Backlog: In from the cold edition

Happy New Year! Brrrrrrr. It's cold out there. It hasn't snowed at all in Portland this year, but it has been frigid around here. Cold enough to make streets a little slick and freeze car locks if you're parking outside. It's kind of sad that we didn't get a last-minute snowfall to provide a true White Christmas, but considering the insanity that happens whenever Portlanders have to drive in the snow, it probably saved millions in insurance claims.

It's also been cold enough to stay inside and play some games, which we've been doing! Nick has (shockingly) kept on playing Minecraft, Doug is still living out sports fantasies, and Aaron has shared the joy of Civilization V. So, without further ado, we present the first Backlog of 2011.

Nick

In between the twinges of guilt for still not having a steady job and the surprising amounts of reading and socializing I've been doing, I've managed to squeeze in a little unadulterated fun in the form of some video-based gaming entertainment.

Almost all of that time was spent with Minecraft, unsurprisingly. If you already thought I was a lunatic for evangelizing it, it'll probably only alienate you further that I have almost finished hollowing out an entire goddamn mountain and filling it with lava. It's true — my volcano lair is almost complete. And thanks to our brand-new subway and highway systems, getting around our server is surprisingly efficient. I've also broken ground on a more artistic work, but I'm not ready to share it just yet. Picture Mount Rushmore but, um, not okay for children.

Anyway! Moving right along...

I also finished up the second half of Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands, and I walked away satisfied if a bit let down. I was a big fan of the original Sands trilogy (if you ignore the flagrant, hyper-masculine stupidity of the second game's presentation), but I also happened to love the colorful, vibrant Prince of Persia reboot released in 2008. Because of its lackluster sales figures, I assume, Ubisoft opted to release a game that's, well, basically The Sands of Time all over again. And while the platforming is clever and the combat is satisfying, The Forgotten Sands lacks the distinct charm and satisfying story arc present in The Sands of Time. It's a shame it couldn't quite tap the zeitgeist yet again, but it's still a satisfying return to form.

Finally, I began playing VVVVVV, the spike-ridden, gravity-inverting indie platformer with a (if I dare say it) hella thumpin' chiptune soundtrack and some deviously addictive platforming. It's five dollars, and it's on Steam, and it's great. If that's not a good enough recommendation, I don't know what is.

Aaron

Work burns a lot of time during the day. It's not like I'm just realizing that now, but I definitely can't believe my weekend passed me by (my "weekends" fall in the middle of the week on this current schedule). I limited my gaming time to properly address all the other facets of my now-busy life; however, I had enough compulsion to achieve two very important gaming feats. I beat Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood, and I convinced my girlfriend to purchase Civilization V after introducing her to the game late one night this week.

AssBro (as I really like to call it [screw you, I'm mature]) ended just as tersely as AC2 did. The suspense and drama and wacky sci-fi elements make for a sometimes confusing but altogether wonderful plot, and I can't wait for the inevitable full-fledged sequel.

Now regarding Civ V, I feel proud that I convinced a quasi-gamer to devote her attention to a well designed, albeit hardcore, strategy game. Normally she prefers, but doesn't limit herself to, games like platformers, Mario titles and the Banjo-Kazooie series. As we mentioned in our GOTYs, Civ V is accessible to new players while keeping its most beloved and obsessive-compulsive elements intact. So it's not really a stretch that my girlfriend wound up enjoying Civ. It's incredibly well made, and she's a very strategic person in her own right. However, what's most amazing is that I haven't even purchased the game yet myself!

She beat me to owning a game I, by all accounts, should already have in my library. That's a first.

Doug

First and foremost, I've been playing the I Need To Find A Real Job game. Life's hard out there for a broke master's degree holder, which is why I need a j-o-b! Shoot me a line at doug@siliconsasquatch.com if you want to hook a brother up with a good job.

Base pandering aside, I have indeed been playing video games during this holiday break for the site. Inspired partially by our Game of the Year discussions, I've picked back up my second save in Mass Effect 2. God I love this game. The writing and crafting of characters remains fantastic. I've played through the Shadow Broker and Stealing Memory DLC packs, and while I like seeing the on-disc content a second time, getting something fresh is a different experience. Getting a second glimpse of the game and the missions is like watching a good movie the second or third time — now, I'm looking to judge the execution of the storyline instead of being surprised by what unfolds. The options unlocked by the Shadow Broker DLC are really fascinating if you geek out on the codexes already in the game, but I'm a little let down that Kasumi doesn't have the sort of conversation options the on-disc characters have. Ah well, downloadable content isn't perfect yet.

Another game on our Game of the Year top 10 was NBA 2k11, which remains awesome. I've continued to spend most of my time playing games in my fantasy drafted Trail Blazers squad (truly a fantasy as Kevin Durant is in black and red) and leading them to the top of the Western Conference. I think I've realized why I like playing through sports games in this manner: Dynasty modes, now, are able to facilitate the sort of narrative arc that happens in real life. Which teams will be good? What's the dynamic on your team? What player is making their skills felt in the league, both on your team and on others? What teams are your nemesis? This is how seasons develop in real life, and there's a parallel to the sorts of narrative strings that appear when playing world-building games like Civilization. The stories that come out of Civ playthroughs hit the same high points — this opponent civ was an asshole; I struggled to establish my economy; I got some lucky breaks early on and that set my cities up well for the rest of the game.

See, sports gamers and those who look down on us as dumb jocks, we're not THAT different after all!

Formula 1 2010 has also been getting some good time because I've closed in on (and won) the F1 Driver's Championship. The game more actively cultivates that sort of narrative and does a pretty good job for a first-run of the game; I've moved from a mid-pack team to Ferrari, and now will be going to McLaren for my third season. Can I defend my title? It's high time I moved up to the highest difficulty, so that will make it more difficult. The game's far from perfect, but I'm the right kind of person (racing gamer, huge F1 racing fan) to really enjoy what's there. Hopefully F1 2011 will bring along some improvements.