My Video Games of 2018: Shooting Aliens and Collecting Strawberries

If you want to learn about a person, look through their video game library. What type of games do they enjoy? How many hours have they poured into sports games? What system do they prefer? Gaming has never been taken as seriously as film or literature, but I think the medium deserves its day in court. The stories and mechanics of games are some of the best ways to enjoy a multitude of worlds in a very active way. I, like more writers, love stories. 2018 was an excellent year for gaming. And the five (plus) games that are included on this list are some of the best stories you can enjoy with a controller in hand.


5. Destiny 2: Forsaken

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This is the only MMO I’ve ever loved. It’s not a perfect game by any stretch of the imagination. But it has its charms. This game universe is space opera at its best. It’s all about gun-toting space wizards at war with a Lovecraftian darkness. You go on quests, you battle four or five different alien races, each with a unique design and history. This soundtrack is epic and soaring, and each planet has its own suite of brilliant music. When you’re not questing alone, you’re doing it with friends. Many of the toughest environments in the game require a group to even get through. And when you get bored with killing aliens, you can always drop into the competitive Crucible mode and battle against other players.

I’ve put more hours into this game than any other in 2018. It’s endless loot and shoot gameplay is addicting, if a bit disrespectful of your time. But it’s Destiny 2: Forsaken’s flavor that keeps bringing me back.

For more on my thoughts on Destiny 2: Forsaken: Tim Burton Spook Music: An Ode to Destiny 2’s Halloween Event.


4. Celeste

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On the surface, this is the kind of throwback platformer that are a dime a dozen in any game system e-store. I heard the merits of this game screamed over every video game podcast and website for months after Celeste’s initial release. And then it happened again when this dropped on the Switch. So, after I found myself bored and sleepy on a Saturday morning, I snatched this up from the Holiday PS4 sale.

But Celeste is not just another recycled platformer. It’s a precise and brutally tough platformer, that happens to have a beautiful core. Celeste is the mountain. You play Madeline, who is climbing that mountain. You meet a variety of goofy characters, and get to watch Madeline grow as your skills grow. Celeste has a lot to say about depression and self-worth. It comes at those issues in a mature way that we don’t often see in games. This game is beyond sweet and worth the challenge.


3. Red Dead Redemption 2

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This had to be my most anticipated game of the year. And, as I’m sure you already know, Rockstar delivered. Red Dead Redemption 2 is a slow, momentous beast of a game. You fill the shoes of gruff everyman Arthur Morgan. You run with his gang and commit crimes. Things go good, things go bad and then they go even worse. The Dutch Van Der Linde gang is filled with characters that I don’t think I’ll ever forget. When you’re not riding through beautiful natural vistas or shooting everything, you’re hanging out in camp, drinking and listening to tales of the glory days.

This is not a happy game. But this is a story that everyone should experience. It’s beautiful and savage, and filled with more minutia in the moment to moment gameplay than you could ever want. But if you take a breath and get on the same wave length, you’ll feel like a cowboy.


2. Marvel’s Spider-Man

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HOLY CRAP I’M SPIDER-MAN AND I’M SWINGI–WAIT–DID YOU SEE THAT!?

That stream of Caps above is an approximate approximation of what was happening in my brain while I was playing this game. Marvel’s Spider-Man is a perfect Spider-Man game. The swinging is fast and the combat is simple to learn and a joy to master. Insomniac has crafted a New York City that is a joy to explore. Avengers Tower! The Sanctum Sanctorum!

But that’s not all. The story explores Peter Parker/Spider-Man’s relationships and his place in this world. Old rogue’s gallery villains are recreated in unique and brilliant ways. It can’t be ignored just how clean and fluid this entire game feels. The collectibles and side missions are fun to experience and collect. And the end couple of missions of this thing are *sighs* wonderful.


1. God Of War

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God of War is nearly perfect. Let’s break it down. A character piece for Kratos and his son. A combat system that is both visceral and beautiful. A world steeped in history and magic. Adventure on a scale rarely recreated in this generation of games. Probably the best looking PS4 exclusive!

But it’s not just that. Both Red Dead Redemption 2 and Spider-Man had those same qualities. But God Of War stands apart. This is a video game story of loss and of growing love. Kratos is a man with a horrible past. He has known loss both in his past and very much in his present. And to watch this wild demigod grow as a person and as a father felt momentous in every conceivable way. Come for the Leviathan axe and stay for the character growth.


Bonus Round….

Can I talk about some runner-ups? Kind of. I played a few other games that aren’t quite Top 5 material, but deserve your attention in some other way. The only other game that belonged this high up was Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey. It’s another rip-roaring adventure game where you get to jump off stuff and have awesome sword fights. And, if you play as Kassandra, it’s kind of like you’re playing as Wonder Woman. Which is cool.

The other game I wanted to talk about is Call of Cthulhu. This game is…not anything that I wanted it to be. It’s essentially a walking simulator with some very diet-light environmental puzzles. But being able to spend some slow time in a quaint little Lovecraftian world is kind of fun. If you can snag this game up for cheap (or maybe a rental?) I think you should do it. Especially if you’re a Lovecraft horror nut.

This was the year I discovered the joys of the PS4 Platinum trophy system. I’m by no means a trophy hunter, but I enjoy the added value of hunting them down. Earning the Platinum likely means you’ve seen most of what the game has to offer. I earned five Platinum trophies this year: The Order: 1886,  God of War, Assassin’s Creed Origins, Marvel’s Spider-Man and Fallout 4. My Fallout 4 platinum was the most well-earned. I love the Fallout franchise, even if Fallout 76 may be the worst game I played all year. Scratch that, worst game I’ve played in the last five.


That is my version of the gaming year that was 2018. This year was abnormally strong, but it wasn’t without its disapointments. This was the year that made me glad to own a PS4. This was the year where I was inspired and strengthened by the games that I played.

 

My Favorite Books of 2017

Hello everyone! 2017, for what little it was worth, has come and gone. I won’t look back at this year fondly. It wasn’t a banner year for me for a lot of reasons. The one thing I did have success with was my reading challenge. I pledged 50 books through the Goodreads’ challenge. I finished my 50th book on the 13th of December, both tired and excited to pick up my next one. I think I learned a lot over the year. I read books from several different genres and enjoyed most of them. I’ve put together a couple of categories to highlight some of my favorites. If you want to see the full list, here is a separate post that has them all. Shall we begun?

My Favorite Novel I Read This Year:

The Fisherman by John Langan

‘The Fisherman’ is a horror epic packed into a small page count. It’s a rusty hook legend at the center of a heart-breaking tale of loss. After I set this book down I couldn’t help but feel sad for so many good reasons. Figure that out. It won the Bram Stoker Award this year and MAN does it deserve it. This is the best novel I’ve read this year and it belongs in everyone’s TBR pile.

Runner-Ups: Little Heaven by Nick Cutter, Hell House by Richard Matheson.

My Favorite Novella I Read This Year:

Hammers on Bone by Cassandra Khaw

This is another award winner I found myself playing catch-up on. What I loved about this one was its ability to take a tired trope (private eye on the hunt) and make it feel VERY new. This world is a Lovecraftian scab of a world that drips with menace. Cassandra’s prose is beautiful, even if the horrible acts her characters commit are not. I think about the way this action plays out in my head and I get chills. It’s that good.

Runner-Ups: The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe by Kij Johnson, Annihilation by Jeff Vandermeer

My Favorite Short Story Collection I Read This Year:

Behold the Void by Philip Fracassi

This was the most painful category for me. I read a TON of fantastic collections in 2017. I loved all of them. I discovered some great writers through my literary adventures. But the author who had the strongest showing this year for me was Mr. Philip Fracassi. His cinematic style creates some truly breath-taking tales. ‘Altar’. ‘The Horse Thief’. ‘Mandala’. Three gems in a collection packed with them. I look forward to whatever Philip releases next.

Everything That’s Underneath by Kristi DeMeester, Painted Monsters and Other Strange Beasts by Orrin Grey

Biggest Surprise I Read This Year:

Between You & Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen by Mary Norris

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This book made grammar fun. Mary Norris’ experience as a world class editor makes for a fascinating read. I had my doubts. Books about writing or the English language are rarely as fun as they strive to be. Mary makes pencil sharpeners fun. Go figure.

I hope you enjoyed this peek into my reading experience this year! Any book on this list deserves your attention and I hope that you give them a chance. Until next time…

My 10 Favorite Films of 2016 (Part Two)

Welcome back! This is the second part of ‘My 10 Favorite Films of 2016’ list. The first part of it is available here. Go ahead and give it a read! I’ll wait.

Welcome back! Let’s make this short and sweet. Ready? Here we go!

5. Manchester by the Sea

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“Oscar bait!” You scream, surrounded by empty bottles of Mountain Dew and Doritos crumbs. Well… You’re not wrong. Thankfully, Kenneth Lonergan’s drama avoids a lot of those Oscar bait sins. This drama feels real. No one is screaming to the heavens. Casey Affleck brings a nuanced and quiet demeanor to the film, which is impressive considering the subject matter.

4. La La Land

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Headline for today’s paper: ‘LOGAN IS ENCHANTED: SEND HELP!!!’ ‘La La Land’ floats. The music is beautiful, the performances are fun, and the film goes exactly where I didn’t expect it to. Aided by cinematography by Linus Sandgren, ‘La La Land’ is a moving swirl of celluloid sorbet. ‘La La Land’ is fun. Which, among its fellow Oscar hopefuls, makes it a rare treat.

3. Nocturnal Animals

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‘Nocturnal Animals’ will make you squirm. It’s somehow both sterile and filthy all at once. It’s narrative is tricky and filled with splendid double meanings. Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Shannon steal the show. Prepare to be uncomfortable. And, just for once, revel in it.

2. Arrival

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Aliens have never been more peaceful. Movies about aliens haven’t been this thrilling in decades. ‘Arrival’ is a jaw-droppingly genius Sci-Fi film that doesn’t treat its audience like dummies (for once). This is the smartest film of 2016 and worth EVERY second of your time.

Drumroll please…..

1. Green Room

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No films affected me as much as ‘Green Room’. It’s a devastating genre masterpiece. Patrick Stewart has never been more terrifying. This is the most suspenseful and brutal film of the year. Here it is, in print: ‘Green Room’ is my favorite film of 2016. Man. Nazis sure do suck.

That’s right! That wraps up ‘My Favorite Films of 2016’ list. What do you think? Any films that you think should have made the cut? Did I praise any of these films too much? Comment below! Until next time…

 

My 10 Favorite Films of 2016 (Part One)

The quality of films in 2016 was, in more ways than one, highly uneven. I think this is the worst year for superhero films in a long time. Big directors and big name actors had a mixed year as well. 2017 was saved by indies and new ideas. This list below outlines the first half of my 10 Favorite Films of 2016. Not the Best films, but my favorites. There is too much content to include for one article. First half now, second half later!  Ready? Let’s dive in!!!!

10. Blair Witch

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‘Blair Witch’ is a horror film that commits to its mythology and while it can be silly, I admire it for it’s ability to bring some truly creative set pieces to a genre (Found footage) that has run it’s course.

9. The Witch

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The second film on my list also includes a witch. That being said, you’re not going to find two films with less in common than my #9 and #10. ‘The Witch’ focuses on a family in the 1800’s forced to move into the wilderness of New England from the safety of their village. The family is devoured by dark forces, and, in one of the best slow burn experiences of the year, succumbs to everything it is that they fear. ‘The Witch’ is tense and memorable and a fine addition to my list.

8. 10 Cloverfield Lane

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’10 Cloverfield Lane’, up until it’s release date, was a mystery. My wife and I went to see it mostly blind to it’s actual premise. Set in some kind of shared universe with 2008’s ‘Cloverfield’, this film focuses on a young woman thrust into a dangerous kidnapping situation and forced to find the truth, no matter how strange it actually is. With an incredible cast and a terrifying turn by acting legend John Goodman, ’10 Cloverfield Lane’ should not be missed.

7. Moana

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‘Moana’ is the newest entry into Disney’s animation empire and, like so many others, ‘Moana’ is a masterpiece. It has some of the most gorgeous animation I’ve seen in years, coupled with a heart warming story and toe tapping musical numbers. Oh! And Dwayne Johnson can LITERALLY do anything.

6. Passengers

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Coming in at #6 is ‘Passengers’, a new sci-fi film featuring Hollywood superstars Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt. I was initially dismissive of ‘Passengers’. It seemed to me that it was just a cash grab, built to drain every cent from a dumb public. Thankfully, ‘Passengers’ isn’t that. It’s a deftly written sci-fi/adventure/romance that shifts it’s focus and tone constantly as the thrilling plot plays out. Pratt and Lawrence wield every inch of their considerable charisma to make every choice and set piece really COUNT for something.

That’s Number 10 through 6! Next week I’ll come back and give you my top 5! Do you take any issue with these picks? If so, comment below! Until then, I’ll see you next time…

Next Article: Monday the 30th.