Tips for This War of Mine

This War of Mine can be a very challenging game, especially when you first start playing. Here are some things I learned that may help you. When I play, I focus on avoiding combat as much as possible, so keep that in mind.

To Start…

  • Collect all the items from around your house.
  • Build a metal workshop, and use it to craft a crowbar so you can get into all the locked doors in the house.
  • If you find lockpicks, don’t waste them here as they are single use and can be traded or used while scavenging if you need to be quiet.
  • Other items to prioritize crafting are: a stove (which can and should be upgraded when possible) and a bed. If it’s cold (check the temperature in the top left of the screen) a simple heater is also very important.
  • You don’t really need a shovel to clear rubble. It makes it faster, but it’s not like your social calendar is full.

Scavenging

  • The descriptions of each area on the map are quite accurate – they’ll tell you if you can trade, will be in danger, or may need to steal.
  • When visiting a location for the first time, don’t bring anything with you, as it will reduce the number of inventory slots available to bring things back. Look around, figure out what tools you’ll need to collect everything, and bring them next time you go.
  • It’s best to clear out a whole location before moving on to the next, especially at the beginning of the game.
  • Avoid fighting when you can, and leave yourself a clear way to the exit in case you need to run away.
  • You can tell when someone is near you by red radar-like blips in their location. If the movements of the red circles are erratic, frequent, and small it’s likely just a rat.
  • Head home by 3 or 4am, otherwise you risk being shot by snipers.

Characters

  • Many characters have special skills that will help you out. Make sure you’re using the correct people for each task to make the most efficient use of your resources.
    • Boris is strong but slow. He has 17 inventory slots making him a great choice for scavenging. His strength will also help if you get into melee combat.
    • Bruno is a good cook. Use him to cook food, distill moonhine/alcohol, and make medicine.
    • Katia has bargaining skills. Use her for trading.
    • Marin is a handyman. Use him to craft things in the workshop and metal workshop.
    • Marko is a good scavenger. He has 15 inventory slots and scavenges faster.
    • Roman is trained in combat. He’s a good choice if you expect to have to fight on scavenging runs, or for guarding your house. Roman can get into fights with your other characters resulting in injuries, which is a big downside to a playthrough with him in it.
    • Zlata can bolster spirits. Give her a guitar or have her talk to other characters to cheer them up.

Keeping people Healthy and happy

  • If a character displays icons above their head, another character can talk to them to give them the items they need, or comfort them.
  • If the Hospital is a location option an injured or sick character can be healed for free.
  • Keep the temperature up in the house to avoid sickness.
  • The best way to heal an injury or sickness is to give a bandage/medicine then let the character sleep in bed for the night.
  • Having books and armchairs available will make characters happier.
  • Helping neighbours or friendlies you run into while scavenging will increase morale for most characters.
  • A quick and easy way to boost morale is to trade the doctor at the hospital and let him get the best of the deal (this will be considered a donation). He wants medicine or bandages.
  • Cigarettes and coffee will relax the characters who like these things (it will say it in their profile).
  • Stealing from or killing friendlies, or refusing people help will decrease morale.

This War of Mine crafting

 Weapons

  • Even if you don’t plan on fighting while scavenging, you will need weapons to defend your house from raids.
  • A knife is a good thing to make with your first weapon parts.
  • When you can, you’ll also want to build/get some kind of gun.
  • Crowbars, shovels, and hatchets can also be used for house defense, but aren’t as effective as a knife or gun.
  • Once you have a hatchet you will also see that you can chop up furniture in your house for wood/fuel. Be careful that you don’t use the hatchet to destroy furniture you’ve built.

Food

  • Canned food is very valuable for trading.
  • Set an animal trap to for a semi-regular source of meat.
  • Get vegetables whenever you can, as they will make cooking much more efficient.

items

  • Bandages and medicine are very valuable for trading if you have extra.
  • Don’t trade away your electrical parts, unless you’ve built everything, they are limited.
  • Build each type of crafting table when you can, and upgrade them so you can be more self-sufficient.
  • The exception is the two stills which I didn’t find to be worth building, unless you plan to do a lot of trading at the military base.
  • Wood and components are needed to build pretty much everything, but only stack to 2 and 4, making it hard to get enough from scavenging. To get a bulk supply of these, you can trade Franko when he comes to your house.

Other Tips

  • The Hospital will get attacked through the game and you can find medicine in the rubble. This will not be considered stealing.
  • During winter, make sure your heater is upgraded and full of fuel all the time.
  • Build a radio and check it all stations daily. It will tell you if raids are likely and you should put extra guards on, or what the weather will be like. It might give you an idea of when the war will end. It can also be left on a music station to relax the survivors.
  • Board up your house to keep it more secure from raids.
  • If you don’t have any smokers or coffee drinkers you can trade in these items.
  • You only lose if all of your starting character die or leave. You can still make it if some of them do, though morale will be affected.

That’s all for now! Let me know if you need more info, or if you have any tips for me.

This War of Mine (Review)

It’s dusk. The city has been under siege for a month. You haven’t eaten anything today because yesterday was your turn to eat. You’re sore, exhausted, and starting to feel sick. The temperature is hovering dangerously close to freezing and, though you’ve chopped up all the dressers and shelves in the house, you’re almost out of wood. You do have one book left, but reading is the only comfort you have and you don’t want to burn it. Not yet. You have a choice. You can go scavenge for food and medicine, probably having to steal what you need, possibly running into patrols who could shoot you on sight. Or you can stay in to guard the meager supplies you have left from others. What you really want to do is lie down, shut your eyes, and get some sleep. Maybe the shelling won’t be so bad tonight.

As you can probably guess, This War of Mine is not a fun game. It’s not a game you turn on to relax or clear your mind. But it is a very good game. Part of the appeal of video games is that they can take us to places we’ve never been and that includes places we would never want to be.

This War of Mine crafting

You play the game as a number of different civilians who have banded together in an abandoned house to try to wait out the war. You need to find food, medicines in case anyone gets sick or hurt, and fuel to keep warm. There’s also a crafting system that lets you build things that will help you to survive. Everything from beds and stoves, to weapons and ammo, to contraptions that can help you create your own materials – animal traps, rain water collectors, herb gardens. You can also build a radio which gives not only the comfort of music but also news which can help you be prepared for what’s coming next, whether it be cold weather or roving thieves.

The gameplay is fairly simple, but involves a lot of decision-making. During the day your characters can craft items, eat, use medicines, catch up on sleep, or do activities that will relax them, if available. There’s also a chance you’ll have visitors, whether it be people looking to trade or people asking for help. Night time is when scavenging is done. One character can be sent out to look for resources, while the rest stay at the house to either sleep or guard it from hostiles.

This War of Mine character

There are about a dozen playable characters. At the beginning you choose a group to start with and they’re the ones you need to try to keep alive for the game. Each character has their own habits and skills. Marin, for example is a handyman, so he is able to craft items with fewer materials. A very useful skill. Katia is good at bargaining, so she’s the best character to use for trading. Some characters can carry a lot of items or are very stealthy, making them good scavengers. The characters’ mental states are something that need to be managed throughout the game as well. Some characters are smokers, who can be relaxed by a cigarette. Some are sensitive – they become depressed very quickly if you need to steal from or kill other civilians, while others have an “it’s us or them” attitude. Make too many decisions that negatively impact a character’s mental state and they can become broken, effectively removing them from gameplay

11 Bit Studios have taken both war games and resource management to a new place were the challenge doesn’t come only from the mechanics, but also from the kinds of decisions you need to make. Will you steal from your elderly neighbors who have plentiful supplies and won’t defend themselves? Or will you risk venturing out further to avoid stealing from good people to get what you need? If you steal from your neighbors you will be responsible for shortening their lives. If you go to a more risky area then you could be hurt or killed yourself.

This War of Mine house

This War of Mine is a very challenging game, especially at the beginning. During my first couple tries, I quickly got my characters killed. After a bit I was able to get the hang of it and successfully completed a game. I was able to finish the game without fighting or killing anyone, and I appreciated that this was a possibility. I did steal, I did get shot at a few times, but I was always able to run away. The game does throw curveballs at you. As you get to a “comfortable” state where you have enough supplies, suddenly the weather will change and you’ll need much more fuel to keep warm. Or your go-to places for scavenging will dry up or become unreachable due to enemy attacks.

The game does have a few mechanical annoyances. It’s really easy to have the wrong character selected when you give a command. It’s not a huge deal to correct, but it happens so often. Combat is also quite awkward. Now, I think this is somewhat intentional. Given the setting combat should not be fun or easy, however I think it could be a bit more smooth. I also found the game lasted too long. In my first play, the war ended after 45 days. My second game lasted 25 days which I found a much better length. Again, given the setting, there’s merit to design choices which make the player uncomfortable, but there needs to be a balance between message and mechanics.

There is a decent amount of replay value in the game. There’s a lot of randomness, whether it be the house and supplies you start with, the locations you have access to, or the season the game starts in. Playing with different groups of characters can also change the experience. It also has the “just one more turn” addictiveness of something like Civ or XCOM.

Verdict – Highly recommended. This War of Mine is an achievement which combines a fresh take on war with challenging resource management and compelling gameplay. It forces you to make hard choices and has real emotional impact. While there are some mechanical annoyances, I highly recommend the experience.

Content warning – Obviously there’s a lot of dark stuff in this game. Content that can be encountered includes gendered slurs, allusion to rape (of non-player characters), violence, depression, death, and suicide.

If you’re looking for some tips on This War of Mine to get you started, check out my next post.

What I’m Playing This Week

With the holidays last week, I had a ton of time to play games and managed to get through a few Steam titles plus play some of my Christmas presents. Here’s what I’ve been playing.

Grand Theft Auto V

Oh, GTA, where to begin? I hadn’t played a GTA game since Vice City, and while I completed the game I found the experience just okay. After all the recent discussion about GTAV, and all of the amazing reviews its gotten since being re-released for next gen (and getting it for Christmas), I figured it was time to play it myself. I’m only 5-6 hours in, but I have to ask – how the hell did this game get so many review scores of 9.5 and 10? Maybe it just hasn’t hit its stride yet (it did take me a few hours to start liking The Last of Us or DAI too), but the game is just not that fun. So far the game is 90% driving (I guess the title does kind of give that away), and I’ve never found Rockstar to be very good at driving mechanics. Hit one pole and you knock it over and keep going, hit another pole or a chain link fence and you smash to a dead stop. Lightly sideswipe another vehicle and go fishtailing down the road for 300 meters. Plus as far as I can tell, there’s no drift button. Other than driving, and occasional shooting, I’ve also played tennis, rode a bicycle, and swam. I just unlocked the ability to do triathlons which is bizarre. What the hell am I playing?

I think of GTA in much the same way that I think of Goodfellas. It looks good, it has great cinematography and acting, a script with lots of swearing, but every character is just awful, so I don’t give a shit what happens to them. I don’t need characters to be likable but I need something to make me care about them, make me want to know their story. So far GTA has given me nothing to hold my interest. As I play the game the main thought that goes through my head is – I wish I was playing Saint’s Row.

The Path

I’ve been wanting to play The Path for years (really couldn’t tell you what was stopping me) and I finally picked it up during the holidays. In a take on Red Riding Hood, six sisters are each sent to their grandmother’s house and told to stay on the path. Of course, if you stay on the path, you fail. Each girl must go into the woods to explore and find their version of The Wolf.

The Path - six girls

The Path is hard to describe. Gameplay is minimal, you explore the woods, finding objects that the girls can interact with before meeting the wolf and ending up at Grandma’s house. The narrative is not explicit, most of what happens is up to the player’s interpretation. For me, this was a story about girls venturing out into a scary world that changes them, forces them to grow up and lose their innocence. So it’s not the most cheerful game in the world, but it was worth playing.

Blackwell Epiphany

The Blackwell series are really great adventure games, and the finale is no exception. You play as Roseangela Blackwell who, with the help of her spirit guide, helps lost souls to realize they are dead and move on.

Blackwell Epiphany - Rosa and Joey in a graveyard

Besides having great adventure puzzles, the Blackwell series tell an excellent story that really progresses from game to game. It doesn’t feel like a series of episodes connected only by the characters, but like a true progression, with each game building up to this conclusion. Rosa’s character really develops through the series as her experience grows and she learns more about her abilities. I thought Epiphany was a very fitting, though sad, end to the series.

Catherine

Fuck these fucking blocks.

Tales from the Borderlands

I went ahead and gave this a look, despite tiring of Telltale and only one episode being out. I’m enjoying it. As I expected, the comedy does make a difference. I also don’t feel like this game is deceitfully dangling meaningful choices and multiple paths in front of my face. The options seem more about developing the characters’ personalities to my liking as opposed to changing the story. This game also makes me want to play more of the original Borderlands series.

One thing that is bugging me (which is true of all Telltale games on console) is that the right stick just tries to do too much. It’s used to find and select objects, it’s used for 1st and 3rd person aiming, it’s sort of used for camera. As a y-axis inverter it makes gameplay rather awkward.


I’ve also played The Fall and This War of Mine, but I think I might write up full reviews for those.

What have you been playing?

Last Year, Next Year

Another year is over, and Cannot be Tamed has just turned 5 years old. While it wasn’t the most positive year for the gaming community as a whole, I think it was a pretty decent year for games. It also marked the year that I quit World of Warcraft and started writing about a much wider variety of topics in gaming. How has that worked out? It’s a bit of a mixed bag. I’m enjoying writing more, and I get to play so many more games now. On the other hand, this has been the worst year for Cannot be Tamed in terms of traffic, other than my first. In part this is due to how sparsely I was posting for the first half of the year, but I also think I had carved out a pretty successful niche for myself in WoW that I just haven’t managed to do outside of it. It’s a bit depressing to see that 2 year old gear guides are still being seen more often than new posts that I pour a lot more of my heart and soul into. It’s not all about views, but I like when people read my stuff, and like it even better when I get feedback.

I published 57 posts this year. The most popular was my Tips for Dragon Age: Inquisition. Exciting that it’s not a WoW post, but the next dozen popular posts are all WoW guides.

And what about my favourite posts? Here are a few.

Monkey on My Back – I wrote this about WoW and, though I never actually use the word, addiction. These are all the things that kept me playing for so long. Articulating these thoughts and reading them out loud was pretty much the moment I decided I needed to stop.

A History of Control(lers) – Alright, I’m a geek, and this post probably won’t appeal to many people who don’t feel as passionately about console controllers as I do. I thought this was a fun look back at all the consoles and controllers I’ve shared my life with.

This is the Way the World Ends – A troubling look at how one of my favorite genres, dystopic and end of the world fiction, treats women.

Doing it Right: Remember Me – It’s easy to criticize games for the shitty way they treat women (because, let’s be honest, the ways in which games do this are endless), but I also think it’s important to compliment the ones that are making improvements and doing things right. I meant for this to be a regular feature, and though I only ended up doing this twice last year, hopefully I’ll be inspired to do it more in 2015.

Quality vs. Enjoyment – A look at some of the games that manage to both drive me completely crazy and make me fall in love with them.

Feelings – Probably one of my favourite posts I’ve even written, this is a look at the games that have made me feel the most.

Incidentally, my favourite posts are the ones that got the least attention, but I guess that’s just how things go.

I’m also pretty proud of my Gamer Questionnaire and was really excited at how many responses it got. It inspired more than 50 blog posts and even a few podcast episodes. If you haven’t done it yet, and are looking for a post idea, check it out. I was also happy to be a guest on Justice Points twice this year, once to talk about Tomb Raider, and once to just chat about games. Discussing games on Twitter or in comments is great, but it’s always really nice to actually get to talk about them with smart, awesome people. I was also briefly on RT news, who interviewed me about the GTAV ban in Australian stores, which was both cool and bizarre. It’s so strange to hear a 6 minute interview get put into a 12 second soundbite.

What about next year? I have a few goals.

  • I’d like to experiment with videos and streaming more. I’m not sure those things are really my jam – I don’t think I’m exuberant or talkative enough to make people want to watch me play games – but I’d like to give it a shot.
  • I’d like to write more. I think every blogger says this every year.
  • I’d like to interact more with other gaming people. I love getting comments and feedback, so I feel the need to put more of those things out there myself.
  • I’d like to make a game. After discovering sortingh.at  I realized that this is something I can do, despite my lack of artistic ability. It won’t be big, or complex, but I want to make something.

Anyways, Happy New Year, thanks for reading. Here’s to a great 2015.

The Everyone Wins Game Awards

I posted my top 6 games of 2014 yesterday, but felt remiss for not at least giving mentions to all of the other great (or not so great) games I’ve played that come out this year. So here are the awards I felt best suited to each of them.

Game I expected to be much funnier than it was
Broken Age
– I expected Tim Schafer’s newest game to be hilarious, but suspiciously few laughs were had. An exception is the vomiting tree, that was funny.

Best 14th installment in a franchise
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare
– The best Call of Duty I’ve ever played. The only Call of Duty I’ve ever played.

Most avant gaaaaarde
D4: Dark Dreams Don’t Die
– A game designed for the Kinect and released right after MS announced it was no longer needed. It involves a cat girl, a fashion designer who is in love with a mannequin, a time travelling detective with a bullet lodged in his brain, and food. Lots and lots of food.

Most pointless gear grind
Destiny
– Honestly, I’ve got nothing amusing to say, this game is just a bore that keeps people playing for better gear despite not actually enjoying most of the time they spend doing it.

Most puzzling use of rock, paper, scissors
Divinity: Original Sin
– In D:OS you get to play as two main characters, each with their own personalities. They may not always agree on your chosen course of action and settle disputes by playing rock, paper, scissors. It’s always fun to lose to yourself in an argument. If I were being less snarky, I’d also give this best old-school rpg of the year.

Best game that I didn’t actually like for the first 20 hours
Dragon Age: Inquisition
– Okay, I’m really done talking about The Hinterlands now.

Game that excels at making people curse angrily at their computers
Hearthstone
– Making a clutch move or getting the perfect draw is great. Except when it happens to your opponent. I actually quit Hearthstone in the summer when I realized it was making me curse more than smile.

Let’s adventure like it’s 1992
Heroine’s Quest
– This game looks and plays exactly like Quest for Glory 1, except with Norse mythology and a female lead. Do you want to be a hero?

The next generation remaster that got outshone by its own DLC
The Last of Us

– TLoU was good, but Left Behind was perfect.

Best party game
Mario Kart 8
- It’s fast (or slow, if you prefer), fun, and you get to sabotage your friends with red shells. What more could you want? Oh, I know what more I could want. A new Mario Party that doesn’t use any motion controls at all!

Worst game of the year
Moebius: Empire Rising
– Horrific character animations, stupid puzzle solutions, and an insulting 50 screen maze that only exists to bloat the playing time. This is not a good game.

Most likely to turn you into a newt
Murdered: Soul Suspect
– Did I say newt? I meant ghost. The way Murdered killed you right at the start and let you solve your own murder was a pretty cool idea.

An hour of my life I want back
Only If
– In the words of Steam user Dorgarr: “By no means is this a Puzzle Game, unless you like to play puzzles in the dark, with half of the pieces from five different jigsaws mixed into one, while a drunken philosophy dropout reads Plato’s “The Allegory of the Cave” backwards, in a room slowly filling with carbon monoxide.”

Most confounding way to beat a game
PT
– Beating PT is difficult, and I give major props to the people who figured it out themselves. Walk exactly 10 steps at midnight. Stop moving completely as your controller freaks the fuck out. Talk into the microphone (Leeeeeesaaaa). Hopefully babies will laugh. Hopefully the phone will ring.

Most innovative combat system
Revolution 60
- Part DDR, part QTE, Rev60 combined timing and slick visuals to create a touch-based combat system that was fast-paced and fun.

Don’t forget the Dramamine
Sunset Overdrive
– Sunset Overdrive is like the illegitimate love child of Tony Hawk, Frank West, and a 96-pack of Crayolas that you accidentally put in the clothes dryer. It’s bright and fun, but the constant spinning, sliding, jumping, and gliding does start messing with your equilibrium after a while.

Game that made me hate Wii controllers even more
Super Smash Brothers 
– I didn’t think it was possible, but this game takes everything I dislike about each of the WiiU controllers and magnifies them.

Most satisfying hit of nostalgia
The Tesla Effect
– I love the Tex Murphy series of games and though this Kickstarted game was a bit uneven in places, that good old Tex Murphy charm, humour, and puzzle solving made me feel like a teenager again. But in a good way.

Most disappointing ultimate weapon
Tomb Raider
– Lemme get this straight… my final bow upgrade is a sighted compound bow? Sure, compounds are more powerful, but in terms of visual badassery, they miss the mark. In what world is a (cheating) sighted compound bow cooler than an awesome recurve? Not my world.

Best voices
Transistor
– Between sword boyfriend and Ashley Barret’s haunting vocals over an already exceptional soundtrack, Transistor is even more enjoyable to listen to than it is to play.

Best use of Brahms
Valiant Hearts
– The car chase sequences were a highlight of Valiant Hearts, and all the speeding and swerving were set perfectly to Hungarian Dance No. 5.

Most beautiful location
The Vanishing of Ethan Carter
– The visuals in this game put most others to shame. I’d love to take a walk around Red Creek Valley (minus all the murder).

Most disappointing sequel
The Walking Dead: Season 2
– After S1, I had high expectations, and unfortunately this game fell short. Though it was fun to play as Clementine, bad writing and character development in the last episodes of the game left me cold.

Best (only?) use of a Teddy Ruxpin doll
Wasteland 2
– Wasteland 2 is full of easter eggs and inside jokes to those who grew up in the 80s. I had one of those talking Teddy Ruxpin dolls, but I could never find a Grubby that worked.

And, a couple more special awards…

Comeback genre
Isometric RPG
– Thanks in large part to Kickstarter, 2014 saw a number of great Isometric RPGs released – Divinity, Wasteland 2, Shadowrun Returns: Dragonfall. It looks like the genre will still be going strong in the next couple years as well with Pillars of Eternity and Torment: Tides of Numenera in development.

Thing that needs to go away
Game titles with colons
– If you need a 12 world title with a colon and subtitle, maybe you should just start making new games, rather than new installments of old ones.

Trope that needs a leave of absence for 2015
The dead wife/daughter/sister/family
– Let’s try some new ideas to give your protagonist emotional baggage. Many things can cause emotional trauma, I promise.

What games need more of in 2015
Diversity!
– Give me new characters, from different places, with different backgrounds. Give me stories I haven’t heard too many times before.

*For more Listmas2104, go to United We Game*

Best Games of 2014

It’s that time of year when everyone writes about the best games of the year, and thought I’d add my 2 cents. This list feels a bit disingenuous since I currently own or want a number of 2014 releases that I just haven’t had time to get to yet, but I can only play so many games in a single year!

I think 2014 has gotten a lot of flack, as many consider it a weak year for gaming. I disagree. The beginning of the year was a bit weak – the PS4 and XBox One had just come out, and there are always growing pains and a lack of games to play on brand new systems. Also, a number of games that came out this year were remasters of games that had come out over the last couple years as well. But as we got closer to the middle and end of the year, a number of real heavy hitters started getting released, and I think the year ended on a good note.

So here are my top 6 games released in 2014.

Tomb Raider

I struggled with giving a best of 2014 award to a game that actually came out in 2013 and only got a remaster in 2014, but Tomb Raider was so much fun that I just can’t resist. Crystal Dynamics rebooted the Tomb Raider franchise with aplomb. We got a Lara Croft origin story that was thrilling and Lara herself got her best makeover ever. I’ve written about all the things I felt Tomb Raider did right from a feminist perspective but, when it comes down to it, Tomb Raider takes one of the top spots because it was just so much fun to play. Set pieces and quick time events sent my heart racing. I flinched each time Lara took a blow. Gameplay was fast and smooth with super slick controls. Taking out enemies with my bow, traversing rock faces, swinging down ziplines, all felt so natural. The controls  were so impeccable they actually ruined a number of other PS4 action-adventure games for me. I just couldn’t get into AC: Black Flag and Infamous: Second Son – where the characters moved oddly in comparison. I had to fight the controls to get Edward or Delsin to do what I wanted, whereas Tomb Raider made Lara feel like an extension of myself.

Valiant Hearts: the Great War

2014 was not a great year for Ubisoft’s big releases. However, in June Ubisoft Mountpellier put out a lovely puzzle adventure about love, survival, and sacrifice during World War One. The game puts you in the shoes of four different characters whose lives have been intertwined in strange and sometimes heartbreaking ways by the war. Though the game contains no dialogue, I always knew what each character was feeling, in part due to the excellent animation and music. Games often put us into the role of soldiers, but not many do it like this. Valiant Hearts is not a power fantasy, but a history lesson and an experience that makes us question war from an emotional and philosophical standpoint. It was really refreshing to see war from from a non-American view, as the whole game takes place in the period before America joined the war effort. It did make me tear up a few times, most notably during the Battle of Vimy Ridge.

Valiant Hearts - The Great WarMechanically the game is very enjoyable as well. Gameplay is quite varied, yet still manages to fit into the context of the story. It covers everything from operating machinery to turn off chlorine gas pipes, timing-based movement to sneak between enemy patrols, rhythm based medical procedures, and car chases set to amazing orchestral music. A number of the puzzles involve Walt, a casualty dog, who can help to fetch items from tight places and find injured soldiers. And who doesn’t love games with dogs?

Valiant Hearts is one of those rare games that combine both fun gameplay and a meaningful story to give a great gaming experience.

The Last of Us: Left Behind

Left Behind is not really a game on its own, but DLC for The Last of Us. Regardless of this, it’s an amazing experience that deserves a place on game of the year lists. It was great to step into Ellie’s shoes and see her past, as well as expand upon the Winter chapter of The Last of Us. Left Behind is a perfect 2-hour gaming experience that did everything the main game did, but did it better. The pacing is perfect, the dialogue is endearing and on point. It’s not as action-heavy, but it wastes no time – every scene matters. My emotions ran the gamut while playing this, from pure joy to absolute heartache.

PT

I don’t play a lot of horror games, but PT showed me how great they can be. Though it’s really just a playable demo for the new Silent Hills game, it was one of my best gaming experiences of the year. PT created a taut, terrifying experience that delivered not just jump scares, but a truly unsettling environment and disturbing audio and visuals and wormed their way into my psyche. Perhaps it was partly the context of playing the game (I was with great company and a couple bottles of bubbly), but PT managed to keep me so engrossed and curious for more that I played it 3 times in a row. The fact that each playthrough was subtly different was just the icing on the horribly creepy cake.

PT hallwayI think PT was more successful as its own game than it was as a trailer. While PT was exceptional, I don’t have a lot of faith that a horror game can be 12 hours long with more involved gameplay and still be as compelling as this was.

The Vanishing of Ethan Carter

This was one of the few games whose development I followed closely before it was released, and I’m glad to say it did not disappoint. The Vanishing of Ethan Carter is a narrative experience that does not hold your hand, and is a refreshing take on the weird horror genre. It’s also one of the most beautiful games I’ve ever played, with photorealistic environments that put many AAA games to shame, and a gorgeous and moody soundtrack. Ethan Carter is a murder mystery that hints towards a greater darkness. It lets you explore the beautiful world and solve puzzles at your own pace, while still managing to maintain tension throughout its whole 4-5 hour playtime.

Dragon Age: INQUISITION

Four of the previous games on this list are there at least in part due to their short playtimes, which created a tight and well-paced experience. Dragon Age: Inquisition is the complete opposite of those. To be honest, the pacing of the game’s first 10-20 hours was complete shit. However, the game more than makes up for it with its huge, deep, engaging story, wonderfully written dialogue, and sheer enormity of the world. While the size of the game can be a bit overwhelming, this installment of Dragon Age had a sense of place and a real, living world like no other. Once I hit a certain part in the story (which I could have reached way earlier if I had just left the fracking Hinterlands), I was completely enthralled and immersed in the world. The characters, from those in my party, to my advisers, to the people hanging around Skyhold all felt like real people, who I wanted to talk to and learn about. The addition of the War Table made me feel like I was the actual head of an army, who had to make decisions and delegate, rather than a lone adventurer who needed to personally slay every demon and settle every petty dispute myself. I sunk a good 200 hours into this game, and besides those initial 10 or so, I loved every minute of it.


 

Those are my games of the year, what are yours?

 

The Cat Lady (Review)

When we first meet Susan Ashworth, she has just swallowed a bottle of sleeping pills. She’s tired, traumatized, she feels like life has never done her any favours, and she’s had enough. Susan looks forward to oblivion, but it doesn’t come. Instead she finds herself in a surreal world which quickly turns from serene to horrifying. She can’t die. She’s been chosen to overcome five monsters, human parasites, that feed off violence and suffering. Rejoining the living is the last thing Susan wants, but she doesn’t have a choice.

The Cat Lady - Susan in the pest controllers basement

Mechanically, The Cat Lady is a point and click adventure game, except it’s fully controlled by keyboard so there’s not really any pointing or clicking. The keyboard controls were a bit awkward at first, but didn’t take very long to get used to. There is a lot of dialogue and gameplay consists of choosing responses and solving puzzles. The puzzles hit the sweet spot of having some challenge to them, but not being overly difficult. Solutions made sense, which is not always the case in adventure games. Often you just need to pay attention to your surroundings.

Narratively, The Cat Lady will take you on a journey that is disturbing, psychologically horrifying, and thought-provoking. It’s a game which is in turns harrowing and enlightening, infuriating and empowering.

The Cat Lady - Susan exploring an apartment.

Susan doesn’t start off as the most sympathetic character – people suffering from depression often aren’t to those on the outside. We don’t know why she hates life so much. We see people trying to help her and befriend her, but she’s so far down the rabbit hole that she doesn’t even see them. It’s not until Susan begins to suffer horror at the hands of the parasites, and experience some shared suffering that she begins to wake up. We begin to learn more about her past and why she has problems trusting people. She begins to entertain the prospect of letting other people in.

The Cat Lady excels at one of the most important aspects of games for me, atmosphere. While the graphics are a bit rudimentary and not technically amazing, I found this game visually stunning. The use of colour is genius. The majority of the game is in black and white with occasional pops of colour. Often it’s blood red, which is a common visual style, but The Cat Lady really stands out when it adds other colours into the mix. It changes the atmosphere completely. The dull blacks and whites show how the real world is an ugly, hopeless place for Susan, while colour starts to seep in during the more surreal parts of the game. When the game is the most violent, the most disturbing, the environments are suffused with suffocating greens. Golds and rich yellows are warm and comforting at a surface level, but often cloak the characters with the most sinister intentions.

The Cat Lady - Susan and The Queen of Maggots

The sound effects are sharp and often startling, while the music punctuates the game’s important events to great effect. The soundtrack covers all kinds of different styles and moods, from angry NIN-esque industrial, to erratic jazz, to sorrowful classical piano pieces.

This game is very unique. It’s like nothing I’ve played before. It covers some really dark topics with sensitivity, maturity, and style. At one point, Susan talks to a psychiatrist, who asks questions relationships with her parents and what her life was like. As I chose the responses, I felt like I was the one being psychoanalyzed, because there were responses that fit my own life pretty well. The ability to choose Susan’s responses about her past made me feel close to her in a way that was more deep and unexpected than most games are able to pull off. Even for people not currently suffering from depression, there’s something to relate to and empathize with here.

The Cat Lady - flowers

Really my only complaint about the game is that on occasion, it’s too verbose. There are some extremely long conversations that take place, where the only interaction required from the player is choosing a response every couple of minutes or so. And often you end up choosing all the responses anyway. Though the conversations are interesting and well-written, and the voice acting is good, they’re just too long. Some of the dialogue could have easily be edited down, which would have improved the pace of the game.

The Cat Lady is made up of 7 chapters and has about 9 hours of gameplay. While I found the game exceptional, I do have to give very strong content and trigger warnings. While the visual style isn’t overly realistic the game has a lot of violence (including references to sexual violence), and tackles topics like death, depression, suicide, and abuse in a very direct way.

Rating – 9/10 – The Cat Lady is unlike anything I’ve played before and really broadens the scope of what adventure and horror games can do. It has wonderful atmosphere and tells a story that is both harrowing and empowering. It will take you to a very dark place, but there is light at the end.


I made a few videos of my playthrough of The Cat Lady, here’s the entirety of the first chapter if you want to see it for yourself.