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There ought to have been some kind of note to say that the software wasn't quite up to the task. I'm not sure if this was super easy, or so hard I didn't really solve it. If the objective was to get one correct solution to the puzzle, I finished faster than Tuesday or Wednesday. Pretty damned impressive. I've solved a lot of puzzles with impressive construction feats that left me cold from a solving experience, but this wasn't one of them.

Yes, a few clues are awkward out of necessity, but that wasn't enough to detract from the impressiveness of the construction and how it actually supported solving the puzzle. But that was strange. Oh, brother. Now, multiply that by about half the number of clues, and my solve was chaos. As I started enforcing the letter requirements on the theme clues, I slipped and started conserving wrong letters elsewhere in the grid. Puzzle fatigue. The 3 tiled answers each have 3 anagrams. Recluing is trivial, as it turns out, due to the grid design. That's special. Regardless, 2-for-2 since moving to Puzzazz.

Wow, just wow! What a debut! Relatively easy puzzle except Rex for the middle if you don't count the time it took to figure out all the permutations. I ran out of margin space. Nice to see DQ back. Liked it a bunch. Liked this a lot.

Guess 12 Tricky Word Puzzles that'll Stretch Your Brain - 1

My goofiest answer before I got the solve was for 16A: "Showed one's support, in a way. At swimming practice today, I talked to a couple of senior geologists who work at the U. Geological Survey Menlo Park , and asked them if they knew any self respecting seismologists who would say anything remotely like that. They said, "No. In retrospect I wish the reveal had been less revealing, but I might not have seen the full glory of the puzzle then.

I take it back. Same clues work for all permutations. That's why the cluing seemed so strange and why this took me so long to solve. In a word, awesome. As a scrabble degenerate, I found this great all over. Knew that OFL was a hater, but he still gave it a tepid thumbs up. I think that is a ringing endorsement. Liked the shoutout to Acme. Even EEL didn't bother me that much. Sorry Ellen. Just want to say!!!!!!!!!!

The evolution of the Schrodinger puzzle continues. Weird grid layout, and very segmented.

But multiple Schrodinger squares, all over the place, and they work. Fun Thursday is back, and how Thanks K. I loved this. Working out the three solutions each for the three acrosses and realizing that the crosses were likely to be a bit sketchy -- most fun non-rebus Thursday ever. I thoroughly enjoyed it. True, it was easier than a typical Thursday, but I think the theme justified it. I liked playing around with the theme answers to see each one's three possibilities and the different crosses.

Once I saw that, it was pretty fun working it out. Easy especially if you stopped at one solution which I did. Great job by KW and DQ. Just a quick hello to congratulate debut constructor Kacey Walker and veteran David Quarfoot on this amazing puzzle, and to call your attention to Hayley Gold's webcomic about it. I was thinking about how to put this puzzle into some kind of perspective. The Election Day puzzle is, quite justifiably, legendary. Well, we can't go back in time, but are any of my constructor friends game enough to try this as a 25th anniversary tribute, a shade under three years from now November ?

I laughed when I got the answer to 20A Like the rightmost elements.


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It was so-o-o-o not what I was thinking. I even considered putting my doves in a COTt first. Rex May not like scrabble, but 32D loves it so that was a nice inside joke. Finally the light dawned. I'm trying to post from my phone--hoping for the best! NOBLE gases, like helium, neon, argon, etc. Halogens, like fluorine, chlorine, bromine, etc. I wonder how many solvers were thinking politics rather than chemistry with that clue. I think I'm in the Rex camp. I don't know I can imagine this was a BEAR to construct - maybe to just be able to do it?

I'm so confused. Kudos to the minds that come up with convoluted ways to make a Thursday impressive. Wow, most impressive. And fun! Rex, I'm beginning to think you're one of those people who would complain even if they hung you with a new rope! After I put in Worried, desired and gardens I didn't look for the other solutions. Lazy, I guess. Interestingly the NYT site didn't require the rebuses in order to play the little jingle at the end Like I said, since I got the little jingle at the end, I just figured I guessed right as to what the correct anagram was I wish the applet wouldn't have allowed me to go on I would have liked to have been forced to find the alternatives on my own.

Oh well George Barany--D'oh! Thanks for setting me straight. I had a feeling halogen wasn't right, but didn't let that stop me. By the way I really enjoyed your "40th worst crossword puzzle in the world! I couldn't disagree with Anonymous at and Rex more. I loved solving this with my first anagram answer, and then going back and seeing what changed if I used a different anagram.

I don't think you need to be a Scrabble fan to enjoy this. Any regular reader here could predict that Rex was gonna have issues with this one. I expected much worse than he gave today! Exquisitely awesome, elegant and mind-blowing! This is a "trick" puzzle that doesn't feel gimmicky or forced Kacey Walker and David Quarfoot, you have set the bar for all to attempt to jump over. Good luck to them! Too bad you didn't get SKIS first as that slow down soured you on the whole puzzle.

I can't say enough about this one When I google this, I get 20, hits, but they all seem to be misspellings of garden. When I google "define gargen", it assumes I misspelled garden. I play way more Scrabble on my tablet every day than I should. Makes up for that horrible puzzle on Tuesday. I am so confused and that is due to this offering. So on with the cranky pants. Hey, at the rate the sales are going Santa will owe me money.

Liked it and impressed by the construction but was not about to make 27 copies and solve 27 puzzles. I wonder what Freud would say. Um, I'm going to have to, uh, disagree. Didn't really like the puzzle. I think the complexity of the concept interfered with the quality of the puzzle. At least it did for me.

Not a Scrabble guy so that may be part of it. When it snows, one puts skis on your airplane. Not skids. Old biplanes had tailSKIDs to help slow them on turf runways. SE corner took me forever. I can never remember the Super Bowl winner a week after the big game, so 15 yrs is always going to be a struggle. Who considers a plane a vehicle? I mean that's gotta be a stretch of the definition to make the clue for 25D work.

Worried, derides, ganders. Loved this puzzle, I very much agree with Molyshu. Lots of erasures for me, but enjoyed the solve. Most of my trouble came from finding an anagram that isn't - instead of "derides" I started out with "reddies". The coffee hadn't kicked in yet, I guess, but the idea that the word I was thinking of was "readies" didn't strike me until I got "Sis". Again, congratulations to Kacey and David. Mighty impressive puzzle, and tremendous fun to solve. My favorite type of puzzle is one in which after moments of "Huh?

This then was a doubly satisfying puzzle for me: one that gave me great pleasure figuring out, and admiration for the cleverness afterwards, whether I liked SCRABBLE or not. No torture whatever in any one of them. This may have been a Rorschach test. I'm no psychoanalyst. Wow it's late! Gotta run. I liked this a bunch. I didn't think it was conceited at all - merely impressive. ANd that's coming from someone who things anagrams are a great boor. In fact, in honor of that, I changed my avatar Have I mentioned lately how I hate providing free labor for a money-making endeavor of google's?

Not to mention, I feel like I am aiding and abetting a privacy invasion each time I help them reveal to marketers everywhere some poor soul's home address SKID trivia: "Skid Road" was a term used by loggers for the paths they would slide or roll logs along on their way from the hills to seaports, and is often considered the source for the term "skid row" as a description of a down-and-out neighborhood. Does that mean a log pulled behind a team of oxen is a "skid"? Also, could someone please elucidate what was "special" about the grid, as a few of you have said, that enabled this construction feat?

Was it forcing the anagrammed words to either start or end their respective crosses?? Too much of a good thing.


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I'm in the "impressive construction not fun to solve" camp. Not a rebus puzzle - there is only one letter per square. Let's keep our jargon straight, people. It's important, after all. And don't forget the umlaut. Tita - check out my late link yesterday. I predict just as many spellcasters as ever. Totally flummoxed by wanting the "vehicle" to be a truck or a car. Those are all run of the mill stumbles. The anagram bit putting 12 squares in play - too much. It has the same effect for me as someone with too many accessories, a TEEN with too many tats and piercings, a craft beer that blends too many styles.

Just too too. Tita - Twelve downs have clues that work for two words, allowing for 27 "correct" solutions as clued. Elaine2: AcrossLite apparently wants the alternative letters entered in rebus mode -- and apparently in a specific order. I couldn't be bothered. Great puzzle! I don't see why one would be against it just because you're not a Scrabble. Yes, talking to you, Rex. Just let work as an anagram puzzle and ignore the Scrabble references. Put me in the "Wow! Happy Pencil on A-Lite. I went back through and found an error.

Still no MHP. I never got MHP because Elaine2 this puzzle was beyond A-Lite's capability, but I did sit back and admire the elegance of the thing for a few minutes before coming here. I say again, Wow!! Hey All! Unlike yesterday, I thought this was a cool puz. Figured out the three permutations of the letters first, then solved rebus-style. So my grid ended up looking like Rex's. I put in the common letters as regular letters, then rebi'ed the ones that could change.

Turned out, there were four pair of squares that could only have two letters in them, therefore I was able to see both the down answers. Hope that made sense! Also like Scrabble! Wondered at first why grid was so segmented. Now I know! Cool puz, executed well, clean fill. Put me squarely in the didn't enjoy, admired in retrospect after having it explained to me category.

I weight the two aspects of a puzzle experience I just throw out the 0. I knew something was up, hidden behind the scenes, as the puzzle couldn't possibly have been published had there not been. With DQ as one of the authors, I knew this couldn't be, but there it was.

I just had too much of a sour taste in my mouth to be bothered to figure out what the gimmick was. I'm with Rex on this one. Very impressive as a feat of crossword construction, but not a very fun solve. For an example of a puzzle that fits both of those criteria, look no further than Ben Tausig's AV Club puzzle this week. Though the two eight-stacks are very nice, as well as the symmetry of the two theme answers that lie therein. Any chance that this puzzle is presaging a Quarfoot themeless on some upcoming Friday or Saturday? That would be a very welcome sight. Forgot to add Casco - Your Myers-Briggs reference made me smile.

Does that mean you are an ISTP, too? AliasZ: Oddly, the first time I opened these comments, your comment did not display, hence my comment. But I reopened the comments and your comment displayed. So ignore my comment. Interesting solve, much different than usual. I had a feeling we would get a rebus today, which can be hell on a pen-solver, so I looked over the clues before writing anything in.

That enabled me to figure out what was going on beforehand. The fun therefore became reading the clues for the 12 Schrodinger squares -- all of which worked quite well in my view. I wouldn't want to solve puzzles this way very often, but today it was fun. I agree with Norm in that I see no connection between one's opinion of Scrabble and one's opinion of this puzzle.

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Great Thursday! What an impressive piece of work! Even before coming up with clues that lead to two different words, the constructors found three sets of seven letters each having three anagrams. And the three anagrams each had their vowels in the same position. I was way impressed. I thought it was a lot of fun.

My only quibble: While a "rotary" is something a lawyer might have called on and a very senior lawyer, these days , a "notary" is not a thing, but a person. You need a Notary Public to authenticate deeds and affidavits. But I just knew Rex would be a little miffed. We ordinary mortals only had to solve the puzzle once at least on paper.

He had to come up with up to 27 different solutions. Impressive piece of construction, but in the end the words are not very interesting, something I find important. Nice pairing of shucks and oyster. I love Klei's angular art, and it's miraculous that the team were able to build such a tight and nuanced tactics game with procedurally generated offices. As with Into the Breach, Invisible, Inc. You can see their sight lines clearly and judge their intentions.

Your main decisions come down to your use of power points to hack systems. You can disable alarms or unlock doors to access tantalisingly placed upgrade terminals. Do you grab your objective and flee before security arrives, or take a gamble for an upgrade that might make future missions a lot easier? Evan: Pure co-op calamity with a deceptively cheerful art style.

You will never yell "I need lettuce! Samuel: So enjoyable to pick up, then appallingly difficult to master as you chase those three star ratings. If only I could take it less seriously—me and my partner had to stop playing because I was treating it like a part-time kitchen job. It's the definition of easy to learn and bloody impossible to master. I used to think hexagons were fine. Perfectly respectable shapes. Maybe not as fun as parallelograms, which are basically drunk rectangles, but pretty good overall.

Now I've played Super Hexagon I hate them. They give me a rash. Terrible shapes. To hell with hexagons. Phil: Before writing this paragraph I fired up Super Hexagon for the first time in five years, and after only a few tries I was already pushing up near my best times. This is the kind of game that sears itself into your subconscious; burrowing deep down into your muscle memory just waiting for you to return. As a shortform arcade game it's practically perfect—a pulsating, rotating, constantly shifting assault of shapes and sounds with an instant restart that has you back in the action before the voiceover can finish saying "game over".

Samuel: The facial animations really date BioWare games, but Mass Effect 2 is still the best at showing darker, more interesting sides to its dense sci-fi universe. Maybe it's time for another trilogy replay. Andy: The greatest ensemble cast in RPG history. The idea of recruiting the galaxy's most notorious warriors and criminals is a brilliant excuse to gather up a motley crew of weird, flawed, interesting people, and I cared about all of them. Tim: Hearthstone is in a funny spot. The arrival of a tournament mode later this year may do that, but despite an atypically diverse meta, I've felt my desire to grind the ladder wane.

Regardless, for now Hearthstone remains peerless in terms of the quality and polish of the experience. Andy: GTA 5 is one of the most lavish singleplayer experiences you can have on PC, with impeccable production values, superb mission variety, and a wonderfully vibrant city. It's massive, but I've finished it three times—that's how much I love being in Los Santos. Samuel: I change my mind about GTA Online every few months, but the fidelity of the world is unbeaten.

I adore the original heists, and I've had a lot of fun playing the game with other people. I've seen those streets so many times now, though, and am desperate to play whatever comes next in the series. Or, you know, they could bring Red Dead to PC. Phil: Whatever you think about GTA Online relationship status: it's complicated , that first set of multiplayer heists are among the best co-op experiences you can have on PC. The way they divide your team of four into smaller groups, each performing a specific task that slowly draws everyone together for a single, action packed finale is—when you successfully pull it off—tense, exciting and memorable.

Joe: GTA Online is a shop window, and few games let you observe other players' wares with such impact. Seeing that new car, aircraft or chopper hurtling towards you makes you want it—which makes grinding to get it less of a chore. Tom: It's Relic's best game and frankly still one of the best real-time strategy games ever made. Jumping into a skirmish against the AI, it holds up today as well as it did at launch, which is a testament to the quality of the art and sound direction, and the success of Relic's squad-based take on unit control.

The expansions are decent, but I still relish the purity of Company of Heroes' asymmetrical core matchup. The US has a slight numbers advantage in the early infantry stages of a battle but the Axis forces can bring halftracks to the mid-game and elite tanks into the endgame. A few games have tried to imitate Company of Heroes over the years, but none have really come close. Andy: Gordon Freeman awakes from stasis to find Earth transformed into a dystopian hellscape by an invading alien force.

Valve's influential FPS is still fantastic, particularly its eerie, understated atmosphere. The Combine are genuinely unnerving antagonists, but they didn't anticipate going up against a mute physicist who can yank radiators off the wall and launch them at high speeds. Chris: A linear FPS but one that makes you feel as if you're finding your own path through it, rather than being shoved along rails by the developers. And the gravity gun is still the most enjoyable multitool in games: perfect for solving physics puzzles, playing catch with Dog, using a metal door as a shield, or flinging a toilet into a Metrocop's head.

Jody: FPS design often copies the Halo idea of a single, repeatable loop of fun, but Devil Daggers really boils it down. Here the loop is backpedalling in an arc while shooting daggers at nearby enemies, clearing enough room to aim at the weak spot of a distant, tougher enemy, then spinning around to take out the skull-face jerk sneaking up behind you.

It's just you and infinite bastards to shoot. Evan: If you die and don't go to heaven or hell, you play Devil Daggers until you win. Phil: A gloriously silly arcade playground that takes the Forza Motorsport series' deep love of cars and customisation and transports it into a vibrant, luscious world full of ridiculous races and entertaining off-road mayhem. Forza Horizon 3's best feature is the skill chain system, which transforms an otherwise basic drive between events into a challenge to string together stunts without crashing.

Andy: Driving pretend cars doesn't get any better than the Forza series, and Horizon brilliantly softens the simulation while still maintaining a feeling of weight and realism. Andy: Skyrim remains one of the most evocative settings on PC. It's not as big as some game worlds, but the varied biomes—from the bubbling hot springs of Eastmarch to the snow-battered coastline of Winterhold—make it feel much bigger than it is. The role-playing is shallow and the writing isn't great, but the sense of place and feeling of freedom make up for it.

Picking a direction, going for a wander, and seeing what you'll find out there among the snow and ice is The Elder Scrolls at its most captivating. Chris: You can finish or completely ignore the main story and still have a couple hundred hours of self-guided fun—especially by adding mods to the mix. Skyrim gives you a special kind of freedom seen in few RPGs. Pip: If this was Pip's Top Proteus would be in the number one spot. It's a contemplative experience where you wander a procedurally generated island, delighting in what you find. I often find myself drifting back to it in moments of stress, treating myself to a short digital holiday.

One time I forgot I'd tweaked the game files and accidentally turned everything red, so that was a surprise. Seas of blood. Phil: Crusader Kings 2 isn't just a grand strategy about medieval kingdoms. It's a grand strategy about the people in charge of those kingdoms. You're not the abstract concept of the country of France; you're the King of France, a year-old man who, after a protracted battle against the rebellious Duke of Burgundy, is now on his deathbed, about to leave the fate of his dynasty to an idiot son.

You're not the ever-expanding territory of the Holy Roman Empire; you're an increasingly deranged emperor who people think has been possessed by the devil. By generating stories about people, Crusader Kings II is an endlessly fascinating soap opera that's different every time. In my last campaign, I didn't even play. I used the command console to simply observe the action, watching as an epic period drama played out across the map. Chris: What's most interesting is how your relationships change when you die and continue playing as your heir. Those three children you had don't seem so wonderful once you've assumed the role of the eldest.

The other two, while devoted to their father, now hate you and may plot against you. Your entire view of the world changes regularly, not just because the players change but because you yourself do, by dying and playing as someone new. Chris: It should have been impossible to top the near-perfect Portal in comedy, storytelling, and physics-bending first-person puzzles, but Portal 2 somehow manages it, and even throws in some fantastic multiplayer on top. Andy: Portal 2 brings a funny and sometimes disarmingly poignant story to its mind-bending puzzles, and the results are exceptional.

Your journey through the various eras of Aperture Science make the game a constant delight. The most recent, 's Legion, brought in a swathe of quality-of-life improvements and some of the best questing in World of Warcraft's nearly year history, making it worth playing all over again. It's still pretty grindy, especially compared to the more streamlined Guild Wars 2, but there are few online worlds this rich and storied to spend time in. Tyler: Undertale subverts RPG cliches with constant self-reference, but unlike many 'parody games', it's not cynical or derivative.

Undertale is a great RPG even if you don't get every reference. James: Fortnite's battle royale mode started as a weak PUBG imitation, but an unprecedented update cycle has made it not just the best battle royale game, but one of the most fascinating games in development today. With map changes, new items, and one-off world events almost every week, Fortnite is endlessly entertaining to live in. Wes: Regular changes to the meta have kept League alive and on top for years. Pip: I favour ARAM—a five-vs-five battle where randomly assigned characters let spells and punches fly across a single lane.

Andy: While the most recent SimCity did everything it could to stifle creativity, Cities: Skylines gave players the power to make anything they want—in part thanks to the deep mod support. The result is the best city-builder around. Samuel: The best game of its kind in a genre that people have enjoyed and will play forever, well supported by compelling expansions.

Plus, you can destroy your city with meteors if you're having a dark day—like I did when I was mayor of Pipville several months ago. Evan: Arma 3 stands alone as the highest-fidelity FPS, the best multiplayer story generator, and a bottomless trough of community missions and mods. It's no coincidence that Arma was the fertile terrain that produced the last two biggest trends in PC gaming: battle royale and survival games. In one, the woman being interviewed says, "I didn't murder Simon.

More video clips—more hints at a tantalising mystery that twists and changes as you unlock more of its parts. Samuel: Probably the best mystery game ever made, because Her Story is over when you feel you've found the answer or when you've discovered all the clips, depending on the type of player you are.


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  5. It truly puts the drama of uncovering the truth in your hands, which is so hard for a game to do in any meaningful way. One of those games I would recommend to someone who has never played games. Andy: A narrative game that really makes use of the medium. The mystery unfolds differently for everyone who plays it, which is a wonderfully original way of telling a story.

    Tom: Total War is a complex grand strategy series that fuses turn-based 4X-style empire-building with vast real-time battles. So far we've mostly seen the format used to explore historical scenarios, but it turns out the Warhammer universe is a perfect fit. For fans of the setting it's a joy to see each faction rendered so vividly, but I would recommend Total War: Warhammer 2 to any strategy fan regardless of your Warhammer knowledge. If you want to command a traditional army, the Empire is there for you.

    If you want something more adventurous, you don't need to know much about the undead Tomb Kings to enjoy sending hordes of skeletons after magical relics. The sequel's campaign is brilliant. Four factions fight for control of a big magic vortex in the middle of the map, which keeps the campaign interesting all the way into the endgame. Jody: Replay that campaign and eventually you'll see behind the curtain, but what makes it worth replaying is the factions.

    Warhammer 2 gets its factions right in ways that should please all but the fussiest fans, even though they're a diverse collection of uptight magic elves, dinosaur-riding lizards, sneaky rat bastards, and "we're really into leather" sex dungeon kink elves. That's no easy feat. Pip: The latest instalment of the long-running life sim has absorbed many hours of my life as I generate idiotic stories starring my beloved cast of citizens.

    Four years after release it's at the point where features missing at launch have been patched in toddlers! I'd like to see the pricing model better support people who dip in and out, but overall there's still no other game like it. Every round is a joust of plays, counters, and outmaneuvering, where a smart flash or reflex AWP pick shifts the balance. It'll never be enough. Each gun is a wild animal with its own unique spray pattern and tendencies that can take dozens of hours to learn.

    Tyler: I've hit a skill plateau in the best and only rocket car soccer game I play the hockey variant , but I just have to find the next slope. I don't think one can ever stop getting better at Rocket League. There's always a better position I could've been in, an aerial I shouldn't have botched. It hasn't changed much over the years, but I feel like I could play it forever. Phil: This stealth sandbox about a bald assassin features six huge, absurdly detailed maps, each filled with interesting ways to bump off your targets.

    Hitman's social stealth systems—where disguises are more important than not being seen—gives you the time to plan, experiment and refine your approach. It's now the best game in the series. Phil: Build a rocket, launch a rocket, fly a rocket, crash a rocket. And then do it all again—tweaking and experimenting until your design is bona fide spacefaring craft, able to maintain orbit or visit nearby celestial bodies. Kerbal Space Program is a sublime mix of physics and slapstick that makes for the perfect playground for space exploration.

    Wes: No one's topped the way Spelunky's pieces play off one another to make its world feel deeply knowable and random at the same time. It's a game you play for hundreds of hours, until getting the key to unlock the chest to find the Udjat Eye to reach the black market to buy the ankh to die and come back to life to fight Anubis to take his sceptre to unlock the City of Gold to find the Book of the Dead to journey through Hell to fight King Yama just feels like another day playing Spelunky.

    Andy: The best horror game on PC, because the thing chasing you has a mind of its own. There's no pattern to predict, no patrol route you can exploit. The alien is intelligent. It will learn your habits and it will fuck with you, and that is terrifying.

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    Samuel: I replayed it this year, and it's amazing how much mileage they get out of the same two repeated enemies by making clever use of set pieces and different types of environments. Probably the best horror game ever. Andy: I love Overwatch because, as someone lacking the skill to play most other online shooters competently, I can still make a difference in a match. The sheer variety of brilliantly-designed characters and their wildly varied toolsets means there's something for every kind of player, even if they can't pull off a decent headshot.

    It's also impressively accessible, cleverly explaining the intricacies of its heroes' abilities without overloading you with information. Bo: A year ago, Blizzard told me they had "barely scratched the surface" of abilities and character archetypes they'd like to explore in Overwatch. With the newest hero being a giant hamster ball mech with a Spider-Man-style grappling hook piloted by a literal hamster, I'm finally inclined to believe them.

    Overwatch continues to be one of the most unique and accessible shooters. And on the esports front, the Overwatch League's adoption of a city-based team model has ignited local enthusiasm in a way that no other game, tournament, or organization has been able to thus far. Phil: We decided this list's order before Wrecking Ball was announced. I'll leave you to speculate whether he would have raised or lowered Overwatch's position. Pip: Dontnod's episodic, time-rewinding teen drama develops Look! A photography pun! Because the lead character is into photography!

    It's not perfect—some puzzle segments outstay their welcome and the plot often throws subtlety out of the window—but OH MY! The cast of characters and the strength of their relationships elevate the whole thing, and the Instagrammy aesthetic bolsters the teenage intensity. Phil: It also features probably the best use of mid-'00s indie boys playing sad acoustic songs about relationships and feelings in all of gaming.

    Wes: The best Metroidvania since Super Metroid. Hollow Knight is open-ended almost to a fault, giving you a massive, decaying, interconnected bug kingdom to explore and frequently find yourself lost in. It can be overwhelming at first, but the feeling of discovery ends up being immensely rewarding as a result. The super responsive platforming and combat keep backtracking from ever feeling like a chore, something similar games have struggled with. Tom: A modernisation of Doom that puts the focus firmly on speed and sweet guns.

    There's nothing wrong with that sort of experimentation, but it's so refreshing to boot this game up and blow gooey chunks out of the forces of hell. Bring on the next one, id. Samuel: The best single-player FPS there is in A clever update of Doom that turns fights into melee-heavy duels, with a not-overly-serious tone that hits just the right spot. Wes: And the levels are actually intricate mazes full of secrets, just like classic Doom!

    I expected good shooting in bland corridors, but this is so much more. Tom: I loaded back into my MGS5 save a month ago to find Snake decked out head-to-toe in a leopard skin combat suit. Samuel: My favourite stealth action game ever, that sits somewhere between immersive sim and Metal Gear of old. Tom: Have you met Gravelord Nito? He's a roiling mass of skeletons shrouded in a cape of souls. He lives deep in Dark Souls nightmarish catacombs, and he's just one example of the game's extraordinary art direction, and powerful sense of dark fantasy horror. People go on about Dark Souls' bottomless lore with good reason, but underneath the theatrics it's actually a very simple game.

    You raid dungeons, chop up monsters, loot chests and level up. Without strong, enduring combat fundamentals I wouldn't have kept playing long enough to uncover the gods' tragic stories. Pip: Subnautica is my game of so far. I usually tap out pretty fast when it comes to survival games but this one takes place in a gorgeous underwater world, involves a compelling plot, AND I adore tinkering with my little underwater base. It also lets me choose how much survival-ing I care to have as part of the game experience, meaning I can switch off thirst.

    Andy: Exploring is genuinely rewarding, both in terms of finding resources to build cooler submarines and environmental detail. It's a world with a story to tell, and it tells it brilliantly. Tom: Strategy games are good at making me care about numbers and systems, but XCOM 2 is one of the few I can name that translate the numberwang into emotional investment. Losing a squad member can feel devastating. You nurture them between fights, gradually upgrading their gear and unlocking sweet new skills, only for an alien to cruelly blast them in a routine mission.

    When things go wrong in XCOM, they go very wrong indeed, which is all part of the drama in a game that casts humanity as the underdog. Evan: XCOM's art direction is ridiculously underrated. Its maps are believable, colorful dioramas that shatter into pieces under the heat and intensity of your insurgent combat. Evan: Sure, you can play Siege as if it's Counter-Strike, pre-firing and out-angling your opponents with snap marksmanship. But the real joy is in outsmarting the other team by poking clever holes in the maps, placing your gadgets in unexpected positions, and careful drone scouting.

    I also love Siege's tempo: this is a shooter that gives you time and a canvas of breakable space to stop, strategize, and execute a dumb plan with absurd gadgets like an eyeball turret that shoots lasers, invisible poison mines, and a drone that shoots concussions. Ubisoft remains devoted to supporting Siege with meaningful systems renovations and with four annual updates that add new characters and maps.

    Samuel: This first-person narrative game is constantly inventive. Edith Finch ventures into the home where her family used to live, before they all died in various tragic circumstances and their rooms were sealed up. You uncover each of their stories. It's the high point of this genre. Andy: Exploring the abandoned home of the eccentric Finch family and uncovering their history is one of the most satisfying storytelling experiences a game has ever given me.

    But it's a game I'll never play again, simply because one scene in particular was so emotionally-charged that I can't face it. Any piece of media that holds that kind of power has to be special. Tom: Into the Breach is a game about quick turn-based battles between mechs and kaiju-sized bugs, and it's almost perfect. Unlike many turn-based strategy games, Into the Breach doesn't use chance to inject battles with tension—the UI tells you pretty much everything that's going to happen next turn.

    The pleasure comes from solving the next turn state as efficiently as you can. It's a small game—battles only last a few turns on an eight-by-eight grid—but the varied mech teams and increasingly nefarious bug types create a huge amount of tactical variation. Wes: There's so little randomness that random moments have immense impact.

    In one run, I had two buildings resist damage at a pivotal point. I've never done a more exaggerated fist pump. Tyler: Divinity: Original Sin 2 feels less stodgy than other classic RPG revivals while heightening their best qualities: turn-based combat I hate real-time, sorry with physics-based spells and exploding barrels necessary , great characters, and a commitment to letting players do what they want, even if it breaks everything. Wes: It offers you an intricate RPG sandbox to play in, and it invites you to break the rules in as many ways as you can imagine. The first game did that, too, but this one marries that freedom with across-the-board great writing and genuinely thoughtful roleplaying.

    It walks the walk and talks the talk. Samuel: This is the best stealth game there has ever been. While the high-concept levels like A Crack in the Slab and Clockwork Mansion get a lot of attention for their clever one-off twists, more traditional stages like Royal Conservatory and Dust District are so detailed and fun to explore. There's no sense of repetition, and each level feels like a huge event. It's the precision of Dishonored 2 I love. Every successful takedown or evasion feels like something you've earned. Andy: Dishonored 2 has some of the best level design on PC, both in terms of the architecture and aesthetic, and in how the environments are rich playgrounds that let you really flex your creativity.

    Every location has something interesting about it, whether it's the time-hopping of A Crack in the Slab or the intricate house-sized puzzle box that is the magnificent Clockwork Mansion. And the sheer volume of ways to navigate the levels and complete your objectives really captures the spirit of PC gaming. Tom: I want to savour every moment in Karnaca, because those levels are so dense and fun to explore. Immersive sims have always been good at creating broad levels like these, full of sandbox opportunity, but I really value that simple acts of moving, shooting and fighting feel great in Dishonored 2.

    The introduction of Emily just broadens your toolset further. Domino, which lets you chain NPCs fates together so that one attack affects them all, is an inspired ability, and it's emblematic of the way Dishonored 2 builds on the tenets of immersive sims like Deus Ex, and spins them out in spectacular new ways. Augmented special forces dudes are cool, but warlock assassins are even cooler. Phil: For me it's the reactivity of the world. Yes, the combat is fluid and satisfying, the level design is intricate and beautifully balanced, and the abilities perfectly tailored for absurd displays of skill and problem solving.

    But what ties it all together is the lengths Arkane has gone to make it all feel believable and real. I believe in Dishonored 2's world because throughout I encountered ways Arkane had anticipated player behaviour. Arkane knew someone would try, and so made a response.

    That's amazing dedication to the craft. Tom: It's a great execution of the ronin fantasy set in one of the most beautiful worlds on PC. The craggy Skellige isle might be one of my favourite places in games, or is it Novigrad, or the sunlit vineyards of Toussaint? Even the dripping bogs in the early areas are pretty, in their own miserable way.

    Within these gorgeous places you meet people with interesting problems. Maybe their local well is haunted. Maybe their spouse is haunted. Usually something is haunted, or cursed, or being pursued by a hideous mythical beast. I treated the sidequests as the main quest, to be honest, roleplaying a mutant outcast on a mission to make the world a slightly better place.

    Jody: The fact you play a character with his own place in the world, including allies, enemies, and ex-girlfriends, is a definite strength of The Witcher 3. But it wasn't always this way. In the first Witcher game Geralt was an amnesiac sleazebag and honestly a bit of a tool. He wasn't a fun person to be around, let alone to be.

    But by The Witcher 3, Geralt's a caring father figure with a heart of gold beneath layers of beard and gruff, and more than that he feels like someone you personalise. The Witcher 3's version of Geralt is the perfect videogame protagonist not because he's more integrated into his world than a character you make from scratch, but because he's a solid outline with room to manoeuvre inside that. He contains multitudes—but not too many. He has well-defined areas of doubt and uncertainty. Wes: "Place" really is what makes The Witcher 3 so spectacular, and like no other game I've played.

    It's not just that the world is gorgeous and detailed, though it is both of those things. The Witcher 3 has this unparalleled combination of artistry and technology that makes its locations and characters feel authentic. Accents and architecture differ between the mainland and Skellige. The characters you encounter out in the world have quests that involve their families or monsters native to their region, and the more of these quests you take, the more you appreciate how natural and human they seem.

    No one's asking you to go out and slay five wolves because that's a good way to spend ten minutes in an RPG. Depending on how you play Geralt, you can be a mercenary in search of coin, or calmly talk someone out of a decision you know they'll regret. Those touches, along with the motion capture, the voice acting and the wind on a blustery night in Velen, make the whole thing come alive. What a world. Phil: A thing I hate about most RPG writing is that something as simple as asking to be rewarded for your time and effort is treated as the most evil thing a protagonist can do.

    But in The Witcher 3, Geralt is a professional doing his job. His haggling with clients over money isn't a deviance or a crime, but the expected cost of hiring a man who is good at what he does for a living. When you pick up a quest, it isn't just some thinly-written excuse to get you to go kill a monster.

    There's a backstory, a motivation, and often a twist. Quests can spiral, turning an encounter with a peasant in a tavern into a sprawling epic that ends with you fighting some great, mythical beast atop a crumbling tower in a raging storm. The game is heaving with interesting characters and worthwhile things to do, and Geralt is the foundation of it all: a complex lead who makes other videogame characters look like cardboard cutouts.

    We love many more games than we can fit onto one list, so here the PC Gamer team has spotlighted a few of their favorites that didn't make the cut. Cradle, like Deadly Premonition, is wonky but fascinating and stays with you for years. It's a transhumanist puzzler where you try to repair a mechanical girl who is also a vase in a yurt on the Mongolian steppe next to an abandoned theme park which dispenses block-based minigames.

    Kentucky Route Zero is wonderful. Its storylines are weird and interesting. Its minimalist art style is gorgeous. Its sprawling open road and Mark Twain-esque Echo River are a joy to explore. Its cast of characters are quirky and often funny. And it's not even finished. Look for its final act this year. The first 20 minutes of Prey form one of the most inspired sci-fi set pieces of recent memory.

    An immersive sim that offers fantastic problem solving, enjoyable enough combat even if the enemies are a bit uninspired , and, true to its pedigree, a level of environmental storytelling that rivals Rapture. It's a deceptively simple game that anyone can easily pick up and play, but learning to build the perfect deck—and getting all the lucky drops to pull it off—can make hours vanish. For online chess, I recommend Chess. But if you want to relax with a few AI games, Chess Ultra has many of the features of pro chess software without the complexity. It's for people who just want to play chess, and it works wonderfully.

    The Twitch integration and VR support are cool, too. Issue text commands to drones to steer them around abandoned space stations where terrifying aliens lurk. You can only see what your drones see, giving Duskers a spooky found-footage feel. It's a scary and surprising roguelike where everything going wrong is as much fun as everything going right.

    It's surprising how well 's Thief still holds up. It's tense and atmospheric, and the labyrinthine levels feel huge, substantial and ambitious even today. It's punishing, and the spindly NPCs look kind of ridiculous now, but I still get the fear when I snipe out a torch with a water arrow, hoping that nobody sees it.

    A stealth puzzler that's not afraid to make you wait. You embark on missions throughout Edo period Japan, silently breaking into well-guarded strongholds using wits, patience and an adorable raccoon dog. Deep, tactical and rewardingly tricky. In a digitised world, anything can be hacked. Break , a unique game about love, freedom, and cybercrime.

    You can hack objects to change how they behave. Hero Sebastian uses his newfound coding skills to join a gang of hacktivists. The intricate systems-maths of a sim wrapped in the handmade charm of a Klei game. Within hours of starting a new colony, you're optimizing airflow and figuring out the right number of toilets to fertilize your plants. It's still in Early Access, but this is already my favorite ant farm on PC.

    I think everyone should see this open world before they die. It's a staggering creation. Using a computer shouldn't be scary, but Stories Untold makes it so. The fidelity of the keys and knobs draws you into its world. Sitting at your computer while the protagonists are tormented by their own makes the events of these four short stories feel more real and unnerving. Has it really been 20 years since Grim Fandango? The key cast of Grim Fandango reassembled to do a live read of the script, with Schafer setting the stage as narrator.

    It's not every line from the game, obviously, the but the hour-long event runs through the key scenes of Manny's quest to make amends with Meche across four years of the day of the dead. Composer Peter McConnell and a backing band provide an accompanying live soundtrack and sound effects. Oh, and Jack Black is there. Black isn't playing his role from Double Fine's Brutal Legend—he subs in for a few of the smaller Grim Fandango voice parts and hams it up appropriately.

    For me, the highlight is seeing Tony Plana reprise the role of Manny Calavera. If you have an hour to kill, this is a great way to do it. Great moments in PC gaming are short, bite-sized celebrations of some of our favorite gaming memories. Grim Fandango is a beautiful adventure, and never moreso than during Year 2. You arrive as a king. You leave back at square one, on a chase rooted more in guilt than any hope of salvation. And oh, that music. That wonderful, wonderful music. Rubacava is one of the greatest towns in gaming, give or take a couple of particularly painful puzzles.

    If only secondhand. Along with much of the staff at Double Fine, Schafer is currently working on a sequel to cult classic Psychonauts 2, which was successfully crowdfunded in January We never seem to pass up an opportunity to talk to Schafer , and at EGX Rezzed last Friday I sat down with him to ask how Psychonauts 2 is coming along and whether he'd be interested in remastering more of Lucasarts' treasure trove of adventure games—even if they weren't games he worked on.

    Besides old? It's really nice. It's coming from an organisation that values creativity and tries to encourage that in a generation of young talent, and that's something I feel like we've always tried to do as a company, so it feels very relevant and important to recognition—and a very heavy trophy. It was an interesting spread of winners this year —particular Edith Finch winning Best Game. That sends a strong message. Those are great games. Double Fine is at an interesting mid-point between developer and publisher.

    Jeux Windows Mixed Reality - Microsoft Store

    How has your role changed in the last decade or so? Well, some things are new, and some things are the same. I still try to hold on to the parts of the job that I love, like writing. I'm still writing on Psychonauts 2, I'm hard at work getting all those cutscenes and levels writing done. But we've added a lot more things with an eye on the industry at large—trying to be a good heart of the indie games community, doing things like Day of the Devs and Double Fine Presents.

    There are so many games out there that disappear, and we want to help showcase the ones we think are the best. So I've added that kind of stuff, but I've left the parts of the job I'm not good at or don't enjoy like biz dev, money raising and work schedule. Team management I've sometimes left to other people smarter and better people than me so I can focus on still being creative, but still reaching out to the industry at large, trying to be a good citizen. You've talked a few times about the amount of games out there, and the struggle to stand out. Do you feel like you've found the right way of getting games to a larger audience?

    There are actually a lot of indie developers doing this now, like Finji, who are helping out other indie developers. We're picking games that really stand out to us, or speak to us, and need what we have to offer. We're not sitting on a huge pile of money, though we are investing more and more in the publishing side. We've been around a long time.

    We know how to do everything from crowdfunding to relating to platform holders to how to get featured, how to outsource—all those things a developer might not know on their first game out. He's spending time at the show checking out all the games, seeing what stands out and meeting developers we might want to work with. We talk about it too, as a team, we play the games.

    At lunchtime we invite the whole company at Double Fine to come play some of these new games and see which ones we think are special. You've gotten pretty good at the crowdfunding process. Are you less reliant on work-for-hire than you used to be? To make a game as large as Psychonauts, we needed help from a publisher and that's when we really put together a flexible source of revenue. But we also have Starbreeze publishing. So I think crowdfunding is still a great way to serve underserved markets like adventure games and things, where publishers might not be able to risk money on [them], but it's also a great way to connect with your strongest advocates out there in the community who really want to be backers, not just financially but emotionally and spiritually.

    Yeah, we have about five level teams cranking away on the mental world. In Psychonauts you go into the minds of people and see their inner demons and fight the nightmares. We have multiple teams working on new levels for that, and we just did an update about the level teams and how they work. I'm almost done writing the cutscenes for the game, and we're just starting to look at casting for the voices.

    When you make move the release date of a game, like you did with Psychonauts 2 in December , do you feel more pressure making those decisions when it's a crowdfunded game? No, not unless you're asking for more money from them, because we're not. With Broken Age we doubled the length of time we'd take to make the game, but we also put in a bunch of our own money to match what the backers gave it. I feel like we're saying, thanks for waiting, we do apologise it's taking a while—so don't apologise. You see announcements in the news about, 'oh, this game slipped' and everyone's all mad.

    The real bad news is the game's getting shipped when it's not ready.

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    That's the opposite of that news release, right? And no one ever sees that announcement, because they don't make that announcement, but that's where the players really suffer—not from having to wait for a good game. What's that collaboration like? Zak is an experienced leader of design. He worked on BioShock 2, a really great version of BioShock, and he brings a lot of expertise to the mechanics and the tuning and the physical side of level design and a lot of things we wanted to improve on in the second game.

    We felt like we can still do story and creativity and art really well, but we wanted to improve the platforming and level design on a mechanical level. I think he has a lot to offer there. We've got two games [going ahead]. Three of those together is Psychonauts, and another team that's working on a secret unannounced game. So I always want to have multiple games going on because it gives you some perspective, flexibility and variety in the company which is important.

    That moment where you split into those four teams felt like the start of an important new phase for Double Fine. Everyone got to try something new and everyone got to move up. We got a whole bunch of new genres nobody had ever done before. It helps us be nimble, trying to do something like Iron Brigade which was a mechanics-first type game rather than a story or narrative game. It was the kind of thing I had to give my permission to do.

    I've always had an instinct to stay away from the past, make a game, move on and make the next game. Don't rest on your laurels. You should always be trying to pull out new ideas. But then, 20 years go by for some of these games. It's been enough time that there's some value in going back and looking at them. Also, they were falling apart. They weren't available anymore, they didn't run so you'd have to pirate them if you wanted to buy some of them. We thought it was time. Also, the source material was ageing. A lot of it was on tape drives that are crumbling.

    Some of the team had passed away.