Developer: Ion Lands
Available On: Windows, Nintendo Switch, PS4, Xbox One
Price: $19.99

A realistic drawing of a woman in a black poncho resting against a futuristic vehicle. The background is a cyberpunk city at night. The title Cloudpunk goes across the image, a neon blue sign.

Cloudpunk does what any good cyberpunk game should do: reach into the guts of society, show us what a dystopia looks like, and why we should do all we can in our power to avoid it. In a world where you can be brought back to life in order to pay your debts, when does life truly end? Where does serenity begin?

You play as Rania, a young woman who has just moved to Nivalis, the only city left in existence and one filled with such disarray, it cannot go even twenty minutes without a mass accident. Rania had to leave her home of the Eastern Peninsula, somewhere you can see the sun and sky, where most people are farmers, and automata seem to have more rights to exist than in the city.

Unlike most dystopic and cyberpunk games, Rania is a regular person with no superhuman talents. Everyone can see she’s a foreigner in her walk. They make incorrect assumptions about her as a poor Arab woman, but she takes them all in snarky stride. She’s not a cop, hacker, or bureaucrat. She just wants to survive.

A third-person view of Rania walking through an area at night in the rain. Buildings are lit up with neon signs and there are other pedestrians. Everything is in the blocky, voxel art style.

We meet Rania on her first shift working at Cloudpunk, an illicit delivery company, accompanied by her Automata dog, Camus. She is the child of a woman in debt, so she has left home to try to make some money after the DebtCorp took everything from you, including your mother and Camus’s literal body frame. In the meantime, she has to make do with installing him in her HOVA (flying car).

The job is simple. You get your assignments from a man only known as Control, the voice in your ear. You pick it up. You deliver it. There are only two rules: don’t open the package, don’t ask what’s in it. But an adventure game could never be so simple, could it?

As the night goes on Rania learns that everything isn’t what it seems, whether it’s the rich up in their towers in the Spire, the famous singing their songs for all to hear, or even the gruff old man who gives her all of her assignments. She has to make moral choices, something she didn’t anticipate when signing to work with Cloudpunk, but something expected by Control. He says that most people never make it past their first night on the job, whether that means drivers unable to do the job well or dying in one of the mass accidents is unclear.

The HOVA (vehicle) is driving through a futuristic highway at night, all the cars are flying past. Outside the highway behind a translucent barrier you can see buildings and clouds.

Driving through Nivalis is a delight. After having finished Watch Dogs: Legion, where driving is a nightmare, Cloudpunk was a welcome break. Your HOVA isn’t difficult to maneuver, despite being a flying vehicle, and it has real weight as you try to align yourself with parking lots and gas stations. You can buy upgrades for the HOVA, cosmetic ones like the color of the trail you leave, and functional ones like speed boosts. The vehicle can take quite a bit of damage, but let it take too much and you have to take it to be repaired. None of these simulation elements are stressful though: they merely add to the realism rather than happen so often you can’t progress through the story.

Something I have wanted every game I have ever played to have, but for some inexplicable reason developers always overlook, is done here: nothing is more important than the dialogue and narrative of Cloudpunk, so when you go from one part of the city to another, the dialogue always continues. You never have to worry about missing something as  you are encouraged to keep driving and walking while having your conversations, much like real life.

There are a couple of off-putting aspects of navigation within the game. When you walk around, for some reason you can’t walk in any direction as the camera must always be at Rania’s back. You always have to move the camera manually to have Rania walk properly rather than in a strange side-to-side shuffle. When you’re using stairs (which is rare), the whole screen shakes like a mini earthquake. And despite this being a driving game, you can’t get paths of how to drive places. While I made it everywhere only using my nav point, I didn’t realize until I was ¾ through the game that I had a map I could open. A tutorial on the controls at the beginning would have helped significantly.

A view of an area in Nivalis, many “streets” that cars fly through, and many buildings light up the night.

What Cloudpunk struggles with in the UI, it more than makes up for with its art design. Even when going into the dredges of society, you are wrapped up in its beautiful atmosphere. Its voxel art style serves as another metaphor for seeing every building block that makes up Nivalis and making all characters indiscernible until actually spoken to. The lighting is gorgeous whether coming from apartments, storefronts, or neon signs. It’s rare one gets to truly explore a cyberpunk city in a game, and this one lets you weave through and around all the towering skyscrapers and explore their exteriors. There are merchants, food stands, and nightclubs to go to and pedestrians bustling all through the  city.

You are also able to see the world in a variety of ways, you can walk around and see through Rania’s eyes in first-person mode, zoom out a little for third-person mode, or even zoom out entirely to explore the whole area like a shoebox. You can drive in similar ways, first-person with the windshield wipers always on, careening around corners, or third-person for less motion sickness and the ability to see what’s around and ahead of you.

The soundtrack is designed to perfection with the ever-constant pitter-patter of rain, neverending dystopian advertisements echoing through the streets, and the sound of traffic in the distance or up close. The score by Harry Critchley also adds to the atmosphere, whether racing to get somewhere in time or simply driving around. It’s some parts Vangelis, some parts its own addition to the cyberpunk genre.

The camera zooms in on the futuristic highway as cars fly through it. There are clouds right below the highway. Buildings are on both sides of the highway, neon signs and advertisements light up the sky.

This is an open world game with so many places to drive to, and so many characters you can run into for one-off conversations as you walk around, its city feels truly alive. Along the way you will run into all kinds of characters on Nivalis’s streets, like an android gang that asks what could be more punk and illegal than building playgrounds for children? CorpSec, the corporate conglomerate of this world, only wants things that will make them money—even murder is more legal than something free for kids.

Other times you get fascinating clients like Huxley, an android who is straight out of a pulp noir. He can’t help but talk about everything in the third person, and there is nothing funnier or better written in the game than his dialogue. I felt like I was watching an old school film with him cast as the hard-boiled detective as we untangled a mystery that went deeper than I expected.

Never have I been so surprised by a game set in the future. I come into cyberpunk games expecting one kind of thing, but Cloudpunk’s the first to give us something else and delve into the genre a bit more. And when it’s not doing that, there’s nothing better than just standing, looking around, and hearing Nivalis. You’ll feel infinitesimal in this city that never sleeps.

An elevator view going up, you can see pedestrians walking on walkways, buildings in the distance, an AEROSPACE sign lighting on and off, and more in the cyberpunk city.

Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune

Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune
Developer: Naughty Dog
Available on
: Playstation 4
Price: $19.99

Last year I played Uncharted: Lost Legacy, my first Uncharted game. I enjoyed it so much I wanted to try the previous games. PlayStation Plus offers two free games each month, and January’s was Uncharted: The Nathan Drake Collection. Packed in this collection are three out of the five games in the series, allowing me to finally try them.

Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune is a fine entrance into the series, introducing us to Nathan “Nate” Drake, the self-proclaimed descendant of 16th century English pirate/slave trader/colonialist, Sir Francis Drake. Nate is a treasure hunter as well and has just discovered his ancestor’s coffin, leading him on a chase to find El Dorado. Accompanying him are Elena Fisher, a journalist filming the whole journey for her TV show, and Victor “Sully” Sullivan, a longtime friend and mentor of Nate’s.

With great voice acting, funny dialogue, and good AI, Sully and Elena feel like actual companions on your journey, not animate objects. They can help you, whether it’s lifting each other to reach high spots, joining you in combat (much appreciated when you’re as bad at shooting as I am), or even providing a lighter to move the story along. There are nice touches for added realism with Nate, like how he’ll mutter to himself when he has to jump onto the umpteenth ledge or needs to mentally prepare himself for a wild stunt.

Sully and Nate have their backs turned toward the camera as they look at a large, rusted U-Boat in the jungle. It’s on the edge of a waterfall.

The game is clearly inspired by Indiana Jones. That sequence where the bridge starts breaking and we get a view from the front as we watch it fall apart behind him was straight out of a movie. Complementing these sequences is a dynamic, soaring score that fits the game perfectly. The sound design is well done too, such as when a grenade goes off near Nate, everything sounds muffled.

The remastered graphics were great, especially for a game from 2007. You spend most of your time in the jungle and a bit inside ancient caverns and industrial areas. The jungle locations do become a bit repetitive by the end of the game, but overall there is a nice ambience to it.

Nate’s animations were surprisingly fluid for an older game, with him jumping and gripping onto ledges in different ways, wincing and stumbling when he’s grazed by a bullet, and landing from great heights in a more realistic manner than even some modern games. I later realized the characters felt so realistic because they are motion-captured by their voice actors throughout the series from cutscenes to action scenes.

Nate runs toward the camera holding a gun. He’s in the ruins of a jungle with several people shooting at him.

The gameplay largely consists of platforming and shooting. You’ll spend your time jumping around and climbing walls or hiding behind cover and shooting at people. There’s a discrepancy in the feel of the game between these two forms of gameplay; relaxed and unthreatened platforming versus neverending firefights that kill you repeatedly. Sometimes these fights were too relentless. I would get through one section and then there’d be another, and another, and another. If I died, to add to my frustration, it would restart me from the very beginning. It should at least save a checkpoint after each wave.

Drake’s Fortune was released in 2007, so I understand some of my complaints are likely unfair but I must make them. The controls can be quite clunky at times. I wish they had done some overcorrecting with the platforming as sometimes Nate would miss a jump I intended to make dozens of times in a row.
 On the other hand, he is an unbelievable athlete, jumping to heights no mere mortal could. It may seem unrealistic, but it makes sense in the context of an action-adventure and keeps the game moving without having to get stuck as often as you could in other games.

The jet ski section was a nightmare. Either let me drive the jet ski or shoot the gun, but do not make me do both. I died in that section so many times because I don’t have four hands to be doing so many maneuvers at once. I much preferred it when Elena was driving the jeep and Nate was covering them. I didn’t have to worry about hitting anything while driving and could instead focus on doing what I do best: murder.

Nate drives a jet ski while Elena stands behind him brandishing a firearm. They are surrounded by ruined buildings and palm trees with explosions of fire in the water.

Enemies will attack you in a few ways: shooting, grenades, and melee combat. You have to stay behind cover and usually avoid getting close (unless there’s only one enemy left) because Nate can only take so much damage. You can’t stay in the same place for too long either because enemies will eventually come closer and start flanking you. If your cover is fragile, they can even break past it.

Something unique to Drake’s Fortune that many games could take their cues from is its hint system. Often, characters will guide you to the next step through natural conversation, just in case you’re unsure of what to do next. If you still haven’t solved the puzzle after some time, you’ll be offered a hint instead of being forced to receive one. If you so choose, the camera pans in the direction of whatever you need to interact with or where you need to go and a quick sentence tells you what you need to do.
 I never found the game frustrating in terms of puzzles because if I did get stuck (which wasn’t often), it would help me along. As someone who mainly plays adventure games, I am all too familiar with impossibly difficult puzzles.

In the third act, the story shifts into something completely unexpected and not something I enjoyed. For the first two acts, the story had been fairly grounded in realism, but suddenly there was a curse on the island that was turning people into some sort of zombie creatures. Up until then, I had been thinking it was nice to play a shooting game with no horror elements since that’s usually the kind of game I get roped into playing, but that wasn’t the case after all.

Nate runs along a wall of a decrepit monastery. There are large candelabras on the floor and a chandelier hangs nearby.

The most infuriating sequence for me, to the point that I even had to lower the difficulty, was when Nate and Elena had to outrun these creatures. No matter how many variations I tried of shooting, rolling, and running, I could not get it. The time I did get it was a miracle and through sheer luck. I was just glad the majority of the game wasn’t spent dealing with these creatures.

Something that isn’t atypical to any media is the inclusion of a female character solely to be a romantic interest for the male protagonist. While Nate and Elena never kiss (thankfully), there are classic moments like falling and landing on top of each other and it is implied at the end that something romantic is about to happen between the two. There was also the archetypal older cigar-smoking mentor, Sully, who had some classic old-school misogynist lines but was still supposed to be likeable. These archetypes are common for a reason and they don’t feel out of place with Indiana Jones’s descendent, but they’re still disappointing to experience all the same.

Overall the game is compelling but the weakest of the series. While I’m glad I experienced it once, I wouldn’t play it again. I’ve told others unless you really love shooters or want the basis of the story and its characters for the rest of the series, you can skip it. The later games in the series are so much better than what I thought could be possible after Drake’s Fortune. Still, it was good enough to keep me entertained for its ~8-9 hour runtime.

Nate and Sully face forward, guns ready, looking at the treasure of El Dorado, a large golden figure with a face, and a man standing in front of it. There are lots of skulls and miscellaneous artifacts around the room on the floor and hanging.

Top Games of the 2010s

My favorite games of the 2010s ordered by release date. For some of these, you can click the title to read the full review.

  • Mass Effect trilogy (2007, 2010, 2012)
Commander Shepard is standing holding her hand over her stomach, her arms and face covered in blood, bruises, and scratches. She has a close-shaved head and is looking at a holographic human. Behind her is space.

Getting to play as Commander Shepard is quite the experience. You grow attached to her after three games, the choices she’s made, the relationships she’s formed, and the ways she’s altered the galaxy’s fate. Jennifer Hale did an incredible job voicing her, giving one of the best performances I’ve ever heard. Traversing space has never been as fun to me as in this universe. Despite being a shooter (a gameplay mechanic I generally dislike), the companions are what Bioware does best, and in the second installment is when they truly shine. Everyone has such different personalities, you get to choose whether to help each and every one of them on their personal journeys, and by the end, you really feel you’ve earned their presence or lack of it. Mass Effect really lives up to being a roleplaying game from its morality choices to how you treat the world and those who inhabit it.

  • Dragon Age series (2009, 2011, 2014)
A mage, archer, and two warriors are all fighting a large dragon that encompasses most of the screen. They’re in a forest.

These are the first Bioware games I played because my friends talked a lot about their love of the Dragon Age and Mass Effect, and I figured I’d like them. What I didn’t expect was to enjoy them to the extent that I did. I got the ultimate edition of Dragon Age: Origins for $5, and in one playthrough (including DLC) I spent a little over 100 hours. Well worth it. I got so immersed in the world, the characters, and the story, I got through all of the games over the course of several months. It’s the first series I’ve played where you can have such intimate relationships with characters and choose whether you’re friend or foe. I’m used to games letting you get close with characters, but the relationship is predefined. This may be the most exciting possibility for all games that the series introduced to me.

The world of fantasy is not one I often play, I’ve never much enjoyed period dramas or medieval worlds, but Dragon Age enraptured me. I love the character customization, you can play as a mage (or warrior or rogue) elf (or human or dwarf or qunari), and these choices will affect your origin story, how others treat you, and possible outcomes. There is an unbelievable amount of intricacy in all the details of the world, and no two playthroughs will be the same because you can make so many different decisions.

  • The Walking Dead: Season 1 (2012)
Lee is holding an axe and has one arm on Clementine. He’s angry and she’s cowering, while they’re surrounded by zombies.

This was the first Telltale game I played, upon a friend’s recommendation insisting it was incredible, and I would love it. I have no interest in the comics or TV show, so it was a hard sell, but ultimately I gave in. I had never seen a narrative game like this before, nor a Black protagonist with such nuance (and voiced spectacularly by Dave Fennoy). While the game begins with him on his way to prison, throughout the story we see what an empathetic and caring man he is. His past does come back to haunt him, but we don’t see him solely as the violent act he committed, and this is why he’s one of my favorite characters in any media. How rare is it to see a Black men in a leading role portrayed with realism, flaws, and such kindness? Plus, when the zombie apocalypse happens, we see how dark white people that seem to be sweet as pie can be.

  • Dishonored series (2012, 2016, 2017)
The three covers from Dishonored, Dishonored 2, and Dishonored: Death of the Outsider. The first shows Corvo Attano in his classic skull-like mask, black hooded cloak and pants. His arms are in an X, one gripping a sword, and the other glowing with symbols. The second image shows Corvo with his daughter, Emily. Her face is covered except for her eyes by an elegant handkerchief. She sits on a triangular chair, her left hand glowing blue. Corvo stands to her left wearing an upgraded version of his mask. The third image shows Billie Lurk in the center of her ship. There are dozens of meters behind her. She wears a red jacket, brown pants and gloves, and an eyepatch. The entire image is tinted red.
The three covers from Dishonored, Dishonored 2, and Dishonored: Death of the Outsider.

Before Dishonored, I hated stealth games. This series has quickly shifted my perception of the genre. Now I realize I didn’t hate stealth, I hated poorly done stealth. What’s most fascinating about the series (besides its worldbuilding, story, and characters) is how there are so. many. ways. to solve everything (or not solve, that’s always an option too!) Besides choosing between stealth and violence, you often have multiple solutions beyond that as well. Sure, there are “choice driven” games, but they often result in the same ending; multiple paths all meeting at one. Dishonored shows that you can be making choices from your very first moments until the ending.

9 of the main and side characters are lined up, walking straight at the camera.

Point and click games are usually known for being the best at comedy, but I have to say even years later, this is the funniest game I’ve ever played. The casting is perfect, everyone’s got comedic timing like you haven’t seen, and some of the most lovable robots to exist in media. Tales from the Borderlands utilizes the Borderlands universe to its utmost potential in making a game that none of the originals could ever come close to. This isn’t a shooter, and it’s so much better for it. In writing this, I realize it does something similar to Mass Effect where your choices actually have an effect on who will be there at the end as well, and it’s got some other mechanics that I hadn’t seen before or since in Telltale games.

The startup loading screen, stylized in pixel art. Cadence carries a sword and torch as a ghost is coming towards her.

I have hundreds of hours logged in this game. While I don’t play it often now, years ago I would play it every single day, at least once. It’s a combination of several genres: rhythm games, roguelikes, and dungeon crawlers. What makes it fun is how a friend described it, “you’re thinking in the short, mid, and long term: on the beat, on the level, and on the run.” It’s always rough when you first start playing (it’s been hard for me to convert any of my friends because the struggle is too much for them in the beginning), but it’s such a joy once you start getting the hang of its melody.

  • Life is Strange series (2015, 2017, 2018-2019)
Max and Chloe are kissing as they stand outside in a storm with a tornado behind them.

The Life is Strange games differ so much from Dontnod’s previous games. Set in the seemingly idyllic Pacific Northwest, there are gorgeous natural landscapes to look at, mixed with the uneasiness of The X-Files and Twin Peaks. The first game is even about finding a missing teen girl who was beloved by the town. There’s supernatural elements thrown in as metaphors for growing up and childhood trauma. The prologue in between the first and second games shows us the events preceding the first, letting us meet the teen girl we spent all first game obsessing over. No matter how happy anyone seems, there’s often a darkness underlying their past. The second game continues the thread of following children involved in terrible events and is much more traumatic than the first one (for me, at least, as it focuses on Mexican-American children). It’s not set solely in one town, instead you’re traveling across the coast trying to escape the immediate past. These games have many details in their environments, the characters you play as and interact with, and the story itself making you feel like you are really experiencing what is happening. This is life, and often life is strange.

A fake iPod ad like the ones in the early 2000s is on the left. The player’s chosen username is at the top, Sailor_Chrisy. Underneath, the player can choose an icon for January 2007, ranging from album covers by Beyonce, Mika, and Avril Lavigne to movies, TV shows, and video games like Juno, 30 Rock, and Guitar Hero.

Emily is Away Too has stayed in my consciousness ever since I played it, leading to many late night thought-trains of what my high school and college experiences were like. How could things have been different with the people I knew? Who could I have known but never did? Who were my friends? Who wasn’t? Was my BFF treated badly by her boyfriend? The medium of recreating AIM on your actual desktop is incredibly useful at putting you back in those moments (for a specific set of people who were teens during AIM’s heyday) and adding in pop culture and musical references from the time only immerses you further. If you’re in your twenties or thirties, this is a game well worth visiting, and one you’ll probably end up revisiting.

All the companions stand near the female player character. There is a ghost opposite them. Behind them the clouds are painted orange and yellow, pieces of buildings float in the air, and there’s a large yellow sigil adorning the sky. It looks somewhat like a star with several circles encompassing it. Electricity is at the screen’s edges.

This is a game I revisit every year since it came out, and I’m going to revisit sooner than usual for an easter egg I discovered in the game’s commentary (go to the 9/11 memorial in game on 9/11 in the real world). Wadjet Eye Games is my favorite studio, and Unavowed does what they do best and reminds me why I love point and click adventure games so much. No other genre has such intricate and interesting stories and characters. Sure, other genres may have incredible worlds (although Unavowed‘s urban fantasy in New York City is right up my alley), but the nature of their games doesn’t allow for such detailed stories and characters. Even games with stories and characters I loved like Horizon Zero Dawn are still never going to be able to go as deeply as a point and click. Unavowed makes it even more fun by giving us various companions to go everywhere with, so we don’t have to be alone. We get to hear their interactions, solve puzzles in different ways based on who’s accompanying us, all of which make us that much more invested in the characters.

  • Marvel’s Spider-Man (2018)
Spider-Man is swinging through New York City, he’s looking straight ahead.

I’ll admit, when I hear about a new AAA game, it’s extremely unlikely I’m going to have any interest, and honestly? It’s usually a turn-off. This is a game that made me realize I can’t be so quick to dismiss these kinds of games (I’m still right about my personal assessment for them often, but there are exceptions). I know it’s been said a hundred times before, but the web-slinging mechanic is perfectly executed. How rare is it to want to travel in an open world no matter how many hours you’ve spent in the game? The fact that this game has an achievement for riding the subway (fast travel) shows how underutilized it is and with good reason. Besides that, you can play this game with no prior knowledge of Spider-Man (like me, though that was quickly rectified because of my love for this game) and find the story and characters engaging. It’s fun to fight enemies because it’s not terribly difficult, but you get to take them down in cool ways because of the nature of Spider-Man’s abilities.