year.

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Our Community's 2014 Games Of The Year
Posted by Articles [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 6 January 2015, 12:33 pm

Before we begin, a quick reminder about how things work around here. Each year, we poll our community members for their favorite games of the year, but instead of limiting it to just what released that year, we open it up to any game that was new to you. We're all busy, and we can't keep up with every new thing that comes out, and sometimes what really captures us is a game that's a year, or five years, or ten years, or twenty years old.

So not everything that made our top ten for 2014 actually released in 2014. Well, technically that's not true, but — well, you'll see.

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January 5 - January 11
Posted by Articles [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 5 January 2015, 11:11 am

It won't be worth saying week after week, so until further notice just be prepared to be disappointed by the weekly release list.

I'm rolling a 1d8 to select this week's game of the week. And the winner is: Mechs & Mercs: Black Talons by Kasedo Games and Camel 101. It's a futuristic real-time-tactics game, focused on ground based combat, and it releases for PC on Steam later this week.

On the topic of 1d8s, I picked up the D&D5e starter pack and the books for my boys over the holiday. I have extremely limited experience with actual Dungeons & Dragons outside of the world of CRPGs, but running the included basic campaign for my kids has been more fun than I expected. It's been particularly interesting trying to enter the mindset of a DM, and going through a lot of the preparation for actually sitting down and playing.

I'll have more to say about it down the road, but it's immediately interesting to me how, regardless of the medium, the fundamentals of good storytelling are consistent. I can see how it would be easy as a DM to become overly infatuated with the rules, or tempting to spend five minutes of the players time looking through a book for exactly the right way to execute a story beat, and how insanely disruptive to the overall experience that would be.

Trying even just a few minutes at the most basic degree of difficulty, I immediately have a ton more respect -- not that it wasn't already there to begin with -- for really good DMs. Aside from being excellent role players, to master the process of running a game like this, what you really have to be is a very good oral storyteller.

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Notes From the Round File
Posted by Articles [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 30 December 2014, 11:56 am

I'm a writer, y'all. This means I spend a lot of time thinking about writing, doing anything, ANYTHING except writing, then feeling guilty. When your particular thing is "writing about videogames," you have your primary procrastination tool right there in the job description.

But the faceless maw (that's you, btw) needs content, and one has to put in a modicum of effort every so often, lest one is demoted from "writer" to mere "person with many unsent tweets in the Drafts folder." And the festive holiday season is the perfect time for mere modica of efforts. Everyone else is doing lazy, end-of-year stocking fillers, so why can't I? At least I'm not doing a Game Of The Year.

In the grand tradition of December phone-in pieces, I propose to give you a peep behind the curtain and show you how the sausage is made. If I give you a tour of the sausage factory — and isn't one of our problems that it still IS a sausage factory?! But I digress — I may get some cred for providing insight about The Process in lieu of real insight. (You know real insight when you see it: It's that thing that earns you a Graham Rowat reading.)

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December 29 - January 4
Posted by Articles [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 29 December 2014, 10:12 am

It's a week and by all indications a month to go through the pile of games you've been meaning to get around to playing and whittle away at it. It's going to be a little while before there's a big game back on the list to talk about.

Assuming Evolve holds on to an early February launch, that may be the next we can really talk about a major release here for the Week Ahead. That's not to say there aren't smatterings of interesting things coming out in January. Grim Fandango, for example, is getting a remastered release at the end of the month, and GTAV lands on the PC. Saints Row IV gets ported over to the PS4 and Xbox One, and the second expansion for Dynasty Warriors 8 lands stateside.

As for this week, if you've simply got holiday money burning a hole in your pocket, I'd be far more likely to suggest you dive into the ongoing Steam Sale. Today's deal includes Tomb Raider for $3.99, which is an insanely great price-to-game-quality ratio. Also, Divinity: Original Sin is 33% off its normal price, and is probably going to end up being my Game of the Year.

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GWJ Plays -- Kerbal Space Program (TakeThis.org Stream)
Posted by Articles [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 29 December 2014, 10:54 am

This past weekend I was honored to be invited to participate in the TakeThis.org holiday stream-a-thon. For 36 hours the TakeThis folks organized a bevy of streamers to provide a fun and safe stream for people to hang out or to get away from the stress of the holidays. The cast of characters included Russ Pitts, Susan Arendt, Jeff Green, Anthony Carboni, Phil Kollar, LoadingReadyRun, Julian Murdoch and for some inexplicable reason me.

I would make light of being burdened with the 2:00am graveyard shift, but in reality I requested it. I'm a long time fan of late-night gaming, and fueled by caffeine and gin I had the pleasure of entertaining(?) some 50 viewers through the dead of night by fumbling around in Kerbal Space Program for 2 hours.

If you weren't able to join us, I've trimmed down the stream to a solid 50 minutes or so of the better moments from that stream.

I want to thank TakeThis.org for inviting me again, and encourage you to visit their site to support the work they are doing. It's good people doing good things.

Thanks for watching!

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TL;DP: Shadow Warrior
Posted by Articles [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 25 December 2014, 4:12 pm

Sponsored By: My own nostalgia

Time Played: 73 minutes

Tiny Grasshopper review

An ambiguously Asian stereotype sets off on an adventure to retrieve a magic sword from a dangerous multinational corporation. That's right! It's Daikatana 2!

Crouching Tiger Review

As we wrap up Devolver Digital December, it's interesting to look back and reflect on what characterizes a Devolver Digital game. Nostalgia. Action. Humor. Uncomfortable levels of violence. If you value any of these things in a game, then Devolver might just be your company.

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December 22 – December 28
Posted by Articles [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 22 December 2014, 9:39 pm

Mr. Sands says he lives in Minnesota, but that's actually a clever cover for his seasonal gig further north. (C'mon, tell me you're surprised. How long have we been talking about his beard?) Anyway, he didn't file a Week Ahead due either to that or to the fact that nothing's really coming out this week. So you're stuck with my humbuggery.

It's about time to tie a bow on this year, stick a fork in it, and cash in your chips. We're done here. Apparently not everyone got the memo, or is trying to sneak in while everyone else is distracted. Below is what passes for a release list, near as I can tell.

I almost fell for the devious naming of Shake Spears! and called that "Game Of The Week," for whatever hono(u)r that title carries around here. Alas, this is not a smartphone game wherein you play as ol' Billy the Bard. No, this is something about jousting of the non-Ostrich-riding variety. Why they didn't partner with Medieval Times is beyond me.

Note: I didn't chose ef – a fairy tale of the two.'s punctuation or lack of capitalization. That's the localization team's fault, assumedly.

Oh, I have to pick a game? Duck Hunt. It's the original game up for download, and it allows me to attempt some overstretched allusion to this year's goose being cooked.

Well, I tried.

Here's hoping you can squeeze some merriment out of whatever this week brings you.

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TL;DP: Serious Sam BFE
Posted by Articles [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 19 December 2014, 6:43 am

Sponsored by: RNR Clown

Time Played: 70 minutes, but only 60 of them seriously.

Seriously Short Review

Back in the 2001, some Croatians wondered what Smash TV would be like if it were a first-person shooter, and created an engine specifically to render an obscene number of enemies in wide-open environments. Ten years later, they wondered what a Smash TV FPS would be like if it were heavily influenced by Doom 3.

Seriously Longer Review

Serious Sam: The First Encounter is one of the few PC games I beat back in the early aughts (I call 2000 through 2009 “the aughts,” because I am apparently a hundred and fifty years old). I beat it on an HP laptop (this was back when HP laptops were good machines), children, on normal — using (and this is where I brag a little) only the trackpad and keyboard. How did I do it? Well, let me introduce you to my little friend, the D key.

We are not, however, here to talk about Serious Sam: The First Encounter, the game that started this whole “episodic” fad. We are here to talk about Serious Sam 3.

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GWJ Conference Call Episode 427
Posted by Articles [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 16 December 2014, 9:02 pm

Episode 427 - December 17th, 2014
FarCry 4, Dead State, Ultra-Wide Monitor Review, Irrational Feelings About Games, Dragon Age: Inquisition Spoiler Section (See Show Notes!), Your Emails and More!

Right Click Here and 'Save As' to Download!
(An Irrational 39.8 MBs, 1:09:31)

This week Sean, Julian and Cory talk about irrational feelings about games! We also have a Dragon Age: Inquisition Spoiler Section with Lara, Karla and Shawn you'll find as a separate download!

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GWJ Plays -- Kerbal Space Program
Posted by Articles [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 16 December 2014, 5:45 pm

With Kerbal Space Program's official move (finally) to beta, now seemed like as good a time as any to go over why this is one of my favorite games of the past year, and do an introductory walkthrough of the game and the latest features. In part 1 of this two part series I cover some of the basics of the game while looking at some new features from the latest patch, cheekily titled Beta Than Ever.

In part 2 I stage a mission to the Mun and cover several successes and failures at staging, getting into orbit and getting down safely(?) onto the larger of Kerbin's 2 natural satellites.

Part 1 --

Part 2 --

I'm kicking around the idea of doing a full career series, so let me know if you'd be interested in seeing more!

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Mental Health Packs
Posted by Articles [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 16 December 2014, 6:19 am

(Knock knock knock)

Do you have a moment to contemplate the healing power of fun?

I thought of this while watching my kids recover from a nasty virus. They were spiking fevers, throwing up what little they'd eaten, and generally not moving around a whole lot. As a mild hypochondriac who reads too many news websites, I anxiously waited for the fevers to break, hoping it was something simple that would resolve itself with fluids and rest. The thing that kept my anxiety from getting the better of me was the note from our pediatrician saying not to worry too much unless the fever was accompanied by incoherence, unresponsiveness or an unwillingness to do anything that usually interested them. When I heard my daughter's weak voice asking to play Little Big Planet 3, I knew we weren't too deep in the woods. When they both came to me and asked me to play Knack so they could watch, I knew they were probably going to be just fine.

They're both on the mend now, and as of this writing they're well enough to be miserable about not feeling better. Their father, on the other hand, is in the throes of coming down with whatever they had. Ah, parenthood.

The whole situation, though, got me thinking about the medicinal power of games. Specifically, it reminded me of how I got into gaming in the first place.

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December 15 - December 21
Posted by Articles [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 15 December 2014, 9:36 am

It may be Star Citizen that has been the biggest, brightest star in the revitalization of PC space sims, and its $66.6 million dollars of funding raised sort of boggles my mind. Meanwhile this week's game of the week, Elite: Dangerous, has quietly been making a name as a venerable space sim itself, and it gets out of the gate first with a fully launched product, while Chris Roberts slowly trickles new features out.

It is, otherwise, a fairly quiet-looking week, with a number of niche-y titles smattered across the various platforms, but clearly the thunder of the fall season has now fully calmed. All told, looking back, it felt like a little bit of a disappointing fall gaming season, with a marginal showing by big-name franchises and nothing that really stepped in to land as the quintessential game of the year. The only real standout so far has been Dragon Age: Inquisition, but it's been in a class by itself for the fall of 2014.

Not terribly surprising for the PS4 and Xbox One's first fall flying solo as the primary gaming machines. On the upside, it gives us the console cycle's mature years to look forward to, even if that might not really be kicking in until 2016.

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TL;DP: OlliOlli
Posted by Articles [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 12 December 2014, 6:09 am

Sponsored By: a totally sick Humble Bundle offer

Hang Time: 63 minutes

2lawn: DintPl8

Aw man, I am so stoked to be spelling you on this game. It is totally sick! So grab your deck, put some spinners on it, and prepare to grind your way into infamy. Shred on, peeps!

Acid drop to the fakie kick flip, to the varial, to the nose grind, to the nollie, to the nice, clean landing review:

15 years ago, a little game named Tony Hawk Pro Skater hit the malls of North America and allowed chubby nerds to live out a dream they didn't even know they had: to step onto the deck of the sickest skater who ever ollied for a paycheck.

And now I'm done with the poser lingo. (I'm not Super Skier, after all. If you got that joke, congratulations! You're as old as my soul was twenty years ago.)

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Believe In Magic, If Only For A Little While
Posted by Articles [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 9 December 2014, 6:27 am

A staple of my youth was the Christmas special. (Boy, we're really just jumping into it this article, aren't we?) Every TV show I used to watch had that special Christmas episode, and they always had one of two plots:

1) Curmudgeonly bastard gets the Dickens treatment.

2) Little kid gets to believe in Santa for one more year.

That was it. There were no other Christmas stories that would fit into a half hour on ABC's TGIF within a narrow window of being precisely, blandly tolerable-yet-festive.

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December 8 - December 14
Posted by Articles [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 8 December 2014, 12:17 pm

This week Lara Croft the Guardian of Light gets its somewhat overdue sequel, with my game of the week Lara Croft and the Temple of Osiris.

The Tomb Raider franchise has been enjoying something of a rebirth over the past few years, and between 2013's Tomb Raider and 2010's (has it really been that long?!) Guardian of Light there's good reason to hope the trend will continue.

While Temple of Osiris is intriguing, I've got the true next-gen sequel, Rise of the Tomb Raider, down as one of my most anticipated games of next year.

Beyond Lara, Final Fantasy XIII-2 get ported to the PC, Suikoden II gets a PSN release and Phoenix Wright gets bundled up into a trilogy all-in-one package.

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TL;DP: Hotline Miami
Posted by Articles [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 5 December 2014, 7:43 am

Author's Note: This is the first review of December, and it so happened that I had four reviews queued up that were all by the same studio. This is complete happenstance, but when have I ever backed away from a bad idea? So welcome to Devolver Digital December on TL;DP!

Sponsored by: [gwj] Al

Time played: 59 minutes

TL;DR review

Devolver software provides a glimpse into what the world would have looked like if Rockstar was making games for the SNES. Like all Rockstar games, it's fun as hell and after playing it you feel like you need a bath.

Long Review

It's the 1980's. The Russians want to nuke us, the Iranians want to behead us, and Full House is the most popular show on prime time. So it's pretty much like today, but Dave Coulier is still popular.

(Shudder)

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Riding That Unicorn
Posted by Articles [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 4 December 2014, 9:37 pm

I am trying very hard to think of the last time I joined a random multiplayer session on one of my consoles, and I have to admit that I am drawing a blank. If I were to say that I’ve never clicked into a console “pub match” without at least one known teammate to cling to, like a caged baby monkey hugging sadly a soft piece of fabric for maternal love, such claim may eventually be proved materially untrue, but I’m pretty sure I could pass a polygraph on the topic.

I’m a little more brave in my natural habitat of PC gaming, but I often regret that adventurism. It’s not hard to demonstrate that there is some statistically relevant segment of the gaming community that seems to revel in at least aggressively anti-social behavior and in many cases active abuse of others. I can’t say I fully grok the mindset of someone who sets out to demonstrate their ultimately impotent power by trolling a game, nor would I want to understand the petty weak-mindedness associated, but I also have very little time in my life to suffer fools of that caliber.

I can outmaneuver these feculent snot-weevils in the real world where their tiny power holds little sway, but the virtual worlds are essentially their house. If I’m going to have to encounter these proto-people, I’d prefer not to do it on their home court. So I generally stay out of their minor fiefdoms.

But in the esports renaissance of computer gaming, the feasibility of avoiding pub-games of one kind or another is increasingly unrealistic. When I was playing a lot of Starcraft II, the reality simply was that if I wanted to get the most out of my experience, I was going to have to push that matchmaking button. Even my well developed safe haven of Europa Universalis IV seems to have all of its recent patches and DLC aimed squarely at developing the multiplayer, to the point that criticisms of the single-player AI have been met with strongly worded statements that the developer’s priority is multiplayer.

So inevitably I do find myself in public multiplayer settings, though when I do so, I always walk into it prepared for the worst. It’s not always terrible, of course — only usually — but anything significantly better feels a bit like getting a brief glimpse of a unicorn.

Which is why I tend to think of my experience this past weekend in World of Warcraft’s random matchmaking system as like riding a unicorn to Narnia.

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GWJ Conference Call Episode 425
Posted by Articles [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 2 December 2014, 11:55 pm

Episode 425 - December 3rd, 2014
Dragon Age Inquisition, Heroes of The Storm, Game Coaching, Your Emails and More!

Right Click Here and 'Save As' to Download!
(A Hairy 38.6 MBs, 1:07:31)

This week Shawn, Sean and Julian talking about game coaching.

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December 1 - December 7
Posted by Articles [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 1 December 2014, 10:40 am

If you live in the United States, then this Monday has two significant meanings for you. The first is that the refrigerator is becoming critically low of leftover turkey and stuffing, assuming either remain at all. The second is that it is Cyber Monday, a day in which work hours are spent scouring various websites for online deals and cut prices. Few will be looking ahead to new releases in December.

Which is too bad, as the Telltale Games developed Game of Thrones finally heralds the coming of winter with its release across multiple platforms. Two years ago, high off of my first playthrough of The Walking Dead: Season One, I might have perhaps been incredibly excited for this new release. Yet after a replay of that Season 1 experience this year, watching the gameplay of Poker Night at the Inventory 2, and receiving word that the new season and The Wolf Among Us is experiencing a number of bugs and glitches across multiple platforms, I've come to wonder if Telltale needs to stop taking on so many licensed products and instead focus on making their engine work.

I imagine someone will now want to tell me how foolish I am for this feeling and that the game will surely be incredible.

I wish those grown-up someones good fortune with the performance of what will no doubt be the first good game based on George R. R. Martin's epic and gritty property, but in the meantime I'll be playing Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker. Each time I unlocked a Captain Toad level in Super Mario 3D World I was filled with excitement and left with a satisfactory sense of joy. When Nintendo announced that the sentient fungus man would be getting his very own game, I could hardly contain my delight. So I give this week's nod to one of my most anticipated games of the entire year.

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TL;DP: Fowl Space
Posted by Articles [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 28 November 2014, 6:45 am

Time Played: 15 Minutes I'll never be able to un-play.

Sponsored by: I have nobody to blame but myself.

Nugget review:

On this day where we're enjoying leftover bird, let me just say that I'm thankful I don't ever have to play any more of this game.

Coq Au Vin review:

I want to start this review with a tearful apology to the unfortunate GWJ member who received a green envelope with this game in it during the Summer Steam Sale. I'm sorry. I really really am. It was $0.24, and the art style from the screenshots looked cool and the concept of playing as a rooster in a space helmet fighting space vikings who are trying to steal the sun seemed too redonkulous to pass up.

So I bought it for somebody. Then I bought it for me. Then I played it. Then I sent an email apologizing profusely.

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The Twilight of my Discontent
Posted by Articles [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 26 November 2014, 5:38 am

I flatter myself that I have a fair amount of self awareness. Sometimes this runs over into self consciousness, but I think I manage to rein it in enough to avoid losing too many work days to hiding under my blankets. One of the things I'm aware enough to know is that I'm ... different from most of you.

This is where those of you who know me will start to think I'm going to write about Duke Nukem Forever. Well, I'm not. I'm going to talk about another unpopular thing that I like.

Twilight.

Oh stop. You probably haven't even read it, so stop with the fake-retching noises.

Sheesh.

I have a special reason to hate Twilight. It came out when I was still working on my own novel, which happened to be about vampires and werewolves in a small, modern-day, American town. Now, even if I could somehow publish it, I'll just be accused to being derivative of Stephanie Meyer's work.

But I don't hate Twilight. Why? Because my wife loves it, and she wanted to share it with me. I respect her opinions, and I know she wouldn't recommend me something that I would hate, so I tried it with an open mind. Wouldn't you know it, I enjoyed it too! Funny, old world.

Anyway, why bring this up on a site dedicated to geeky pursuits and that probably has a higher-than-average anti-Meyer quotient? You'll see, but you have to bear with me.

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GWJ Conference Call Episode 424
Posted by Articles [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 26 November 2014, 1:39 am

Episode 424 - November 26th, 2014
Dragon Age Inquisition, Far Cry 4, Home Bases, Your Emails and More!

Right Click Here and 'Save As' to Download!
(An Inquisitive 43.2 MBs, 1:15:26)

This week Shawn, Julian and Karla talk a whole lot of Dragon Age Inquisition and game homes!

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November 24 - November 30
Posted by Articles [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 24 November 2014, 10:45 am

Don't get too excited by the long release list this week, it's may be wide but it's about as deep as a pothole. This is what I always think of as "stocking stuffer" week, time where companies shovel out a great volume of stuff to stock store shelves both real and virtual.

That might not be a bad thing, though. Word on the street has it that there's a Steam Sale just a few days away. If true, that's going to get my attention, as there's a number of things from the past year that I would normally have picked up, but that I waited exactly for a steam sale to cover.

But, back to the week at hand. I'm giving my nod to Geometry Wars 3: Dimensions. I, admittedly, know absolutely nothing about this game, but the original Geometry Wars was the first Xbox Live Arcade game I owned and I played it obsessively for weeks. A week after I picked up the game I bought my first HD television, and I stared at the colors on screen as though I'd had a significant dose of consciousness altering medicines.

For nostalgia reasons alone, Geometry Wars 3 gets my nod for Game of the Week.

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TL;DP: Not the Robots!
Posted by Articles [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 21 November 2014, 6:33 am

Sponsored By: Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor (I sold all the cards I earned playing SoM and bought Not The Robots with the proceeds.)

Time Played: 37 minutes, but in robot time that's enough

Futon Review

If a game has a loading screen telling you to go play the games that inspired the one you’re currently loading, I suggest you follow that advice.

Sectional Review

You know, I don’t really want to hate Not The Robots, and I suppose I succeed on that front. I don’t hate Not The Robots, it’s just that modern scientists have yet to invent an instrument capable of measuring my indifference toward it. You know how people say “I could care less” when they mean “I couldn’t care less?” Well, I feel like both of those things at once.

When it comes to Not The Robots, I could care less about the fact that I couldn’t care less.

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