Every month, Team Unwinnable puts together short lists of recommended music, books and games. These lists originally appeared in Unwinnable Monthly 93. If you enjoy what you read, please buy the issue or subscribe.
“Twinkling Eye, Part 3,” by Ecstatic Vision
“Less Than,” by Nine Inch Nails
“Our Work Fills the Pews,” by Hot Snakes
“Sad Machine,” by Porter Robinson
“Trying Year,” by Captain, We’re Sinking
“Hurricane,” by Louis Cole
“King of the Beach,” by Wavves
“Steal My Sunshine,” by Len
“The Way You Used to Do,” by Queens of the Stone Age
“The Man,” by The Killers
“Egyptian Reggae,” by Jonathan Richman & the Modern Lovers
“Brought to the Water,” by Deafheaven
“No Light, No Light,” by Florence + The Machine
“The Places We’ve Been,” by Lost Horizons
“Lay of the Land,” by The Fall
“The Same Asylum As Before,” by Steven Wilson
“No Horses,” by Garbage
Selected by Stu Horvath, Casey Lynch, Austin Price, Sam Desatoff, Erik Weinbrecht, Jeremy Voss, Gavin Craig, Sara Clemens, David Shimomura, Melissa King, Ian Gonzales, Khee Hoon Chan, Rob Haines, Matt Marrone, Michael Edwards, Don Becker and someone who definitely isn’t Stu submitting a second song
The Shadow Year, by Jeffrey Ford
Nisemonogtari 01, by Nisioisin
Magician, by Raymond E. Feist
The Changeling, by Victor LaValle
Dune, by Frank Herbert
Hunger, by Roxane Gay
Cat’s Cradle, by Kurt Vonnegut
33 1/3 Series: David Bowie’s Low, by Hugo Wilcken
The House of Binding Thorns, by Aliette de Bodard
The Girl on the Train, by Paula Hawkins
Sick in the Head: Conversations About Life and Comedy, by Judd Apatow
The Show That Never Ends: The Rise and Fall of Prog Rock, by David Weigel
Selected by Stu Horvath, Austin Price, Sam Desatoff, Jeremy Voss, Gavin Craig, Sara Clemens, David Shimomura, Ian Gonzales, Rob Haines, Matt Marrone, Michael Edwards and Don Becker
Secret World Legends – OK, so now that Legends is out of Beta and the Illuminati have called off their NDA spirit, or whatever that was circling my house in the night, I can talk about how much I continue to love the game. The relaunch is mostly the same in terms of story, missions and general structure, but with updated, simplified mechanics. A lot of the MMO-ness that I hated, then grew obsessed with, is gone, replaced with a straight forward set of skill trees (I have mixed feeling about losing my completed skill wheel and all the hours of my life it represents, but 90% of people playing the relaunch either hated that wheel or don’t care; I realize I am the weirdo in this equation).
The upshot is that players can jump in and concentrate on the amazing storytelling without having to stress about level grinding and arcane skill synergies. Best of all, the new balance means folks like me who hate playing videogames online with other people can proceed alone for the most part. I’ve blazed through the first four areas and had to call for assistance only three times (for boss monsters, which are designed to be taken on by groups, to be fair). Queue up “Splendid Isolation,” by Warren Zevon, please.
Planescape: Torment – For all my love of RPGs, I’ve never actually played this one. Right out of the gate, I can see why it’s a classic. The setting and mystery and exceptional, and it might have the most fun dialogue out of any CRPG I’ve played in recent memory. I’ve been running a D&D campaign for the first time and I’m looking for inspiration everywhere. The Mortuary may or may not make its way into the adventure in the near future. It feels good to be hooked on an RPG again.
Uncharted 4 – It’s cinematic; it’s beautiful; it’s very difficult while still being fun. All of the things I’ve come to expect from Naughty Dog’s take on Indiana Jones are present here. Can’t wait to see the increasing levels of craziness while hunting down pirate treasure.
Watch Dogs 2 – I bought this on a whim during one of the holiday sales last year and I decided to get back into it during this current lull in the release calendar. While it’s unbearably cheesy and tries desperately hard to be cool, there’s also something uniquely compelling about it. Certainly worth checking out if it’s on sale, if that’s your sort of thing.
The Summer Sale Game – I’ve mostly been playing the game where I willfully ignore all marketing emails from Steam about their summer sale, while staunchly refusing to open the app at all. Just when I think I’ve beat that boss battle, though, Humble uses their own sale to deliver the killing blow since my resist-buying-all-the-games meter is almost fully depleted. Ah, well. Now I can finally check out Never Alone.
Secret World Legends – I told Stu I would download Secret World Legends. I did that but then never played with him. Download that and play with him so I can play Persona 5 and feel less like a garbage lord for betraying his trust. Injustice 2 is actually pretty fun, by the way.
The Sims 3 – Now that I have a computer that’s not from the low end of 2010 technology, I had fun with the Steam sale and got The Sims 3 since I heard that it’s vastly superior to The Sims 4. I definitely adore the open world setup and am still wowed by the little things. You can read a book on the bed? Advanced, cutting-edge technology right there.
Actual Sunlight – This is a story about a depressed protagonist who is honestly hard to root for: Evan Winter, a soon-to-be middle-aged man who detests himself and hates his job. Yet, he could never summon enough energy to seek self-improvement, like starting on the book he had wanted to write for so long or heading to the gym to become a fitter person. His inertia is frustrating, and his emotions are downright raw and painful to confront. And the ending doesn’t make you feel any better, either.
(Khee Hoon Chan)
Kerbal Space Program – I’ve been meaning to play Kerbal Space Program for years and finally took the plunge this past week. Cue hours of crafting the perfect massively over-engineered rocket, performing delicate orbital maneuvers while muttering something about apoapsis, all culminating in a fiery ball of destruction when my doughy-faced kerbal realizes that I forgot to pack a parachute for the return trip. Astronomical!
Altered Beast (Sega Forever App) – While I had a Genesis back in the day, I never had this game, I’m sure I beat it over at my friend’s house one day in middle school and never looked back. Now I’m trying to beat it on my phone with this glitch-filled version provided by the Sega Forever app collection. Try rising from your grave when the B and C buttons aren’t responding! I’ve got nothing better to do on my daily subway rides.
Fire Pro Wrestling World – Been waiting for this one for about ten years. I’ll just pretend the Xbox 360 version with the avatars didn’t exist.
Nier – After months of dithering I’ve finally managed to get a TV in my own apartment and find time enough to play this and there’s little doubt it was worth the effort. Which isn’t to say Nier is an easy sell: there’s a LOT wrong with the game. The fetch quests are dull as dirt (though easily enough dispatched that they don’t feel too grindy). Most of the early game environments are dull in design and in content. And though it isn’t slow to start, it’s also not exactly quick to start, either: Nier just kind of meanders for a bit, there. What’s brilliant about the game is the strangeness of the world, the restrained but excellent character writing and the brilliant design work. No, wait, even more than that, what’s thrilling about the game is that it doesn’t seem terrified to take some strange risks. Common encounters are generally button-mashing affairs, but boss battles are fascinating: suddenly, the game mixes bullet hell mechanics into the middle of the combat and then throws in some impressive scripted events and cinematics to trick you into thinking that the combat was always this good. At least, it tricks you long enough to hike over to the next boss. Quest progression is similarly interested in experimenting: just because you just finished up two temples right out of Zelda is no guarantee your next quest won’t find you navigating mazes in the form of choose-your-own-adventure vignettes or holding back a city siege. Or creeping your way through a haunted mansion.
I can absolutely see why this sailed under every radar seven years back, but it’s really a shame it did, since when it works it’s absolutely on. I can safely say I look forward to my second time through it (when, my friend promises, things get really interesting), and that I’m now more than convinced that Automata may be the game of the year if Platinum was able to expand on this as well as I know they can.