Fall is like one, big long Christmas Day in the games industry. It’s the season where we traditionally see some of the biggest releases of the year. Over the past few years, however, releases have been spreading out, and Fall is no longer the mecharelease window it once was. Spring and even Summer will now see their own high profile video game releases, which can be both a blessing and a curse to gamers. Still, Fall is still where it’s at for releases.

Friday, 9:37 am – Ricky

After an unexpected business trip, I’m back on that GTA V crack as well. I did another heist yesterday, and they’re just some of the best scripted scenes in a GTA game I’ve ever played.

That game aside, I played quite a bit of Rayman Origins on Vita this week while travelling. It’s the first PSN Plus game for the month of October, and it’s one I’ve had my eye on since getting the system. I wouldn’t exactly say it’s been worth the wait: As a platformer, it’s mediocre at best. The game looks beautiful, but it controls like your hands are in mud. Still, it’s a fun way to kill time, and now that I think I’ve unlocked all of the different “moves”, I can see the earlier levels offering some replayability, going back and discovering inaccessible areas and secrets. I have Rayman Legends on the PC, and I’m interested in digging into that one day to see the differences between the two titles (despite the platform differences).

On that note, I’ve come to the realization that, despite the honest intentions of the 2013 Backlog Challenge, I’ve barely touched my backlog this year. Due to the 3 game purchase limit and the generosity of friends and family members, I’ve played nearly every 2013 game I could possibly want to. It’s a bit sad in a way – looking at my backlog list, there are still many, many games that I want to try. Will I get a shot at them in the next 3 months? 3 months where I’ll have GTA Online and Ubisoft pass games Splinter Cell: Blacklist, Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag and Watch Dogs? I’m really not sure. Here’s how I see it going down:

GTA 5 until it’s done. I’ll hop on for Online with matt and other buddies I’m sure, but…

The Last of Us. I need to play this game to completion. I think I might restart it on hard per Albert’s and matt‘s suggestion, since the story I’ve played up until this point is slowly slipping away from me with the time.

– I need a palette cleanser: Super Mario Galaxy (thanks to Gavin) and Halo 4 are two that are top-of-mind for me right now. Both are radically different from each other, but more importantly, they’re radically different from GTA and TLOU.

– Then, if I get through those before January 1, I might dive into Splinter Cell: Blacklist, AC4 and/or Watch Dogs.

Quite a list… Oh wait:

Playstation 4 releases November 15th, and I’ll be heading to Montreal for a visit with the folks who graciously gifted me a pre-order.

When the hell am I going to play all of this? What am I going to play on the PS4 without any more games to purchase this year? I guess there’s always Playstation Plus and Drive Club

Thursday, 8:47pm – Albert

Well I’ve gone and done it. I’ve finished the story missions of GTA V. It’s been a wild 2 weekend binge but apparently i’m only like 73% done of the game so there is much more. I was telling Ricky that I had only done a handful of Strangers and Freaks missions and mostly concentrated on the main story line. What can I say about GTA V that hasn’t already been said? A game this massive in a world with unending possibilities is awesome. I do, at this moment, feel I was more invested in the Last of Us story more than GTA V. I feel i’ll always compare all games i’ve played this year to TLOU. However, the shear size and replay ability of GTA V can never be matched. On top of that you have Online now too? Whaaa..

One of the cool things about GTA V is the Stock Market. There are two stock exchanges. One of them however, Bawsaq is tied to Rockstar Social Club (sigh) / PSN sign in. However, because of all the online issues I can never get onto Bawsaq which is super annoying because in Assassination missions you directly influence the stock market. Just a minor tip without spoiling for others: Save the assassination missions for the end if you can. Just do it. No more needs to be said.

Other than that I’ve seen some cameos of some players but for now: collectibles, UFO sightings, triathlons, smuggling, etc are on the table!

Tuesday, 8:38pm – Albert

Hey everybody, it’s Tuesday…

Welcome back Ricky! Good to have you back in the saddle. I haven’t been posting as much and that’s because since GTA V came out i’ve been just eating the content in that game AD. All day. I’ve really enjoyed it and I agree about that one mission with Trevor. Quite an interesting scene. The whole game is great. I’m not sure if i’m justified in thinking this, but since you play as 3 people, sometimes when I go on long runs with a person I am wondering what I am missing with the other two. I’m about 76% done so I believe i’m close to finishing the main story. I really have just been playing through the missions. Optional content like Golf, Tennis, Darts, Strip Clubs, Gun Range, Skydiving, etc has been tried but really haven’t gone back to do more. I do have to say that I sat with a beer watching a movie in the theater and I really enjoyed it.  I had headphones in and I could hear the crowd around me. “OH NO – DON’T GO IN THERE GIRL!”

I probably will never play Amnesia like Gavin but i’m glad to read about it. I’m not much for shitting myself and I don’t want to stress myself more when I get home. Gavin’s reaction to it sounds like mine would. Very cool about it being a scary game though.

Since we’ve all been talking about backlogs – I have to admit that I haven’t really been keeping that in mind at all. I have just been playing whatever tickles my fancy! I still have Tomb Raider to beat, in which I believe I am super close but after that I want to beat Bioshock Infinite so I have a good GOTY deliberation. Although i’ve been REALLY enjoying GTA V, I’m having a hard time comparing it to The Last of Us. I think playing the TLOU when it came out and without distractions really made it resonate with me. I haven’t finished GTA V though, but so far it’s a close call. I’m sure if I said that to some other people they would say GTA V hands down without even a flinch. Regardless GTA V has been awesome and there is nothing like punching random civilians in the city of Los Santos.

Tuesday, 4:34pm – Gavin

Nintendo had another Nintendo Direct announcement today, and the core takeaway is this:

BOOM.  Day one purchase, no questions.  This game looks crazy-good.

Monday, 10:24am – Gavin

It’s really tough to differentiate yourself, especially when you consider that fall 2013 has some beasts lined up:

  • Beyond: Two Souls
  • Pokemon X & Y
  • Batman: Arkham Origins
  • Assassin’s Creed IV
  • Call of Duty: Ghosts
  • Watch Dogs (I will never, ever use the stylized title)
  • Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze
  • Super Mario 3D World
  • All the PS4 and XBO launch titles

Couple this with the titled released in August and September (in my case, Splinter Cell: Blacklist, Pikmin 3, and Wind Waker HD), and we’re not short on titles to play.  Of those titles listed above, I’m supremely interested in Super Mario 3D World, which I am pre-ordering, DKC: TF, and Watch Dogs.

So how do you stand out?  Well, the legacy franchises like Pokemon, Mario, and Call of Duty don’t really have to worry.  So long as they can simply make people aware that there is a new title, those games will sell like hotcakes.  Re Mario 3D, the bigger challenge is pushing the console itself, not the game.

Ubisoft has done a decent job with Watch Dogs at E3, but we need to remember that the number of people who care about E3 is vastly outweighed by the number of people who don’t care about E3.  I don’t have cable, so I couldn’t tell you if these other games have been advertised on TV, but I do spend 26 hours a day on the internet, and it would be heartening to see banner ads pop up on non-gaming websites.  Rockstar pushed GTA V on the side of buildings, at bus stops, everywhere.  I know that a lot of other companies don’t have the marketing budget that they do, but still, public awareness is key.

In the spirit of backlogs, I’ve started digging into titles on my own list, crossing them off as need be.  I’m still playing Amnesia: The Dark Descent.  I just got the elevator working; if you’ve played the game, you know that I’ve had my second super-stressful experience.  The game excels beyond belief at environment and atmosphere, but gameplay itself is fairly mediocre.  I’m almost prepared to say that the environment as a gameplay factor is better in this game than almost any other.  I’ve had no trouble dying, as I did several times trying to outrun the water monster, and trying to evade the monsters in the storage room of the Back Hall.

You don’t encounter monsters nearly as often as I had assumed you would, but I suppose that’s what makes the game so good.  You’re left in a perpetual state of terrified anticipation.  Monsters seem to appear at pre-set cues, so you’re left wondering what decision/action the developers had you make/take that will set off the next appearance.  You don’t even really get a good look at the monsters for two hours in the game, but they absolutely make their presence known.

The puzzles are fairly straightforward.  Encounter problem, find object to use on problem.  Run/hide from monster.  Use object on problem.  Go to next area.  Rinse, dry, repeat.  In fact, if you take away the “you are scared!” mechanics and events, the gameplay is actual remarkably conventional, even dull.  But since the fear mechanics are inextricable from the game itself, you’re left less with a game, and more with an experience.  Not knowing where you’ll encounter the monsters and the unexpected jump scares are what make the game.  Jump scares are cheap, but the game doesn’t really rely on those as a primary fear inducer; they just pretty much keep you on your toes, making you think OH GOD WHAT WAS THAT?  You always get a warning that there’s a monster about, and I think that’s very effective.

I’m maybe halfway through at this point.  I’m definitely not having fun, but it is a great experience and I am appreciating the environment.  Graphically, the game looks like ass and the movement physics of the monsters is horrible, but it’s everything else that works so well.

I attacked Shank and Puddle on the weekend.  Shank is a stylized, cartoonish action game from SuperGiant games.  It’s a side-scrolling beat-em-up with standard BEU mechanics.  Beat up guys.  Some guys have different attacks.  Some guys have huge health.  FIGHT FIGHT FIGHT.  You have multiple attacks and multiple different mechanics you can employ, so on a keyboard, the controls are remarkably complex and difficult to master.  The game itself recommends that you use a game pad, and if you’re going to play this game, I strongly recommend it.  I don’t have one, so I’m just using the keyboard, and it’s a struggle.  I’ve played enough of the game to realize that it’s not my kind of game though, so I can effectively chop it off the list.

I also started playing Puddle, a little level-based puzzle game that seems like it was designed more for a motion-sensitive tablet than a PC.  You control the axis of rotation for the screen, tilting it in order to move a fluid based on the rules of gravity.  Move your fluid to the exit point.  It’s a neat idea, but I’m not crazy about the execution.  You control different fluids as the game progresses – you start with water.  I’m not crazy about the water’s physics and obedience re gravity and friction, so I know that this game will frustrate me.

I also started Bastion, as everyone had been screaming at me to play it.  The narrator cracks me up a bit, with how well his dialogue is programmed to match the actions of The Kid.  It’s a more challenging game than I expected – I don’t fully understand the mechanics yet but the style and environment is gorgeous.

I’m preparing to wholesale abandon some of the games on my list.  For example, I picked up Ragnar Torqvist’s The Longest Journey in a Steam sale for $2.50 ages ago, and I’m just not certain that I really want to devote my time to it.  I’m sure it’s great, but I have enough games to go on, I have enough that I really would like to buy, and I have enough that I really want to play again.  I know I am going to want to play Deus Ex: Human Revolution, Metroid Prime, Skyward Sword, and Skyrim again, and I don’t want to feel guilty that I haven’t played enough of the new games that I have.  I will probably never go back to Splinter Cell: Double Agent again, and I’m fine with that.  But those other titles?  I do want to play them again.

There’s a host of games I have that I might just wholesale chop off and not even consider.  If I play everything I’ve been given, I won’t have the opportunity to play the games that I really, REALLY want to play.  Six Wii-U titles coming out/already released in 2013, plus Mario Kart 8 next year.  I’m looking at my Steam backlog, and there are five or six titles on there that I am burning to play (The Walking Dead, Mirror’s Edge, Mass Effect 1 and 2, Splinter Cell: Conviction), a few that I could take it or leave it, and a few that just don’t interest me whatsoever.  The smartest thing I’ve done in ages is ditch my Steam wishlist.  I used to update it pretty much every month; now I have three titles on it: the King’s Quest collection, which is really just posterity at this point, Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory, because I love that game, and Gone Home, because it’s single-playthrough story experience which is precisely what I’m looking for right now.

I feel much better knowing that I’m not going to have to slog through Syberia 1 and 2 or The Longest Journey.  I bought them in the heat of one of my first Steam sales, where it’s really easy to get caught up in what’s out there.  Same thing with a few other titles that aren’t setting my loins aflame, like Driver: San Francisco, Magicka, Jamestown, Hammerfight, and Prince of Persia: Sands of Time.  Wasted money, but live and learn, I suppose.  It feels better to say that of my current list, I really only need to play five of them, ten of them at most.  Hell, I only bought Fable: The Lost Chapters so that I could have it just in case I felt like it.  It’s more of a security thing than a game I actually want to play in the near future.  I’m going to be spending hundreds on Wii-U titles over the next couple of years, so it’s time to start paring back/cutting out my purchasing of PC games.

The exception to this is The Long Dark, a PC game from Hinterland Games that I have Kickstarted.  Check it out, and support them!  http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/hinterlandgames/the-long-dark-a-first-person-post-disaster-surviva

Monday, 8:21 am – Ricky

As my 2013 Backlog Challenge enters its final quarter of the year, I can’t help but feel like I’ve barely made a dent in the stacks of games I own but haven’t played. This year’s Fall release window is a different beast altogether – not just for me, as I’ve already purchased all of my allotted games for the year, but for gamers in general. With the new consoles from Sony and Microsoft less than two months away, the question of “what games to buy” gets even murkier for the dedicated video game enthusiast. Sure, most people will wait out the season with current gen titles, but there will be a lot of hype and hysteria for the new gen as well.

Couple that with the behemoth that is Grand Theft Auto 5, and the impending release of Grand Theft Auto Online on Tuesday, and you have an interesting environment. As a pure-play current gen new release, how do you get noticed over the competition, including the big dogs and next gen hype, during the busiest release window of the year?