Tuesday, December 19, 2017

My Favorite Nintendo Switch Games of 2017

To say that 2017 was a big year for Nintendo would be a massive understatement. In a lot of ways, the Nintendo Switch has redefined certain aspects of gaming and has quickly become an all-but-essential component in the lives of many gaming enthusiasts.

In recognition of that, I wanted to list out my 10 favorite Nintendo Switch games of 2017.

For this list, I will be ignoring games that appear on other platforms such as "Minecraft," "Rocket League," and "Puyo Puyo Tetris" despite enjoying them quite a bit on the Switch, as there are already more high-quality, Switch-exclusive games than I can comfortably fit on a "top 10" list.

Having said all that, let's begin.

#10 - Fast RMX

As a fan of futuristic racing games like "Wipeout," "F-Zero GX," and "Extreme-G," "Fast RMX" does a great job of scratching that particular itch in a bare bones, budget-friendly sort of way. As a $20 launch title, this was one of the first Switch games that I really connected with and I often find myself returning to it for a quick, high-speed racing fix.

#9 - Snipperclips

In my opinion, "Snipperclips" was the most innovative and interesting launch title for the Switch. Its clever and often hilarious cooperative puzzle-solving mechanics were an ideal way to introduce groups of friends to the new system in a fun, social way and its reasonable $20 price tag made it an essential addition to my budding Switch game library.

#8 - 1-2 Switch

If you have friends and you like fun, "1-2 Switch" is practically a must-own title. This often clever, sometimes silly, and generally amusing collection of bite-sized party games is something I've returned to over and over again during social gatherings when the Switch is present. Is it more of an experience than a collection of traditional game mechanics? Absolutely, but that doesn't make it any less fun or worthwhile in my book.

#7 - Splatoon 2

The thing that "Splatoon 2" really has going for it as a game is that it's a shooter that's not primarily or exclusively about shooting other players. To be sure, there's often a benefit to "splatting" an enemy player but a skilled Splatoon player is just as likely to benefit or ultimately succeed by avoiding direct confrontations and instead inking various, strategic portions of a given map. It's this unique approach to the game's design, combined with the content and game modes exclusive to this Switch-only sequel that make it one of the more interesting and compelling options on the platform.

#6 - Fire Emblem Warriors

For me, "Fire Emblem Warriors" is good old fashioned, simple, dumb fun. It's not going to win any awards for innovation or narrative impact but it's also very clearly not trying to do so.

If you burnt out on the Dynasty Warriors formula at some point, there's probably not enough in "Fire Emblem Warriors" to justify a return but if like me, you've only dabbled in the Warriors series and mostly just want to see Fire Emblem characters shred through hordes of enemies in a cathartic whirlwind of chaos, I'd say there's quite a bit to enjoy here.

#5 - Super Mario Odyssey

As someone who's never historically been a big fan of Mario's various 2D and 3D platforming incarnations, I was pleasantly surprised to find just how much I enjoyed my time with "Super Mario Odyssey." The game might feel a bit "by the numbers," especially in the early stages, but there are just enough compelling gameplay mechanics and places to explore throughout the experience to likely melt even the most cynical and jaded of frozen, "hardcore" gamer hearts. Is this the ultimate Mario game? I hope not but it's definitely the one I've most enjoyed playing so far.

#4 - Mario Kart 8 Deluxe

A good kart-racing game is something I always enjoy having as an option on just about any gaming platform and "Mario Kart 8 Deluxe" is one of the best games of that sort that I've played. It's just the sort of feature and content rich package that makes for a great launch-year title and the Switch-exclusive Battle Mode is a nice, welcome addition to what was available on the Wii U version.

#3 - ARMS

In terms of innovation and taking full advantage of the unique characteristics of the Switch's joycon controllers, I can't think of a better title released in 2017 than "ARMS." This game does for 3D fighting games what "Super Smash Bros." did for 2D fighting games back in the day in terms of introducing a new, compelling twist and set of game mechanics into its genre. It may not be for everyone, but "ARMS" is one of the games that truly defines the Switch and its potential as a gaming platform for me.

#2 - Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle

As a lifelong lover of tactical, turn-based strategy games, I find "Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle" to be one of the best games of that sort that I've played in recent memory. The mechanics are sublime, the story and world craft are often interesting and humorous, and the quality and obvious passion that have manifested in its implementation shine in a way that few other games can match. If you love SRPGs and you haven't played this game, you're really missing out in my opinion.

#1 - Xenoblade Chronicles 2

I had high hopes for "Xenoblade Chronicles 2" when it was first announced as a Nintendo Switch exclusive. Still, I was cautiously optimistic that it might be able to deliver on all the potential of its premise as a full-blown, single-player MMORPG-like experience attempting to bring something new to a gameplay style and set of mechanics so thoroughly explored during the past two decades.

As it turned out, "Xenoblade Chronicles 2" not only delivered in every aspect I was hoping to experience, but also managed to pleasantly surprise me with a host of gameplay elements and narrative flourishes that easily make it my favorite Switch game of 2017.

Okay. I know what you're thinking.

"Where's Zelda?"

The simple truth is that, while I absolutely respect the craftsmanship employed in the creation of "The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild" and objectively recognize it as a great game, it didn't connect with me personally and I therefore can't honestly call it a "favorite" game in my case. If I were ranking all the Nintendo Switch games released in 2017 based on technical proficiency, or scope, or some other purely objective criteria, Zelda would certainly make the list; however, I personally enjoyed the 10 games I listed here more than Zelda, which forced me to remove it from consideration in this case.

Beyond that, "Breath of the Wild" was also released in what by many accounts is a functionally-identical form for the Wii U, which technically prevents it from being considered a Switch-exclusive game.

Still, it would of course be silly to ignore it completely, hence the explanation.

Monday, December 18, 2017

My Favorite PC Games of 2017

It's that time of year again– time to call out my favorite PC games of 2017.

As always, a game's absence from this list should not be taken as an indication of its quality as I certainly didn't play every PC game released this year.

Note that I have decided to revert to a more traditional "top 10" list format as it was pretty easy for me to limit and rank the contenders this time around.

Having said all that, let's get this party started!

#10 - Choice of Rebels: Uprising

The "Choice of" series of games has carved out an interesting niche for itself in recent years as one of the premiere, digital "choose your own adventure" book options for adults. More recent offerings in the series have expanded their gameplay a bit beyond simple multiple choice scenarios and into the realm of management sim decision making mechanics. "Choice of Rebels: Uprising" is a great example of this and is the most fun I've had with the series since "Choice of Robots."

It's worth noting that this is the first part of what may end up being a series of games, so you won't be getting a complete story by playing through it; however, the content present in it is extensive and compelling, which has me excited and interested to experience the next installment.

#9 - Day of Infamy

Sometimes, you just want a simple, straightforward first-person shooter set in World War II, with a nice variety of content and game modes accommodating both competitive and cooperative play. For those times, "Day of Infamy" is a solid choice.

Day of Infamy (via Steam)

#8 - Absolver

Despite some occasional technical jank and a cooperative multiplayer system that could use a lot of work, "Absolver" largely succeeds in fusing the intricate mechanics of a sophisticated fighting game with the core exploration and progression elements of classic RPG and adventure titles. It's a shame that a better game will likely borrow and weave its best attributes into a more compelling offering in the future, but for those seeking something truly innovative and interesting despite its rough edges, "Absolver" is certainly worth a look as there's nothing else out there quite like it at the moment.

Absolver (via Steam)

#7 - Monopoly Plus

Do you like Monopoly? Do you like playing it with your friends online or against reasonably competent AI players? If so, you should probably buy this game.

Monopoly Plus (via Steam)

#6 - Kings and Heroes

If you're up for a rough-around-the-edges, old-school MMORPG experience, "Kings and Heroes" is worth a gander. Personally, I feel like this game would have been better served by ditching its open world component and focusing on its dungeon crawling mechanics, which are by far the best things going for it but who knows where "Kings and Heroes" will end up long term as it's still being actively developed, despite having been released out of Early Access.

I want to love "Kings and Heroes" and I have a great deal of respect for the efforts and struggles its developers have endured to get it to where it currently is but it's ultimately not quite good or polished enough to make it to the top half of my list in its current state.

Kings and Heroes (via Steam)

#5 - Night in the Woods

This is my pick for the best single-player game of 2017. If you're into narrative-focused, charming, atmospheric, engrossing, compelling, and well-executed gameplay experiences, this is one you shouldn't miss.

Night in the Woods (via Steam)

#4 - Call of Duty: WWII

There's no single component of "Call of Duty: WWII" that makes it a great game but taken as a whole, the total package provides a robust, all encompassing, AAA platform for those seeking a high-quality, first-person shooter experience.

More so than any other FPS I've played in recent years, "Call of Duty: WWII" makes me feel like part of a robust and varied community of players participating in something greater than the sum of its parts. As a big fan of deceased FPS platforms like "Soldier Front 2" and "Ghost in the Shell: First Assault Online," this game provides a lot of what I've been missing in their absence and therefore earns its place here with ease.

Call of Duty: WWII (via Steam)

#3 - Dirty Bomb

Without question, "Dirty Bomb" is the existing game that I feel saw the most improvement in 2017. If you're a fan of team-focused, objective-oriented, free-to-play first-person shooters, this is the current "go to" game for that sort of thing as far as I'm concerned.

Dirty Bomb (via Steam)

#2 - Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon Wildlands

For me, "Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon Wildlands" is the best four-player, co-op shooter since the original Borderlands. If you have friends to play it with, it's an experience that's difficult to rival, and one that will take a considerable amount of time to see through to completion.

#1 -  Divinity: Original Sin 2

In my opinion, "Divinity: Original Sin 2" is as close as anyone has ever come to making a perfect game. As a huge fan of tactical, turn-based strategy games that support cooperative play and feature engrossing, intimately-detailed worlds brimming with content and opportunities for meaningful impact via player's actions, there are only a handful of games in the history of the medium that could even approach the magnitude and significance of "Divinity: Original Sin 2." If you haven't played it, go and fix that immediately. You can thank me later. :)

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

YouTube Channel Update - May 2017

For those of you who aren't subscribed to my YouTube channel, I wanted to let you know about a few new gaming-related things that are happening there:

I recently released a new "Initial Impressions" video covering the launch of "Alien Swarm: Reactive Drop," which is a new version of a fun, truly free-to-play game on Steam.

Additionally, my "Why it's Awesome" series has returned after a long hiatus to sing the praises of "Atlas Reactor" before season 3 begins next week!

On top of that, I've started a brand new series called "3 and Out" where I play a given game mode until I reach three fail states. I've already completed a mini-series for Solo Standard play in "Rocket League" and am currently on episode 3 of a "3 and Out" for ranked matches in "Dirty Bomb."

Did I mention that my YouTube channel recently passed the 50,000 channel views mark? Here's a video about that featuring gameplay from the recently-released Nintendo Switch version of "Puyo Puyo Tetris" to celebrate!

Finally, I just posted a two month retrospective on the Nintendo Switch for the latest episode of my "State of the Game" series.

Basically, I've got a lot happening over on YouTube at the moment, so be sure to check it out, slap some likes on the videos and subscribe to the channel to see more content as it's released!

As a bonus for all my blog readers, I'm revealing here that I will be using a new audio setup on all my multimedia productions moving forward that should greatly enhance the listening experience for viewers of my video-based content on YouTube and Twitch in the future.

The first Twitch broadcast using the new setup will be later today, so be sure to head over to my Twitch channel and "follow" it to get notified when I go live!

And yes, there will be more blog posts here when my thoughts on gaming are best expressed in written form. As always, be sure to follow me on Twitter for updates on all my content releases regardless of where they live.

Thanks and have a great day!

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Review: CyberPower PC Custom Build - Gamer Infinity 8800 Pro

I built my first PC with the help of a friend over 20 years ago: a Pentium 90 pieced together from computer show parts to run the then-newly-released Windows 95. Since then, I've built several machines from scratch on my own and helped various other folks learn the ropes of the PC building life.

Despite being completely comfortable with and often enjoying such tasks, I still appreciate the value of having a go-to PC builder that I can call upon to put together a quality system at a reasonable price when I don't have the time or inclination to do it myself.

Over the past 10 years or so, I've purchased three gaming PCs built by CyberPower PC (CP). The first was a pre-built system sold by newegg, which impressed me so much that I started dealing directly with CP for custom builds and recommending them enthusiastically to anyone in the market for a gaming rig.

I did choose to go with a pre-built ASUS gaming desktop for the machine preceding this one because I got an amazing deal on it but I continued to recommend CP to other folks and continued to be impressed with their results, so it was a no-brainer for me to once again call on CP for this latest build.

 Despite my genuine affection for CP and the way they do business, I do feel compelled to encourage anyone with the slightest inclination to build their own PC to give it a try. There's something really special about the sense of pride and accomplishment that comes from putting together your first PC from parts that I would never want to discourage anyone from experiencing given the chance.

Having said that, if you're not particularly technically minded or inclined, or simply just don't want to do the build yourself for whatever reason, I'm happy to report that CP is still 100% on point when it comes to putting together solid, well-executed, reasonably-priced gaming PC builds based on my latest experience with them.

I honestly have zero complaints about any aspect of the experience. From the Build-to-Order options on the "Gamer Infinity 8800 Pro" configuration I used as a basis for the build, to the timely completion of said build, which shipped and was delivered on time and as ordered, to the build quality,  which I honestly could not have done better myself in terms of wire management and cleanliness. Everything was essentially perfect.

I will say that non-technical folks might have been slightly intimidated or put off by aspects of the packaging, such as having to remove packing foam from inside the tower case or seeing accessories and manuals being shipped in boxes for products not used in the build. In my case, for example, a box for a GPU other than the one I ordered was used to contain various odds and ends during shipping but I honestly find that sort of thing charming and certainly prefer CP improvising a little packaging to the additional cost that a fancier presentation would likely entail.

All things considered, I'm still a big fan of CP and would continue to enthusiastically recommend them to anyone interested in a pre-configured or custom-built gaming PC.

For those curious, I made the following modifications to the "Gamer Infinity 8800 Pro" config but I'd encourage you to first consider your own needs and wants before duplicating what I did.
  • Motherboard: Upgraded to ASUS TUF Z270 Mark 2
  • GPU: Upgraded to GTX 1080 Ti
  • RAM: Upgraded to 32 GB DDR4 @ 3000 MHz
  • HD: Upgraded to 240 GB SSD + 2 3TB 7200 RPM SATA III mechanical drives
  • Keyboard: Added a Skorpion K1 RGB mechanical keyboard (which I LOVE by the way!) :)
Finally, if you're specifically curious about the performance of the GTX 1080 Ti, check out the following video I made using this new PC.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Initial Impressions: Killing Floor 2 & Battlefield 1 'They Shall Not Pass' DLC

Hey everybody!

Wanted to let you know about some more new videos on my YouTube channel.

Today, I released an Initial Impressions episode covering the latest version of "Killing Floor 2" in light of the free weekend and 50% sale currently happening on Steam for the game.

I also talk a bit in this video about my philosophy with respect to covering games on my channel, which some of you might find interesting even if you're not excited about the game itself.

Additionally, I recently posted a couple Initial Impressions videos about the newly-released "They Shall Not Pass" DLC for "Battlefield 1."

The first is more of a funny moments compilation.

While the second is more straight-up gameplay with some general commentary and insights on the maps and a new LMG included in the DLC.

Special thanks to BlueOrthodox for his help in creating all these videos. Be sure to check out his YouTube channel for more gaming goodness.

Until next time, have a good one folks!

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Initial Impressions: The ASUS ROG SWIFT PG279Q

For many years, I've been using a 60 Hz, 27" ASUS LED backlit LCD monitor as the display for my gaming PC, and have been quite happy with it. In fact, if I weren't currently in the process of upgrading my entire PC gaming setup, I likely wouldn't have even considered replacing the display as part of that process. What a mistake that would have been.

In a lot of ways, making the jump from an LED backlit LCD– even a high-quality one such as the one I replaced, to an IPS display such as the PG279Q is like that iconic scene from "The Wizard of Oz" when Dorthy emerges from her black and white, tornado-ravaged farm house into the color-soaked vista of Munchkinland.

I couldn't help but be amazed by the depth and multitude of colors being represented on screen versus what I'd become accustomed to seeing in games played just minutes before swapping the display. In particular, high-contrast scenarios such as shadowy areas surrounded by light and subtle color gradients became clear and distinct in a way that the old monitor was simply incapable of matching.

As an owner of a 5k iMac, I was already very aware of the difference a high-end display can make in terms of image fidelity and color reproduction from a professional standpoint but in retrospect, I can now see how I'd been lulled into thinking that my old monitor was "good enough" for gaming.

Of course, there's a lot more to the PG279Q than its shiny 27", 1440p IPS panel. This is a monitor that was built from the ground up for gaming, and with the needs and wants of gamers in mind. As such, it sports a variety of features specific to that end.

From built-in support for NVIDIA's  G-SYNC technology, which effectively eliminates the possibility of screen tearing on the display when paired with a modern NVIDIA GPU, to the display's ability to kick out refresh rates from 60-165 Hz, to the clever and surprisingly handy screen overlay functions for crosshairs, timers and FPS counters built right into the simple and elegant on screen controls, to the sublime and sturdy stand, which allows the display to be quickly and easily oriented in just about any imaginable way, this is a product that gets all the details just right.

It's certainly true that all the bells and whistles of the PG279Q aren't strictly necessary or individually, profoundly meaningful to the experience of using it to play games but the cumulative effect of all those details is really hard to ignore, and goes a long way toward justifying its cost, which is indeed toward the high end versus other 27" displays that sport at least some of its most important features.

It's also worth mentioning that I've noticed a subtle yet cumulatively-significant reduction in eye strain since using the higher refresh rates afforded by the PG279Q in games. It's a little difficult to quantify but the gist is that scenes as a whole seem easier to focus on and process while the in game camera moves (spins, pans, etc.,) while individual objects in motion within those scenes also feel easier to track and more fluid as they move than what I've come to expect from older, 60 Hz displays. Eye strain hasn't historically been a big issue for me when gaming but it has become an issue for me when performing other, more detail oriented tasks so anything that helps in that regard is a big win in my book.

Again, support for refresh rates above 60 Hz isn't a feature unique to the PG279Q but it is one of the only displays that can currently push beyond 144 Hz, which I could see being a factor if your PC is capable of consistently running games above 75 FPS at 1440p.

At the end of the day, it's up to you to decide how important any of this stuff is to you and your gaming experience. If someone had tried to explain to me how impactful an upgrade such as this would be in my particular case, I might have been a bit skeptical. As such, I'd highly recommend seeking out a PG279Q in person to see what it has to offer for yourself.

Personally, I'm very happy with this upgrade and haven't seen anything to indicate any sort of problem or issue with any aspect of the PG279Q after about a week of use. I'll be sure to update this post and revisit this topic as time passes and I'm able to comment on what the monitor is like to live with long term. For now, I'm giving it an enthusiastic recommendation.

Monday, March 6, 2017

The Nintendo Switch - Initial Impressions

Wanted to share a couple videos I've posted to my YouTube channel about the recently-released Nintendo Switch.

The first details the Switch hardware and the unboxing experience.

The second focuses on four of the games available for the Switch at launch: "Fast RMX," "1-2 Switch," "Snipperclips" and "The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild."

As always, you can follow me on Twitter to keep track of all the gaming-related content I create as it's released– regardless of where it lives.

Thanks and enjoy!

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

A PC Gamer's Perspective on the Nintendo Switch

I've been around since the birth of the video game industry and I've played games on just about every sort of device capable of doing such a thing. So, while it's certainly true that most of my gaming has taken place on various Windows PCs over the past several years, I've never been a platform loyalist and have always believed in the idea of being open minded when considering new ways to play games.

It's with this mindset that I approached the announcement of the Nintendo Switch– considering it not as a replacement for, but as a possible compliment to my gaming PC.

Like many others, my initial reaction to Nintendo's Switch reveal video was overwhelmingly positive. In my mind, it perfectly captured the essence of the Switch concept: a hybrid home console and portable gaming system in one elegantly-engineered device.

Put simply, the Switch is something that I've conceptually wanted for years, but had become all but convinced no hardware maker would dare create until rumors of the system started swirling back when it was still being referred to by its "NX" codename.

I've heard a lot of folks complaining about various aspects of the Switch's design but to me it comes across as a home run given the very real technical and financial limitations any such device would face.

While I absolutely understand the general desire for more: more performance, more battery life, more games at launch, and such, I'm also very aware of just how amazing it is that the Switch was even created and how lucky enthusiast gamers are to have a new device that's largely been conceived, designed, implemented and marketed for them given the current landscape of the video game industry.

What about the PS4 Pro and the XBOX Scorpio– not to mention the plethora of PC CPUs, GPUs and other gaming-friendly components being churned out every few months like clockwork one might ask?

It's certainly true that enthusiast PC gaming is on the rise. Even a cursory examination of sales figures and trends in recent years easily confirms that but the simple truth is that PC gaming has been following a predictable, natural progression for decades. Sure, you see the occasional architectural milestone in terms of hardware, operating system or software development improvements but at the end of the day, the PC follows a reassuringly-predictable line of progression that reinforces the faster, better, cheaper mantra that's become a pillar of PC gaming in general.

I'm in no way suggesting that this is a bad thing. Such tendencies have bolstered the PC platform since its inception and I don't see that changing or needing to change any time soon. Still, the PC is a general-purpose platform that happens to be well suited for gaming, which is a little different than a device built specifically for that purpose.

Which leads me to Microsoft and Sony's consoles. To put it plainly, these have both become little more than budget PCs crammed into cases as small as is practical. By comparison, even the least expensive gaming PCs being sold today effectively annihilate them from a technical standpoint. As such, the "console" market has essentially become the ultra low-end PC market for better or worse.

To be fair, there are a few unique elements that consoles typically bring to the table such as platform-exclusive games and hardware. For example, one could easily make a compelling case for Playstation VR being the most consumer-friendly virtual reality implementation currently on the market. Still, for the most part, Microsoft and Sony can't do much for me as a PC gamer aside from bringing their games to PC, which Microsoft is already doing, albeit in a less than ideal manner. By the way Sony, if you really want to stick it to Microsoft, put all your games on Steam and watch their collective heads explode... but I digress.

The point to all this is that with the introduction of the Switch, Nintendo is now the only major gaming hardware maker offering me something I can't easily duplicate or surpass via PC.

Sure, some enterprising PC maker could knock off the Switch's basic design and provide a similar device that runs Windows and/or Steam OS but who knows how long that will take to happen and how many iterations they'll have to go through before they get every aspect of it just right.

As far as I'm concerned, Nintendo's done right by gamers with the Switch. They built something nobody else had the vision or guile to build and did it in a way that exudes fun and excitement. For me, that's reason enough to support them and jump on the Switch train. Where that leads long term is anyone's guess but I feel pretty confident that it's a ride worth taking.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

My Favorite PC Games of 2016

2016 may have been a rough year in a lot of respects but one thing is for sure: It was a great year to be a PC gamer. In light of that, I've decided to forgo a traditional Top 10 list in favor of simply calling out all my favorite games of the year and why I think each is noteworthy.

As usual, a game's absence from this post should not be taken as an indictment of its quality as I certainly did not play every game released on PC in 2016. Ultimately, this is just about showing some love to the games I did play and enjoy.

With that out of the way, let's get this party started! :)

Most Improved - Chaos Reborn

Originally released near the end of 2015, this wizardry-themed tactical game initially failed to impress me due to a heavy reliance on random elements and several half-formed or outright absent features; however, several post-release patches in 2016 refined and expanded the gameplay mechanics, systems and inter-related sub-systems of the game into a finished product that I can now enthusiastically recommend to fans of turn-based, tactical games with a strong fantasy esthetic.

Best Atmosphere - Space Hulk: Deathwing

This game had me at four-player, co-op, sci-fi, FPS and if you're a Warhammer 40k fan, the sheer level of detail and craftsmanship poured into its esthetics will surely impress. Having said that, the $40 asking price seems a bit high as the gameplay is a tad simplistic compared to the best examples of this sort. Still, the "feel" of this game is quite special and certainly worth experiencing if you've ever imagined yourself as a Space Marine clad in death-dealing Terminator armor, and laying waste to the Tyranid menace.

Best Party Game - The Jackbox Party Pack 3

As I get older and my social circle ages with me, we're far less likely to get together for a good ol' fashioned LAN party and far more likely to spend an evening eating, drinking and talking about stuff. Still, to at least some extent, there's a gamer in each of us and it's nice to have a collection of fun and accessible "party games" to get things off to a good start or help keep a good time going. These aren't the sort of games you'll likely find yourself playing alone but many of them work quite well with even just one or two other players and are often even more compelling when played by groups of four or more.

Best Interactive Narrative - Firewatch

If you enjoy an interesting, grounded story told through intriguing writing, talented voice acting performances, stylized visuals and richly-crafted sound design, "Firewatch" is a game you should play.

Best Deal on the Steam Holiday Sale - DOOM (2016)

To be honest, I've never been a huge "Doom" fan and I never would have spent $60 on "Doom" (2016) but $20 feels like a good deal and fair for what the game is to me. "Doom" super fans will likely call this blasphemy but I appreciate the opportunity to dabble with the latest game in the series without feeling like I've overpaid for the experience.

Released Too Early but Still Kinda Awesome - Guardians of Orion

If you're a fan of the previous game, "Orion: Prelude," you probably already own "Guardians of Orion." (GoO) If you've never played an "Orion" game before, this is a good one to start with despite it currently feeling a bit unfinished and light on content. For me, the factors that save GoO are the fact that the core co-op gameplay experience is fun and functional for the most part, and my confidence that the game will eventually get where it needs to be via post-release development as was the case with its predecessor.

If you need your gaming experiences to be fully polished and finished, you'll probably want to wait on this one for a year or so, but if you don't mind a somewhat bumpy ride and watching a game grow into its potential over time, GoO is worth a look.

Best PC Port - God Eater 2 Rage Burst

Ever wanted "Monster Hunter" on PC? Enjoy playing through quirky Japanese-style games cooperatively with up to three friends? This PC port of the PS Vita game, which also includes a port of its PSP predecessor has a lot to offer. Now if we could just get PC versions of "Fire Emblem," "Culdcept" and "Dokapon Kingdom..." Hey! A guy can dream! :)

Mixed Bag - Tom Clancy's The Division

On one hand, I love this game for its four-player campaign co-op. On the other hand, the Dark Zone is rubbish, most of the content in the season pass should have been included in the base game and it took way too long for the various issues with end-game gear and activities to be addressed.

If I could experience "The Division" anew based on its current state and if the content from at least the "Underground" expansion was included in the base game, it would be a lot easier to enjoy and recommend. The sad part is that a new player picking the game up on sale from this point in time forward will likely have a much better experience with it than those of us who played it at launch.

Best Single Player - This is the Police

When a management sim meets a hard-boiled cop drama in a dark alley– the result is an engaging and engrossing package that combines simple yet compelling gameplay mechanics and esthetics with a propulsive narrative that kept me clicking on things way past my bed time on more than one occasion.

Best AAA FPS - Battlefield 1

As someone who firmly believes that the Battlefield series previously peaked with "Bad Company 2" (BC2) back in 2010, I have to admit that "Battlefield 1" is a great game. Will it stand the test of time the way that BC2 has? I can't say but it was good enough to convince me to buy an EA/Origin game, which is something I haven't done since 2012.

For the record: I'm still not a fan of EA/Origin but I felt it was only fair to give it another fair chance after a four year boycott. I will say that I do like "Origin Access," having tried it for a couple months but overall, I'd still very much prefer to buy and play EA games directly through Steam as Origin still doesn't compare favorably to Steam on the whole in my opinion.

Best Open World Game - Watch Dogs 2

Having been brutally disappointed by the first "Watch Dogs," I was really hesitant to hand over $60 for a sequel but after considerable research on "Watch Dogs 2" and the effort put into the PC version of the game, I came to the conclusion that Ubisoft had learned its lesson and put together something designed to redeem the series.

I think "Watch Dogs 2" succeeds in that regard. It's very technically impressive. It's fun to play. There's a lot to do and see, and the whole thing just feels significantly better across the board than the first game.

I can absolutely understand why some might avoid "Watch Dogs 2" based on the sins of its predecessor but if you found the premise of the original compelling and are looking for a game that makes good on that premise, "Watch Dogs 2" is a safe bet.

Best New Game Idea - Half Dead

You're trapped in a series of rooms with some friends (or enemies) and you have to find your way to the exit while avoiding deadly traps. Go!

Best Realized Potential - HITMAN (2016)

I've played just about all the games in the Hitman series and as much as I love some of them, there's always been a "but" for me. Even the best games in the series have suffered from what I'd call fatal flaws that prevent them from living up to their full potential as games. The magical thing about "Hitman" (2016) is how all the pieces that traditionally make for a good "Hitman" game come together with hardly a "but" to mar the experience.

To be sure, there are occasional, minor issues in "Hitman" (2016) as no game is perfect but, in my opinion, taken as a total package, this is as good as "Hitman" has ever been.

Exceeded Expectations - Dead Effect 2

"Dead Effect 2" is a prime example of doing a lot with a little. This old school, sci-fi, co-op friendly FPS knows exactly what it is and makes no apologies for it. It has loot and leveling systems and an arsenal of weapons that can and should embarrass a lot of AAA titles. Beyond that, it's good, simple fun that's reasonably priced and easy to recommend.

Best Free to Play FPS - Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex - First Assault Online

Do you like team-based first person shooters? Do you like free to play games with unique game modes and the ability to earn all the game-influencing upgrades through normal gameplay? Are you a fan of the "Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex" anime? If any of these are true, this is the game for you.

Best FPS Campaign - Shadow Warrior 2

"Shadow Warrior 2" is a great, fun, well-rounded first-person shooter/slasher with an earnest (if somewhat juvenile) sense of humor that's just as fun to play solo as with up to three friends. The polish, the weapon variety, the randomized level elements and a host of other little details combine to make this one of my favorite games of the year.

Game of the Year - Atlas Reactor

Without a doubt, "Atlas Reactor" is my favorite game of 2016. The team-oriented, turn-based combat, the wide array of unique and interesting characters and the constantly-evolving stream of content being added to the game in the form of seasonal events, new characters, levels and game modes all contribute to making this my current go-to game.

In short, this is one of those exceedingly-rare titles I can wholeheartedly recommend to anyone who loves games. There is nothing else out there quite like "Atlas Reactor" and I suspect it will be quite some time before I find another game that consistently impresses me the way it has.