Monday, January 13, 2014

Backlog 2014

Here is the ol' backlog.  Only 27 games here counting some anticipated purchases within the next few months.

Old Games 
Batman Arkham Asylum (PS3)
Batman Arkham City (PS3)
LEGO Harry Potter Years 1-4 (WII)
LEGO Harry Potter Years 5-7 (WII)
Mass Effect 2
Mass Effect 3
Uncharted 3 (PS3)
Gravity Rush (VITA)
Super Mario Galaxy (WII)
Super Mario Galaxy 2 (WII)
Far Cry 3 (PS3)
Hit Man Absolution
Dragon's Dogma: Dark Arisen (PS3)
Dark Souls
Saints Row IV
Devil May Cry (PS3)

Newly Acquired Games
Shin Megami Tensei IV (3DS)
Legend of Zelda Windwaker HD (WiiU)
Super Mario 3D World (WiiU)
Don't Starve (PS4)
The Stanley Parable
Gone Home

Upcoming Games (Q1 2014)
Bravely Default (3DS)
Final Fantasy X/X-2 (PS3 and VITA)
Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII (PS3)
Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons (PS3)


Top Games of 2013

Top Games of 2013

First, I wanted to mention a bit about a game that game out in 2012, but I didn't play until 2013:

  • Persona 4 Golden - This game really called to me in many ways. If you're not familiar, Persona 4 is a mixture of a JRPG and a dating simulation. You play as a teenager moving to a new high school uncovering a mystery. Half the time you'll spend building relationships with your friends (and girls!) and the other half you'll be crawling through dungeons, fighting monsters in a mostly traditional turn-based RPG game. The characters are great, although they can be corny (anime style). You choose how to spend your time in the game, whether to hang out with friends, go to bed early, or go to a part time job.

I want to start out by laying a bit of ground rules for how I determined my list.  In order to make the list, the game had to meet two criteria:

  1. I had to have played it most or all the way through, or otherwise given it an appropriate amount of time.
  2. The game has to have captured my attention and emotions in some way.  It had to be a supremely enjoyable experience.

So there are some notable games still on my backlog that I could not consider:

  • Guacamelee
  • Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons
  • Shin Megami Tensei IV
  • Saints Row IV
  • The Stanley Parable
  • Super Mario 3D World
  • Gone Home

Honorable Mention:

XCOM: Enemy Within
XCOM Enemy Unknown was a game that made my Top Games of 2012 list. It's a fantastic strategy game that I really came to love.  I put XCOM: Enemy Within as an honorable mention because it's technically an expansion, not a new release. But the expansion breathes even more new life into the game that it is definitely worth recognizing.

There are two main new mechanics added in this expansion, the ability to genetically enhance soldiers and the ability to build and upgrade mech units. In order to install genetic mods or upgrade mech units you need a new resource called Meld. You find meld in canisters in battle. Each canister will have a limited number of turns before it self-destructs, so sometimes you have to move your units quickly to capture them. This adds an extra strategic element because it can be dangerous to move your units fast and they can be out of position and die easier.

Also, the expansion has added additional language resources so that you can have your Squaddies speak in their native languages. It's a small touch overall, but it really enhances the game.

The Top Seven Games of 2013

7. Grand Theft Auto V
Grand Theft Auto has been around a long time, and the latest version doesn't disappoint. In previous games, I've had problems with the controls (both driving and shooting) and ended up losing interest in the game.

Grand Theft Auto V has the best controls of any other GTA game that I've played. The story is interesting, well written, as are the characters and the missions. It's not without criticism though; it's a very cynical game. Pretty much every character is a horrible, despicable person (for different reasons). Some people have criticized the game for it's treatment of women, for example, that women are set pieces to be used or degraded.

Despite those flaws, I still think it is a rewarding game. Switching between three characters was novel and interesting. There is always catchy, exciting music playing on one of the radio stations. It's very worthy of being in this list.

6. Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch
A collaboration between Level-5 Studios and the anime company Studio Ghibli (of Spirted Away fame), Ni No Kuni is an absolutely gorgeous RPG.  The art is breathtakingly beautiful, everywhere you go.

Additionally, the voice acting is top-notch, especially Mr. Drippy the Lord of the Fairies who accompanies Oliver on his quest.

5. Fire Emblem: Awakening
Another early 2013 game on the list, Fire Emblem: Awakening is a hardcore strategy RPG in the vein of Final Fantasy Tactics and XCOM: Enemy Unknown. Fire Emblem has had a challenge to appeal to a broader audience, probably because of the brutal difficulty.

The tactical strategy is all about deciding how to equip your troops with weapons and skills, and then positioning them in battle. It can be incredibly difficult to survive a battle without losing units and you often find yourself attached to them (in the same way that you do in XCOM). Combat is rich and incredibly satisfying when you succeed, and the overall experience is fluid and polished.

4. Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag
After Assassin's Creed 3, not many people had very high expectations for the next entry in the series. As a fan of the series from the beginning, I was even incredibly off-put by AC3. It was a slog to complete, but did have one shining gem, one universally praised mechanic: naval combat. For Ubisoft to take that naval combat, refine it to perfection, and release a main Assassin's Creed game around it is nothing short of spectacular.

It seems to take the seriousness of the Assassin's storyline and throw it out the window, instead encouraging players to go have fun and explore the Caribbean seas; and fun it is! Sailing your ship is a joy with all kinds of sights to see, collectibles to nab, ships to battle, and whales to harpoon. All the while, your crew sings sea shanty's that are delightful to hear and very catchy tunes to boot.

3. Bioshock Infinite
I don't know where to begin with Bioshock Infinite. Let's start with the things I love about the game: the setting, the music, the action, the story, the science fiction, and the mind-blowing ending. It's a tight and polished experience, very much on rails.

The game isn't without flaws, however. The combat can be rote and doesn't do anything groundbreaking. Also, the violence of battle is a bit incongruous in the tone of the game.

Despire that it's a lot of fun uncovering the story while guiding Booker and Elizabeth around Columbia. The atmosphere is immersive and I love getting lost in it.

2. Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds
If you have played the legendary (heehee) SNES masterpiece Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, you MUST play this game. If you haven't ever experienced A Link to the Past, you MUST play this game.

A Link Between Worlds is every bit the masterpiece that the original was. The maps are close enough to the original as to be familiar, but different enough to be new and challenging. The music has been remixed and rearranged. The dungeons have been redone with different puzzles. There are new types of equipment with different abilities, as well as the awesome idea of being able to rent pretty much all of the equipment from the beginning of the game. It's cheaper than buying the equipment outright with the catch that if you die, you lose your rented equipment. It gives you a reason to keep discovering rupees. Additionally, because you can have a lot of the equipment up front, there isn't a linear choice of dungeons (in the original LttP you had to do most of the dungeons in a specific order because you needed equipment from a previous dungeon). It makes a Link Between Worlds more open and gives the player more choice.

At the core of the game is a new mechanic where you can move up to a 2D surface and squish down to 2D and walk horizontally along the surface. This opens up new spatial challenges trying to figure out where you should switch dimensions to end up where you want. This is used throughout the game to access new areas, switch between Hyrule and Lorule (the dark world), and to solve puzzles. Additionally there are 100 "Maimai's" to collect (a maimai is a little creature that you rescue in different areas to return it to it's mother).

1. The Last of Us
No "Game of the Year" discussion is complete without talking about The Last of Us. This game is a work of art. Naughty Dog has raised the bar for storytelling, voice acting, and animation. The emotional impact of the game is profound. I cannot say enough good things about this game, and I'm not going to. If you've played it already, you know what I'm talking about. If you haven't played it, stop reading this and play it. Don't have a PS3? Go buy one. Or go signup for Playstation Now in a few months.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Borderlands 2 review

Borderlands 2

When Borderlands 2 was first released I'd heard some details of the game on the gaming podcasts that I follow.  I was intrigued then, but not enough to want to run out and buy it.  The buzz died down somewhat and I put it out of my mind...  until the Steam Holiday sale anyways.  I snagged it for $30 and actually started playing it before the end of the year.

After putting over 60 hours into the game I think I'm finally satisfied to put it back on the virtual shelf for awhile.

Graphics and Art Style

The cel shaded graphics make the game feel a bit like a comic book.  That's not to say that its childlike.  The colors are vivid and varied through the whole game, and the mix of different levels is welcome from most shooters that I find to be washed out and monotonous.

There are many different areas in the game, from the frozen tundra where you start the campaign to the desolate eridium blighted region.  There really wasn't a level that I didn't find visually interesting.


The writers for Borderlands 2 deserve some kind of an award, a cookie, a pat on the back, some kind of recognition for what they were able to accomplish.  Between the writers and the voice actors, the characters you meet throughout Pandora are all interesting and enjoyable.  Their use of humor throughout the game was a little sophomoric at times, but I found that it really added to my experience rather than detract from it.  A lot of the dialog is just funny!

I've never played Borderlands 1 so I have to assume the events that are alluded to actually occurred.  The villain Handsome Jack is as despicable as they come and made for a very satisfying end to the game.


A quick word about the amount of content in Borderlands 2: there is a lot of it!  There are tons of side quests to get lost in, and you can always run around killing respawning mobs (with or without a vehicle).  I completed most of the side quests and the main campaign and it took sixty hours.  That's bordering on a JRPG in terms of campaign length.


I usually tend to avoid most FPS games.  Part of that comes from despising the lack of innovation that comes from rehashing last years game a la Call of Duty.  Another part is the typical focus on competitive multi-player experiences at the expense of a decent satisfying single-player campaign.  The last part is that I'm not very good at FPS games; I find I need to spend a lot of time practicing to be good at them.  And most times the experience isn't that much fun along the way, I lose interest, and the game is history.

With Borderlands 2, I find the RPG mechanics of leveling up and choosing skills and comparing stats of weapons very rewarding.  So much so that I really enjoyed the journey of becoming good at the game.  The writing, and the art, and all of the other things I've mentioned combined with the juicy stat choices left me, again, very satisfied.

One of my favorite gameplay mechanics was finding a big gun chest to open.  Whenever you find one of these chests, there is an animation sequence of the chest opening.  Sometimes some gears spin around as the case opens.  Usually there are one or two platforms holding new equipment that expand out of the chest.  Even if none of the guns end up being rare or even better than my current ones, I love looting these chests.


I'm not fit to review the multiplayer experience.  Not only do I dislike having my enjoyment of a game rely on strangers, I didn't actually try it out so it wouldn't be fair to comment on it.  The only thing I'll say is that since the multiplayer is co-op rather than competitive (and that the game is so damn fun) looks like it would actually be something I'd like to check out at some point.  But with my backlog still teeming with loads more games, it probably won't happen for awhile.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Backlog 2013 - Here it is

A few thoughts before I get straight to the list.  

  1. I'll save you from counting.  There are 40 games on my backlog.  
  2. There would be way more if I was getting really picky about my Steam library.  I'm coming to terms with the fact that a lot of these games that I probably just will never play.
  3. A fair number of more recent games seem to be tied up by wanting to finish games before moving on to a sequel.
  4. Any games for consoles are noted, otherwise they are PC versions

Games I have played at least six hours and would like to continue

Assassins Creed 3 (PS3)
Assassins Creed 3: Liberation (VITA)
Batman Arkham Asylum (PS3)
Borderlands 2
Darksiders (PS3)
LEGO Batman (PS3)
LEGO Harry Potter Years 1-4 (WII)
Little Big Planet Vita (VITA)
Mass Effect 2
Uncharted 3 (PS3)

Games I have barely started

Mark of the Ninja
Gravity Rush (VITA)
Hotline Miami
Nintentoland (WII U)
Super Mario Bros. (WII U)
Super Mario Galaxy (WII)
Valkyria Chronicles 2 (PSP)

Games I haven't played a single minute

Batman Arkham City (PS3)
Bioshock 2
Borderlands 1
Dead Space
Dead Space 2
Far Cry 3 (PS3)
Hitman Absolution
Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days (NDS)
Kingdom Hearts Birth by Sleep (PSP)
Last Story (WII)
LEGO Lord of the Rings (PS3)
LEGO Harry Potter Years 5-7 (WII)
Orcs Must Die
Quantum Conundrum
Rayman Origins (WII)
Saints Row the Third
Sins of a Solar Empire: Rebellion
Skyrim DLC (Dawnguard, Hearthfire, Dragonborn)
Torchlight 2
Uncharted: Golden Abyss (VITA)
Warhammer Dawn of War 2

Not included in my backlog count because I don't own them (but I want to play them!)

Mass Effect 3 
Super Mario Galaxy 2 (WII)
Dragon's Dogma (PS3)
Zombie U (WII U)
Persona 4: Golden (VITA)
Journey (PS3)


Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Backlog 2013

I started preparing a list of all of the games that I have yet to play and it astounded me at how big the list is.  I have over 50 games on the list.  I think I'll start to categorizing the games into three categories:
Games I own but haven't yet touched
Games I own have started but haven't completed (based on my own definition of completion)
Games I don't own but I want to play

I'll share my List of Shame soon.  But in the meantime, what's on your backlog?  Comment or message me.  I'm curious.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Most Anticipated Games of 2013

Most Anticipated Games of 2013

The following are the ten games on my wishlist.  Release dates may shift and some of these titles’ futures may be uncertain. These are in no particular order

The Games:

The Last of Us

The creators of the Uncharted series, Naughty Dog, are taking on a story-based apocalyptic survival game.  The gameplay videos I’ve seen look very intriguing, somewhat similar to Uncharted where there are platform-y challenges and combat.  The story seems to be a bit more everyman (and everygirl) fighting for survival rather than Uncharted’s lovable hero saving the day again and again.

Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII

I talked previously about fans’ negativity towards Final Fantasy XIII and hopefully this third entry into the world can bring people back to Square Enix’s camp.  I’m excited that Lightning is back as the main character and focus of the game and I’m looking forward to kicking some ass with her.

Last Guardian

From the people who made Ico and Shadow of the Colossus comes the story of a yet-to-be-named boy trying to escape from some kind of expansive castle with his giant feathery creature named Trico.  Like the previous titles this will have action and puzzle elements and will also have mechanics involving around caring for Trico and building up the relationship.  Over the course of the game, this bond between the boy and Trico will develop.  It looks exciting.

Remember Me

The plot of this upcoming Capcom game seems similar to the Inception or Payday movies.  You play as a memory hunter who has had her memories erased.  She must discover why and restore them.  The game will mix stealth and action-adventure elements and feature an interactive cinematic style.

Bioshock Infinite

This game is on my wishlist from pure hearsay alone.  I own both Bioshock and Bioshock 2 but haven’t got around to playing them yet.  I intend to before Bioshock Infinite is released and if just half of the praise from the first two games is true, the newest entry in the series will be an entertaining experience.

BEYOND: Two Souls

Quantic Dream has a talent for story driven games; previous titles Indigo Prophecy and Heavy Rain involve quick time events and place an importance on player choice to unfold the story.  BEYOND: Two Souls features Ellen Page as the main character’s model.  The game explores questions about what happens after death and from the trailer footage seems to have much more action in it than Heavy Rain.

Ni No Kuni

Ni No Kuni is an upcoming game already released in Japan.  It is a collaboration between Level-5 Studios (who were responsible for Jeanne D’Arc, some of the later Dragon Quest games, Dark Cloud, and the Professor Layton series) and anime company Studio Ghibli.  Gameplay involves battling enemies using a magic book.  Spells are activated with gestures.  The art style looks very impressive

Fire Emblem: Awakening

I love a good tactical RPG and the Fire Emblem series seems to be able to consistently handle the style.  It’s coming out on the 3DS handheld which seems to be a pretty nice media for an RPG.

Grand Theft Auto V

It’s been awhile since we’ve had a GTA game.  And although I tend to lose interest in GTA games before finishing them, I am looking forward to another game in the series. There will be three main characters you can play and switch between outside of missions.

Top Games of 2012

Top Games of 2012


I want to start out by laying a bit of ground rules for how I determined my list.  In order to make the list, the game had to meet two criteria:

  1. I had to have played it most or all the way through, or otherwise given it an appropriate amount of time.
  2. The game has to have captured my attention and emotions in some way.  It had to be a supremely enjoyable experience.

So there are some notable games still on my backlog that I could not consider.  I am sure that there are games in this list that would have surely changed my rankings.

  • Mass Effect 3
  • Borderlands 2
  • Far Cry 3
  • Spec Ops: The Line
  • Hitman: Absolution
  • Persona 4 Golden
  • Torchlight 2
  • The Last Story
  • Zombie U
  • Journey

Honorable Mentions:

There are two nods I have to give for games I’ve recently purchased but haven’t played enough to give them a fair ranking.  Given more play time on each, I am sure they would have made my list somewhere.

Honorable Mention #1: Hotline Miami

Hotline Miami is a recently released title that is a “top down fuck’em up”.  The main character navigates a top-down view of buildings and objectives involve killing everyone inside.  It blends stealth with extreme brutality.  Prepare to die often.  The wrong move will see your character shot, stabbed, or bludgeoned and you’ll have to restart from the last checkpoint.  It’s absolutely unforgiving and you could almost describe it as a puzzle game.  You have to decide your route into a room and how to get to all of the enemies before they can get to you.

I haven’t gotten far enough to describe the story but it’s a bit confusing so far.

Honorable Mention #2: Mark of the Ninja

Originally released just for Xbox Live, Mark of the Ninja can be best described as one of the best stealth games ever made.  It’s a side scrolling 2-dimensional game where you must navigate through buildings and perform objectives while being the best ninja you can be: deadly, swift, invisible.

The stealth feedback mechanisms of Metal Gear Solid or Deus Ex on whether your character has been spotted or heard are very different.  In those games there is uncertainty on whether you are properly concealed or whether your actions will alert enemies.  In Mark of the Ninja, your character will be shown in color if a light is making him visible, otherwise he is black.  The noises you make are shown visually as concentric rings.  Guards’ vision distances are shown.  There is no uncertainty about your stealth.

The Top Seven Games of 2012

7. FTL (Faster Than Light)

FTL is one of the most successful video game Kickstarter projects to date.  The small two-man development team asked for crowd-funding of $10,000 to “get them through the last few months and pay their sound designer and the costs of starting a company.”  When the Kickstarter campaign was completed, they had received over $200,000.

The game’s concept is a spaceship sim.  The majority of the game you will be staring at a top-down grid layout of your spaceship as you navigate the galaxy.  You are presented with meaty choices at every turn: what ship systems should you power up? should you help people on an abandoned space station? when should you buy more fuel, or missiles?  Oh no! The enemy ship has teleported invaders onboard your ship, which crew members should go deal with this threat?

You will lose in FTL.  You will lose many times.  It is a rogue-like game; it’s designed for you to make many plays through the game.  Each game is different from the last as the encounters, events, and enemies are procedurally generated.  You get emotionally attached to your crew as you tell their story.  But despite all of the attachment, when the ship is inevitably destroyed and the game ends, it is incredibly easy to start over with a new crew.  And that is why this game has earned a spot in my Top Games of 2012.

6. Sleeping Dogs

Those in that had followed this game’s development witnessed a very rocky history.  Sleeping Dogs started as an original title but was announced as a game under the True Crime franchise to be published by Activision Blizzard.  It was cancelled early of 2011 due to the games budget overruns and delays.  Square Enix bought the publishing rights to the game (but not the True Crime franchise) and renamed the game Sleeping Dogs.

The basic gameplay of Sleeping Dogs will feel very familiar to fans of Grand Theft Auto.  You play Wei Shen a Chinese-American police officer who goes undercover to infiltrate the Hong Kong Triad mafia.  Both storyline- and side-missions are available that test Wei’s devotion to the Triads and to the police.  

Walking this undercover line is difficult sometimes and the game suffers a bit of incongruity due to the nature of the open world.  For example, outside of being on a mission, you can run over multiple people and create all kinds of destruction on the streets of Hong Kong with no penalties.  The story continues as if your character is a paragon police detective.
Putting aside that minor flaw, the gameplay is really outstanding.  Combat is typically hand-to-hand in a similar style to the Batman Arkham Asylum/City titles.  You can use the environment for gruesome instant kills that are very rewarding.  Additionally, the story was memorable and emotional.  The writers did a great job at pulling me into the game.

5. Final Fantasy XIII-2

I’ll try to keep this as short as I can.  Anyone who knows me, knows that I am a sucker for JRPG’s and I could talk about Final Fantasy for hours.  I played Final Fantasy IV on the Super Nintendo when I was 9 years old and absolutely loved the turn-based combat and magic and medieval overtones.  I’ve continued to be smitten by every Final Fantasy title that Square has released since.  That said, each new game has tried to bring something new and different to the table to keep things fresh.  FFVII brought 3-dimensional battles and more modern elements like guns and cars and steampunk.  FFVIII changed the formula with the Draw system for magic (and Triple Triad!).  FFX was the first title where you didn’t have to read every spoken line of text, they actually had voice acting!  

And then we arrive at FFXIII, the first Final Fantasy title for the Playstation 3 (and the Xbox coincidentally).  Universal praise was given to the game for it’s graphics and presentation, as well as the battle system.  Many, however, reacted negatively to the linear nature of the game.  Most of the environments are corridors where you fight battles or trigger a cutscene, and there are no towns to explore and limited numbers of NPC’s with which to interact.  Additionally, much of the lore and backstory of the world must be discovered by reading through the in-game encyclopedia for you to fully understand a lot of the plot.

If I noticed these problems they were not big enough for me to dislike the game.  The protagonist, Lightning, is a strawberry-haired badass.  She is one of my favorite characters from any of the games.  As such, my biggest complaint about the game is that for the majority of the game you do not get to choose which character you control in battle.  The “leader” is decided by the story until late in the game.  

All of this lead to Square Enix developing a sequel that addressed a lot of things fans found negative about the original.  The sequel’s story gets pretty crazy and involves time travel, parallel universes, and lots more exploration.  A lot of the art assets from the first game are reused, and the excellent battle system is mostly preserved.  Instead of a rotating party of characters, your group is pretty static through most of the game, controlling Lightning’s sister Serah and a young man from a future world, Noel.  To round out your party, you can collect monsters in battle and make one of them fight as your third member.  The monsters gain experience and level up just as your main characters you do.

4. Dishonored

Dishonored is a first-person stealth game developed by Arkane Studios (of Dark Messiah acclaim).  It was very refreshing to see a game developed with new IP that isn’t just another sequel.  

The gameplay involves undertaking a series of assassination missions, emphasizing the player’s choice on how to carry them out.  Exploring the area around each mission may expose an alternative path or mechanism to complete the mission’s objective.  So rarely does a game come out in which the player has so much freedom to complete missions.  Many games put a glowing red dot on a minimap and keep you down a narrow track that fits the narrative.  

Additionally most games tend to be completely stealth- or (more likely) completely combat-based.  Dishonored adapts to your playstyle.  If you are trying to be stealthy and get discovered, it doesn’t become an instant GAME OVER.  Instead, you can fight your way out of the situation.  If you abandon stealth and focus on combat, the next mission will contain more soldiers than if you remained stealthy.  Also, the endgame story will change in some way if you kill too many people.  

All in all the game is a masterpiece.

3. Xenoblade Chronicles

I told you I loved JRPG’s, right?  If you needed any more evidence, look no further.  This game isn’t on many lists of amazing 2012 games, but it has earned a spot on mine!

I’m lucky to have even gotten to play it, considering it was released in Japan in 2010 and Europe in 2011, and no plans to bring it to North America.  It took a huge petition campaign (dubbed “Operation Rainfall”) to convince Nintendo of America to localize this game for the states.

The world of Xenoblade Chronicles is huge!  In the backstory of the game, you learn that there were two gigantic godlike titans - the Bionis and the Mechonis - that endlessly fought against each other in a limitless ocean.  One day they struck each other down and their lifeless bodies remained locked in combat.  Eons later, life developed on the bodies and colonies developed.  This becomes the entire world you explore throughout the game.

Despite being a single player experience, the game contains many features similar to many MMO’s, such as its vast open world, and the combat system.  You engage monsters on the main map (no dissolving to a battle window) and will auto-attack without much prompting.  Special attacks are launched automatically and have some length of cooldown before they can be used again.  Part way through the game, the main character, Shulk, can see Visions of the future during battles.  You are shown a glimpse of an enemy’s future attack and are then given the opportunity to react to change the future.

The story is outstanding and has many emotional moments.  There are some parts that really wrench your guts and definitely some onion-cutting moments.  It definitely deserves its accolades on my list.

2. XCOM: Enemy Unknown

Many know and love the original XCOM series on which this reboot is based.  The original games are often lauded as some of the best games ever made and have a huge cult following.  The cult had mixed opinions when it was announced that Firaxis (Alpha Centauri, Civilization) was going to make a successor to their beloved franchise.  The end result is a great success.

The series revolves around an alien invasion coming to earth to enslave and destroy all humanity.  The last line of defense is a worldwide cooperative effort called XCOM.  Soldiers are recruited and a base is developed in which to defend against this unknown enemy threat.  

Everything about XCOM is strategic.  There are important decisions to be made in and out of combat.  Outside of combat you must direct your research priorities, monitor troop levels, and expand your base.  Everything revolves around building satellites which take a lot of time and resources.  Satellites detect enemy attacks and give you a better chance to control panic by sending a squad of troops to defeat the aliens.

Combat is turn based and involves moving your troops one-by-one around the maps.  The gameplay is very much like Valkyria Chronicles.  Cover plays an important role in keeping your squad alive.  One bad move could end up encountering an additional enemy you weren’t prepared for and wiping your crew.  Speaking of death, XCOM does an awesome job making you care for your troops in a way that no other game has done for me.  Losing a man during a routine mission hurts because death is permanent.  You’ve lost the squaddie and all of the time you’ve spent gaining experience and deciding which armor and weapons to equip on him.  

The polish and presentation of the game are outstanding.  The strategic elements blended with a “glam-cam” that moves to an over-the-shoulder look when one of your squad’s attacks is about to land home.  It’s very satisfying to see down the barrel of your sniper’s rifle and follow the shot as it disintegrates an evil alien bastard.  
I will point out one negative: that is there are only a handful of maps so you by the end of the game a lot of them seem very stale.  But still I am really excited to see if Firaxis will try to make another game with this franchise and I’m happy to rank this game so highly.

1. The Walking Dead

The Walking Dead puts you in control of a man named Lee Everett.  Lee is on his way to prison in Atlanta for killing a man when the police cruiser strikes a zombie and rolls down a cliff.  Lee’s leg is injured and he has his first encounter with a zombie.  He stumbles across a suburban house and meets up with Clementine, a young girl whose parents were in Savannah when the outbreak started.  As Lee you watch out for her as you try to find safety and look for her parents.

It’s interesting that I have rated this game as my number one pick.  I say that because it’s sometimes hard to call The Walking Dead a game.  It’s somewhere between game and interactive story.  I haven’t played any of Telltale’s other games - Jurassic Park and Back to the Future - but from what I understand, none of their other works have nearly as complex of a choice system as The Walking Dead.

Throughout each episode, you control Lee as the story unfolds making dialog choices and a few twitch based action sequences here and there.  You don’t know how many of your choices work out until the end, but, with the default settings, you can see if a choice you’ve made is important.  For example depending on how you interact with Clementine in one scene, you may see text on the top of the screen that says “You chose to be honest with Clementine”, or “Carley will remember that”.

The visuals are cel-shaded and are really pretty.  The characters faces tend to reflect the dialog and the mood of the situation.  The writing is some of the best I’ve ever seen in a game and the voice acting is equally superb.  It’s hard to go into too much detail on the memorable plot twists in the game without revealing spoilers, so I’ll just say go buy this game now.