Stephen’s Sausage Roll (2016)

I know what you’re thinking: “Stephen’s Sausage Roll sounds like a joke.” This is not a joke, far from it. The name is goofy, the visuals are ugly, the premise is bizarre, and the price is high. How could a game about rolling sausages be worth $30? The thing is, Stephen’s Sausage Roll is one of the greatest puzzle games ever created, and its unparalleled level design is what sets it apart.


Stephen’s Sausage Roll is a Sokoban-style puzzle game. If you’re unfamiliar with Sokoban, it is a subset of puzzle games that revolves around pushing objects to specific locations. You have to plan ahead since you move in tight spaces and everything has to fit snugly. It sounds remarkably simple, but Stephen’s Sausage Roll takes sausage rolling to the extreme. This game is insanely difficult, and from the outset the game is going to challenge you. The player’s goal is to fully cook sausages on grills without burning them. The game is played on a grid, and each sausage occupies 2 spaces. You must cook both sides of the sausage, but if you cook the same spot twice, it will burn. The player also occupies 2 spaces on the grid, which makes the game remarkably difficult to control. You can move forwards or backwards, and you can rotate left and right. These constraints will take a while for any player to get used to, and are a necessary to facilitate the complexity of the puzzles.


The beauty of Stephen’s Sausage Roll is that it capitalizes on every facet of the game’s mechanics. The act of simply manipulating the sausages and controlling the character is explored in the first area. Subsequent areas focus on other mechanics: the second area is all about skewering sausages, the third is about rolling on top of them, so on and so forth. None of the mechanics are explained to the player, you are meant to play around in the puzzles to discover the nuances organically. There are six total areas in the game, each consisting of about a dozen puzzles. The sixth area is much longer than its predecessors and it utilizes a ridiculously interesting trick, but I will not discuss it because that should be a moment for every player to experience on their own. I do not want to spoil it.


Every single mechanic that the game introduces is absolutely pushed to the brink. No idea is thrown away without squeezing all of the potential out of it. Every puzzle in an area will utilize a different aspect of that area’s core mechanic. Every puzzle is a learning moment. It never feels repetitive or tedious since all the puzzles require the player to encounter an “A-ha!” moment. There were some puzzles where I looked at it and thought “This is impossible.” After playing around a bit, it would click and I would understand exactly what I needed to do. Interestingly, there were also plenty of moments when starting a puzzle that I thought “This is easy.” But once I began, I realized it was much more difficult than I had anticipated. There aren’t really any hidden tricks or techniques to stump the player, instead the stumping comes from the clever implementation of the mechanics.

The brilliance of Stephen’s Sausage Roll is in its level design.  Every level is a unique teaching moment, and every puzzle is also immaculately designed. For the most part, every tile on the grid is needed to complete the level. There is no fluff to distract the player. If something is in the level, you will be nearly guaranteed to use it. This fact is immensely helpful when solving the challenging puzzles that are plentiful in Stephen’s Sausage Roll. I would often analyze all of the elements of any given puzzle before starting. This technique often led me to reverse engineer the solution by just understanding the components available to me.


The exceedingly clever minimalism of the puzzles is what makes Stephen’s Sausage Roll so challenging. There is absolutely no way for a player to stumble their way to a solution. There is an intended solution for every puzzle, and aside from minor variations there is no way around that fact. The player must utilize the techniques that each puzzle demands. Every puzzle is carefully designed to maintain this paradigm. This game is remarkable for its ability to stump the player in a fair manner. You never get stuck because you are missing critical information, instead you get stuck because it’s you haven’t implemented a mechanic in the correct manner. I would often get stuck for long periods of time but I rarely felt frustrated.

My lack of frustration is due to the fact that the areas in Stephen’s Sausage Roll have all of the puzzles available at the same. If the player gets road-blocked and cannot figure out the solution to any given puzzle, it is exceedingly helpful to try the other puzzles first. Sometimes you can make new realizations, but most of the time it is a good idea just to refresh your brain. Additionally, the game has two functions that the player will use copiously. The undo button will undo the last move made, and you can use it as much as you want. Often times I would realize that my solution wouldn’t work, so I undid the last few moves to see where I went wrong. Also, it is exceedingly common to do something unintentionally because of the unintuitive controls. The undo button is a godsend. Additionally, the reset button will reset the puzzle all the way to the beginning. If you really screw up, this function will come in handy.


My main issue with Stephen’s Sausage Roll is “brick walls” frequently occur. Brick walls are what I describe as moments where you absolutely cannot progress until you make some realization about how the game works. These moments will vary from player to player and can be demoralizing. Many of the mechanics in Stephen’s Sausage Roll have various nuances, and organically discovering these nuances at times can be exasperating. Most players will probably hit a brick wall at the very beginning of the game. The unintuitive control scheme, lack of explanation, and immediate jump into difficult puzzles almost guarantees that fact. Unfortunately, these facets are core components of the game, so there is no way to easily fix this issue.

The high difficulty and unforgiving level design are prone to these “brick wall” moments, and it probably happened to me two or three times. Sitting on a single puzzle for 2 to 3 hours, making no headway, then figuring out the solution hinged on some obscure nuance was not an “A-ha!” revelation, but rather an “Are you serious?” moment. There really is no way to alleviate this problem, as extreme difficulty is a double-edged sword. The vast majority of the time Stephen’s Sausage Roll provides mind-bending puzzles to tinker with, but sometimes you are going to get stuck for a while.


Since Stephen’s Sausage Roll hits the player with a brick wall at the very beginning of the game, I think many players will have a hard time enjoying this game. It’s already in a small subset of puzzle games, and its astounding difficulty is sure to make it even more niche. Moreover, the game has no worthwhile qualities outside of its intelligent level design. The visuals, audio, and narrative are all extremely minimalistic. This is a game for somebody who wants to play an exceedingly challenging puzzle game. And that’s fine. Not every game has to be for everybody, and I like to see niche games. That being said, Stephen’s Sausage Roll is so ridiculously niche that nobody outside of a small subset of people will be able to enjoy it.


I absolutely adore Stephen’s Sausage Roll, but I realize that is an exceptionally niche game. I categorize this game the same as SHENZHEN I/O. Both of these games are absolute perfection in their respective genres, but I cannot unconditionally recommend them to anybody. It’s a shame that the brilliance of Stephen’s Sausage Roll will be lost on so many people due to its sheer unapproachability. Regardless, this game is ridiculously well designed and executed, and I am genuinely baffled at how much content was able to be produced on the mere premise of pushing sausages around. It is for these reasons that I give Stephen’s Sausage Roll a 9.5/10. If you are a fan of outstandingly tough puzzle games, then you absolutely must play Stephen’s Sausage Roll. If you don’t enjoy puzzles, or prefer less challenging games, than this is not the game for you.

Sundered (2017)

As someone who loves metroidvanias, action games, and Lovecraftian atmospheres, Sundered seemed like a perfect fit. This is the second game developed by Thunder Lotus Games, who have become renowned for their beautifully hand-drawn characters. At times, Sundered felt exceptionally exhilarating to play, but in other instances the game was pure frustration. This dichotomy stems from the game’s core ideas and the inherent randomness of the experience.


In Sundered you play as Eshe, an adventurer who fell into an eldritch portal which transported her to an ancient underground city. Eshe encounters a shapeshifting sinister being, which guides the player on their journey and serves as their weapon. You travel throughout the devastated city, encountering monsters and bosses along the way. Eshe collects new weaponry and upgrades to aid her on her journey back to the surface. Simply put, the game is a metroidvania, but with a unique twist. The levels are partially randomly generated, which is a bold decision in a genre that heavily relies on its level design. Additionally, apart from new weaponry and items, you also collect currency and runes to upgrade Eshe’s abilities.


As you explore the world, you will uncover runes that can be equipped. These runes are intriguing because they have positive and negative attributes. For example: you deal 30% more damage, but you have 20% less health. You must pick and choose which runes you would like to use, being aware of what synergies make sense. Players must decide what negative effects they are willing to cope with. I quite like the choices and I enjoyed testing out different combinations of runes. In addition to runes, you will collect currency to spend on your skill tree. This giant tree also implements some interesting decision making. Small nodes contain flat bonuses to your damage, health, armor, and shield. Scattered along the tree are larger nodes with more powerful bonuses such as an additional 15% damage or more critical strike chance. You must prioritize which bonuses you want to go for, as it quickly becomes expensive to work your way through the tree. I actually really liked this implementation of progression as building a character to my liking is engrossing.


Each area in Sundered has a basic outline, represented by big blocks on the map. Within these large chunks, there are smaller blocks which are randomized. Every time you generate an area, these smaller blocks get jumbled around and create a different path through the big blocks. In essence, the basic structure of the area will always remain the same, but the exact path is going to constantly change. I actually feel like this works decently. Metroidvanias are all about exploration, and with the levels constantly changing, the player will always need to explore. With the unchanging large block locations there are cleverly placed shortcuts to open to ease navigation. As you progress through a level, you can open doors that link back to locations earlier in the level. This way, next time you go through the level you can skip many of the procedurally generated bits. This randomization also makes sense in the context of Sundered. It’s appropriate that the twisting, living tunnels of a demonic city are constantly shifting.


The downside to the random level generation is much of the game ends up being entirely forgettable. The tunnels and rooms utilize the same assets, so there lacks a unique element to make areas stand out. Every trip through an area feels like déjà vu, you encounter the same rooms, just in a different order. Overall, a procedurally generated metroidvania works in the context of Sundered, but it ends up being repetitive after a while. Interestingly, randomization doesn’t end with the level design; enemies also spawn in randomly. Occasionally enemies will spawn in small groups, but the bulk of the combat occurs when hordes spawn. Hordes occur randomly and are signaled by the signature bang of a gong.


The pure chaos which a horde brings is almost indescribable, hundreds of enemies run at the player from all directions. Many of these enemies can also shoot projectiles, fly, or teleport. Absolute mayhem. At times, hordes can be actually incredibly fun. If you are well equipped and in a prime fighting location, shredding through dozens of enemies with a few satisfying swings of the blade is viscerally gratifying. It’s challenging, intense, fast-paced, and pure fun. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. If you aren’t strong enough, hordes will absolutely wreck you. No amount of skill can overcome the muddle of hordes, you are guaranteed to be hit, you just need sufficient stats to win. Moreover, if the horde spawns in an inopportune location, such as one with many hazards or pits, the fight can become immensely overwhelming.


Furthermore, with so many enemies, visual effects, animations, and projectiles, it is incredibly easy to lose track of where Eshe is. Especially since you get bumped around when taking damage. The absolute worst part about hordes is how randomly they occur. Sometimes I could play for 10-15 minutes with no combat at all, and other times there were so many hordes I literally could not progress forward. I would defeat a horde, move forward for 15 seconds, then the gong would sound and have to do it all over again. Fighting multiple hordes in a row can easily drain your health potions and get you killed. It can be frustrating that your progress is essentially tied to how many hordes spawn in any given timeframe. I wish hordes occurred in specific rooms instead of entirely randomly. That way the developer can control the environment, the type of enemies, and how many hordes a player has to deal with before unlocking a shortcut or new item.


The enemies and bosses of Sundered are incredibly creative and interesting to look at. The bosses in particular are humongous, awe-inspiring beasts. The boss fights are mostly very fun, you have to hit weak points to do damage. Dodging the telegraphed attacks of the bosses works better than fighting hundreds of enemies at a time during hordes. Towards the end of a fight, the boss will begin spamming all of their attacks. It becomes a frantic rush to finish off whatever little bit of health they have left before you get overwhelmed. My only big issue with the boss fights is that they are so big that the screen has to zoom out, making it hard to make out where your character is located. Eshe and the weak spots are tiny in comparison to the gargantuan beings, making it unbelievably difficult to execute precise movements.


Combat itself is fairly simple. Aside from basic directional attacks, there are also finishers. Hitting attacks builds the finisher meter, and getting hit drains the meter. Once full, the player can unleash a finisher attack which has high range and damage. These are quite useful for dealing with groups of enemies, the additional range is incredibly helpful. There is also a dodge roll that lets the player dodge through enemies. Additionally, hitting enemies in the air resets your jump. As long as you keep whacking at enemies, you can stay in the air. Overall, the combat is simple and intuitive. Unfortunately, when fighting hordes, you often just have to mash buttons and pray that your character is strong enough.


Sundered is hit or miss. Every game design decision seems like a neat idea, but they have significant downsides. Randomly generated levels prompt exploration, but end up being repetitive. Hordes can be chaotic fun, but can get overwhelming. Bosses are awe-inspiring, but they are so big that I find it hard to tell what is going on. Combat is simple and character building is interesting, but it often becomes stat-check button-mash fests. It is for these reasons I give Sundered a 6/10. Sundered has many unique aspects, but some of these facets can grow irritating and spoil the experience.


Into the Breach (2018)

There is an eternal struggle which the developers of turn-based tactics games must attempt to solve. Randomness. Without some form of unpredictability, turn-based games quickly grow stale. Nothing is fun when you know exactly what moves to make to ensure victory 100% of the time. In contrast, too much randomness leads to frustration when the player makes all the right moves but loses anyway. The inclusion of randomness is a game design pillar that could be discussed endlessly, but I want to talk about one game that got it right. Into the Breach.

Subset Games are known for creating the immensely popular roguelite space game, FTL: Faster than Light. While I love FTL: Faster than Light, it is an incredibly difficult game and some bad luck could easily end a run. While Into the Breach is a different genre altogether, it limits the effects of unpredictability and nearly everything in the game is telegraphed. Into the Breach is a turn-based tactics game in which the player commands three giant mechs to defend cities against humongous alien bugs called Vek. The game is played on an 8×8 grid, with each turn being split into three distinct phases.


At the beginning of each turn, the enemies telegraph exactly what they are going to do. They move into position and highlight what squares they will attack, how much damage it will do, and what order they will attack in. The next phase of a turn is the players response, in which the player can move and attack with all three of their robots. The final part of the turn is when the enemies execute their telegraphed actions. There is no miss chance, no critical hits, or any sort of randomness on the battlefield. Aside from enemy spawns and the map layout (which the player can see before choosing a map), everything is predictable. The player is given all the information they need to succeed, and I love it. The only randomness is in favor of the player, when the enemies manage to hit a city; there is a 15% chance that the city may “resist” and ignore the damage.


The idea behind Into the Breach is that you are commanding a squad of three mechs that travel from alternate timelines to defend the one that you are playing in. It sounds complicated but in terms of gameplay it has a couple of neat benefits. The first being that in each battle the player is allotted a single reset. This can be used during the player phase to reset to the beginning of the player phase. This is incredibly helpful in the case of a misclick or if you spot a better move after you already preformed an action. Battles are relatively short, only 4-5 turns long, so a single reset is completely fair to allow players to fix any exceedingly dumb errors. The other major gameplay benefit of the time-travelling squad of mechs is that after a campaign is completed, you can bring one pilot with you to the next campaign.

Pilots are an integral feature to Into the Breach, and they serve as a method to improve your mechs. Each pilot can level up a couple of times, providing bonuses such as health, movement, or a reactor to power up new weaponry. There are unique pilots as well as generic ones. The unique pilots have special abilities to make them more powerful than the generic ones. Moreover, unique pilots are selectable at the beginning of the game, allowing the player to bring one along with them. They serve as a form of progression, as you unlock pilots during campaigns, you can then select them for any future campaign. The other major form of progression are unlockable squads. There are 8 squads in the game, as well as a customizable squad, a random squad, and a secret squad.  All of the squads have three mechs, each with their own abilities.


The versatility of the squads is essential to Into the Breach. In this game, there are very often 4 or 5 enemies on the screen at any given time. This means that it is impossible for three mechs to kill all the enemies during every turn. Luckily, these mechs have far better utility than damage dealing potential. The mechs’ attacks often have side effects that are far more powerful than incurring straight damage. Things like pushing or pulling the enemies to displace them, creating smoke that disrupts attacks, freezing enemies, or lighting them on fire to deal damage every turn. Moreover, you can block enemy spawns by placing something on top of their spawn points. Each mission is usually littered with environmental effects which further increase flexibility. More often than not you will be killing Vek by pushing them into the ocean, or getting them struck by lightning rather than just straight up damaging them.


Since there are more Vek than the player has mechs, every turn is essentially a puzzle. The player must determine how to get through the turn while taking no grid damage or mech damage, as well as complete objectives and dispose of as many Vek as possible. Of course, this may not always be possible and then the player has to determine what is most important to them. Grid damage persists throughout battles, and serves as the player’s health, so prioritizing stopping the enemies from damaging the grid is essential. Completing objectives provides currency to purchase upgrades, so they are also imperative to complete. Sacrificing a few health off of a mech to block a shot is often an incredibly powerful tool. With more Vek than mechs on the field, the player must look for high-value moves that will deal with multiple enemies at a time. Things like blocking a shot while simultaneously pushing a Vek off a cliff. Or pulling a Vek in a position so that it will kill its ally. Into the Breach facilitates creative tactics and solutions, and that is why I love it.


My singular issue with Into the Breach is that the game can become repetitive across numerous campaigns. A campaign can last anywhere from 30 minutes to 2 hours. You can use a different squad every time, but once you play with each squad once, you will have experienced most of what the game has to offer. Compared to FTL: Faster than Light, Into the Breach lacks unique encounters in each campaign. In FTL: Faster than Light, the battles were just a portion of the decision making. You would have to build your crew and analyze the risk and reward of certain decisions. You can let an alien on your ship, but it may backfire if the alien betrays and robs you. You can go to assist distress signal, but it may be a trap. Decisions like these permeate FTL: Faster than Light, but are mostly absent in Into the Breach. You can choose which missions to do and what upgrades to buy, but the game lacks any sort of storytelling or more interesting decision making. The meat of the battles is phenomenal, but I wish there was more than just the battles.


A major aspect that increases replayablity of this game is the achievement system. In Into the Breach, achievements accrue points that player can then use to purchase new squads. Some achievements happen naturally, but some require the player to tackle the game in a different way. Challenges may be completing an island without taking any damage, or win a campaign without upgrading any weapons. Many of these achievements are squad specific: the ice squad has achievements dependent on freezing enemies, while the fire squad is all about setting the whole map alight.


I absolutely adored the puzzle tactics of Into the Breach. Each squad was designed in a cohesive manner that prompts the player to search for creative solutions. This is not a “kill all enemies” turn-based strategy game, but one that expects the player to use utility to protect their resources. Despite the fact that the game got a little repetitive after a while, I still managed to get about 40 hours out of this game before I ultimately decided that I had seen everything. While customizable squads allow for nearly endless possibilities, I wish there was more variances between each campaign.  It is for these reasons I give Into the Breach an 8.5/10. It is a remarkable tactics game that ensures the player will think imaginatively about the problems before them.

My E3 Impressions (2019)

Everyone knows that E3 is the time of year where tons of games get announced and hype begins to build. Publishers hold a conference to announce what they will be releasing in the upcoming months, often times revealing new games. E3 can be an exciting time: interesting new games get announced, dead franchises get revived, indie games get a chance to be on the big stage, and highly anticipated titles get definitive release dates. I have decided to give my impressions of E3, going through what I was intrigued by at each conference. I am not going to go through every game shown, but just the ones that I am interested in. Obviously E3 is run by the publishers, so games are often misrepresented to build excitement and boost sales. I try not to buy into the hype too much, and I am aware that many games shown are going to over-promise and under-deliver. With that being said, it’s still fun to talk about the grandiose trailers and teasers. At the very least, this time next year I can look back at my list and laugh if these titles flop.

I will split the games into 4 categories: Heavy hitters, looks good, piqued my interest, and uncharted territory. Heavy hitters are games made by well-respected studios and that look to be phenomenal, generally I will buy these games as soon as they are released. The looks good category is for games that have impressed me for whatever reason, but they are not quite as hype-garnering as the heavy hitters. Piqued my interest is for games that seem to be interesting, but there is not enough info about them to make a proper judgement yet. Lastly, uncharted territory is for games that are part of series that I have not played yet. Games in this category could easily be heavy hitters for many people, but since I have not played their respective series, I am not overwhelmingly excited for them. Any game not mentioned just did not impress me or wasn’t my kind of game. That being said, let’s get into the conferences.


Heavy hitters: Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order.

Looks good: N/A.

Piqued my interest: N/A.

Uncharted territory: N/A.

Not much can be said for EA, they showed very little and most of what was shown were just updates for already existing games. The only thing saving their conference was Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order. People have been clamoring for a single-player, story-driven, Star Wars experience for decades. This game looks to deliver on satisfying lightsaber combat, create a unique new Star Wars story, and tap into the magnificent world building of Star Wars.


Heavy hitters: Cyberpunk 2077, Elden Ring, Ori and the Will of the Wisps, Borderlands 3.

Looks good: The Outer Worlds, Spiritfarer, Way to the Woods.

Piqued my interest: Twelve Minutes, Microsoft Flight Simulator.

Uncharted territory: Halo Infinite, Gears 5, Tales of Arise, Psychonauts 2.

If you ask me, Microsoft knocked it out of the park with their presentation. Rapid-fire trailers for both big games and indie games alike. The obvious elephant in the room is Cyberpunk 2077, holy moly. This game looks insane and it nails the cyberpunk aesthetic, CD Projekt Red have my full trust since I played The Witcher series. And it has Keanu Reeves in it! Elden Ring is the next game by FromSoftware, directed by Hidetaka Miyazaki and consulted on by George R.R. Martin. Miyazaki and his team have continuously blown me away with Soulsborne, and one of my favorite authors is world building for this game, sign me up. In the world of indie games, Ori and the Will of the Wisps looks to capture the feeling and bliss that made Ori and the Blind Forest so magical. While Borderlands 3 has been announced and has had a release date set for a while, it was cool to see some more info for the next installment in my favorite looter-shooter series.

I am cautiously optimistic for The Outer Worlds, it looks solid. Obsidian did a phenomenal job with the legendary RPG Fallout: New Vegas, and if this game is anywhere close to that level, I will be immensely pleased.  Spiritfarer looks gorgeous, and looks to be the perfect kind of game for developer Thunder Lotus Games. It looks to be a cozy management game with beautifully hand-drawn characters, gorgeous locales, and emotionally charged moments. While it may not be as high profile as other games, Way to the Woods looks enchanting. I am getting some serious Journey and ABZÛ vibes from this game. Exploring the world as a deer sounds like a remarkably comfy and calming experience.

As for games that piqued my interest, Twelve Minutes is at the top of that list. This Groundhog Day inspired game seems to be ripe with mystery and intrigue. While I have never played a flight simulator, Microsoft Flight Simulator captivated me. Something about being able to fly around a fully detailed Earth is just enticing. I’m not sure if this genre will appeal to me, but it piqued my interest nonetheless.

The Microsoft conference also included a ton of familiar series that I am sure many people will be excited for. Again, I have not played the respective series yet, but I would be remiss to not mention these games. Halo Infinite carries the torch for one of the most famous series of all time, and now that Halo is coming to PC, I might actually be able to play it. The Gears 5 trailer didn’t really get me hyped, but I am sure long-time fans will be thrilled. While I am not a JRPG lover, Tales of Arise looks to modernize the series and maybe I will give it a try. Lastly, Psychonauts 2 is a sequel to the renowned platformer, hopefully it will live up to the 14-year-long wait.


Heavy hitters: DOOM Eternal.

Looks good: Wolfenstein: Youngblood, Deathloop.

Piqued my interest: GhostWire: Tokyo.

Uncharted territory: N/A.

I am immensely disappointed that we did not get any info on Starfield, and that the majority of the conference was filled with expansions of already existing games. Luckily, DOOM Eternal looks phenomenal. The 2016 reboot of DOOM was a bombastically fun demon killing-spree, and DOOM Eternal looks to expand upon the unparalleled FPS action. Taking the battle to Earth looks to mix up the environments and color palettes of the game which is a much-appreciated change. As much as I love the brutal red hellscapes of Mars and the Underworld, I think some varied environments would be nice.

While Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus was fairly underwhelming, Wolfenstein: Youngblood looks to be a promising spin-off of the main series. With a focus on two-player coop, with any luck this game will rekindle my confidence in the series. With help from one of my favorite developers, Arkane Studios, I am hopeful that level design takes a big leap forward in this game. Speaking of Arkane Studios, I am also excited for their upcoming game, Deathloop. Not much was revealed about this game other than it has some sort of ambitious idea where the two protagonists attempt to murder each other to break the never-ending time loop. I consider Arkane Studios to be geniuses of modern level design and their previous games such as Dishonored and Prey were fantastic, so I am looking forward to Deathloop.

The game that piqued my interest the most was GhostWire: Tokyo. While I am not super familiar with the developer and no gameplay was shown, the trailer itself was magnificent. I legitimately thought it was a real-life video, but it was insanely detailed prerendered CGI. Seriously, go check it out. The game looks to be a spooky action-adventure with an air of mystery. The atmosphere and aesthetic of the game look to be top-notch, so I am looking forward to seeing some more details about this game in the future.

Devolver Digital

Heavy hitters: N/A.

Looks good: Fall Guys, Carrion.

Piqued my interest: My Friend Pedro, Devolver Bootleg.

Uncharted territory: N/A.

Devolver did not bring any heavy hitters, but a couple of neat indie games looked impressive. Fall Guys is a 100-man death run where players compete to make it to the end of an obstacle course. It looks like a ton of goofy fun. Carrion on the flip side is a “reverse horror” in which the player is a monster reminiscent of John Carpenter’s The Thing. A 2D side-scroller where you play as the monster? Sounds good to me.

While I’m sure My Friend Pedro appeals to many people, it looks almost too much like one of those old internet flash games for me to really get invested. I’m going to wait for reviews before I pick this one up, as flash games can be dumb fun for 15-30 minutes, but a full game is a stretch. Similarly, the Devolver Bootleg is a silly idea that seems like it could be a fun novelty, but I’m not sure if I see myself playing it for very long. A five-dollar collection of bootlegs of Devolver’s own games sounds neat, but I’ll wait to see if it is more than just a one-time novelty.

PC Gaming Show

Heavy hitters: Baldur’s Gate III.

Looks good: Starmancer.

Piqued my interest: Unexplored 2, Remnant: From the Ashes, Per Aspera, Valfaris, Genesis Noir.

Uncharted territory: Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines 2.

Larian Studios have the monumental task of reviving the legendary Baldur’s Gate franchise. This beloved Dungeons & Dragons inspired series has been dead for 20 years, and modernizing it will not be easy. That being said, Larian did a great job with Divinity: Original Sin 2, hopefully they can bring a similar level of creativity and world building to Baldur’s Gate III.

Starmancer is a space station management game in which you design and customize your colony. Trade with other colonies and defend against space pirates to enhance your space station. This seems to be similar to RimWorld and Dwarf Fortress, but in a more contained environment. Hopefully Starmancer nails the space colony management aspect.

The PC Gaming Show included many titles that looked interesting, but I’m not quite sure if I’m going to get them yet. Unexplored 2 looks like a fun exploration roguelike. Remnant: From the Ashes is a coop shooter with some horrifying bosses and an oppressive atmosphere. Per Aspera seems to be a management game about colonizing Mars, but it’s tough to tell exactly what the player will be doing. Valfaris is a brutal 2D action-adventure infused with heavy metal. I’m not quite sure what Genesis Noir entails, but the noir and jazz stylization are interesting.

For a kind of obscure RPG, Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines has built a substantial fanbase. I haven’t had a chance to play the original game yet, but I’m sure fans will be pleased with the reveal of the sequel. The trailer encapsulated the grim style that I hope a vampire RPG would demand.


Heavy hitters: N/A.

Looks good: Watch Dogs Legion.

Piqued my interest: Ghost Recon Breakpoint, Gods and Monsters.

Uncharted territory: N/A.

Ubisoft games are known for being generally repetitive and derivate of each other, but Watch Dogs Legion looks to be one of the most ambitious games of all time. Set in a future surveillance state, the player can recruit characters to join their resistance group. Every single character in the game supposedly can be recruited, has special abilities, and their own backstory. The trailer seemed to insinuate that every character has unique voice lines and their own story, but I am skeptical. The city of London would need at least thousands of people to seem semi-believable, so it is an incredibly ambitious undertaking. Being able to recruit and play as anybody is incredibly unique and attractive, I just hope they can pull it off.

For less ambitious games, Ghost Recon Breakpoint looks like it could be some coop fun similar to its successor Ghost Recon Wildlands. It’s fun to feel like an expert operative tasked with infiltrating and taking down dangerous organization. Gods and Monsters is a cartoony action-adventure game set in ancient Greece. Not much was shown, but I’m always down for large-scale boss fights and ancient mythology.

Square Enix

Heavy hitters: N/A.

Looks good: N/A.

Piqued my interest: Marvel’s Avengers: A-Day, Outriders.

Uncharted territory: Final Fantasy VII Remake.

Square Enix is known for their JRPGs, which I admit are not for me. Most of the conference was saturated with JRPGs, so unfortunately, I did not get much out of this presentation. Marvel’s Avengers: A-Day was not really clear on what type of game it would even be. An on-rails story focused game? A linear beat ‘em up? Or an open world action-adventure like the recent Marvel’s Spiderman? Playing as Thor, Captain America, Black Widow, Hulk, or Ironman is certainly a great hook to sell games, but I hope we get some more substance. Outriders is another game which looks like it could be fun, but really very little details were shown. We know it’s a shooter in a dark setting, that’s about it.

I have never really played a Final Fantasy game. They just never really appealed to me. I have to say; the Final Fantasy VII Remake looks to change my mind. I’m sure dedicated fans of the series are enormously hyped for what is touted as the best game in the series getting a full-scale remake. If a JRPG seems cool to me, it must be doing something right.


Heavy hitters: Animal Crossing: New Horizons, Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild Sequel.

Looks good: Luigi’s Mansion 3, Fire Emblem: Three Houses, Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening.

Piqued my interest: Astral ChainDaemon X Machina.

Uncharted territory: N/A.

Despite Nintendo showing a bunch of exciting upcoming games, I have to say I was a little disappointed overall with their presentation. Most of the games shown have already been revealed. The only big true reveal with the sequel to Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. It seems like the next Legend of Zelda game is a direct sequel and will reuse many characters, areas, and assets. I am extremely excited as I adored Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild so the beautiful style and world of that game is exactly what I wanted. Unfortunately, I think this game is a long way away, as Nintendo didn’t even give a release window. I anticipate 2021 will be when we will get our hands on this game. Animal Crossing: New Horizons is getting released next year and it looks amazing. I have never played any Animal Crossing title, but this one looks to be right up my alley. Building up your island and town from scratch is extremely appealing to me. I don’t know why, but the cozy feeling of building a town and having NPCs come and inhabit is what I am looking for.

For some games that aren’t as high profile, Luigi’s Mansion 3 seems to introduce a bunch of new mechanics to the series. I like the original goofy ghost hunt of the original Luigi’s Mansion, hopefully this game captures the same essence. While I am a huge fan of the tactical Fire Emblem series, Fire Emblem: Three Houses still seems iffy to me. Developers have been shifting away from tactics and deeper into fanservice and JRPGs tropes. Hopefully Fire Emblem: Three Houses can deliver on a quality gameplay experience. The remake of Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening also is looking solid. A faithful recreation of the original with some modernizations. I’m not sold on the overly cutesy art style yet, but I’m sure the game will be great.

As for some games I’m unsure about, Astral Chain looks like it has some potential. Platinum Games titles are always top-tier action thrillers, and hopefully this game can easily fit right in. Daemon X Machina is a giant robot action game, which is something that everybody wants. Both Astral Chain and Daemon X Machina seem like they could be great hidden gems, or complete jank-storms. Both seem a little too “anime-y” for my tastes, but maybe the action will be worth.

Who Won?

For me, Microsoft takes the E3 crown. They had plenty of big-name games to show alongside a slew of indie games. I wish they showed a little more gameplay, but otherwise their conference was phenomenal. Next up is Nintendo, while they didn’t have many new games to show, they gave plenty of details for games I’ve been waiting for. PC Gaming Show also had a good presentation, hopefully all of the indie games they show turn out to be memorable.

On the underwhelming side, Bethesda was fairly disappointing. Arkane Studios and DOOM was really all they had going for them. Ubisoft mostly was pushing their live service games like For Honor and Rainbow Six Siege, and since I don’t care for those games I was bored by their presentation. I’m sure plenty of people love Square Enix and their expansive JRPGs, but it’s just not a genre that I enjoy. Lastly, EA was terrible as per usual. EA’s conference hinged on the fact that they have Star Wars.

All in all, it was a decent E3. I would have liked to see more gameplay instead of cinematic trailers, but I understand why developers choose to save gameplay for later dates. E3 is about rapid-fire trailers, and the best way to catch someone’s eye in 1 to 2 minutes is through intriguing cinematics. Gameplay is better served in 15 or 30-minute demos to show off key features. Regardless, I am hyped for some of the big releases on their way. It should be a phenomenal year for video games.


Borderlands (2009)

In preparation for the anticipated release of Borderlands 3, me and my friend have decided to replay the series. Obviously, we decided to start with the original Borderlands. While I have played Borderlands 2 and Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel, I have never actually played the original game. Apart from being the first game in a wildly popular franchise, Borderlands sparked an entirely new genre. I can respect Borderlands for its innovation and impact on the industry, but the game has not aged incredibly well. Borderlands was hard for me to enjoy after playing the sequels, simply because they are superior in nearly every facet.


The genre which has become known as “looter shooters” is massively popular. Destiny, The Division, and Anthem are recent triple-A games that were spawned by the ideas presented in Borderlands. In the dystopian world of Borderlands, the core gameplay cycle is killing enemies to acquire loot and then using that loot to take on more powerful enemies. It’s a concept that obviously harkens to loot-based RPGs such as Diablo. Borderlands is a first-person-shooter in which the player progresses their character by leveling up and collecting randomized weapons which have a variety of stats and effects. Stats such as damage, fire rate, magazine size, reload rate, and accuracy are randomized based on the level and type of weapon it is. Submachine guns obviously have higher fire-rates than sniper rifles, and a level 15 gun is likely to have higher damage than a level 10. These games also have a large emphasis on multiplayer components. Working together to tackle a boss or battle through a stronghold of adversaries is a core component of looter shooters.


The core attraction of playing a looter shooter as opposed to a traditional FPS is the fun of collecting and trying out new guns. Through enemy drops and opening chests, there is no shortage of weapons for the player to find and experiment with. Aside from just the standard stats and types of guns, Borderlands also includes things like elemental damage. Shields are weak to electricity, health is weak to fire, and corrosive damage weakens armor. Moreover, one of my favorite aspects of Borderlands is how the manufacturers that make the guns contribute to the stats of the weapons. Some manufacturers have guns with low fire rates but high damage, others sacrifice accuracy to increase the fire rate, some make guns with large magazine sizes. I found myself preferring Jakobs and Maliwan weapons, and would specifically hunt down guns of those types. The inclusion of the manufacturers certainly makes the world of Borderlands more believable and the act of looting more engaging.


Borderlands is set on the alien planet of Pandora. This planet is a desolate wasteland inhabited by lowlife raiders as well as few varieties of alien fauna. Pandora contains these ancient alien vaults which are rumored to contain unparallel treasure and powers. As such, fortune seekers from around the galaxy travel to Pandora in droves to attempt to find and access the vault. These opportunists are known as vault-hunters, and that is who you play as. There are four classes you can choose from, each with a unique ability and skill tree to enhance as you progress through the game. As you kill enemies and loot, you gain experience points which are used to enhance your ability or acquire a special bonus. Things like increasing sniper damage, increasing your team’s accuracy, or adding elemental damage to your weapons. The class abilities are key to playing the game and they have fairly short cooldowns that let you turn the tides of battle. You can summon a bird to hunt down prey, or place a turret to hold a chokepoint, or enter a berserker state, or phase-shift in and out of dimensions to avoid damage. The abilities, skill points, and wide variability of guns truly makes Borderlands a unique experience for each player.


While Borderlands as a series has become known for its wacky and zany style of presentation and humor, the original Borderlands is far darker and grittier than its successors. Instead of in-your-face bombastic type humor, Borderlands is much more about darker humor. I actually appreciate this because I feel like the rest of the series goes a little too overboard with its outrageous tone. Unfortunately, I found the world of Borderlands to be incredibly boring and repetitive. Essentially every single area is just a bland wasteland filled with raiders and a couple types of aliens. There are a couple more interesting areas and types of enemies, but they aren’t introduced until the very literal end of the game. The last 10% of the game includes some much-needed variety in environment and enemy types, but the first 90% is just a blur of brown and grey.


The biggest issue that I have with Borderlands is simply that it does not hold up very well. While the graphic novel style of visuals is essentially immune to aging, the gameplay just feels sluggish and unresponsive. I played online coop with a friend, and I had significant hit registration issues. Clean hits that went right through enemies. Sometimes I would shoot an enemy, no damage would occur, then a second later the damage would show up. Moreover, the guns just lacked an “oomph”, everything felt like a pea-shooter. Maybe I’m just spoiled by future games in the series, but Borderlands was far less satisfying to play than its successors. We even had numerous technical issues while playing, the game often crashed, my menus sometimes would not open, the sound and resolution settings would reset themselves. The game even managed to crash my Steam client.


The progression loop of Borderlands is starting a quest, going to the quest location, killing a few bandits or aliens, and then going back to the initial location to receive a reward. This is mostly fine, and is the core of the series. The big issue is that fast-travel is not unlocked until about halfway through the game. There is an absolute ton of just mindless walking or driving back and forth from quest locations. I’m a huge proponent to leaving fast-travel out of games and letting players discover and explore the world organically in many cases, but Borderlands is not one of those cases. The world and level design were so repetitive and bland that I was immensely bored walking from area to area. The story itself was okay, not nearly as entertaining or gripping as later entries to the series. For the most part, the world of Borderlands was carried by its over-the-top characters such as Tannis, Marcus, Dr. Zed, and Claptrap.


While I can appreciate Borderlands for innovating and creating a new genre, I can’t say that I enjoyed my time with the game. Me and my friend rushed through it so we could move onto Borderlands 2 as soon as possible. Borderlands may have been the first looter shooter, but there is no reason to play it over any of its successors. The future Borderlands games are better in nearly every regard, and it is for those reasons that I just could not find the fun in Borderlands. Knowing that there are incredibly similar but far better games in the series hampered my experience with the original Borderlands.