Dénouement 2019 Part 4: The Good Stuff

By Shamus Posted Thursday Jan 9, 2020

Filed under: Industry Events 83 comments

Now that it’s finally 2020, it’s time to talk about what games I loved in 2019. Keep in mind that I’m just one over-the-hill nerd and I don’t have a staff of younglings helping me to achieve Total Coverage. As a result, I only play a tiny fraction of the games that come out in a given year. Moreover, I try to play a mix of AAA and indie stuff. The result is that there are probably a lot of really good games that I never got around to playing.

Also, I don’t always pounce on games at release day. You might see a few games in this list that actually came out at the tail end of 2018, but I didn’t get around to playing until this year. Given how much publishers like to fight over the Christmas shopping season, I have to allow a bit of slop in the dates or some games would never get a chance.

I’m not very good at putting games in order. The expectation is that the list should be sorted in the order of ascending quality, with the #1 spot going to some sort of “Game of the Year”. That’s a reasonable expectation as a reader, but the ordering of these things is inherently and inescapably arbitrary.

Hm. Do I give the #3 spot to Landmark Game That We Never Thought Would Get a Sequel? Or maybe I should put that one space below Niche Game I Was Personally Obsessed With? And hang on, shouldn’t both of these be lower than Smash Hit That People Are Still Making Memes About? Oh crap, I didn’t leave room on the list for Surprise Hit That Everyone Thought Would Be Terrible! And what about High-Profile Remake that’s Better than The Original, or Gem From Last Year That I Didn’t Get Around to Playing Until This Year! This is a mess. I need to start over.

So don’t give me a hard time about the ordering, okay?

#9 Donut County

Look at these people sitting around, minding their own business. It's like they WANT to be thrown into a hole.
Look at these people sitting around, minding their own business. It's like they WANT to be thrown into a hole.

In the eight years I spent making Let’s Play content with the Spoiler Warning crew, by far my favorite part was when we spent most of an episode throwing people out of windows and over ledges. The glee you hear in my voice during that episode isn’t exaggerated for comedic effect, I really was laughing that hard.

Like I said at the time, I do have this inexplicable predilection for turning foes over to the clutches of gravity and letting physics have its way with them. When I was playing Jedi Fallen Order this year, I spent a lot of time taking extra damage and generally fighting sub-optimally because I preferred to dart around until I was in a position to shove storm troopers over a ledge with the force rather than just killing them with my lightsaber.

Donut County is a game where you pilot a hole around a small town. The hole starts out just large enough to swallow bricks and old beer bottles, but it gets larger as you feed it more items. Pretty soon you’re swallowing furniture. Eventually you’re pulling in cars and houses. And more important than any of that: You get to gobble up the hapless townspeople.

The story frames this as a villainous act that must be undone by the end, but I wasn’t feeling that. If society says it’s wrong to fling an entire town into an abyss, then society needs to change.

Anyway, I had fun with this. The low-poly flat shaded art is delightful. There are some extra puzzle mechanics and a story about friendship and redemption if you’re one of those weirdos that needs more than throwing people into holes to be entertained.

#8 Dusk

Will this game support my Adlib sound card? Where do I set up the IRQ ports?
Will this game support my Adlib sound card? Where do I set up the IRQ ports?

A couple of entries ago I explained why I didn’t bother with Gears of War 5. During that segment, I talked about my love for mid-90s shooters. Dusk is an amusing game that recaptures the feeling of that bygone genre.

It’s got everything you’d expect from titles of that era.

  1. High-speed movement that allows you to weave through projectiles.
  2. Swarms of foes that go down easyCompared to modern shooters..
  3. A huge arsenal of outlandish weapons.
  4. A fascination with macabre scenery and occultish / satanic imagery.
  5. Incredibly varied levels that don’t attempt to re-create real spaces but instead sort of suggest a place / style / motif.
  6. Levels don’t flow from one location to another according to any logic, but instead you leap from one idea to the next like you’re caught in a fever dream.
  7. Garish colors.
  8. Items exist as glowing, floating icons, and you pick them up by sprinting over them.
  9. Jumping puzzles in a world where you can’t see your feet and your movement feels vaguely slippery.
  10. A mix-and-match approach to level design. Area A gives you lots of shotgun shells and three foes that rush you in tight corridors. Area B gives you lots of machine gun and two types of foes that snipe at you from rooftops, with a few suicide bombers on the ground to keep you on your toes. Area C is about using rockets to fight large swarms of fast-moving foes in an open field.

I tried crouching behind cover, but my health didn't regenerate. I had to run around in the open dodging projectiles to collect health! I've submitted a bug report. I'm sure they'll fix that real soon.
I tried crouching behind cover, but my health didn't regenerate. I had to run around in the open dodging projectiles to collect health! I've submitted a bug report. I'm sure they'll fix that real soon.

This game wears its influences on its sleeve. In the first level, bad guys shout both “Heretic!” and “Blood!” at the player. The on-screen text says “GroovyThis is known as one of Duke Nukem’s catchphrases, but he actually “borrowed” it from Army of Darkness. when you pick up the shotgun. The texture maps are low-res and there’s no anti-aliasing of any kind, which gives the visuals the weird “shimmering pixels” effect that was unavoidable back then and which modern designers spend lots of effort and processing power to avoid. Other than the 1080p resolution and some modern-ish lighting effectsThe lights are more dynamic, they cast softer shadows,  and have less color banding than would have been reasonably possible in the mid-90s., there’s almost nothing to give away that this game didn’t come out in 1996.

On the other hand, the combat can get monotonous. This is a game you play in 20 minute bursts, not one you play for hours at a time. Hunting for keycards to progress through the level is obnoxious. Sometimes the levels are immense and bewildering, which might lead to several minutes of wandering around lost, trying to find the next batch of murders. The barks from foes are really repetitive. The difficulty is often really uneven. Sometimes ammo scarcity will force you to use the really boring weapons.

End of level screens! I really miss these.
End of level screens! I really miss these.

Then again… that’s what shooters were like in the 1990s. I have less patience for keycard hunts and labyrinthine level design these days, but that’s not the fault of the game designer. They set out to recapture the games of that era, and they did.

#7 Hitman 2

No other game does dense crowds like the Hitman franchise. The devs make it look so easy.
No other game does dense crowds like the Hitman franchise. The devs make it look so easy.

I was delighted when the 2016 Hitman rebootNot really a hard reboot, but they dropped all the modifiers from the name and made major shifts to tone and gameplay. That’s a reboot-ish thing to do. left behind the rampant idiocy of Hitman: Absolution and brought the game back to its open, free-form, murder-for-hire roots. The game took my #2 spot in 2016.  In particular, I think the Sapienza level is the greatest Hitman level ever made, and ranks pretty high in my informal list of “best game maps of all time”.

This second Hitman gameIt’s actually the seventh game in the series, but whatever. doesn’t quite reach the heights of its 2016 forbearer, but it’s still a solid entry in the series.

The Hitman 2 level designer would like you to know that they really liked John Wick 2.
The Hitman 2 level designer would like you to know that they really liked John Wick 2.

Hitman 2 feels a little more restricted than the previous game. In Hitman 2016, I always felt like I was being pulled in six different directions. I’d be in the middle of trying to poison a guy when I’d find a clue about how to electrocute him, and I’d chase that lead to find I’d missed the window on the poisoning but now blowing him up was possible. In Hitman 2, I always felt more restricted. Instead of being pulled in six directions, I often found myself groping around, unable to find any route to the target.

Both designs have their merits. Hitman 2016 was a little more playful and open, while Hitman 2 was a bit more of a puzzle. I liked the first one a little better, but I suspect Hitman 2 was more satisfying for long-term fans who want to spend weeks playing and replaying the levels.

#6 Return of the Obra Dinn

I really like the weird 2-color style. It only works because we have glorious 1080p resolution to work with. If we were restricted to era-appropriate resolutions to go with the 2-color modes, none of these images would be legible.
I really like the weird 2-color style. It only works because we have glorious 1080p resolution to work with. If we were restricted to era-appropriate resolutions to go with the 2-color modes, none of these images would be legible.

This was technically a 2018 game that I missed. It was an indie darling last year and it even won some awards. It made my No-Show list last year, and I finally played it this summer. It wasn’t until I went to do this end-of-year retrospective that I realized I never got around to finishing it.

Back in the day, my wife and I used to play adventure games together. I’d drive, and she would sit in the co-pilot seat making maps or taking notes. We played old school Sierra adventure games, but also the pre-rendered slideshow ones like Myst and Riven.

Then we wound up with 3 young kids and it wasn’t feasible for us to sit in the computer room for an extended period of time without worrying that one of the kids was going to eat all the paste or set fire to the couch. Also, the genre sort of died in the aughts.

Return of the Obra Dinn isn’t an adventure game is the classic sense, but its puzzles scratched the same itch. Heather and I had a great time working on it until her jobs and my shifting sleep schedule prevented us from being able to play together.

I figured it out. LMFAO came aboard and all of these people died of party rocking. Case closed.
I figured it out. LMFAO came aboard and all of these people died of party rocking. Case closed.

The Obra Dinn is a sailing ship that departed on an expedition and returned empty. Your goal is to identify all 60 members of the crew and piece together what happened to each of them. The game is fascinating because it’s not a series of self-contained puzzles like you find in most games. Instead the entire game is one giant interconnected puzzle.

This also means it’s really hard to pick up where you left off if you step away from the game for a few months. That’s not a flaw with the game, it’s just the nature of this kind of puzzle. This game is a brilliant and unique experience, even if I didn’t get to see it all the way through.

#5 Risk of Rain 2

The game is still early access and new levels / characters / weapons are added with each patch. It's totally playable now, though.
The game is still early access and new levels / characters / weapons are added with each patch. It's totally playable now, though.

Like I said earlier in the year, the Risk of Rain games seem to adhere to this really unconventional design ethos that breaking the game is okay. I don’t know if this is deliberate on the part of the designers, but I really enjoy it.

The flow of the game goes like this: You appear on one of a half dozen or so levels with a fixed layout. Monsters begin spawning around you. You kill them to make money, you use the money to open chests, the chests spit out items, and the items boost your stats. More health! More fire rate! More damage! More criticals! More projectiles! Faster cooldowns! Faster movement! Higher jumping! Robotic minions! Bigger area damage! Foes detonate and kill other foes!

When you’re ready, you find the teleporter and activate it. This will summon a boss monster. Defeat it, and you can move on to the next level.

Spoiler: It does indeed rain on some levels.
Spoiler: It does indeed rain on some levels.

The thing is, there’s no cap on how many items you can collect, and no limit on how high their bonuses can stack. The items all have weird synergies, trade-offs, and side effects.  It’s possible to buff your movement speed so much that you can’t control your character, or buff your rate of fire to such a ridiculous level that it slows down your computer. Granted, you have to go out of your way to do this, but the game itself won’t make any effort to stop you.

This means you want to farm items as much as possible. At the same time, the clock is always running and the monsters grow in power as a function of time. The longer you play, the more the challenge ramps up. Gather items too slowly and you’ll be overwhelmed. Gather them fast enough and… well, that’s the trick, isn’t it? Sooner or later you either break the game or it breaks you. The game is designed to unbalance over time, and the win state is when you’re finally able to tip the scales in your favor. From there you keep amassing power, seeing how fast you can vaporize swarms of boss monsters.

There really isn’t anything else like it.

#4 Superliminal

I can't get over how much this reminds me of The Stanley Parable.
I can't get over how much this reminds me of The Stanley Parable.

This was a charming surprise. The game often looks like The Stanley Parable, makes vaguely threatening jokes like Portal, and has strange spatial puzzles like AntiChamber. The game isn’t quite as charming as Stanley Parable, not as witty as Portal, and not as bewildering as Antichamber, but it has its moments.

My one gripe is that they saved the best puzzles for last, and then the game ended before we’d really explored the idea. There a couple of puzzles where you can move and resize doorways. You can walk in one door and emerge from the smaller opposite side to find yourself in the same room, but now you’re 3 inches tall. I feel like there’s enough fun potential in that idea that you could make a whole game out of that sort of thing. Here it’s just two or three puzzles and then it rolls credits. Sad face.

This door is painted onto the wall. If you stand in just the right spot you'll get the correct perspective and it will look like a proper door. Then you can pick it up, stick it to the wall, and open it. It's not so much a puzzle as an amusing thing to do.
This door is painted onto the wall. If you stand in just the right spot you'll get the correct perspective and it will look like a proper door. Then you can pick it up, stick it to the wall, and open it. It's not so much a puzzle as an amusing thing to do.

Ah well. It’s fun, it’s clever, and there’s something to be said for a game that doesn’t overstay its welcome.

I’ll finish up this list in the next entry.

 

Footnotes:

[1] Compared to modern shooters.

[2] This is known as one of Duke Nukem’s catchphrases, but he actually “borrowed” it from Army of Darkness.

[3] The lights are more dynamic, they cast softer shadows,  and have less color banding than would have been reasonably possible in the mid-90s.

[4] Not really a hard reboot, but they dropped all the modifiers from the name and made major shifts to tone and gameplay. That’s a reboot-ish thing to do.

[5] It’s actually the seventh game in the series, but whatever.



From The Archives:
 

83 thoughts on “Dénouement 2019 Part 4: The Good Stuff

  1. Daimbert says:

    I’m not very good at putting games in order. The expectation is that the list should be sorted in the order of ascending quality, with the #1 spot going to some sort of “Game of the Year”. That’s a reasonable expectation as a reader, but the ordering of these things is inherently and inescapably arbitrary.

    Hm. Do I give the #3 spot to Landmark Game That We Never Thought Would Get a Sequel? Or maybe I should put that one space below Niche Game I Was Personally Obsessed With? And hang on, shouldn’t both of these be lower than Smash Hit That People Are Still Making Memes About? Oh crap, I didn’t leave room on the list for Surprise Hit That Everyone Thought Would Be Terrible! And what about High-Profile Remake that’s Better than The Original, or Gem From Last Year That I Didn’t Get Around to Playing Until This Year! This is a mess. I need to start over.

    So don’t give me a hard time about the ordering, okay?

    It seems to me that you get hung up in trying to put it in some kind of objective order that everyone will agree with, when with things like this I believe that most of the readers would really want to see it ordered according to which games you personally liked better. That might not be much easier, but at least it doesn’t involve caring about what other people thought of it.

    When I was playing Jedi Fallen Order this year, I spent a lot of time taking extra damage and generally fighting sub-optimally because I preferred to dart around until I was in a position to shove storm troopers over a ledge with the force rather than just killing them with my lightsaber.

    I did that in the original Marvel Ultimate Alliance game …

    1. Kathryn says:

      Agreed, the order for this list can be totally subjective.

      All this time, I’ve been thinking that Obra Dinn game was some sort of Schlock Mercenary offshoot – isn’t that the name of Petey’s race? (Google isn’t helping; even with adding “petey” and “schlock mercenary” to the search terms, I’m still getting the game.) But that description sounds interesting. I like that kind of puzzle adventure game.

      1. Grudgeal says:

        Ob’Enn. Technically speaking the Tausennigan Ob’Enn due to their home system being the Tause system. “Psychobears” to everyone else.

        The fact that I can quote this from memory after a decade, but not recall which papers necessary to my job I read last week, worries me somewhat.

        1. Asdasd says:

          I can tell you the stat line of any player in the Blood Bowl series, which I last played a decade ago, as well as the skill-ups for which they’re eligible on standard rolls and doubles… but not the details of the work I did yesterday. Once they work out how to properly manipulate whatever triggers memory-formation, I think humanity is going to become a species unrecognisable to today’s.

          1. DerJungerLudendorff says:

            Part of it is probably sheer repetition. You’ve seen those stats thousands of times, and probably used them countless times across for years on end.

            By comparison, you probably saw the work papers a few times during the last two weeks. Like all the other work papers you saw at one point or another.

            1. Gethsemani says:

              Investment is also a big part of it. Things we enjoy or that take place in positive atmospheres (such as, say, hobbies) tend to be easier to memorize then things we are forced to do without much investment. Hence why we remember stuff like where to get all the attribute increase tomes in Baldur’s Gate two decades later, but can’t remember what we read about that very, super important project at work.

              Add to that that we have a much easier time forming and retaining memories during our childhood and teens and it is sort of natural that you remember all those rules to your favorite game when you were 17, but can barely remember yesterday’s lunch. From an evolutionary view, those things you learned during adolescence are probably things you’ll need to remember as an adult. That we’ve moved past stuff like “where is the prime spot for fishing” and “how to not freeze to death in a snow storm” in favor of playing games for most of our adolescence doesn’t change our biological make-up.

          2. kincajou says:

            you think you’re bad?
            One evening about 10 years ago, me and a friend figured out the mass of one mole (6 X 10^23 units) of standard lego bricks and compared it to the mass of earth’s moon.

            2%,

            one mole of lego bricks is equivalent to roughly 2% of the mass of earths moon. I can remember this clearly but god forbid i remember any of the work related papers i read all week…. (something something graphs… something something error bars…)

            memory is weird

            1. Richard says:

              That is a thing I know now and will never forget.

              Thank you.

        2. Kathryn says:

          Thank you!! That was going to bother me all day.

          Yep, I know every word to “Love Potion Number Nine”, but Maxwell’s equations? Pfffft.

      2. Daimbert says:

        Yeah, the description makes it more interesting to me as well than simply the title and basic blurbs I’ve seen made it look. The only downside is that you can’t pick it up after leaving it for a while, as I’m NOTORIOUS for doing that.

        1. Syal says:

          It’s a pretty short game, and is composed of infinitely repeatable still images, so you’re not going to lock yourself out of an answer or anything. It’s just you need to remember which people know each other across the various scenes in order to figure out who *this* guy is.

          1. Syal says:

            Actually I’ll link ARavingLoon’s playthrough. Easier to show than to describe.

    2. Asdasd says:

      I feel like if we’re being honest, we say that all we want to see is the order of the writer’s subjective preference… right up until the moment we have a strong disagreement with it. Then suddenly there’s a peal of thunder, a crack of lightning, and the spectre of objectivity is revealed to have been lurking at the window all along!

      1. Daimbert says:

        It depends on the context of the article. A “Best games of the year!” list will get that, but this is really just what Shamus liked and didn’t like in the past year. While people may wonder why he ranks something higher or lower than another, I think everyone will take it as a personal assessment and not as something objective.

  2. Asdasd says:

    There’s something about a difficulty level named ‘accessible’ that is more withering than calling it ‘wimpy’, ‘baby mode’ or any of the posturingly macho ways they did it in the ’90s could be.

    1. Kathryn says:

      Ha! I used to play Wolfenstein 3D on “Can I play, Daddy?” mode, which added a baby bonnet and pacifier to BJ’s sprite on the mode selection screen. I didn’t care about that at all – what I cared about was not getting one-shotted by a guard I hadn’t seen. (And now, looking back, I wonder if there were audio cues? They are no help when you are deaf!)

      1. GoStu says:

        I can absolutely confirm there’s an audio cue. The guards yell “Achtung” or other muffled German things when they get line-of-sight to you. I suppose the game would be a lot harder for the deaf.

        1. Decius says:

          They yell things if you have a sound card.
          If you don’t, the PC speaker makes a beep.

        2. Higher_Peanut says:

          Later levels remove the audio cues, mutants are totally silent. Wolf3D was brutal, enemies don’t even hitscan like you’d expect from later games. “Dodging” is an RNG roll based on distance, speed and whether or not you can see an enemy.

          1. Asdasd says:

            Most noticeable when you fight the final boss* in the shareware episode. Given the FPS is a sort-of descendant of the real time first person dungeon crawler (Dungeon Master and its ilk), it’s fitting that the most effective tactic for that encounter would be the ‘square dance of death’ where you lead the foe around a pillar, attack him and move away before he can make line of sight.

            * I later learned of these tactics through a friend. As a child I was too terrified by that boss, freezing in terror and dying every time. Man.

  3. John says:

    Hunting for color-coded key cards may well be the thing I miss the least about 90s shooters. Thanks to GOG I’ve gone back to that well a couple of times in the last decade and each time I’ve been reminded anew that, yes, games really did work that way back then. Descent in particular was a bit of a shock. In my head, it was not Doom. Six degrees of freedom! Fully 3D levels! I played the game–tolerably well, even–with a flight stick! In the cold light of the 2010s, it was exactly Doom. Find a brightly colored door. Search the level for the corresponding keycard. Backtrack. Repeat. (Note to self: find out how I picked up and used a keycard without getting out of my spaceship.) Outlaws was a little better, in that it didn’t rely solely on keys and locked doors to gate and segment levels, but I still spent a fair amount of time searching for bronze, iron, brass, and steel keys in order to open specific doors. In some ways, though, Outlaws was worse, because (a) there are no handy visual cues to indicate which keys open which doors, (b) the different keys aren’t visually distinct from one another, and (c) the keys are small and easy to miss: you can pass them by without realizing it, or, worse, pick them up without realizing it. Doom is from 1993, Descent from 1995, and Outlaws from 1997. It took a long time for “hunt down the keys” to work its way out of shooter level design.

  4. Ninety-Three says:

    I had a weird motivation problem with Obra Dinn. It’s a detective game, except the central mystery (what happened on this boat?) is super easy and the real challenge is a literal bookkeeping exercise of figuring out whether Bob’s the guy who got stabbed and Charlie fell off the boat, or Charlie got stabbed and Bob fell. The fact that they’re all dead one way or another makes it hard to care about putting a name to each death. My first playthrough had something like 20% completion because I didn’t linger on figuring out any of the non-obvious names.

    1. kincajou says:

      Yeah, i can see exactly what you mean… for me the story was mildly interesting (not specifically the characters) and it did a decent job of getting me started but it’s the crossword puzzle of figuring out everyone that’s meant i haven’t completed the game yet…(i WILL figure them all out before leaving!)

      1. Geebs says:

        I liked Obra Dinn, but I became a whole heck of a lot less invested when the supernatural stuff kicked in. Working out why a ship-full of normal human beings would top each other without outside interference would have been far more compelling IMO.

        1. Mattias42 says:

          That’s interesting, because I was the total opposite.

          Was watching an LP to check this weird ‘everybody killed each other on a boat’ game (Keith Ballard, if curious) and thinking it fine but rather standard aside the the art… but the MOMENT the game went into supernatural territory I knew I HAD to play the rest blind myself, and it did not disappoint.

          Just don’t care the slightest about ‘plain’ human drama, where shitty people did shitty things to each other for some petty, shitty reason. I’ve seen it done well so~ few times, that the moment I start smelling that sort of plot, my mind tunes out. Who cares if the butler or maid did it? Just

          (The Killer plot-line in Until Dawn being a great example of it done well. Or the Red Barron one in Witcher 3.)

          But the magic and monsters twist… that was actually interesting to me. What are they? What do they want? Are they still around? And so on. Just way, WAY~ more… X’s in the equation, so to say, and it gives my mind something to sink its teeth into.

          Always been more of an Dresden Files or Discworld’s Watch series type, then Father Brown or Midsummer Murders type, I guess is a decent way of putting it.

          Bit of a paradox, because that first glimpse of crazy weirdness wouldn’t have been nearly as tingles down spine efficient if I’d known about it going in… but I only went in myself once I knew about it. Funny, that.

  5. BlueBlazeSpear says:

    This is one of those times when I seriously have to consider retiring my title of “gamer.” I’ve played nothing on this list. I haven’t even heard of most of what’s on this list. And whether I’ve heard of them or not, most of them sound completely uninteresting to me. And I suspect that this would be the case with most of the popular publications’ “best of” game lists.

    You know those sorts of gamers who only buy the latest annual entry of Madden, FIFA, or Call of Duty and pretty much dismiss the idea of gaming otherwise? I feel like I’ve become like that, but with whatever sci/fi or fantasy RPGs happen to come out and everything else basically just sounds like noise to me.

    Though my wife got me The Master Chief Collection for Christmas because she wanted to get a game where we could both sit there and actively play it together and so we’ve been playing through the Halo games. It’s been fun, but I’m confident that I wouldn’t enjoy playing these games alone. What guy wouldn’t have a good time sitting there playing Halo with his wife because it’s what she wanted to do?

    1. John says:

      Don’t worry about whether or not you’re a gamer. Just play the games you’re interested in playing. There are no down-sides to not being a gamer. When you aren’t a gamer, none of the stupid gamer drama or stupid gamer controversy can touch you. You’re free. Sure, some jerk might tell you that your opinion doesn’t count because you’re a filthy casual, but that guy’d be a jerk and impossible to reason with even if you had played AAA Open-World Shooter Lootbox Service VI and Streamer-Promoted Meme Generator 2019. Who cares what that guy thinks?

      Also, your wife is awesome.

    2. Henson says:

      I’ve also unaware of a number of titles on this list (do have Obra Dinn though. looking forward to that one). I think it’s partly due to playing games less than I used to, but also due to just not reading gaming press anymore. I used to check out both Kotaku and Rock Paper Shotgun daily, but I don’t think I’ve gone to either site in several months now.

      I can’t figure out whether I’m comfortable with that or if I’d rather be more ‘in the know’ about where the gaming landscape currently is.

      1. Asdasd says:

        I used to take an active interest in any Weird Indie Thing RPS had to decided to write about. If it was freeware, or had a demo, I’d make a point of downloading and checking it out. Now I scroll past just swathes of their output without batting an eye, ignoring what I would once have seen as promising indies by the armful.

        The funny thing is much of the readership seems to be trending the same way, as comment counts on such posts are a far cry from yesteryear, often struggling to reach double digits.

        1. John says:

          RPS has many, many more posts per day than it used to. (The perils of success, I suppose.) It seems natural enough to me that the average number of comments per post should have gone down. There are also far, far too many weird indie things these days for any one man to keep track of, so I don’t blame you for cutting back.

          1. Asdasd says:

            Perhaps, but comment counts have diminished by an average factor that lies somewhere north of 5. Post counts haven’t increased by nearly that much, maybe by a factor between 1.5 and 2.

    3. Joshua says:

      I remember being a kid, back when there were the original NES, and Atari, and arcades everywhere, and at least trying all kinds of different games, from multiple genres. These days, I can scroll through several hundred games (probably a lot of them very creative in an Indie way), and not find anything to catch my interest. Some of it may be due to being married, as it’s harder to justify playing a single-player game that my wife can’t participate in, and she’s very picky about what she likes.

  6. MilesDryden says:

    “The game often looks like The Stanley Parable,”

    No kidding. I had to look away and back at that screenshot 3 times before I could convince my brain that it wasn’t just a screen of Stanley Parable.

  7. Lazlo says:

    While I haven’t played it, I’m now convinced that Donut County needs an update.

    I can’t believe I’m saying this, but here it is: It needs multiplayer PvP.

    And it needs to accomplish this via a crossover with Katamari Damacy.

    How can we make this happen?

    1. Higher_Peanut says:

      I suggest a speed clearing fight in an arena balancing getting bigger with catching your opponent. If the katamari is too big to fall down the hole it wins as it plugs it and the hole wins if it swallows the katamari preventing the world from achieving bliss (thats what katamari do right?).

      An epic showdown between good and evil complete with stuff falling down holes and getting stuck to wonky ball things.

  8. Slim Pickings de Year says:

    This was technically a 2018 game that I missed.

    Most of the games on your list are 2018 games. Discounting the one unreleased game, you have a single 2019 title on your 2019 list so far.

    1. Henson says:

      Last Year is the new This Year.

    2. Thomas says:

      I think that says a lot about 2019. I ran into the same thing when naming the best games I played last year – the good ones were all 2018

      1. Biggus Rickus says:

        I don’t play a ton of games, but both Sekiro and Outer Worlds were very good 2019 games. Though the game I’ve loved best from last year was the patched Kingdom Come, which I finally got back into (I quit when they had a halberd bug that caused your come to stutter like crazy).

  9. Alberek says:

    The Return of the Obra Dinn is a real piece of art. The detective work you have to do is pretty strong, there aren’t many games where attention to detail is much requiered. And it really looks like game that you can enjoy better with someone around to trade ideas.
    I think there is still market for adventure games that don’t try to be movies (not that they are bad… but they aren’t all that inspired either).

  10. Christopher says:

    Donut County is a pretty chill game. I played through it almost twice this year, once when visiting some friends, and once when I got a visit from a kid cousin. Broad appeal on that one. It’s short enough that you can have it done in 1-2 hours no problem.

    I wish you could just skip all the talk, however. It’s a lot for a kid that can’t read much English, and it’s a lot for three adults just having fun with the funny hole game, taking turns to finish stages. Universally, we all would have a better time with the ability to skip those cutscenes. Not even saying they’re bad, just that they’re in the way.

  11. Ander says:

    I found Obra Dinn really difficult. Do I have no ear for accents? Is Switch resolution too low to distinguish faces? Am I slowing down on my deductive skills? I don’t know, but I couldn’t make it past 2 or 3 groupings of conclusions.

    1. Retsam says:

      You don’t need to identify accents (though I imagine that is one potential solution) or recognize faces – IIRC you can point at anyone in a scene and the game will highlight the corresponding person in the journal (in the artist depictions), so you can identify individuals without being told their names.

      More than any game I can think of, it really tests your observation skills: a lot of “puzzle” games make it obvious where the puzzle is and it’s just a case of solving it; but this game is all about identifying what parts are actually relevant to the puzzle.

      1. Syal says:

        I played the whole game muted, accents are definitely not required.

    2. kincajou says:

      I’m still going through it and am at about halfway through identifying the crew. I fonud that a lot of the identifications come from keen observation of objects,clothes and locations.

      I’ve identified a couple of people by accent (or rather i was put on the right track) but i must admit that i’m terrible at choosing between different english accents.

      The game isn’t always great at deciding which charaters are “easy” (one star) and which are “hard” (three stars) as i’ve found some of the latter with relative ease but i’m evidently missing some major clues to get some of the former.

      I would also say that there is one single memory that is incredibly useful “A bitter cold part one” as you can correlate the names of characters to their sleeping cot numbers in the passenger manifesto

    3. Ander says:

      Thanks for the responses. Honest and perhaps newbie question about the game: am I supposed to get all memories possible opened before digging into solving everything or try to work as much as possible out as I go?

      1. Thomas says:

        It helps to work out what you can as you go. There’s usually a couple which are straightforward, and then some you need more memories to unlock.

        The reason to do it as you go, is it helps you in later scenes because you’ll have eliminated some suspects already

        1. Ninety-Three says:

          Not just that, but the game supports partial solutions in a useful manner.

          If you figure out that a the guy with the scar under his eye is Bob but you still don’t know how he died, you can note that down in one memory so that later when you see that guy stabbing Fred, the game will prompt you that you already noted that guy is Bob, and you’ll be able to easily complete the “Fred was stabbed by Bob” solution.

      2. kincajou says:

        My advise is to go ahead and work out the obvious stuff as you go without spending too much time (most of them you need to have the memories unlocked before you start doing some serious digging) but focus on unlocking all the memories first and then “backtrack” according to your needs.

        Personally i like to take one unknown, check out all the memories they’re in and then move on from there.

        I must also admit i don’t get along with the “bookmark” function so i don’t use it but i imagine it may be really useful for some people

        1. Geebs says:

          It’s also pretty easy to game the “three unlocks” system by throwing in a random guess along with two dead certs.

          1. kincajou says:

            Indeed, though i must admit i haven’t needed to resort to that just yet. I’m hoping to get them all without … fingers crossed

  12. Chuk says:

    So many times when we had no paste because one of the kids ate it all.

  13. Donut County, which I had not heard of until today, just went on sale on the Switch store, since this post was made.

  14. GoStu says:

    Based on this list, I might have to check out Risk of Rain and its sequel.

    Your description of a game where “game-breaking is okay” and the synergies being effectively endless reminds me a lot of The Binding of Isaac, a game I’ve put a lot of hours into. In Isaac the items can be stacked endlessly and it’s possible to buff yourself into the stratosphere where even the final bosses go down in seconds. There’s so-called ‘soft’ synergies that can break the game, there’s hard-coded interactions (that can break the game), and there’s a few brute-force ways to break the game as well.

    I got pretty tired of The Binding of Isaac though and really got tired of creator Edmund McMillan’s endless recurring “poop, gore, and gross” motifs. So maybe Risk of Rain can scratch that itch without having to delve into that particular sort of weirdness.

    1. Fizban says:

      Same here for all of that: Binding of Issac is great, if you can trudge through the poop. I think it’s pretty safe to call it the big exploder moment for random powerup collecting action roguelikes, and it literally allows infinite (or nigh-infinite) loops limited only by your patience once they’re set up.

      Risk of Rain 1 was great, but just too hard if you ask me- take some time off and lose your edge and it’d take way too long to get to the point I could finish a solo run on even the easiest difficulty, with the easiest solo characters (and multiplayer was as likely to make it worse as to help). I haven’t played many others, but Issac has what I think is a fairly unique system of multiple possible run endpoints, which can let you triumphantly bail-out, or stubbornly choose to continue, where most games it’s more binary full win or die and you’ve no choice in the matter. I’m waiting for the completed launch of RoR2 before I pick it up, otherwise I’d just burn to the point I’ve seen enough and then drop it before it’s even done.

      Of course there are other action roguelikes with less poopy aesthetics, but there’s usually something else I don’t like about them. Gungeon is an *actual* “twin-stick shooter,” which I’m garbage at because my right thumb does camera control, not flat plane aiming (while Issac’s keybord roots mean the firing is locked to cardinal directions). Youtube has recommended me some Underminder videos, but it seems far more about gaming the acquisition of loot, with lame attacks. There was a “zelda” roguelike on Switch or something, but the aesthetic was just as annoying as the poop but in a different way- heals were modern fast food and snacks while items were things like a vinyl record instead of a boomerang, the “kids pretending house item is X” sort of thing. Wizard of Legend is nifty and lets you feel straight out of Avatar or something similar, but is once again just a little too hard and getting through is too based on luck or gaming he upgrades (15 hours and not a single reach of the final zone, even though I’m sure I’ve seen all the trinkets and non-endgame spells by now). A Wizard’s Lizard seemed great, generic fantasy aesthetic with a cute gimmick, but it also expects actual twin-stick aiming. Etc.

      Basically it turns out that Binding of Issac, the one that got me into them, is also the only one that actually lines up right. And every expansion adds more gross-out bosses and enemies.

      1. Rack says:

        Hades and Dead Cells are my favourite Roguelikes of recent years, having bounced of Wizard of Legend and Risk of Rain because they are too difficult and Binding of Isaac because of the theming.

      2. GoStu says:

        I’m actually a really big fan of Gungeon. You don’t hit the same peaks that Isaac can give you, but the lows are nowhere near as low as a terrible Isaac run. I’ve got a lot more control over how a run plays out due to skill, and even a “bad” Gungeon run is really only one or two decent pickups away from becoming good again. The game doesn’t seem to delight in having perplexingly awful items either.

        There’s definitely some of what feels like pointless cruelty in Isaac. The curse that just teleports you around at random, the curse that takes your minimap away, or the wretched combination of both… I’ve never found dealing with these to be anything other than frustration.

  15. Marty says:

    I love Dusk but I’m not sure if I’d have liked it as much had it existed in 1997. I feel like I played a lot of FPS games back when and I’m not sure that the way it’s ‘good’ (well paced, Skyrim-doors, nice variety, memes/ self aware humor, good movement mechanics, ludicrous gibs) would make it stand out. I remember playing a demo for Chasm: The Rift, a spooky FPS with quake-ish tech released in 1997, and thinking it was pretty good but never got around to buying it. Digressions aside, the game is a gem for 90s fps fans and I suggest going into the game as blind as possible if you’re planning on playing it.

  16. unit3000-21 says:

    I absolutely love Dusk (i’m in the middle of Cero Miedo Untouchable playthrough at the moment).
    It’s as if you played a lot of Blood and Quake, and then had a lurid fever dream that combines them both while also being better then them. It plays the way i remember playing old school FPS games felt, not how they actually feel like when I return to them.
    I didn’t mind keyhunting – I guess it never bothered me in the 90’s either. The only thing I have against it is a sort of cheapness to the animations, but it’s understandable considering it was made by one person.
    Otherwise I love it. Good weapons that feel great to use, excellent level design (I also like how it changes moods, and gets more abstract the further you go), interesting enemies, and what I consider to be Hulshult’s best soundtrack.
    I liked it from the minute I started it and heard the fakeDOS sounds, and rather than do it in 20 minute bursts like Shamus I finished my first playthrough in two nights.
    This one definitely goes on my Ultimate Favourite Games list.

  17. Philadelphus says:

    I remember Donut County came out before Proton did last year, and I desperately wanted to play it and couldn’t. Then Proton came out, and I could! And it was just as fun as I’d hoped. One of the small number of games I’ve gotten 100% of the achievements for.

    While I haven’t played Risk of Rain, the idea of “it’s OK to break the game” reminds me of another game I got hooked on over Christmas: Noita. It’s a sort of…um…2D rogue-lite-like platformer where every single pixel is physically simulated and responds to physics. You play as a…well, “noita” apparently means “witch” in Finnish, so we’ll go with that, and your goal is to descend into the depths to fight a boss (I haven’t reached it yet myself) while creating you own customized magic wands from random spells you find lying about in the world. You can mix and match these spells nigh-endlessly, and there are countless GIF of people creating wands that range in power from “fusion bomb” to “Infinity Gauntlet” to “I deleted the world by misclicking”. (Helped by the fact that the game now has a built-in GIF creator that works something like Shadow Play in that it constantly saves the last ~15 seconds of action.) It’s know for having a ridiculous amount of randomization and for runs getting cut short by weird circumstances, such as an enemy grabbing a wand lying around and firing at you which just happened to contain a nuke spell, or getting polymorphed into a reindeer and dying to your own overpowered spell backlash (may or may not have happened to me yesterday).

    For me, the appeal comes from the ability to come up with wacky and crazy-powerful wands, and watching the world respond to my blowing holes in parts of it, or drenching it in acid, or setting it on fire (the 2D liquid physics in particular are a real treat for me). Unfortunately there’s no fall damage (for anyone), but in my run yesterday I had a fun two-part system where I’d paint targets with a personal gravity field that pulled projectiles in, then stunlock them with a series of sticky projectiles which also had a freezing aura attached and exploded into flammable gas and napalm. It brought back the joys of sticking someone with a sticky grenade in Halo 2

    1. Alexi says:

      Noita looks intriguing. Reminds me of a rogue-like mixed with Powder Game

    2. Galad says:

      I also play a lot of Noita, and it’s fittingly rare that one manages to become very powerful in this game. Say, where might one find those GIFs you mentioned?

      1. Ninety-Three says:

        If you Google “Noita Discord” you’ll find a server for the game, #noita-chat, #noita-stories and #wandcrafting tend to be filled with gifs of the ridiculous antics people get up to.

        That said, it’s actually pretty easy to become overpowered once you know what you’re doing. The biggest trick is the chainsaw spell, which reduces a wand’s recharge time (and also as a hidden modifier, its cast time). If you get your cast and recharge times down to zero (multicast mods help), the wand will fire on every single frame of the game, turning it into a ridiculous machine gun. The more mods you can throw into it the stronger it will be, but the simplest wand good enough to carry you through the game is something like “Double cast -> Spark bolt with trigger -> Chainsaw -> Chainsaw” on a wand with low cast and recharge times.

        You still can’t find chainsaws or other recharge-reducers consistently, but it happens to me often enough that it’s part of the main play experience, and something about Noita’s gameplay makes it joyously fun to obliterate levels with a fifty-foot lightsaber. I’ve logged over a hundred hours in the game and being overpowered does not get old.

        1. Philadelphus says:

          Just yesterday I beat the game for the first time, and during that run I tested a Quadruple-Cast Nuke with a Furious Buildup modifier (a spell modifier from a mod which adds about a 2-second delay to a projectile before launching it with increased power). It’s a good thing I had Explosion Immunity, because I was not prepared for that blast radius. I never seem to have much luck coming across Chainsaws to build lightsabers though, so I tend to build sneaky indirect fire wands where I just need to peak and tag an enemy (or fire around corners with Homing Shots) to have them die eventually.

  18. methermeneus says:

    The game often looks like The Stanley Parable, makes vaguely threatening jokes like Portal,

    and The Stanley Parable

    and has strange spatial puzzles like AntiChamber.

    and Portal and occasionally The Stanley Parable.

  19. RCN says:

    Shamus… sorry to tell you.

    But you missed 4 guys to shoot at on that level of Dusk. It must suck to know that.

    1. Asdasd says:

      Their names were Inky, Blinky, Pinky and Clyde.

  20. Moss says:

    Shamus, I hope this message finds you. I have a problem that is irrelevant to your post but relevant to your site.

    The “Reply” link below a comment is activated upon press, not on release (at least for phone users). This means that when I scroll the comments using finger-drag, I sometimes hit a “Reply” by accident, and my entire screen is filled with a textbox and phone keyboard.

    This is immensely annoying. Can you fix the Reply links to be activated on release, not on press?

    1. Lino says:

      +1

      It really is quite annoying.

      1. Philadelphus says:

        I, too, experience this while browsing comments on my phone.

        1. Dan Efran says:

          Oh, so that’s what’s been causing it! Yeah, +1

    2. Carlo T says:

      Have the same issue

  21. Mephane says:

    Oh, Superliminal sounds just like the type of game I’d enjoy, I wonder how I could miss its release. Maybe I merely wishlisted it because I was too busy with other games at the time? A quick check – nope, not on the list. Well, accidents happen, so I enter the name in the search box and… nothing. Okay then, time for the nuclear option: Google. Aaaaand the top result is the Epic Games Store. Yeah, that explains it.

    And this concludes my first Epic Games Store rant of the year 2020.

  22. Dreadjaws says:

    This is known as one of Duke Nukem’s catchphrases, but he actually “borrowed” it from Army of Darkness.

    To be fair, that’s true for many of Duke’s catchphrases.

  23. I cannot imagine anyone else who would think to make an LMFAO reference in 2020.

    1. Shamus says:

      It’s an old-timey sailing ship, so I tried to think of something that was super out of date. (But still recent enough that people would recognize it.)

      It was either this or Black Eyed Peas.

      1. Lino says:

        I literally laughed out loud after I read that! I have a soft spot for outdated references :D

      2. PPX14 says:

        Outdated?! As per my other comment, I thought this was a recent song until noticing the other day that it is 8 whole years old.

        I also assumed PSY Gangnam Style was still no.1 on Youtube, with about 2.8Bn views.

        Apparently since university the lack of the music channel being on permanently in the house, and my friends listening to Capital, and not watching TV, has left me unaware of pop culture. Thank goodness!

  24. Sleeping Dragon says:

    As always late to the party.

    I don’t know what it is about those “absorb things to become bigger so you can absorb ever bigger things” games but they really appeal to me on some primal level. Both Tasty Planet games are something I’ve replayed a couple times and I squealed with glee when Katamari Damacy got a PC port, have not played Donut County yet but it seems like it’ll be another good one.

    So I gave Dusk a pass but put it back on my wishlist following your description here. Shooters aren’t my first gener of choice and I’ll definitely do some more research before buying it but those “novelty levels” are like 90% of the appeal of old timey shooters to me and maybe Dusk recaptures that feel.

    1. PPX14 says:

      Oh gosh, agar.io was so satisfying

    2. Richard says:

      Solar 2 (and Solar) will probably be to your liking then.

      Start as a lowly sentient asteriod, and eventually consume all the mass in the Universe!

  25. PPX14 says:

    I figured it out. LMFAO came aboard and all of these people died of party rocking. Case closed.

    You know what I found out a couple of days ago? This reference is now 8 YEARS OLD. My being annoyed at this song, band and video, happened eight entire years ago!!! What on earth. It also shows how pop music has felt largely the same to me for about 15 years now.

  26. ivan says:

    You will probably like this, Shamus;
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cWEFbdk-hg8

    Or, you may have already seen it. Anyway, there’s one man’s love letter to Sapienza for you all.

    For me, it’s tantalising, cos I already decided to not buy either of the new Hitsmen until they exist in an offline and also complete state. I played and liked the free intros to both, though, so I can only imagine the rest of the levels are all generally pretty nice as well.

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