Downwell Review: A Leap of Faith Worth Taking (PC, iOS, Android)

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As Downwell begins, you find yourself in control of a nondescript white humanoid, lounging in a state of relaxation.

Perhaps he’s lying on the bench, or sitting against a tree, or perched, legs dangling over the edge of a well. Press a button and he jumps to life. You can hang around at the top of the well as long as you’d like, but you’ll find there’s nothing to do, nothing with which you can interact.

Downwell never explicitly tells you, “Jump into the well to begin the game” but you know that’s what you have to do. I hope it’s a leap of faith you’ll take, because Downwell is one of the best – and most unappreciated – games of 2015.
Downwell22 Continue reading Downwell Review: A Leap of Faith Worth Taking (PC, iOS, Android)

PC Gaming: The Return of the Couch

Until recently, local multi-player gaming – meaning playing games with your friends, on your couch – had become almost the exclusive domain of the videogame console. Have friends over and looking to game? Grab your Playstation, XBox, or Nintendo. This isn’t to say that PC gaming isn’t multi-player focused, but rather that the expectation there was that players were battling online, not against their friends.

In a nutshell: PCs were for the desk, consoles for the living room.

A number of factors have started to change this viewpoint, so much so in fact that some of the best local multi-player games to come out recently have been on the PC, not the console. With Valve pushing couch PC gaming with their Steam Big Picture mode, Steambox initiative, and Steam Link streaming box, I expect this trend to continue for the foreseeable future. The ever-shrinking form factor of the PC now lets PC gamers pack components that far exceed the capability of today’s consoles into a console-esque form factor.

If you already have a PC or a PC streaming device connected to a common area in your home where you can game with friends, you may be looking for some games designed to play with friends, perhaps with a range of gaming experience.

Even if you don’t, though, you may be surprised with what you can do even with non-gaming PCs.

Today, I’ll give you four of my picks for the most enjoyable competitive local multi-player PC games, including:

  • Starwhal
  • Towerfall: Ascension
  • Lethal League
  • Nidhogg

Continue reading PC Gaming: The Return of the Couch

HP Stream 11: Minecraft, and Additional Thoughts

NOTE: As of October 2015, HP has “upgraded” the HP Stream 11 to the newer, Intel N3050 Celeron processor. Please see my review, here, for details.

Last week, I bought an HP Stream 11 and wrote a first impressions and review of the device. I did it partially because I had a sudden and temporary need for a cheap, light, long-lasting Windows laptop, and partially because I was just very curious how it would compare to similarly equipped Chromebooks, especially the Acer C720.

As it turns out, the review I posted has been one of my more popular blog entries, probably because there hasn’t been much coverage of this laptop among the mainstream press. That isn’t surprising to me: a $200, oddly colored low-end device isn’t exactly sexy writing material. Yet, there’s clearly a lot of interest in this computer (and similar releases by Asus and Acer). I figured I’d give some additional follow-up for people thinking about buying the computer this holiday season, whether for personal use or as a gift.

In brief, I’m shocked with how much I like this computer. The keyboard is very comfortable and after a week of use, I feel like the screen is just a tiny bit better than the Acer C720 due to slightly better viewing angles. The screen is still pretty low-end though, to be clear. I’ve worked out how to use the trackpad better, but find myself using a mouse whenever possible. And while my three year old son loves the color, I’d be a bit embarrassed pulling out this laptop on a business flight surrounded by Macbook Air owners.

And yet… I love how light this computer use and how long the battery lasts, even in performance mode. Web browsing in Chrome has some slowdown but is perfectly serviceable. Compared to Chromebooks, which I’ve been using for most of my non-tablet web consumption and interaction for the past twelve months, it is nice to be able to use the Windows 8 Snipping Tool again, and be back to just opening up Steam instead of having to sideload Ubuntu every time, or to have printer functionality that works like it should.

For the average consumer looking for a second computer, I still think an Acer C720 is a terrific purchase, but if your second computer needs to have full Windows functionality, this is actually a very easy recommendation: Buy an HP Stream 11. With Office 365 for a year and 1 TB of Cloud Storage plus a $25 Windows Store giftcard, you get a ton of goodies with your laptop. Just do yourself a favor and pick up a decent-speed SD card for additional storage space because the 20GB usable space on this thing disappears in a hurry. I suggest an SD card over a USB Flash Drive because, and kudos to HP for this, it uses a full-size SD card slot and it fully loads into the computer.

If you’re like me, you have other questions: what else can I do with this computer as far as entertainment?

Let’s start with one of the big questions: Minecraft.

“But Can it Run Minecraft?”

Continue reading HP Stream 11: Minecraft, and Additional Thoughts

Wolfenstein: The New Order Review – A Surprising Rebirth

The original Wolfenstein 3D on PC occupies a special place in my personal pantheon of gaming. Growing up, we weren’t allowed to have gaming consoles in our house – a problem I rectified as soon as I had a job and a car and could buy my own without permission – but we were allowed to play games on our family PC. When my brother and I were small children, this meant playing Commodore 64 games, but as we got older this expanded to Sierra and LucasArts adventure games, and eventually, to Wolfenstein 3D.

Given a somewhat limited ability to actually purchase games, Shareware games made up a big part of our catalog, and we’d often play the free parts up to the pay wall (for games that had one) over and over again. I can’t remember how many times I played the same levels on Wolfenstein 3D, but I  can tell you that when I played the “hidden” level in Wolfenstein: The New Order (an Easter Egg that has you replay the first level of Wolfenstein 3D) that I knew where all the secret pushwalls still were, 22 years later.

Wolfenstein 3D was, in its original incarnations, pretty much a story-free, visceral shooter, widely considered the game from which all other FPS games followed. In a world of regenerating shields, co-op campaigns, multiplayer supremacy, can Wolfenstein rise again?

If nothing else, it sure looks prettier these days.

2014:

wolfenstein pretty

1992:

wolfenstein 1992

Continue reading Wolfenstein: The New Order Review – A Surprising Rebirth

Steam Summer Sale – Sunday, 6/22 Recap, HP14 Woot! Offer, HumbleBundle Audio Books

Good afternoon!  Today just a quick recap of the games on sale as part of the Steam Summer Sale as of 1 PM today, 6/22/14 along with a couple other deals happening now from Woot! and HumbleBundle.

Steam Summer Sale

Battleblock Theater – $3.74 (75% off)

This game has been out for some time now on XB360 but is a more recent release on Steam. By the creators of Castle Crashers, it is a somewhat similar game but has far more emphasis on puzzles, platforming, and humor. It features local and online multiplayer and a TON of content for the price.  Strongly recommend it at this price.

Borderlands 2 – $4.99 (75% off) / Game of the Year Edition $9.99 (75% off)

First, please note that the Borderlands 2 Game of the Year (GOTY) edition is ALSO on sale for 75% off, making it $9.99 – and that is DEFINITELY the one to buy, as for $5 more you’re getting an absurd amount of additional content. The one on the front store page is just the game itself.

If you haven’t played Borderlands 2, it is basically the Diablo/Torchlight of FPS games, though Borderlands 2 has more story and humor than the first. The shooting mechanics themselves are still a bit lacking in impact but I loved this game and highly recommend it if you haven’t played it. Definitely playable solo but far better with 2-4 player online co-op.  For $10, if you have one or more friends you can talk into buying this as well, buy it.  This is the cheapest price I’ve ever seen on this game.

Continue reading Steam Summer Sale – Sunday, 6/22 Recap, HP14 Woot! Offer, HumbleBundle Audio Books

Transistor Review: Function Over Form

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Before I talk about Transistor, I find it necessary to talk about Bastion, because my feelings about one directly inform my opinion of the other. If you absolutely can’t stand the idea of having to read a little bit about Bastion, skip ahead to “Transistor: Overview” down below.

Revisiting Bastion

 

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I played Bastion as part of the XBox Summer of Arcade promotion in 2011, and before the first level was over, I was in love. I obviously wasn’t alone, as the game’s sales have exceeded two million copies as of this year across multiple platforms including Windows, XBox 360, and iOS.

The game’s setting, a sort of post-apocalyptic western/steampunk/fantasy hybrid, is exceptional. While the graphics are basic, the art style and execution of the game’s visual design is superb, and in fact this is exactly the type of game that will still look good ten years from now.

The voice acting by Logan Cunningham is in the upper echelon of all such work across the canon of videogames.

And, the music by Darren Kolb is outstanding. This is a game with songs you absolutely will remember after the game is over. There’s a haunting but beautiful thread that runs across many of the tracks, and it has a musical style that would not be out of place in the anime Trigun, which itself was a sort of Western/Steampunk hybrid, or perhaps Firefly.

 

 

The only area where one might say Bastion was average?  Gameplay and mechanics.

Bastion is a competent, but relatively shallow, Action/RPG hybrid with more emphasis on action. There’s nothing wrong with how the game plays, but neither is there anything new or particularly exciting.

  Continue reading Transistor Review: Function Over Form

Steam In-Home Streaming on an HP14 Chromebook

Today, a very brief guide on how to set up in-home streaming using Steam’s service, which recently came out of beta.

In order for this to work, you need the following:

  • A computer running Windows, OS X, or Linux to act as the host; this is typically going to be a more powerful PC and should be connected to the internet via a Wired connection.
  • A computer running Windows, OS X, or Linux to connect to the host computer; for our purposes, we’re going to be using an HP14 Chromebook running Ubuntu 14.04
  • A sufficiently fast network connection for both devices; I’ve been able to get this working at 50 Mb download / 25 Mb upload, but if I run much slower things start to lag*
  • In order to run Ubuntu on your Chromebook, you need to have Crouton installed or have set your Chromebook to dual-boot into Ubuntu

If you have a PC to act as the host and have a Chromebook, but haven’t installed Ubuntu on it yet, see here for instructions on how to get Ubuntu and Steam running on your Chromebook.  At this point I recommend installing Ubuntu 14.04 as it is fully compatible with Crouton.

Continue reading Steam In-Home Streaming on an HP14 Chromebook

Deals! 5/26/14 (PC Games, Electronics)

Happy Memorial Day!

Some good deals are expiring today, let’s take a look.

Games!

Amazon has a spring PC sale going, with some flash sales, some deals through 5/31, and some set to expire today.  Let’s take a look at the ones that are about to end, as there are some good ones:

  • Crysis Trilogy $24.99 (Includes DLC)
  • Dead Space Franchise $17.49 (Includes some DLC for Dead Space 3)
  • Mirror’s Edge $4.99 (Includes DLC)
  • Syndicate + Saboteur $4.79
  • FF VII $5.99
  • FF VIII $5.99

Continue reading Deals! 5/26/14 (PC Games, Electronics)

Deals! 5/19/14 (PC Games, Electronics)

If you’re looking for some new PC games, go over to HumbleBundle and start at the store page…

Games!

It is actually almost over now, but HumbleBundle has been running an awesome Spring sale on PC games for the past week and a half. While it looks like the Flash sales are over, they brought back a ton of the better sales for a final day.  Check these out:

  • Batman: Arkham Origins $8.99
  • Far Cry 3 Deluxe $9.99
  • Rogue Legacy $4.99
  • Outlast $4.99
  • Prison Architect $11.99
  • Kerbal Space Program $16.19
  • Tomb Raider GOTY $7.49
  • Monaco $3.74
  • Papers, Please $4.99
  • Octodad: Dadliest Catch $8.99
  • Halo: Spartan Assault $2.49
  • Shadow Warrior (2013) $9.99
  • Risk of Rain $4.99
  • FTL Advanced Edition $6.66
  • Mercenary Kings $9.99
  • Broforce $13.49
  • Kentucky Route Zero $12.49
  • Chivalry: Medieval Warfare $6.24
  • Nidhogg $9.99
  • Space Hulk $7.49
  • Scribblenaughts  Unmasked $4.99
  • Metro: Last Light Completed Edition $13.32

Continue reading Deals! 5/19/14 (PC Games, Electronics)

Deals! 4/14/14 (PC Games, Tablets, Movies)

Some quick specials today:  Games, Kindle Fire tablets, and Movies…

Games!

Green Man Gaming (GMG) has a week long sale with new specials each today.  Highlights from today:

  • Tomb Raider GOTY Edition $7.49
  • Arkham Origins $9.99 (Season Pass $4.99)
  • Injustice: Gods Among Us Ult. Edition $12.49
  • Final Fantasy VII  $5.99
  • Final Fantasy VIII $5.99
  • Scribblenauts Unmasked $7.49

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Continue reading Deals! 4/14/14 (PC Games, Tablets, Movies)