Year in Review 2015
December 31, 2015


FTL – [PC] – January 4th



The review that would have completed Alphamarathon 2014 had I not decided to never get past the initial draft stage and concentrate instead on getting stinking drunk and then being hungover for the last week of the year. Alas! I’ll have to console myself with just my winner’s medal.

The initial idea I had for this review was to do a Captain’s Log where I‘d record the details a random playthrough. The downside to this was that I got too distracted by the couple of playthoughs I tried to exercise this plan with by the game devouring more of my attention than I expected. The Lanuis story survived this abject failure. The rest have been drawn from the hours and hours (and hours and hours) I’ve lavished on this game all in naught.

FTL: Advanced Edition (PC) image


The new plan I had for this review in 2015, as I recall, was to finish it up once my head stopped hurting and then sit on it until there was a gap in the staff review updates. To make it look like we updated. This was effortlessly foiled by Joe, who cunningly dropped three rapid-fire reviews and, had he submitted a fourth, why, he would have owned the entire front page. And I can’t and won’t allow that.


ALLTYNEX Second – [PC] – January 5th



It was November 2014. Or maybe December. I dunno; probably one of the two. I had a number of letters left to cover to complete the marathon and, in a moment of epic stupidity, turned to the site for suggestions. Most people were content trying to trick me into playing awful, awful games (or, in Joe’s/Rob’s case, succeeded), but not wily Jason Venter! I needed a K and he just so happened to have a code for KAMUI. I’d earmarked a re-review for Koudelka, but no one wants to read about that, right? So, KAMUI it was. The catch was that it also came with ALLTYNEX Second – but, to hell with that, I just took the one I needed and told Jason to throw the other to the masses. Two things crushed this plan. 1/ the rest of the HG reviewing staff are Rob every second weekend unbearably lazy. 2/ KAMUI is awesome. I had not counted on that.

ALLTYNEX Second (PC) image


So January rolled around and, like I secretly hoped (and could totally count on) ALLTYNEX was still untaken. So I took it, expected great things and was rewarded. It was the first game in a trilogy, I had already written about the middle entry so it made sense to next cover…


RefleX – [PC] – January 13th



When RefleX was originally released, I had got bored waiting from my earmarked R game to drop, so requested a review copy I never got. Despite this heartbreaking slight, it seemed like a good idea to suck it up and finish up the trilogy so I could further abuse the painstaking HTMLing I slap at the bottom of any chain of reviews with a tenuous link to each other. I had gotten a copy of this game for Marc for Xmas and harboured some hopes that he would pitch in and help lessen my backbreaking load. He only installed the bloody thing onto his computer a couple of months ago and has played less than an hour.

RefleX (PC) image


So I did it! And now it’s done. At the end of a heady run of excellent vertical shooters, I thus declare myself shoot-‘em-up king of the site. If Leroux has a problem with that, I shall meet him on the moonlight plateau at midnight where we fight to the death. Marc is disqualified for 10/10ing R-Type III.


4PM – [PC] – January 26th



Hang around the Indie gaming scene long enough and you’ll find yourself falling into a lot of pretentious discussion about games as art and progressing the medium and feels vs. fun and all that awful nonsense. 4PM came to my attention, first and foremost, as a handy # filler for 2014 that I then forgot about and jumped the gun to cover mediocre and price-inflated 300 Dwarves instead. (Just reminded myself that I dropped money on that. Urgh) I added the game to my Steam wishlist, noted that it had won an Indie award (because those are so creditable) and then forgot it existed for a while.

Come early 2015, I was reminded of it after a lengthy debate over Gone Home, which, if you weren’t aware, is awful. But! Being the kind hearted person that I am, I argued that games of that ilk could be good, and advanced 4PM as a possible example. Then I played it. Oh, god, was I wrong.

4PM (PC) image


4PM is a project that’s seen games like Gone Home get heapings of praise and figured it could get a little slice of that action if it plays the progressive artform card and tackles a few taboos. Problem is, it tries to cover multiple topics with a complete run time of about twenty minutes, making the entire thing a parody of brevity. In its crosshairs are briefly visited subjects such as grief, loss, alcoholism, adultery, amnesia, suicide – the list goes on. But I won’t; I’ve talked about the game more than it warrants.

BONUS EASTER EGG HIDDEN WITHIN REVIEW


Supreme League of Patriots Issue 1: A Patriot Is Born – [PC] – January 29th


Supreme League of Patriots Issue 2: Patriot Frames – [PC] – January 29th


Supreme League of Patriots Issue 3: Ice Cold In Ellis – [PC] – Feburay 6th



Going to group these three together. That way I can condense Jason Venter’s tale of betrayal and treachery!

Before 4PM but after the ALLTYNX Trilogy, I found myself without any review codes thrust upon me, so decided to do that rarest of things and just play me some video games. I think that welcome mindset lasted perhaps a couple of hours before Venter appeared in my feeds offering an adventure game. I looked Patriots up, it seemed pretty short and, as DE is well aware, I am the king of adventure games. I didn’t think it would take much time, and it would help out so, yeah, why not.

Supreme League of Patriots - Issue 1: A Patriot Is Born (PC) image


The next day I found three game codes sitting in my inbox.

This was a strange turn of events. I was certain I had not agreed to review three games. That would have been a bizarre leave of my senses, especially since, like a fool, I had since accepted another, much larger, review game (detailed below). What had happened was that the developer had decided to release all three of the initial episodes on the same day. There are several consumer pros to this but, as a personal con, it meant having to write three very similar reviews back to back. Yeah, okay, the games themselves were actually funny and well made, but still! All that free gaming time I thought I had. There it went. Out the window. Especially considering that the other one he shovelled onto me was…


Grey Goo – [PC] – Feburay 8th



Grey Goo could have done me a solid by being awful, allowing me to learn the mechanics and lose a few skirmishes and deathmatches before I wrote it off. But no; it had the gall to be actually kind of brilliant and soak up my time like a sponge. It’s also bastard hard so, in order to get through the single player campaign enough to ready the review, I played in Easy mode, and I honestly can’t recall the last time I did so. Usually games have been so dumbed down that Hard has long become the new Normal. In Grey Goo, even then, I got schooled.

Grey Goo (PC) image


The concept is actually pretty unique. Grey Goo is that sci-fi staple of a huge rolling glob of nanomachines that devour everything it its path and add it to the collective goo. It’s not the first time I’ve played a game based on that idea, but there’s little other titles I can think of that use the premises. The other two factions are kind of samey, which is a shame as everyone I came across on the multiplayer wanted to be the Goo. It’s fiddlier to control them and demands more micro-management, but it’s a fresh concept and I appreciate it.


Sunless Sea – [PC] – Feburay 23rd



Go to hell, review-codes-that-start-with-the-letter-S! The premises of Sunless Sea meant that it piqued my interest so heavily that I was able to overlook the reoccurrence of the dreaded S . Sunless Sea, then, is a bit of a roguelike that isn’t really a rougelike at all but that’s the easiest pigeonhole to shove it in. Instead, what you do is explore a vast underground sea where everything wants to kill you while trying to keep hold of your sanity. It’s not as easy as it sounds.

Sunless Sea (PC) image


Setting out for the safe docks of London to try and uncover a little more of the blacked out map is made terrifying by the threat of perma-death you could turn off but I’m far too manly to do that nonsense. I’ve lost a few captains through poor management, being frivolous with funds and no longer being able to afford food and fuel. And then there was that one time I went insane and chased a storm moth to my demise. Sometimes, you just want to sail into the dark with a gibbering crew and see how they’ll go mad and what this will make them do. I even dug Marc out of obscurity to get the following glowing praise for this effort:

MASTERS: A story review? You pretentious hack!

Quite.


War of the Human Tanks - ALTeR – [PC] – March 4th



This series has really grown on me. Usually I’ll work my way through a game, hit the credits, spit out a review and then that game is dead to me. When this ended up in my inbox (with a guilty sounding Venter being apologetic it wasn’t an S game) I had already returned to the previous title which I’m seriously considering re-reviewing . Now that I’ve beaten the main campaign of ALTeR and dug a sizable distance down into the cavern stage, I’m thinking it’s probably time to return to the first properly and smash it.




Pregnancy – [PC] – March 5th



So, tell me if this sounds fair: over the years I have purchased for my good pal DE almost a dozen games. Among them are such defining gems as Spec Ops: The Line, Banner Saga, Cat Lady, I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream, Aeon Command – not going to lie, it’s a big list of awesome. What has he got me in return? I’ll tell you, nameless reader – Goat Simulator, Hatoful Boyfriend and Pregnancy.

Then I get things like “Why have you not played that pigeon dating simulator yet? What? No, I’ve not got around to Spec Ops yet, but why’s that relevant? What about that one with the goat? Haha, that looked awful!” So it was to no surprise that, in the middle of a particularly dicey Sunless Sea voyage, I got the following messages:

DE: I have bought you Pregnancy. It’s a game about a 14-year-old Hungarian girl who gets pregnant.
DE: That sounds like the arty rubbish you seem to like.
DE: Why are you not playing it right now? That review won’t write itself.
Me: I’m not reviewing that. It’s a massive can of worms.

Pregnancy (PC) image


And it is. It has what I have since christened the Gone Home Stigmata™, where if you dare criticize the game a bit what you’re really doing is attacking the source material. Don’t like Gone Home? Homophobe! Have a dig about Pregnancy? Why do you hate pre-teen pregnancies and Hungarians?

But as it was there anyway, I figured I might as well play it.

Me: Don’t you judge me on the game I’m about to play!
VM: You realise I had zero interest in that. Now, I couldn’t be more interested.
VM: Haha, oh, wow.

15 minutes later

Me: So, that was pretty bad.
VM: So it seems! Going to review it?
Me: No. Because Gone Home Stigmata ™.
VM: Look at you: showing restraint and common sense. I’ll mark the date in my diary.

I promptly reviewed the game. The same day.


Tormentum – Dark Sorrow – [PC] – March 12th



How do you know H.G Grigar isn’t a thing? Maybe he’s a super underground artist pumping out works of gothic excellence?

Tormentum - Dark Sorrow (PC) image


Tormentum is as twistedly beautiful as it is sodding annoying. Sliding tile puzzles in 2015 – how is this still a thing? God, I hate them so much. They are an even more unforgivable video gaming sin than unskippable cutscenes


Discworld Noir – [PC] – March 14th



So, Terry Pratchett died, which struck me as a bit of a big deal. I won’t drone on about dribbling fanboyishness and the like, but I will use this time to note that Pratchett’s work did help me cement the way in which I like to write. Back when I was younger I spent most of my writing efforts dicking around in fiction which is something I wish I put more time aside for now to do. It’s hard to put down in words now that I’m making the effort to do so, but I guess there’s always been a goofy attempt of humour in what I write that’s been hard to turn off and because of this I just assumed that penning anything serious was a waste of time. Even before Discworld became the massive thing it is now, Pratchett threw that assumed theory into a wood chipper then stood back and looked smug about it. In my own clumsy way, I tried to follow that. Just, now, I use it to write about video games. ….. yeah, living the dream.

Discworld Noir (PC) image


The Discworld games have been a part of my reviewing bucket list – the rapidly reducing list of games I want to cover before I pack this nonsense in – since I drafted the bloody thing and now seemed a good enough time to do it. I guess in the scheme of things writing a review on an ancient video game he didn’t write but only had some input in isn’t much of a tribute, but I wanted to do something. I mentioned that I planned to do this to DE who brilliantly gazumped me with a review of the original produced a full day before I finally spat mine out.

Noir’s a pretty great game that was, in a lot of ways, ahead of its time and will never collect the props it deserves. That’s my annual slice of sentimentality out of the way – Thank you, Terry.


Dreamfall Chapters – Book Two: Rebels – [PC] – March 22nd



It’s been exactly 20 reviews in between Dreamfall chapters, which is a lot of games and a legit worry that I’d start forgetting stuff. Dreamfall scoffs at that shit and point blank expects me to remember specific plot points offhand from a game I beat over a decade ago. I didn’t, and I loved first Dreamfall more than anyone. Certainly more than you, nameless reader.

Dreamfall Chapters: Book Two - Rebels (PC) image


Still, have to say I’m digging Red Thread’s episodic approach that so far has managed to outshine the Telltale efforts. A lot of the choices seem to have deeper consequences and the individual chapters themselves are longer and feel fleshed out more. While playing through as Kian, I made some very hard-boiled choices that I’ve been regretting ever since. Kian just strikes me as a no-nonsense militant, so the choices purposefully thrown in to soften him feel like they should be avoided. That the game gives you a small narration of each choice delving into possible repercussions is an awesome way to make you feel like neither choice is going to be right. That it tells you in-game that only 22% of the playing public have made the same choice as me makes me feel like I might be a bit of a monster after all.


Gurumin – A Monstrous Adventure – [PC] – April 9th



Of all people, Jason first made me take notice of Gurumin back in 2007 when he reviewed it for the PSP. “I own a PSP”, said a slightly younger Gary; “I should buy that there game and see what the fuss is about.” And then I didn’t and just kind of got on with my life.

The game got a little bit of in-site buzz back in the day. Espiga – remember him? – even jumped in with one of those reviews he used to do before he moved on over to Twich to entertain middle aged men in their underpants. Gurumin always stuck with me as one of those “I’ll get to it one day!” titles we all hoard in the confines of our head, so the Steam release kind of destroyed what excuses I had left. It’s a super cute game that’s still happy to beat you up, even if you’re controlling a 12-year-old girl with pigtails and massive anime eyes, and I really enjoyed it. ….because it’s a good game. Not because you can beat up a child. I feel it important that I should specify that.

Gurumin: A Monstrous Adventure (PC) image


Still, those bloody kids, eh? Always with the droning noise and the trampling on my lawn


Dead Synchronicity: Tomorrow Comes Today – [PC] – April 22nd



I nearly ignored this one. I’d been watching it through the Steam Release list for a while and decided to free up a bit of time around its release because it caught my interest. Then I forgot it existed after the one-two combo punch of Dreamfall Book 2 and Gurumin offered really good back-to-back games I invested a lot of time in. So much so that I missed the release date and it was only after a friend nudged me on steam that I saw the bloody thing was out. I did request a review key, but it was post-release and I figured it wasn’t going to come. So I bought the game and sat down to check out the start and see if it all ran okay. A weekend later and I had beaten it without any else getting much of a look in.

Dead Synchronicity: Tomorrow Comes Today (PC) image


Dead Sync is brilliantly grim. It doesn’t hide its atrocities with dark humour or a sense of grandeur; it just presents you with a really rotten world and tells you it’s the norm now, so get used to it. It’s hard not to be captivated, so I don’t blame myself that I was. And was late for the other review I had agreed to do in the time I spent playing Sync instead. These things happen!

I finished the review’s draft and, seconds after the last word was typed, received notification that I had been granted the tardy review key I had requested. Threw it up as a tourney prize that WQ won. She’s not played a second of it.


ManaCollect – [PC] – April 26th



Maybe if ManaCollect wasn’t openly an attempt to reinvent Minesweeper by throwing anime at it, I wouldn’t have passed it over until I was done with Dead Sync. But it is. So I did.


Star Ruler 2 – [PC] – May 16th



I’ve traditionally used these little bites of insight nobody has ever asked for or particularly wants or needs to rail against people who have browbeat me into covering games. So, in that spirit, you suck Will.

Star Ruler 2 is a 4X game that he felt was worth covering but could not do so as, since he was assigned (by me, no less) the last Star Ruler to cover he has spoken to the developer a few times and feels it might not be wholly ethical to cover it himself. I agree with this mindset completely and would be the first to commend his actions if I didn’t know it was more about Will’s unending laziness and the amazing lengths he will go to so as not to do something. Maybe, also, he wanted to protect the fact that in that particular social circle he has adopted a girl’s name. I’m sure he has his reasons, and completely innocent they are, too. To each their own.

Star Ruler 2 (PC) image


Star Ruler, then, is brilliant and effortlessly puts a lot of the bigger 4X titles to shame. The depth of things you can do in the game’s senate that act as the diplomacy system is insane, so it’s a shame I more or less ignored all that in order to wage bitter war and spent hours dicking around building my own flagships that are so resource heavy they bankrupt even the most flourishing empires. I’ve seen someone else make a galaxy-sized ship. I kinda want one.


High Strangeness – [PC] – May 17th



Also known as that game I started uploading to youtube then stopped once I figured out how to do it because who bloody cares?


Solarix – [PC] -- May 22nd



“Do you want to cover Solarix?”, said Jason Venter. “I don’t have a code yet and the game has been out for a bit, but you should do it anyway.” I wasn’t sure why this strange message found its way to me, but it was clearly important to young Jason so I agreed to do it. Post release keys are pretty up in the air, anyway. Odds were, thought I who had not learnt from Dead Sync yet, nothing would come of it. Nothing came of it so I got on with my life.

A week passed, and Jason bound back into my inbox. “I was in the Publisher’s Spam box!” said Jason, revealing exactly zero self awareness. “Here’s a code; get to work”

Solarix (PC) image


Solarix was okay, I suppose. I thought horror in space was starting to feel a little tapped out after Dead Space started working crazy hard at becoming a parody of itself, but Solarix manages to feel different by being almost entirely focused on stealth. You sneak, or you die. It was a little buggy, so I wrote a review about how it was held back by bugs. Then the stupid dev patched the hell out of it, and I had to replay a chunk of the game and then rewrite a lot of the review. Stupid devs, trying to give their audience a polished game deserving of the money they had paid for it after I had finished a full review complaining about how they had not provided a polished enough game for the money they were asking for it!

A less ethical critic might have just published what they had and be done with it. How I envy those hacks….


Ossuary – [PC] -- May 31st



Ossuary is… weird. It wears its Discordianism influence on its sleeve with a sense of reckless pride that I can’t help but admire, but it took several run ups at the game before I was able to enjoy it for what it is. A couple of time I delved ten minutes or so in, and just didn’t feel like I was in the mood for what Ossuary had to offer. Sometimes games are like that, I guess, the same way that you might have to be in a set frame of mind to get the most out of any kind of media. Once the game clicked, I found myself relentlessly hunting down cabbages dressed up as people so I could turn them back into leafy vegetables because cabbages are not people, damn it!


Akiba’s Trip:Undead and Undressed – [PC] -- June 7th



Jason’s got a lot of name-drops in this year’s revival of pointless review run-downs, though I suspect that’s because the other easy target, WQ, has joined an Apocalypse cult and now lives underground, eating snakes. Or maybe it’s because he ceaselessly shovels games atop me then shakes his fist menacingly. In Akiba’s case, should his version of events be believed, he worked very hard to obtain me a review copy, so I sunk seventeen hours into it.

Seventeen hours! Man, I didn’t take up pretentious Indie gaming to sink seventeen bloody hours ito games! They’re supposed to be only a handful of hours -- I’ve legit spent more time writing the review for some of these games than I have playing them *coughpregnancycough*. For this kind of timesink, Akiba’s Trip better be good.

Akiba’s Trip is really good.

Akiba's Trip: Undead & Undressed (PC) image


I guess it shouldn’t be, but it is. It sounds really fanservice-y, but you don’t really have time to oggle the underwear-clad girls as they’re too busy trying to cave your skull in. Plus, by the time they’re in a state of undress they’re either running away shrieking or they’re melting. Those are their only options. Plus, even though it’s hardly a power-hog, it feels super satisfying to play a PS4 port on a PC I built. Because what I really need is an extra layer of smugness.


Supercharged Robot VULKAISER – [PC] -- June 12th



This was going to be… one.. two… four reviews ago, but it’s another stupid S write-up so it can go to hell! Yes, I know it was bumped off by another S review in Solarix but… look, I don’t need to make contextual sense, alright?



I was passed this code and asked if I could perhaps either cover it or look for someone else to in my stead, something I’ve only ever had very limited success with. But I thought I’d give it a go and then I might have completely forgotten that it existed and just got on with everything else. Luckily the game’s very, very short and therein lies its appeal. To overworked video game reviewers anyway, but I think to the shooting public as well. It’s comfortable to sit down and blast through the game in half an hour or so, trying on new abilities for size and having a decent slog at bettering high scores. I have to admit to finding the 1970’s giant robot anime homage charming as hell while I’m at it.




NEO AQUARIUM - The King of Crustaceans – [PC] -- June 19th



Who knew that a 3D Virtua-On-like where you control angry lazer-spewing sea-life would be so weird? I mean, it all sounds super pedestrian, right? Destroying the competition with the god-tier Corn Barnacle, that’s how I roll.

NEO AQUARIUM - The King of Crustaceans (PC) image


I asked for a review code for this one, but getting hold of the publishers was a nightmare and the developers, as if you couldn’t already guess, are very Japanese so I was close to skipping this over to work on something else. But I couldn’t get the idea of warring crustaceans out of my head -- I had to know! So I bought a copy. And then I bought a copy for DE so I could fight someone on the versus. He played the game exactly once then never touched it again because he’s a heathen ingrate. There went my plans to record what would have been my obvious victory and splash it all over the internet.


Super Galaxy Squadron – [PC] -- June 29th



It was the start of the year when I was first asked to cover SGS, an offer I turned down as I had already been spoilt with luscious shooting gooeyness and it was an S and to hell with S. I was then asked to do it a little later and I was all “No, man -- review it yourself!” That showed The Man. By the time I was asked a fifth time if I could cover it I was all “alright already, geez.” and then I did.

True story.


Kholat – [PC] -- June 29th



Otherwise known as that spooky game with Sean Bean passively aggressively narrating in it.

Kholat was gripping as hell for the first few hours while I wandered around the vast game area, having no idea where I was going and getting freaked out by the burning orange footprints that appeared in the snow. There’s moments in there that are just brilliantly realised -- like how a run through a dead forest to try and avoid being gassed by evil fog is effortlessly heightened by having phantom figures also make the desperate charge alongside you you and flood the scene with highly infectious fear. Nothing about Kholat is explained to you; even contextually, a lot of it doesn’t make a lot of sense. It’s kind of brilliant.

Kholat (PC) image


Then you start retreading old ground in your exploration. Then you realise the impotence of the monsters who stalk you.


Dreamfall Chapters: Book Three - Realms – [PC] -- July 4th



I’m really struggling to remember some of the cast that Dreamfall Chapters sometimes drops onto my lap; the returning cast are a little less newbie/stuttering memory friendly than the original Dreamfall. There, it was assumed you knew who the returners where, but they were characters that took a big chunk of TLJ - the Aprils and the Crows. Or they were Brian Westhouse who, if Dreamfall was a syndicated US TV show would get the ‘also starring’ tag at the end of the introduction credits. Even if you did not remember or play TLJ before Dreamfall, you could muddle through contextually. It also has an awful opening section where you have to hunt down a toddler’s drawing depicting the main plot of The Longest Journey and put them in order. TLJ was made in 1999. The toddler has to explore a house but does so slowly because she, er, toddles.

Dreamfall Chapters: Book Three - Realms (PC) image


Then you get past that bit and I no longer care because, man, these games are so wonderfully written. During 2006’s Dreamfall, I could not have cared less about Kian who seemed to exist for no other reason than to push its awful awful attempt at combat. Now, he’s threatening to become the star of the show. And I’m a huge Zoe fanboy, but she’s being left in the dust.


Icuras-X: Tides of Fire – [PC] -- July 4th



“The Borderlands/Diablo of shoot ‘em ups” said Icarus X. “Pfft”, said I, long since used to games trying to compare themselves with the big boys and then having nothing but bare cosmetic similarities. Imagine my surprise when Icarus actually manages to successfully replicate the equipment grinding of those games! But, yeah, granted, the grind isn’t the highlight of either title. It’s more a happy byproduct of all that exploring you do and a reward for tackling all those things that want you dead. Icarus has six levels which are far from awful, and do contain several tiers of difficulty on each, but the focus seems to be on looting first, shooting later while the better games make looting a byproduct, not the goal. The review could have used such a cleverly put and insightful comment. Hmmm, perhaps it’s time for some editing…

I captured a run through of all six levels with my wonderfully overpowered craft that I was going to upload to Youtube. But then I didn’t. And probably never will.


Unpossible – [PC] -- July 6th



“Hey!” said slightly younger me, “this looks like it could be 2015’s Velcobox!” Because I still can’t stop harping on about Velocibox. Then I played it, and it really, really wasn’t.


Yatagarasu: Attack on Cataclysm – [PC] -- July 9th



Check out this run of reviews -- four in five days like a boss.



This was a Venter thing. Y was a letter I figured I’d sweat near the end of the year or fall back on a trusty Ys title because everyone likes Ys (even the lukewarm ones like Ys III) but Jason said “No! Do this tourney fighting game because everyone knows that you’re the king of tourney fighters ever since they took Marc’s Street Fighter II cabinet away”. So I did. I got pretty good using frail looking swordgirl, Hina, won more online matches thanh I lost then got accused of being a hacker by a guy who thought he knew how to use the parry system but really really couldn’t. It was, I have to admit, pretty funny. He ran off to ‘report me’ and I’ve not been able to get the netplay to work as well since. You Americans and your cliched sore loser complexes!


Zaxxon Motherbase 2000 – [32X] -- July 14th



So, many years ago we (and by we, I mean I!) built Team Thunderforce, an elite collection of the world’s (the site’s, anyway) greatest scrolling shooterers (and DE) in a cunning effort to cover all the Thunderforce games consecutively over the span of a week. It was a great success, even though I got stuck with the heartbreakingly bad TFII, we got all the main canon games covered from 1-5 and snuck in a couple of bonus ones too. Zig was going to try and cover a doujin version, and Leroux had sights on an arcade drop (though is forgiven for missing that thanks to a great Thunder Spirits write-up) It was the birth of the Theme Week phenomenon which we would follow up by never using again ever.

We tried, actually; the following month we tried to put together an Arnie themed week, but it fell depressingly flat, and the idea would not be looked at again for several years. Then we tried to do something with the Star Soldier series last year and that kind of flopped, too.



Zaxxon Motherbase 2000 was a review that was going to happen; I needed a Z and I needed to get off my arse and start making headway on Project 32X, so it covered two bases. But what if, thought I, I see if anyone else wants a sneaky Z-shaped hole filled. I made initial contact with fellow team SS flops, Joe and OD, who each agreed to take up a Zaxxon each. Our reviews have more or less been written since the start of the year, but we sat on them so we could drop them on the 20th anniversary of Motherbase’s original Japanese release. Thus, we had unheard of time to plot more. I sent out a couple of non enthusiastic invites to others and found Jason and Pick happy to chip in as well. That was five reviews - the exact number we needed to fill the front page and, better yet, we were done months ahead of time.

Then Sash turned up with a really appreciated C64 effort to swell the ranks more. Then Ben came out of exile to cover the Master System version (which I’d tapped him up to do at the start of the year before he went the way of Stuart Peace) and we had a completed project to rival the Thunderforce glory years. What a strange but fortunate turn of events!

What will Team Zaxxon (trademark pending) have lined up for 2016?
probably nothing


– Ether One [PC] -- July 25th



After going on what seems to be an annual Adventure Game Kick (which seems to have been a thing several times this year) I got a message from someone I befriended on Steam highly praising Ether One and, while I was playing through a somewhat similar games, I should consider giving it a go. I picked up the game a few days later. This was in 2014.

Why the gap? Because Ether One is an attention sink, and I did not have time to do it credit back then. I could have played it and beaten it, sure, but I had other stuff on so would have to have done a bare bones playthrough or leant on FAQs and I wanted to do neither. The options are there to bypass it all; you can play the game as a purely exploration and sidestep the game’s more involving puzzles all together. Hell, there’s an entire level you can completely ignore and might very easily miss if you don’t spot the small opening carved into the side of a riverbank.

ETHER One (PC) image


To play correctly, it demands a level of immersion I’ve not had time to put aside for a while. then i got fed up of this and stopped taking on review codes until I had this one 100% beat. I’d not really planned on reviewing it, but then did anyway.


– Funk of Titans[PC] -- August 9th



I was blissfully unaware that this marked HG review #400 for me until Jason (rather gleefully, I might add) pointed it out on Twitter. This shit was heartbreaking; I’m not a big benchmark guy (though I did go out of my way to review LoD for the third time when I hit #300, which was supposed to be my retirement review. That never quite worked out) but that it fell on such an absolute dud of a game is disheartening. Jason campaigned hard for me to cover this one, too. There is no way this wasn’t a well-constructed evil plan….


Slam City with Scottie Pippin – [32X] -- August 9th



Project 32X didn’t going as well as I’d hoped, and a lot of that was my fault. I had reviews for the system long written, but then habitually sat on them, waiting from a stretch of time when I wasn’t kicking out anything new to keep the EmP conveyor line of world class reviews alive. Then I kind of.. forgot about them. I was only reminded of this one because I saw a file named scottiepippenneedsanewagent.doc and wondered what the hell it was. It was this review! That I wrote in… March? So I posted it. Otherwise it would probably still be sitting on my hard drive, waiting for a break in productivity that isn’t going to come.


RymdResa – [PC] -- August 20th



I got a review code for this game a good month before it was released and, man, is that the way to go. I could actually play it like I would an actual game rather than flail at it like a madman in an insane rush to meet some ethereal deadline to beat the game then write some words about it. So I did. And all was well.

RymdResa (PC) image


I was really hesitant about accepting this; the abstract poetry in space thing felt kind of heavy going, but it melds up brilliantly with the rogue-lite space exploration. There are issues; using warp gates often flings you into areas containing exactly nothing and research pods seem to be rumours rather than actual things, but it was a game that captured my attention a lot more than I expected it to.



Fairy Fencer F – [PC] -- August 29th



There was a small campaign over Twitter to try and find someone to cover this game. A few people stepped forward but nothing really came of it, so I decided to give it a go. Because I’m a hero and it’s the closest thing I’ve played to a AAA release since Akiba’s Trip as well as the first JRPG I’ve really played in ages. It’s a Compile game that wants to show they can do more than release seven hundred Nept games by, er, levering a new IP shamelessly across a modified Nept engine. Don’t care; had a blast.

Fairy Fencer F (PC) image


My PC blew up a little over an hour after I finally completed the game then wrote up the review, putting the planned new game + on ice. I spent almost a month not writing anything and replaying The Longest Journey on an old rickety laptop. I then replayed Dreamfall on the 360 (which I turned on for the first time in 2015 to do so) in about three solid days. That should help me remember some of those bloody Chapters characters!


Xeodrifer – [VITA] -- September 10th



For a very short period, I thought I had finally cracked the Golding Enigma.

I often like to make a little play of trying to trick Marc out of retirement every year or so. Sometimes I do this by finding a way to make him rewrite older reviews then see if that leads him into something more productive. Usually not. In this case, he seemed honestly perturbed that he’d not written anything since 2012, the lazy chanuk.

This time, it all came about because we were offered a PS4 version of Velocibox which Jason offered to me but I had no access to that system (and was not ready to fall back into that particular addiction) and I asked him about it while we were chatting on IM. he said he wanted to do it, so I passed his name on and kept expectations low. A couple of times this year I’ve passed him off shooters on Steam he’s said he wanted to cover and nothing ever came of them (except for me having to trudge back and do them later) and I expected kind of the same. But he came through. Then he asked for more, so we looked at the PS4 store and picked out three games. He dropped a completed review for one of them on day one. I was shocked. Shocked!

Including Velocibox (which he low-scored like a filthy casual!), Marc took on a total of four games, two of which he finished almost immediately. He requested some more so we had a little dig around to see what was there. Xeodrifer was available along with some PC stuff he liked the look of, so we drove on with that. Then he vanished. Of course he did.

At some point, Marc’s going to read these words (I’ll see to it!) and I hope he feels bad. He slowly caught up with his (tiny, tiny) backlog but, as I was between PCs, I gave him a little hand and blew the dust of the VITA. Marc then helpfully popped up the next day to tell me that virtually every mention of Metroid in my review was spelt incorrectly, then vanished back into the void.


Skyshine’s Bedlam – [PC] -- September 21st



My PC was fixed. Which meant I could put the laptop back in the loft and get back to watching fansubbed anime and writing about videogames only seven people have heard of. I was lucky in that I’d not taken on anything else while Fairy Fencer F was a thing seeing as it was quite a large game so my glorious return could be rolled out atop a clean slate. I flicked through some upcoming stuff and was blown away by how Jotun and Bedlam looked. Requests were made. Games were exchanged. Words were written.

Bedlam faced a bit of a consumer’s backlash I felt was extremely unfair seeing as the majority of the complaints were “This isn’t FTL/XCOM/both” or “This game is too hard”. I don’t think any halfway competent gamer would suggest Bedlam is harder than FTL. It’s not; I consider an FTL run that reaches the boss somewhat of a success. I consider a Bedlam run where I reach the boss par for course. Getting past either, of course, is something else entirely.

Skyshine's Bedlam (PC) image


Bedlam, however, has seemingly drawn the whiniest consumer base ever. Though it’s always been advertised as it own game with its own mechanics, people still sputtered with rage over the limited move well and near guarantee of friendly casualties throughout the game. Or how kickstarter backers were rewarded with starting perks -- not exactly an unheard of prospect. I loved these things; I guess it goes back to X-Com (the hyphen edition of 1993) where one careless move could and would cost you. No one bothered to learn Bedlam’s system where you have to abuse the enemies two turns while making the most of yours. Abuse cover, sucker people in and put them down hard. It’s supposed to be hard at the start while you lose rookies and the survivors get stronger and stronger until, mid game, you have a team who can roll over almost anything.

The whining was taken in good nature and a patch promised to address these problems. Like a good reviewer, my draft had already been completed by then but, in the interest of being fair, I decided to sit on the review until it was released. A while went by with no news so I released it anyway. Then I sent a Q&A to the dev team, but thought it best to sit on it until after the patch. A little while passed and nothing, so I sent it anyway. The next morning, the patch hit, because of course it did.


Reverse Crawl – [PC] -- September 28th



“Look at this cool PC game I found!” said Jason ‘I’ll review when I’m dead it’s the last week of the year’ Venter. “We should cover this game - that I found and am thrusting towards you in a threatening manner. Review it! - Review it!”

So I did. It was short and it was actually pretty cool for what it was. Then, on launch day, I dropped it into the production room so Jason could play copy editor. And there it sat; getting slightly less relevant second by second. Then I got bored of all that nonsense and posted it anyway.


Jotun – [PC] -- October 5th



I really suck at recording playthroughs. I’m the worst in the world.

Jotun is all kinds of awesome. It’s a hand-drawn Nordic action game that’s half exploration and half boss rush. It’s hard to know what to gush about - fighting the massive bosses is as similarly daunting as Shadows was, but those locations you have to explore to unlock them are so crammed full with hidden landscapes and cool little extras….

Jotun (PC) image


I asked for the game to fill a J-shaped hole in my alpha score and I thought Jotun would be good, but was hugely impressed by just how good it was. So! I figured I’d dust off the old youtube account (the one with the ⅓ complete High Strangeness playthrough on) and go through Jotun again. I got further this time; I quit around the ¾ mark. I keep saying I’ll go back and finish it up; I still have the save. We both know I won’t, don’t we, super bored person who has read this far into a vanity recap? Yes.


SOMA – [PC] -- October 13th



The first I heard of SOMA was super excited Will showing me a trailer at the start of the year wherein you pressed a button to drill stuff into a guy’s head then ran down a vent to escape something screamy. I put it down to sci-fi Amnesia and got on with my life. It was enough to make me want to play the game, but not so much to follow it in any depth. Imagine my surprise when I found the finished game was more or less nothing like that. That the horror aspects the developer is more known for feel tacked on and obligatory was a surprise. That the game centres around a grey area of morality so brilliantly it has you second guessing every single thing you do was brilliant.

So I sat down and wrote about it. I’d half planed on plugging away on it slowly and then releasing it alongside a block of horror-y reviews I’ve been saving up throughout the year for Halloween. But then I found I was done and I had a draft. The game wasn’t that far from just released so I figured I might as well publish it. Figured I’d give it a last drafting and drop it the next day.

SOMA (PlayStation 4) image


The next day, Suskie happened. His SOMA review, remarkably similar to mine, sitting smugly on site. This changed everything, so I reworked more or less the entire bloody thing. The worst of it? I had planned to use this for the horror review tourney but as Suskie had pulled the trigger first I felt it only fair to let him use his should he so chose. He so choose. He won, and I came second.


200% Mixed Juice – [PC] -- October 26th



I’d slogged it out behind the scene for ages, writing up and sitting on various horror reviews that were not time relevant so could be stored away and released around Halloween. I had a tidy little stash and I could afford a bit of a laze. I’d deserved it, after all; check the stats - up to this point I had been behind 62% of all staff review output. EmPGamers.com had become a bigger reality every second, so it was only fair to give the rest of the so-called staff time to catch up. Then 200% Mixed Juice dropped. The sacred # review. The problem here being I nailed # early with 4PM and now have yet another reason to be angry that I wasted my time with 4PM.

Maybe it’s my fault for taking an interest in doujin ports; 200% is a game that squashes the entire cast of a ten year franchise into one game. The downside being that I’ve only actually played one single game of the entire medley included. Still, there’s upsides to having a pokemon-like card battle game a week or so before the general public. When the full release dropped, I was an overpowered god to the online masses until they caught up. Oh, the salt I mined…..


Corpse Killer – [PC] -- October 31st



For months I sat on this pile of crap. What an awful, awful game that Digital Pictures simply refused to stop re-releasing until they finally went out of business. Copies found their way onto the Mega CD, the 32X and the Saturn. The 32X, somehow, managed to be the best version. It was still so, so awful.

Corpse Killer (Sega 32X) image


I played this around March/April but didn’t drop it until Halloween because scary game. I know, but pickings have been slim since I saw off the main line Silent Hills and refused to go back. Corpse Killer made me feel like going back to getting my heart broken was a good idea. Corpse Killer is just that bad.


BloodNet – [PC] -- October 31st



BloodNet is a game from my past, back when I built my computers out of crappier computers were passed down to me or found outside other people’s houses and had the approximate running power of a modern day calculator. I could run Bloodnet back in those days so long as I didn’t mind having no sound (and I didn’t), but I was never able to beat it. And it’s not like I didn’t try; I ploughed hours and hours into the game but never seemed to get anywhere. Each multi-hour failure seemed to advance me ever so slowly forward, but I’d have killed off someone who needed to live, or the option I needed was buried in a sub-sub menu somewhere I didn’t know existed. Eventually, with no progress and furious urges to stab growing inside me, I walked away from the game. Played more X-Com. All was right with the world.

Then it got a re-release on Steam. I’m older and wiser now, thought older and wiser Gary. Besides, there’s probably a FAQ now that I can pretend I don’t know exists if I get stuck again. There is a FAQ out there. One. It’s more confusing to follow then the bloody game.

I powered through so much of BloodNet. I learnt so many of its twisted secrets. A part of me died that playthough. It died and now it has gone forever.


The Park – [PC] -- November 1st



The Park was a kneejerk project because I’d been lazy and not saved up enough horror reviews to fill Halloween week. Just as well it’s only an hour or so long. Bit of a shame it’s pretty awful.

The Park (PC) image


I’d been following it for a while because it was a The Secret World spin-off and I’d played enough of that to rather like it (though not enough that it deserved) and Funcom do awesome stuff like Dreamfall and more Dreamfall. The Park was overwritten. It forced loquacious, philosophical verse into the mouth of a scared mother chasing down her missing son, having her routinely stop her search to ride an attraction and wax nostalgia and regret. Obviously, there was a twist that went some way to explaining this. But it didn’t really explain anything.


Sound of Drop - fall into poison – [PC] -- November 4th



Jason asked me if I wanted to review a visual novel about an evil aquarium. I thought I’d do it for the halibut.

Eh? EH?


The Longest Journey – [PC] -- November 14th




Two things conspired to me getting this review finally done. Well,l three; the first was that I said I wanted to do it back when Zipp wrote one out as one his first wave of reviews and I said “I wanna review that!” I said the same thing when Lewis did so again some years later. Now I have.

Playing Dreamfall: Chapters has been great, but it does ask you to remember, with perfect clarity, the two previous games that have come before it. Sometimes, puzzle solutions directly depend on it. Most of the time, some minor character from the previous games just falls out of the sky and you’re supposed to go “Oh, right; that guy”. I didn’t. I went “who the bloody hell is that?!” then tries to cobble it together using context. The plan was to replay Dreamfall more than it was to go right back to the very start. I even picked up both games on Steam. Turns out that anything over Windows 8 had issues running TLJ. I’m one of the four people out there running Windows 9. And then a power surge nerfed by PC completely.

The Longest Journey (PC) image


It was not a cheap or quick job, so I was back on the laptop which could run Skifree, Solitare and, so it turned out, The Longest Journey. You have to be in a certain mood to feed the yeti, so I replayed it. And then I wrote about it. And then I sat on the review for three months for reasons I still do not grasp.

I even started penning out a walkthough which got maybe three chapters in. Usually, this is where I’ll brush a half-finished project off - but I will finish this one!

Once I beat TLJ, the PC was still down, so I blew the dust off the 360, turning it on for the first time that year, and replayed Dreamfall as planned.


The Rivers of Alice – [PC] -- November 16th



Jason has been a thorn in my side all year. Rarely he comes to me with games I care about, so when he showed up with a Cave shooter, I should have thought my luck was in. But I didn’t; I was knackered and in good need of a well deserved rest “Take your brilliant bullet hell shooter and begone, Venter!”, said I. This brought me less than a week before he came back around again with Rivers of Alice and Steel Strider. I agreed to cover them in exchange for a bit of recruiting on his side. As time of writing this, he has still yet to do that.

River of Alice is a game about exploring dreams set against water colored backdrops where nothing is spoken and everything is communicated with further pictures within pictures. DE called me a dirty hipster when he saw me playing this. I had no defense.


Steel Strider – [PC] -- November 18th



I liked Gigantic Army. The name was dumb for a game that was one-vs-all, but I liked it anyway. It was a real throwback, offering a control scheme you had to wrestle with initially, making it feel like you were struggling to control a massive walking lump of metal. Steel Strider is the sequel. It can’t be bothered with any that that. It shies away from being a 16-bit homage and joins the ranks of familiarity. That in itself is not a bad thing; it’s certainly an easier title to slip in and out of than its predecessor, but it’s pretty hard to distinguish it from the throngs now.


Quake 4 – [360] -- December 1st



Because it was December and the Q game I’d been tracking on Steam was delayed for, like, the fifth time. And I owned Quake 4. It was on that shelf of console stuff I rarely looked at.


Virtua Fighter CG Portrait Series Vol. 4: Pai Chan – [SAT] -- December 10th



I used to knock one of these out once a year. I’m not sure why I stopped. Oh, it was because these games have no reason to exist.

Virtua Fighter CG Portrait Series Vol. 4: Pai Chan (Saturn) image


They are a lot of fun to poke fun at though, I suppose. Will 2016 bring us a eagerly awaited review of vol. 5? No - it’s not eagerly awaited at all.


Dreamfall Chapters: Book Four - Revelations – [PC] -- December 14th



There’s this point in all episodic games where they have to stop foreshadowing future events and actual showcase what you’ve been working towards. That moment for Dreamfall Chapters Book 4.

I wasn’t even planning to review this. Pai’s game was supposed to be my last of the year. Then I noticed this has dropped so I kind of had to, I guess. I thought it was a false alarm to begin with; the engine update had dropped a large patch download a week or so before and I assumed all activity around the title was just more of the same. Turns out no! Nabbed myself a retweet by Ragnar Tørnquist which, I have to admit, is pretty cool.

And that was 2015.

Most recent blog posts from Gary Hartley...

Feedback
honestgamer honestgamer - December 31, 2015 (01:25 PM)
People who read between the lines will realize that there is a secret hero in this story, and I am that hero. I'm glad I could help you achieve your true potential in 2015!
jerec jerec - December 31, 2015 (02:19 PM)
Great job, Jason! You must be very proud.
EmP EmP - January 01, 2016 (08:02 AM)
You got a free pass in 2015 because I assumed you had some kind of rare illness that stopped you from reviewing things. You destroyed that theory in the last week. Expect many "do it yourself!" replies in 2016!

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