A non euclidean horror. A many angled being of chaos and destruction. From this chaos he creates (Networm) and threatens to do so again. A contradiction and obsession with equestrian pursuits only works to confuse and confound further. He also plays games.
Well, 2016 was fun wasn’t it? National treasures dying in their droves, our national treasury doing likewise, and then just for good measure, Princess Leia goes and dies the week after most pundits have finished writing their review of the year pieces, just in case you needed something to underline the spiralling madness of it all… 2016 will surely go down as the year that an entire generation realised we had crested the hill and begun our terrifying descent into confusing oblivion.
If there’s any consolation I can offer to you, my dear readers, it is that 2016 has been a rather good year for PC games. Sure, we might all complain about endless sequels and reboots, but in amongst the annual updates there have been some genuine stand-out moments for me that are worth shouting about. Let’s run down my personal list of them now and see if I can’t raise your spirits one last time before we close the book on the last 365 days and brace ourselves for the terrors awaiting us in 2017.
I was not surprised that I enjoyed Big Pharma, (my weakness for capitalism-based management sims is well documented) but I was definitely surprised by the element of Big Pharma that I enjoyed the most. The puzzle game that has been cleverly built into the pharmaceutical manufacturing process is at once both devious and delightful, incorporating both mathematical and spatial factors into a perfect mix that tickled my brain in exactly the way I crave. Like the very best puzzle games, this is a game your brain won’t stop playing. I’m surely not the only wannabe drugs tycoon who has found himself lying in bed, staring at the infinitely unfurling conveyor belts behind my eyelids.
Away from this core mechanic, the rest of the game still does all the things I wanted from a game of this sort. You experience first-hand the slightly grim realities of pill-pushing, starting out with high moral ideals before market forces drag you into the muck. Before long you are ruthlessly advertising the hell out of inferior products, then shamelessly abusing the patent process to hold back medical progress, all in pursuit of better profit margins than your rivals. Big Pharma is a thought-provoking and clever little game that probably deserves a lot better than it’s already remarkable success.
One of the two main characters in this game is a feisty, adventurous little girl who wears purple angel wings and carries a tiny wooden sword. Let’s be honest, that sounds like the perfect recipe for “horribly twee and annoying” right? And yet Lily in Little Acre is charming, funny, and quite adorable, which is a perfect illustration for just how well pitched the writing and performances are in this really rather marvellous point and click adventure game. Sure, I have some misgivings about the concluding sections of the game, but everything leading up to that point was gold, and coming as it did, in the middle of a run of thoroughly mediocre point and click games, the contrast was both welcome and wonderful.
The Hint and Solution system keeps everything flowing, smoothing off what few rough edges there could be on the puzzles, whilst still letting you feel clever on occasion. Crucially, this system means you can get on with enjoying the story and characters in this small but perfectly formed little game at the pace you prefer. As I said at the time, this game is clearly the work of a team who care about their players, and it deserves to do well above the average on Steam nowaday. If you have the cash, there are many worse ways to spend a quiet afternoon in front of your computer.
Sometimes simplicity is a virtue. Sometimes you are just tired of having to think and analyse. Sometimes low-brow is what you need. And for most of the last two months, whenever I’ve been in this mood myself, Kickass Commandos has been exactly what I wanted it to be: a big, loud, brash, dumb and ridiculous game built entirely out of explosions. It’s the kind of game that’s easy to dismiss as being easy to make, but anyone who’s spent time trawling games on Newgrounds or itch.io can tell you that there’s a million “simple” twin stick shooters out there that never come close to being this satisfying. Kickass Commandos absolutely nails how videogames should feel, and it is obvious immediately that time and effort has been spent making sure that every action you take feels weighty, substantial and meaningful. When I reviewed it, I came in with fairly low expectations and it blew me away so much that however out of place it might look on a list of my favourite games of the year, it has undoubtedly earned it’s place. A total gem 🙂
Duskers is a perfect illustration of why I will always love the indie-game scene. I can’t help but picture someone pitching this game in a board-room somewhere, to the astonished faces of a row of baffled executive producers.
“Okay, so the game is played entirely via an intentionally awkward command line interface, and we deliberately obfuscate and restrict the players view of the world, but that’s great because…”
Nevertheless, that core decision, to have the entire game controlled via dos-prompt style typed commands, is probably the single smartest piece of game design I have seen all year. Duskers is immersive in a way that no VR game will ever match, as your experience playing it is 100% a direct reproduction of the actions of your character. If you want your avatar to type “open d12”, you type “open d12”. The connection is so direct it almost seems like a joke, and you wonder why it took us nearly 50 years of videogame design for someone to hit on this idea.
Fortunately, the game that has been built around this fantastic idea is equally great. It pulls off something truly unique in the way it first induces a sense of routine drudgery, and then slowly allows tension to creep in. Things are fine, then they are a little weird, then you are sweating a bit and then suddenly everything is a disaster and you are hammering keys like a possessed secretary. Naturally, the game will also occasionally skip all the foreplay and just pull the rug on you immediately, just in case you thought you ever started to get comfortable in this desolate, dead world.
Duskers is a must-play for everyone, and would almost certainly have been my number one in most other years.If the idea appeals to you at all, it’s a must-play!
Despite lingering misgivings that the creator of the game may, in fact, be a bit of a git, I still cannot argue with the game he has produced. By turns heartbreaking and hilarious, RimWorld consistently delivers a fascinating, time-thief of a puzzle box that is almost impossible to tear yourself away from. Much of this appeal comes from the simulation that underpins your efforts to build a colony. Rimworld takes an almost sadistic delight in meeting your every assumption with logical but unforeseen consequences. You start to feel the game watching you, like a smart-alec friend sat behind you, gently chiding you after every bad decision.
“Of course having a one-armed surgeon was a bad idea, what did you expect?”
“Dressing everyone in thick fur is a bad idea in summer. Like, duh! Obviously!”
“No, solar panels aren’t great in the winter… Everyone knows that, right?”
It’s a parade of forehead-smackingly obvious realisations, but these moments are also special. It is just so rare that you encounter a game that actually cares about whether you are dressed for the weather, or that considers factors beyond the raw skill numbers, that when one of these gotcha moments catches you unawares, it only serves to deepen your respect for the game in the long run. I’m too ashamed to tell you how much time I sank into version 15 of this game, and version 16 was released not long ago, and I’m sure it won’t be long before I’m dragged into it’s world again.