Saturday, July 12, 2014

2014 Play Log - Alan Wake - UPDATED

Alan Wake Image It took about 15 hours of play (ie, almost 2 weeks by my usual gaming schedule) but I finished Alan Wake.

You play the game as Alan Wake, a famous writer along the lines of Stephen King. He's "the good guy", but he has his flaws - a drinking problem, writer's block and a slightly rocky relationship with his wife, Alice. When she and the cabin the two have rented in a small Washington state town disappear (an event that appears to have happened years before but is never explained), Alan has to fight through numerous encounters with The Taken, people and things that have been possessed by The Darkness. His main weapon is unique to survival horror games - light, either from handheld flashlights or overhead lamps. However, to finish off the creatures he needs to go all Guns and Ammo on their asses with either a revolver, shotgun, rifle or flare gun. Who knew a writer could be such a good shot? Pools of light can also defeat The Taken and act as welcome checkpoints.

I played the game on Easy since I'd heard that you can get into trouble quickly by running out of batteries and/or ammo. Even with lots of both, I still found some of the fights challenging. The Taken will attack in groups and usually from more than one direction.

The game had an entertaining roster of characters (his agent, Barry, was funny) and good game mechanics for the shooting, probably a result of having been developed by the studio that did the first two Max Payne games. The particle effects when "killing" a Taken never got old. The graphics for the scenery, the great outdoors of Washington state, were very well done and especially nice on the PC.

Then there's the story. Sigh. Maybe the story sounded better when they were working on the game. Something in the lake, this Darkness, is making creative thoughts come to life and it seems to affect authors the most. Wake is the second writer to fall under it's spell, we being told about a previous writer and his troubles, but I never really understood who was who. A better backstory with real character models for cut-scenes would have helped. It was the kind of story that would have gotten a one star rating on Netflix. Let's face it, any game (or movie) that ends with the line, "It's not a lake. It's an ocean!" can't be expected to make much sense. But the thing that kept me playing this game was the way the story was presented, being narrated by the writer himself and him finding pages of the novel he's supposed to be writing. There were also the amusing Twilight Zone-esque TV shows that kept everything more than a little weird.

While it isn't a true sequel, I will be playing Alan Wake's American Nightmare very soon. It takes place after the events in Alan Wake and I'm hoping it will explain the ending.

*** UPDATE (7/16/14) *** - What do you call included DLC you didn't know was there until you finished the original part of the game? For me, I call it a welcome surprise!

I had gone back to play some of the video commentary in the game and noticed that there were two new chapters in the menu - The Signal and The Writer. These were apparently purchaseable DLC episodes that were included for free in the complete edition that I got on Steam. They take place right after the end of the main game, when Alan has been sucked over into the other world where The Darkness lives. I can't say it's doing anything to improve the overall story (you spend most of the time following the previous writer, Zane, as he tries to help you escape/wake-up from wherever Alan is), however it's been extremely entertaining - in some cases more than the original game. With only one exception (that I can tell), the location, character, and creature assets are just reused from the original game (saves on developer costs), but the dream world you are in has many surreal challenges to overcome like a rotating house and rocks that float in mid-air. There's also more humor (from Alan and an ethereal Barry) plus more explosive encounters. In some ways, if feels like the developer had a chance to go back and really push the engine (which they now had a better feel for) and be more creative without having to worry as much about ratings and deadlines. If anyone has played the full game and liked it, it would be a shame if they didn't also play these two DLC chapters.

Wednesday, July 02, 2014

2014 Play Log - Somewhere in the Middle

You could probably just call this one a "filler". Since my last post, I haven't played any new games and I haven't finished any old ones. On the PC, I'm working my way through Alan Wake and on the Vita, Persona 4 Golden. I will obviously be done with Alan Wake way before P4G!

Like many games these days, I wish Alan Wake was about half the length it is. Don't get me wrong - it's not boring. I'm enjoying the story and exploration, but part of me would like it to be closer to movie length (or at least mini-series). Maybe what game designers need to do is make games with normal running times then have an option to play the "extended edition".

Persona 4 Golden is holding my interest and makes for a nice break from gaming at my desk. I'm only about 8 hours in, so there's a loooong way to go.

I behaved myself pretty well during the Steam summer sale. Of course, now I have a bunch of new games that I want to get to so finishing Alan Wake will be my primary goal.

It's been 6 months since I started my "24 Games in 2014" project. So far, I've gotten to play:

  • Alan Wake - Not originally part of the list, but I realized it should have been, so I swapped out Max Payne 3. (It can be part of the 2015 list.) Loving the storyline and doing a pretty good job of the combat. The game may be a little too combat heavy, but at least the "light-as-weapon" mechanic is different.
  • The Stanley Parable - This didn't take very long, but I'm glad I played it to see what all the fuss was about. Honestly, not that big a deal.
  • The Wolf Among Us - I've played 2 of the episodes of this, have the 3rd and 4th, but am having trouble getting back to it. Frankly, I don't really connect with the characters; not in the same way I did in The Walking Dead.
  • Diablo III - I really wanted to dive into this game and be enthralled...but it feels so "sterile" when you compare it to something like Skyrim or Amalur. Worse, I picked a character class who might as well be armed with magical Uzi's. Not enough up close and personal sword swinging.
  • The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds - The only Zelda game I have ever finished was Link to the Past back on the SNES and I think that is making it hard for me to really get into this one. So much of this game was copied from LttP which is great for anyone who didn't play it. For me, it still feels like an update/mod of the original.
  • Mario & Luigi: Dream Team - *Sigh* Why do I keep getting games that I know I probably shouldn't have gotten in the first place because I didn't like the previous ones? These games are hard RPG's buried under the Mario license along with lots of annoyingly "amusing", overly redundant, and time-eatingly long dialog trees.
  • Tearaway - Ok, this one I really liked! Not only was it a fun platformer, but it gave a chance to really get to know what it was like to play on the Vita. And I found I liked it, better than my 3DS.
  • Device 6 - And back to the "not so good side". I gave this weird, text bending iPad game a try, but got stuck on the first "puzzle" and lost interest pretty quickly.
  • Infamous - I played a fair amount of this one (3 or 4 hours), but the actual story didn't work for me enough to continue with the it. As a starter game for a franchise, you get this problem where the "new thing" (in this case the main character's powers) becomes the designer's main focus and you start to feel that the rest of the game is just there to show it off. So you start to see repeated locations, repetitive tasks, and uninteresting side characters.
Well, that's 9 out of 24 - not even half. And a lot of the games still to play are pretty major titles. I guess I picked some of the easier ones to start out with!

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

2014 Play Log - Getting Back to It

Regular posts here were interrupted as I was taking a little break from gaming to catch up on some regular sleep and deal with new pet needs (as in meds for old pets, not new family members). But I find that I need some gaming in my life - it keeps me "centered", whatever that means. To sort of ease back into things, I got back to my alphabetical play through of my Steam library.

Air Conflicts: Secret Wars Image Air Conflicts: Secret Missions & Air Conflicts: Pacific Carriers Image Air Conflicts: Pacific Carriers - I spent much of my video gaming "youth" (and I'm stretching the term to include my 30's) playing many, many hours of flight simulators. In the Atari 800 days, I chased little objects made of 3 or 4 pixels across endless screens of sky (light blue) and ground/sea (brown/dark blue). These were the early Microprose games, one of which actually came in a baggie! My favorite controller had a tall stick with a single button (for firing, of course) and I'm amazed I didn't break it with all the time I played with it. As flight sims fell from favor, my gaming turned more to adventure/action games and I just didn't play them anymore. I think Blazing Angels on the 360 was one of the first ones to bring me back to the genre. The two Air Conflicts games in my Steam library reminded me of Angels...but not for very long. Secret Missions started out interesting (you play as a pilot-for-hire working for, but not allied with, the Allies as they fight off the Germans in North Africa) but the second mission was some sort of stealth flying affair that I quickly got frustrated with. Pacific Carriers had less "story" (it starts during the Pearl Harbor attack like most WWII Pacific theater games), but the action came at a better pace. However, I lost interest after a little while due to, I guess, too much realism. Sounds weird, right? Well, it turns out that if you are firing machine gun bullets from a plane at another plane in the air, you will need to "lead" the target. This means you don't aim "at" the plane but "in front of" the plane. To make it easier in this game, they put a floating target in front of each plane that you need to shoot at in order for the bullets to hit. It's accurate, but very unsatisfying. So, these two flew away.

Alan Wake Image Alan Wake - Ok, as the saying goes, "Shit just got real!" I have a lot of games in my Steam library (over 700). Some are real simplistic or out-dated, usually picked up on a bundle deal. Some are solid titles, but either indie games or ones that just weren't headliners. Then there are some that are full on AAA titles. Alan Wake is one of those games and one that I should have played a long time ago. It was a major release on the Xbox 360 and a frequently referenced title in discussions of survival horror and narratives in games. I have a copy for the 360, but I'm playing it on the PC (with a controller) because the graphics are significantly better. (This isn't surprising - I imagine that if it gets ported to the Xbox One that it will look this good on that platform.) I just finished "Episode One" and I'm completely enthralled! The game plays more like a movie than any other game I've played. I love how character interactions are triggered by proximity, not button presses. And the mood of the game is like a creepy thriller by Stephen King. I do hope that the combat doesn't get too repetitive, but I'm going to stick with this game for the story...and the really weird TV shows!

Unit 13 Image Unit 13 - A PS+ freebie. It's a 3rd person action game, pretty good controls, with amusing comments from the NPC's. I played the tutorial and will probably come back to it as some point, but for now...

Persona 4 Golden Image Persona 4 Golden - I stand at the edge of a very, very, VERY deep rabbit hole. I know this is a monster of a game even on the Very Easy difficulty I'm playing it on. It clocks in over 100 hours to finish! And I'm playing it on a handheld system, my Vita. Why, you may ask? Because it's one of the very best titles on the Vita and a fascinating game! I've only just started (I think I'm on the 3rd or 4th day of a one year stay in this new town) and I can already see why it's so highly regarded. This is an upscaled game from the PS2 and it looks amazing on the Vita's bright, crisp OLED screen. There's also a lot of voice work in it, something that doesn't always happen in a JRPG. The story is already catching my interest - a dead body has been found hanging in town and...well, I guess I shouldn't say too much. How long will I last playing P4G? Will I make it all the way to the bitter end? We'll just have to wait and see. (Note: This is one of the Shin Megami Tensei games that I have collected most of, but played very few of. In fact, only one - SMT: Nocturne - and I didn't last very long playing that. I've always been drawn to the horror aspect of the games, but I have to admit to not being able to handle most JRPG tropes. For me, getting very far in P4G is going to be a major accomplishment if I make it.)

Thursday, June 05, 2014

2014 Play Log - Tearaway and other Vita works

Not that I'm trying to set a trend or anything, but I finished another game over the weekend, Tearaway.
Tearaway Image I think Tearaway is one of those games that some people wanted to elevate to a modern classic. It certainly is a game that generated outrage for anything other than loving admiration, as witnessed by Joystiq's review. For me, I will say it was a unique experience, but one that was not without its faults. What this game did well, it knocked out of the park! I mentioned in a previous blog that it felt like playing in a diorama, but I think rather it was like playing a stop-motion animation movie. Media Molecule has perfected the art of making graphics that look like real world objects but move like game characters. No one else has come close to this level of controllable reality. However, the game falls short of being a Limbo, Journey, or Brothers level kind of experience. Those games made you feel you were playing something special - Tearaway keeps reminding you that you are on a "great quest to delivery your message". More subtlety would have been good. There were also some game mechanics that didn't work very well. The combat was pretty simple and the sections where you had to "make" things was particularly frustrating because you had to draw a closed figure with your finger on the touch screen. If you left just one little bit uncut, it wouldn't separate. Also, it didn't matter what you made as you were highly praised whether you made something that looked like what you were asked for or not. (The same unconditional acceptance extended to pictures taken or sounds recorded.) Oddly, the one time I tried to be creative was when an NPC asked for a tie. I thought that the cactus would clever, but no, that wouldn't work. Then I gave him a bow tie. That was also rejected. I had to pick the tie sticker at the bottom of the items list before it would let me move on. Still, I have to say it was an amazing game - the variety of platform mechanics that used Vita features was incredible. I doubt anyone will be able to make another game that makes as much use of the hardware as Tearaway did.

Tearaway was also the first complete game I've played on my Vita. It's a compelling system to sit down with at night and just kick back with on the sofa. I decided to follow up with some other titles...with varying results.

The Walking Dead: A Telltale Games Series - The Complete First Season Image The Walking Dead Season 1 - I got this through PS+ and although I've played it on the PC, I wondered how it would play on the Vita. In a word, not-good. For a game with simple mechanics and an excellent story, it plays poorly with traditional stick controls. Aiming is almost impossible and you can't invert the Y-axis. Also, the game pauses a lot during scenes which is very annoying. Well, it was a freebie, so no harm done.

LIMBO Image Limbo - Also a PS+ freebie. I started to really get into playing this on the Vita. Limbo's atmosphere is perfect for a dark living room at midnight. And everything was going great until I missed a rope, fell on a box, and died...but the game wouldn't reset. My little white-dot eyes were blinking, but I couldn't move. Maybe I had just broken my neck and I had to just lie there and die from starvation. It would fit the mood of the game! Anyway, that little glitch got me moving to another title.

Lone Survivor: The Director's Cut Image Lone Survivor - This survival horror game plays well on the Vita, but I don't think I really enjoy it. It's a little too retro for my tastes, considering there's so much more out there to play.

Thomas Was Alone Image Thomas Was Alone - Now this I think I can stay with. It's amazing how easily a human mind can accept that a little cursor has a name and a destiny you have to fulfill. The narration in the game is great and as long as it doesn't get frustratingly hard, I think I'll be able to finish it. *Update*: After another evening of Thomas, I think I'll move on. Underneath the mask of a platformer, there lies a puzzle game. Not bad, just not my cup of tea.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

2014 Play Log - Memorial Day Weekend

Long weekends mean one thing - getting things done around the house! Welcome to my new Home Improvement Blog! (Just kidding, but I'll bet I had you going there for a bit.)

No, long weekends are great opportunities for gaming and I got time in on three titles (plus I really did get some stuff done around the house.)

Stick it to the Man! Image Stick It To The Man - Chalk this one up on my list of Games I Finished in 2014. (Ok, it's a short list, I admit.) This was a very fun game that kept my interest and never got progressively harder. I did get stuck once and had to consult the forum pages on Steam for it. (Little side note - indie games don't seem to inspire people to write walkthroughs for GameFAQs.) There I found a post from someone who had the exact same problem I did! (Made me feel a little better about getting stuck, even though I probably should have figured it out myself.) Not sure if this has much replayability unless I want to collect cards on Steam, but it certainly put a smile on my face.

Tearaway Image Tearaway - I finally got a chance to sit down with my Vita and give this one a try. It's been called a critical success, but a commercial failure, partly because the Vita has such a small install base, but also because it's so hard for a new IP to make it in today's video game market. What I heard about Tearaway was that it was charming, inventive, and unique. Yup, that pretty much sums it up! Everything in the game looks and works like paper. I think there were times that I forgot I was playing a game on a screen and thought I was moving around a diorama. The developers used almost every feature of the Vita from the back touch panel, to the motion sensor, to the cameras. I'll try to stay the course with this one (HLTB rates it around 7 hours) and see if I can deliver my message to The Sun (which is me!).

Wolfenstein: The New Order Image Wolfenstein: The New Order - Ok, this is going to probably get lengthy and, in case you need warning, spoilery. On a whim, I decided to pickup the new Wolfenstein game in time for the long weekend. My time with Wolf goes all the way back to Wolfenstein 3D, the first FPS (even though the term wasn't even coined back then). I do remember the 2D, real original version of Wolfenstein, but if I played it, it was for a very short time. It reminded me of an Epyx D&D style game, Temple of Apshai and had more in common with our present day stealth games than shooters. Since those no-Y-axis days, I've played the newer Wolf's, even if only briefly. (I remember being amused by the effect of shooting flags in Return to Castle Wolfenstein and watching them break apart like glass!) I played some of the game that was released a few years ago, but not very much. (Not sure why I stopped. I thought the blue lightning effects were pretty cool and reminded me of the opening scene from Hellboy.)  This new one is a whole new level of stunning visuals and, surprisingly, dramatic themes. You can't just make a FPS anymore that doesn't have cut scenes, I guess. If I have anything to complain about, it gets tangled up in this aspect. A game like Wolfenstein is primarily a shooter, of course. While there are sections of story, when the talking stops, it's back to the same thing - in this case shooting lots and lots of techno-Nazi's.

Case in point (and here be spoilers): The game starts with you in a plane headed on a mission to kill the top general for the Nazis's war planning. Everything at this point screams, "This is the prologue, look for tutorials, and there's a good chance you'll die/get captured, but that's ok because THE GAME HASN'T REALLY STARTED YET!" I don't have a big problem with this, but it should have been a shorter segment. You spend a lot of time shooting Nazis after Nazis as they run out from doorways, appear at the end of halls, etc. After you've been captured and then brain damaged during a daring escape, there's a rather well done cut scene where you see time pass (14 years in this case) while you "recover" in a mental hospital in Poland. You even begin to develop an attraction to a very kind nurse, the daughter of the doctor running the facility. However, the bad guys show up with a "your services are no longer required" notice attached to a magazine of bullets and you have to "wake up" and get back to your Nazis killing ways in a hurry. Granted, the developers give you a moment or two of blurry vision, but it passes pretty fast for someone who's been in a 14 year coma. Then, you end up shooting Nazis again while they do the same dance - doorway, hallway, end of hallway, repeat. Now don't get me wrong, I'm enjoying this so far, but I've turned the difficulty down to "Can I Play Too, Daddy?" since I don't want to die a lot. I appreciate the amount of story that has been injected into what could have been a simple shooting gallery exercise and I'd like to see it develop without restarting a couple thousand times.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

2014 Play Log - Getting Back on Track

I'm still not back to where I was, but I think I will be changing the format of this a little. Trying to write something for each day gets to be a bit much (for writer and reader), so I think I'll switch to a Monday summary of what I did the week before.

Diablo III Image Diablo 3 - This is becoming my bite-size gaming experience (jump in, run around to the next objective, teleport back to town, save and quit). I'm beginning to (sort of) regret being a Hunter class. Since I do nothing but shoot bows and throw knives, it makes the game feel more like a run-and-gun game and less like a "dungeon crawler". However, being able to attack from a distance is an advantage. I'm going to try a warrior character before I get too much farther in it.

Child of Light Image Child of Light Demo - One of the more talked about games recently. Very pretty to look at, but I didn't really like the combat system which is a lot like those found in Japanese RPG's.  I would have been interested if it had been more like a platformer and/or if it had more voice work. Trying to read rhyming verse that's being spoken in turn by two characters takes much of the charm out of the game.

Mario Golf: World Tour Image Mario Golf World Tour - Proof that Nintendo may be the least relevant gaming platform today, but that doesn't keep it from selling me specifically. True, I knew this purchase had a dual purpose - after I play some of it, it goes to Sarah. She really seems to enjoy the Mario golf games. I've seen her play the old N64 one for hours. Is the autism or does she just enjoy it? As for me, I do think they made the game a little too easy. If you play on Easy, it lines up shots for you and you only need to press the button twice to swing. While you can switch to a harder "Manual" setting, I don't think I'd enjoy it anymore, especially since I'd know I could do better just by going back to Easy. Part of me would love if this had come to the Wii (or Wii U even). Playing golf in the Wii Sports game was a lot of fun! Too bad it only had the one course in it.

Vanquish Image Vanquish - I only played this a little, but WOW! I'd heard about this game from my podcasts - the guys on it saying how great and overlooked it was. No kidding! I have to go back and play the tutorial again because there are so many options for your character in this run-and-gun game that I couldn't remember all of them. It's sort of like Robo-Cop meets Halo with a healthy dose of Michael Bay-style explosions. The action is frenetic, the shooting is visceral, and the cut-scenes leave your jaw on the floor!

WildStar Image WildStar Beta - A new MMO from NCsoft (makers of Guild Wars) set in a cartoonish, space environment. The beta took hours to download and install, but my initial playtime didn't go very well. It was very hard to figure out how to "activate" something. I stood in front of a console for several minutes, clicking on it, pushing buttons and not getting anywhere. When something did work, I wasn't sure if it was me hitting the right key or if there was a huge amount of lag. Might have to try it a bit more.

Finding Teddy Image Finding Teddy - I've had to start playing this game with the guide open in Steam (thankfully someone on the forums wrote one up since there wasn't one on GameFAQs). There have been several instances where this "simple" point-and-click game assumes too much of your creativity. I want to complete the game, but I don't want to spend 10 hours on a 3 hour game.

(Insert about one week's gap in here. I'm a bad blogger.)

First some updates to games I've already mentioned.

No more Diablo 3 yet. Not buying Child of Light (maybe yet). Gave up on Mario Golf World Tour and passed it along to my daughter. Haven't played anymore Vanquish. Never did get back to Wild Star Beta before the trial period ended. Haven't gotten back to Finding Teddy...yet.

So, what have I been playing? Well,...

LEGO The Hobbit Image Lego The Hobbit - I'm playing this on the 3DS and so far it's been more entertaining than the movies. (Good Lord and Butter, Mr. Jackson! You are the Geek Messiah for bringing us The Lord of the Rings Trilogy, but The Hobbit movies are as bad as the first Star Trek movie. Except for the dragon. Smaug is cool looking, I will admit. Back to the game...) I'm not too far into it yet, but I really like the way dialog from the movies is integrated into the gameplay - something I never got used to in the LotR Lego game. There are different abilities for each dwarf and the levels are nice bite-size lengths. It will be interesting to see where this game ends since I know the console versions will be getting DLC (which you may have to pay for) to cover the third movie. (Why? Why is there a THIRD MOVIE?) While there is DLC for some 3DS games, it's not a common occurrence.

Stick it to the Man! Image Stick It To The Man - I got this as a PS+ freebie and have been playing it for nearly a week now. Yes, I know it's a short indie game, but I guess I play slowly. It reminds A LOT of Psychonauts and in some ways I feel it's more like a Tim Schafer game than Broken Age does. The art style is 2D paper characters and backgrounds but in a 3D world. It's a point-and-click (or "stick") adventure with some platform elements. It also has a demented sense of humor, like an underground comic from the 70's. I played a level last night where my character was trapped in an insane asylum and it was more than a little unsettling - which means the game designers did a very good job! It can be a little frustrating (like many adventure games) when I feel like I've done or tried everything and still can't finish a level, but I'm determined to get to the end credits of this one.

I also checked off two more Steam games from my A-to-Z playthrough - Adventure Park and AI War. Both were games that would have required considerable time investments, being a sim builder and large scale strategy game, respectively, and I didn't feel the desire to dig that deeply into them.

Tuesday, May 06, 2014

2014 Play Log - Playing Catch-up

Yeah, I sort of dropped off the blogsphere for a bit there, didn't I. It was a combination of needing a break and having a bit of a vacation. But now that I'm back, I realize that I miss this, so here's what I've been playing lately:

Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft Image Hearthstone - This is a free-to-play, encourage-to-pay game for the iPad that bears more than a passing similarity to Magic:The Gathering, a game I dearly loved, but never had many people to play it with. It's more entertaining than Solitaire, but not much deeper. The one thing I like about it over previous versions of M:tG computer games is that you have to build up your card collection. The Magic computer games I played gave you any cards you wanted at the beginning and then there wasn't a sense of collecting - and that was due to the fact that back then, they didn't have micro-transactions! Progress has it's disadvantages.

Jelly Splash Image Jelly Splash - Oh dear, how did this get here? Well, never let it be said that I hide my shame! Yes, it's a match 3+ smart-phone game. Yes, it's free, but you will probably need to spend money to get very far. Yes, it's a silly, "casual" game. But I like it! Ok, not "like" it so much that I'm spending money on it (yet?), but enough that it's a quick go-to app when I'm between things. Nuff said.

Diablo III Image Diablo 3 - While my brother was here for our vacation, we tried playing this local co-op or as it's also known, "couch co-op". This would have probably worked better if the couch weren't 12 feet from the screen. Later, I decided to play some on my own's Diablo. Basically, things try to kill you while you are looking for "loot" (weapons, armor, gold, etc). It's very linear, the dialog, especially what your character has to say, is awful,  and I'm not sure I'm enjoying it. I'm still early on, so I'll give it some more play time before deciding whether to abandon it or not.

I have a lot of Steam games. How many you ask? Well, my latest count is 690! Now, in my defense, I have played some of those already and the way Steam arrives at that admittedly large number is a little deceptive. Steam counts things like individual episodes of Sam & Max and Back to the Future as single titles, as well as things like single and multi player versions of some games. But, yes, not many. So, there's a HUGE virtual pile of games that I haven't played. To try to get some value out of the many real world dollars I've spent on Steam, I'm starting to go through my list which is conveniently organized in alphabetical order. One of my goals for these play throughs is to collect as many of the free card drops as I can from each game that has them.

 3D Ultra Mini Golf Adventures - Personally, I think there aren't enough mini-golf games. One of my all-time favorite Atari ST games was a mini-golf game and I'd play more if there were good ones. Unfortunately, I guess there's not much market for them. When this one came on sale, I felt I had to give it a go. While it shows it's age and is pretty lacking in features (no online multi-player, sigh), the courses do their best to be as fantastical as possible. I mean, why just make a mini-golf game with courses that you could play in real-life? The ball and putting physics aren't great but I'd say it's the best mini-golf game I've played since those Atari days. No cards on this one.

 688(I) Hunter Killer - They should have probably renamed this 688(Z) Cure for Insomnia. It did remind me of an old game I used to play on the Atari 800, Submarine Commander. Both of these games required lots of patience in return for very little action. But, back in the 80's, I had the time to sit there and watch blocky graphics for hours and imagine I was inside a real sub sneaking up on ships and diving to the ocean floor to hide from depth charges. Thirty years later, not so much. And no cards, which wasn't surprising.

 9th Company: Roots of Terror - Like 688(I), this was a game I got as part of a cheap bundle, but it was more up to date and looked like an interesting squad level strategy game. If only I could have figured out how it worked! After frustrated by "orders" I was given to carry out that I had no idea how to do during the tutorial, I chucked it aside for something better. No cards, which is good - I'd never have been able to get them.

 Afterfall Insanity - People in the reviews section called this an "indie Dead Space" and I guess that isn't too far off. You play as a psychiatrist in an underground sanctuary after an apocalyptic event. (I'm not sure if it was intentional, but your character looks a lot like Niko from GTA IV.) The game looked pretty good for an indie - character models were fairly realistic and the interiors of the complex looked very nice. I also liked the story; you don't realize it until about 15 minutes in, but the game starts you in a dream, complete with subtle graphical "glitches" that caused some user on the forum to suspect his video cards was having problems! Then, like poor Clarke, you get tasked with other people's jobs. I only played this for a couple of nights since I had a few crashes and got to a "puzzle" that everyone had written was very difficult - and the game after that wasn't worth the effort. I did get my 3 cards though.