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A whole new persona
My Steam Wrapped listed Baldur's Gate 3 and Vampire Survivors as my top two games of 2023. If Epic Games and my Switch were involved, Fortnite and Persona 5 Royal would've absolutely been included in the lineup, too. Motivation has lain mostly in co-op capers with friends, hangs with virtual pals, or in the battle royale-verse. Otherwise, nothing has truly given me the itch.
But I think 2024 could be a big one for me. Not only are a number of upcoming RPGs right up my alley, they align with new and existing motivations: hangs with pals and Japanese language learning. For the first time, I'm excited to embrace the grind both in-game and outside of it.
I don't look for Christmas games. Partly because they're basically all terrible, and partly because of how tiresome it is when everything is saturated with the same theme wherever you look. But Ebenezer And The Invisible World is about helping Scrooge run around London bashing capitalists and other evil spirits with his cane, and summoning friendly ghosts to prevent Caspar Malthus from genociding the working class. I simply could not find out what the hell was going on there.
Turns out, it's kinda good. But it has too many problems to reach much beyond that.
Don't burn it
It's always saddened me that Simogo's brilliant text-based adventure Device 6 has been trapped on iOS-only devices since it first came out... ten years ago? Hell's bells, now I feel old. If you're unfamiliar with it, it's about a girl named Anna who must escape from a mysterious island, but the whole game is presented like you're reading a book - only one that you can click on and prod with your fingers to reveal new puzzles within that text. It's very clever, especially when it occasionally asks you to rotate your device to navigate parts of its game worlds - there's an excellent bit with stairs that I won't spoil, but seriously, if you haven't played Device 6 and you own an iOS device, go and download it now.
Once you've done that, you should also have a look this year's Delete After Reading, which does a very good impression of it for us folks on PC, hiding smart, tactile text puzzles inside its interactive spy thriller.
Supporters only: I will miss E3 because I'll miss others reacting to it
For an informed, insightful take on E3's end, please go and read Alice0's piece on why she misses it because it only lasted a week, not months. Here, you'll find markedly less insight, but a more personal take on why my E3s lay, largely, with others. More than anything, I'll miss E3 because I liked watching the original Gametrailers crew react to it live. And I liked watching them form Easy Allies once GT closed and continue the tradition, suiting up and completely losing it to the big reveals.
Supporters only: Colony Ship pairs a decent RPG design with an excellent premise
RPGs are among the trickiest candidates for any kind of coverage where you can't basically book a week off to do little else, but I've had my eye on Colony Ship for a while. After a too-soon dabble in early access, I was already intrigued by its setting. You'll never guess.
It's a welcome change from dusty radiation or goddamn elves again, and the RPG structure feels flexible and fairly responsive to your actions even before you start picking sides and ideologies. It hasn't quite stolen my heart, but it may well steal some of my christmas.
One more for I'M SORRY: 2023 Edition
Okay, okay, I know the last two of these have only been fairly lukewarm interpretations of what I'd normally consider 'good', but listen, this is the real deal folks. Roto Force is excellent, and comes with a hearty recommendation for both twin-stick shmuppers and, you know, cool people in general. It's also an excellent Steam Deck game.
Supporters only: I hope GTA 6's Vice City embraces the mundane
It probably won't, but still
Rockstar has released a 90-second GTA 6 trailer! Wowee! No seriously, ignoring my cynicism for a second, it does look really impressive. As I mentioned in our RPS reacts piece, I'm genuinely excited by the prospect of a renewed Vice City and you bet I'll be there for the inevitable five-minute narrated trailer that begins with a person saying, "Welcome to Vice City".
There's no doubt Vice City is going to be dense and chaotic, going by all the twerking and the social media parodies of real life Florida folks. But really, I do hope that Rockstar doesn't just reserve next-gen's horsepower for wildness. I want some peace, some quiet, some innocuous suburbs to laze around in. That would be nice.
Supporters only: Orten Was The Case deserves a more appreciative player than me
Barrio no esta
Once in a while I have to figure out how to recommend a game I know I'm never going to touch again. Orten Was The Case is an adventure game, which triggers a reflexive "ugh", and it's a big elaborate puzzle, which I have limited patience for, and it's a time-loop game, making it a cool and well-realised concept that happens to be a poor fit for my scattered brain. I wish I enjoyed it as much as some of you will, because it's clearly a bit special.
My annual I'M SORRY: 2023 Edition continues
With apologies to Bithell Games for the two-in-a-row smackdown of games they released this year, the next entry on my list of good things that didn't quite make my personal GOTY rankings in 2023 is none other than The Banished Vault. I'll put my hands up here - I really did intend to review this one properly when it came out back in July, and I regret never quite getting round to it. Time, as ever, escaped me in the run-up to Gamescom, but it was also one of the first games in a while where I felt I wasn't quite equipped to do it justice.
Supporters only: Little Goody Two Shoes is a weird gay witch's delight
Put the coven on
One of my favourite game experiences is basically anything that makes me go "what is happening?" in the right combination of bewilderment and joy.
Little Goody Two Shoes is a life simulator adventure dating game hybrid full of secrets and mutually exclusive options that encourage replays. Going into it blind definitely heightened the sense of enjoyable confusion, and the joy of gradually going from "is... is this gay?" to "oh this is super gay" and "is this a game about hiding secret gay relationships from the backwards villagers" to "oh this is totally about being secretly gay and also automatically covering for a witch because these people can eat it".
Supporters only: Call Of Duty should pay attention to the return of a badminton star
Yes, I have found another excuse to write about badminton
This year's Call Of Duty entry is Call Of Duty: Modern Warfare 3, but it's actually the second Modern Warfare 3 because the first Modern Warfare 3 came out in 2011. In my multiplayer review, I say that it preys on nostalgia, because it does! The game's multiplayer schtick is all about bringing back classic maps to act as a smokescreen for a lack of direction. At least, that's what I think.
I find all this nostalgia stuff interesting, mainly because it's coincided with three other events in my own personal timeline (Chapter 29 Season 11, you could say): A League Of Legends pro-player called Faker, the resurgence of a badminton star, and Fortnite's own OG event. The thing that separates them all from COD? A plan.
My annual I'M SORRY list returns as we head in Advent season
In the death throes of last December, I wrote about all the games I wanted to review in 2022 but eventually ran out of time for when we finally packed up the Treehouse for Christmas and took our annual turkey nap. It was quite a long list, all things considered, I will probably still end up making another one by the time this year's annual meat snooze rolls around, too. 2023 has arguably been stuffed with even more good games than we had last year, and I will be the first to admit that my eyes are, indeed, frequently too big for what I can feasibly hope to play in any given month.
But I also thought it would also be fun to get ahead of the game slightly by turning some of my remaining supporter posts for the year into a kind of extended I'M SORRY: 2023 Edition series, talking about games I have actually liked and played, but which a) didn't end up making it onto my personal GOTY list (just to keep you Advent Calender guessing gamers on your toes), and b) we also weren't able to review on the site, either due to lack of time, code or, well, no, it's really just time. Time is our eternal enemy. And the first game I'd like to talk about is Tron: Identity.
Supporters only: Kona 2's mystery and icy atmosphere work even if you're new
I've a bit of a soft spot for a good frozen outdoors setting. Sure, they can be a bit one note visually, but considering that even a doghole like London looks beautiful in the snow, it can be a strong note.
Kona 2 Colon Brume's snowy post-blizzard setup makes pretty good on the promise, and also smartly contrasts those stark snowbanks and deadly cold forests with the traditional cramped, dark indoors of many a horror game. I suspect I'd have enjoyed it less had it started with the latter, and truth be told, I'm not sure it's quite my thing overall. But it's held my attention so far, which most of its peers don't.
Supporters only: This micro citybuilder is a high rise delight
If Townscaper was, you know, more of a game
Reader, I have a confession to make. I have tried long and hard to like adorable citybuilder Townscaper, but I just cannot muster much affection for it. I love how it looks, I love what it does, and I will endlessly admire how its little multi-coloured building bricks morph and shift, smooshed together in far more creative ways than I could ever manage myself. But when presented with a blank canvas and no direction on what to do with said multi-coloured building bricks, my mind seizes up and straight up refuses to extract any joy from it. It's a feeling I fear will apply to the equally charming Tiny Glade when that eventually comes out as well, based on the very lovely GIFs I've seen of it so far, and honestly, there are times when I worry my brain is just a teeny bit broken and I have lost the ability to find joy in what are clearly very joyful little creations.
But then I play games like Pile Up!, a micro citybuilder that's very much in the same vein as Townscaper, and realise, oh no, I do just need some objectives and structure to my game playing for everything to be fine again.
Supporters only: What's your favourite PS1-demake game?
Crow Country is the latest PSX-style game to catch my eye, and is kinda like FF7 and Resident Evil had a horrible mutant theme park baby
As a staunch Nintendo head in the early console days, I would say my affection for PS1-era games is... present, but not particularly palpable. For me, the PlayStation One was mostly a machine to play Final Fantasies VII through IX on, and not much else (it was a very belated and cheap second-hand purchase, I should note, and games were still sufficiently expensive back then that maintaining two healthy game libraries for both the family N64 and my new Squall box was nigh on impossible). Nevertheless, I've been increasingly fascinated by the revival of PS1-era games in recent years, and it's been interesting to see which modern games have been "demade" in this style - see Bloodborne PSX - and which ones have made it their own from the off - see Signalis, Heartworm, and many others.
Crow Country is the latest game I've seen to take up the PSX mantle, and it combines the chunkiness of Final Fantasy VII-style character models with the grimy survival horror of something like Resident Evil to brilliant effect. Made by SFB Games, the same devs wot made the also excellent Tangle Tower, it's currently got a very good demo up on Steam at the moment, and it's got me thinking: what do you like most about PS1-era games on PC, and which ones are your all-time favs?
Supporters only: Letter From The Editor #13: The Advent Calendar cometh
An inside look at how we compile our games of the year list
Hello folks. I know we've barely broken out of spooky season, but over in the RPS Treehouse we're rapidly preparing to warm up our vocal chords and bellow "It's CHRIIIIIIIISTMASSSSSS" from the rooftops in the spirit of Slade's seasonal epic. That's right. Advent Calendar season is upon us, and we'll be voting for our favourite games of the year very shortly. So I thought I'd use this month's Letter From The Editor to give you a little behind the scenes glimpse of how we'll be doing this in the coming weeks, and how we generally go about putting it all together every year.
There are dozens of us, dozens!
In 2021, Twitter user Thomas Violence, an Australian podcaster who was working in a bar at the time, recounted that a 19-year-old had asked for a refund on their drink because they realised they were too drunk already. One of the early replies was an "ummm actually," pointing out that you had to be 21 to buy booze in most states, and Thomas Violence responded "I'm one of the dozens of people worldwide that live in a country that's not America". I am reminded of this tweet a lot, and I am reminded of it whenever I log on to Puzzmo, a new daily browser-based puzzle service from Orta Therox and Zach "Zach Gage" Gage.
Puzzmo is great, and currently in a sort of gradually expanding beta where you can sign up to get a chance to be sent a log-in, or existing users can give two friends a log-in (I have used mine already, sorry). Every day you get a few different puzzles, with a subscription model offering bonus puzzles. I've not subbed because I'm just not built for anagram puzzles and I do not understand chess, which form about half of the daily offering, but I enjoy doing the daily fliparts and crosswords a lot. Except. The crosswords always have clues that are very specific to the USA.
Supporters only: Don't miss this exquisite 15 minute setpiece in Alan Wake 2
You won't regret sticking with Alan's side of the story, trust me
Readers, I must tell you something. If you're currently playing Alan Wake 2 and haven't continued with Alan's part of the story after reaching the point where you can switch between him and Saga, STOP WHAT YOU'RE DOING IMMEDIATELY.
I know Saga's an infinitely better hang than Alan, but trust me on this. You are ignoring what is arguably the best 15 minutes of video game you'll play all year. Don't make the same mistake I did and play as Saga for 20 hours, only to realise that this utter masterpiece of a level was sitting here the entire time. Do the right thing. Continue Alan's story. You won't regret it (and spoilers to follow below, obvs).
Supporters only: GeoDepths is digging and smelting, but good
Is this a bit
What a great little thing. You've surely seen a hundred post-Minecraft games about building a base to smelt iron to build a base, and probably even thought to yourself that they look entirely fine but kind of... redundant? There's only so many times you can walk back and forth from a cave to a forge.
But what if instead of trudging around a grey cave, you were driving a big drilling machine instead? It's so simple, and yet it makes all the difference in GeoDepths.
Supporters only: An English Haunting's spooky demo makes me wish it was out right now
Maybe next year? Pretty please?
I've many a Halloweeny game to recommend to you (Saturnalia, Hob's Barrow, Wytchwood, World Of Horror and even, I suppose, Alan Wake 2, although I'm sort of enjoying it in the wrong way to think of it as a Halloween apropos game) but I'm short on recommendations for myself. I rarely replay games, let alone horror games, which are often one-and-done sorts of things - though I do, of course, enter the Pumpkin Carving Festival every year.
I want something that has a general air of spookiness without being a jumpscare frightfest. If I hadn't played The Tartarus Key already I'd be playing that, is what I'm saying. But the other day I played the demo for An English Haunting and it's exactly what I want. It's just not going to be out for a while. Rats!
Supporters only: Lunacid is lo-fi first-person dungeon skulking done right
On the other hand
I lost my way with Lunacid last year, early on after stumbling through a small warren of spongey enemies. Trying it again this week rewarded my patience and taught me that I'd had the tool I needed all along, but dismissed them because it didn't work immediately. Playing beyond that has elevated it from "not my thing but I should cover it because it's someone else's" to "wait, this might be my thing? Damn it".
Like, all of them
Earlier this week, Square Enix decided to ruin over a decade's worth of CD collecting by sticking all of their incredible Final Fantasy Piano Collection soundtracks online, for free, on pretty much every streaming service imaginable. The sheer cheek of it! Honestly, I'm still mildly shocked by it all. Just the thought of all that brilliant music, available to everyone, for zero pence and import fees. What an outstanding gift to the world. (Well, the real gift would be re-printing the fabled Final Fantasy X-2 Piano Collections CD and/or sticking that online as well, if you ask me, but hey, I'll allow them this one little omission).
After all, there's an absolute treasure trove of music you lucky lot get to dig into now, so if you're wondering where to start or just fancy yet another guided tour through some of Final Fantasy's best music tracks, allow me to forcibly volunteer myself to regale you with some of my personal favourite highlights.
Supporters only: My Little Universe is like a crafting sim meets an idle clicker
You don't even have to click if you don't want to
I like to-do list games. Take Wytchwood, where your to-do list is stuff like 'craft trap to catch lizard to use lizard eyes to craft weapon to defeat ghost to...' and so on. My Little Universe, which is clearly best played in co-op, and would be good to play with kids if you have sourced any of those from somewhere, is like a to-do list game that reduces crafting to the barest minimum. You are basically collecting raw resources and pouring them into a bottomless maw. Despite that description, it's quite charming.
I’m being sensored
I loved the premise of Deadnaut. It's the tactility of chunky spaceship interfaces combined with the frustration of the corporation cheaping out on everything and not caring that it'll get everyone killed. It's the desperate crews exploring derelicts out on the fringes of the known, where terrible, unspeakable things have been unleashed. Alien by way of Duskers.
I didn't love playing it, though. It was too frantic, too awkward, too short. Deadnaut Colon Signal Lost changes all those things and more. It's more like a re-interpretation of its own ideas than a direct sequel. Consequently, it's sanded off a little of its unique nature, but overall is a much better game.
Even though it's a bloody roguelike. Godddd.
Supporters only: Tunic's Piano Sketches is my new favourite forever soundtrack
You heard it here first
At the beginning of September, the soundtrack for Tunic disappeared from streaming services. The composers, Lifeformed and Janice Kwan, said they'd received several false DMCA takedown notices for their work, which had resulted in the removal of both Tunic's soundtrack from numerous platforms, as well as three more of their albums. For a while, things looked very uncertain about the likelihood of their soundtracks returning. Left without much recourse against their distributor, the composers eventually filed a counterclaim to try and better protect their work and get them back online. Thankfully, they were successful, and all four soundtracks are back where they belong.
It's been a messy saga about that's highlighted several issues about how DMCA claims can be manipulated like this, and they're not the only ones it's happened to recently, either. Fortunately for the Tunic duo at least, the situation's since been resolved and their soundtracks are now back where they belong - and to celebrate, they've released a whole new set of Tunic tracks that they describe as "initial piano concepts" for some of its major themes. And hey. You know me. I love a good piano collection of a video game soundtrack, so it is probably no surprise whatsoever that I've more or less had this on repeat for the last month. It's so, so, so good.
Supporters only: Highway Rampage is an overwhelming, hypnotic arcade...well, rampage
Driving Miss Crazy
Good lord. That run was 90 minutes? It felt like twenty, and also like six days. Highway Rampage is a small game, but after the way it's gripped me right from its beautifully cool intro, I can't not bring it to your attention.
This is an arcade blasting game through and through, where conscious strategy and placed shots soon shrink into rearview atoms as the pull of the machine gunner takes you and you realise you've been screaming for the last eight seconds. You drive a selection of vehicles across an increasingly ludicrous desert while everything in the universe tries to stop you. But you have guns. Or flamethrowers. That are bristling with ramming spikes. Or possibly all of the above.
Supporters only: Ask RPS... anything you like (round two)!
A second call for reader questions from RPS supporters
Hello folks. It's been a while since we've done one of these (apologies for that), but off the back of our free month RPS Premium trial in September, I wanted to put out another call for reader questions from our fine crop of supporters - as an extra thank you and benefit for your continued support of the site. This is your opportunity to ask us, the RPS editorial team, questions about games, the site, the way we do things, and other things we like. These questions will then be answered in our semi-regular (ish, sort of, as best we can) Ask RPS column, which is a public post available to everyone. So come and tell us what's been on your mind in the comments below.
Supporters only: A two-year break made Axis Football 2024 feel crunchy, yet smoother
Correction: In 2022 the Axis series switched from titling its games for their current year to titling them for next year. Since I skipped last year's installment, and searches for "Axis Football 2022" brought up nothing, I got horribly confused and wrongly stated that the series skipped 2022 entirely. I apologise for this embarrassing error, and for not realising it until the exact moment everyone at RPS went home for the weekend. Although that latter part is at least quite funny.
The result is still iterative improvement, but a more noticeable one in lots of small ways. Its animations in particular combine more naturally, with players visibly struggling to tackle, catch, or shake off an opponent. It feels like a punchier sport, making the significance of blocking and positioning clearer, and bringing out the drama that its coaching mode in particular really thrives on.
Atlus and Vanillaware, why have you forsaken me?
During the Nintendo Direct the other week, a single game stood head and shoulders above the rest for me. It wasn't Super Mario Wonder (though that does look pretty all right for a 2D Mario game), and it wasn't F-Zero 99 (which I sort of instantly dismissed as a cheap cash-in on that most excellent of neglected Nintendo racing games but have since been told is also quite good). Rather, it was the news that the insta-sit-up-and-pay-attention pairing of Atlus and Vanillaware were making a new fantasy tactics RPG called - wait for it - Unicorn Overlord, and woah nelly, it looks absolutely incredible. Vanillaware games have always been a feast for the eyes - see Muramasa: The Demon Blade on Wii and more recently 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim on PS4 and Switch - and the thought of marrying those lovely visuals with what appears to be a pixel art mash-up of Final Fantasy Tactics and Fire Emblem? Yes please and thank you.
I was all ready to gush about it in a news post and whack it straight into our release date calendar when I first saw it. But then my heart sank. The press release for it came through, and despite it launching on literally every other console including the Nintendo Switch, PC was not among them. My heart. It was broken.
I like small things - models, and what not - but I'm not patient enough to build them from scratch myself. Lego sets represent an ideal, if monstrously expensive, solution. I can build the thing without having to make all the constituent parts of it. I've recently gotten well into the modular city sets, to the extent that I look up discontinued sets on eBay and other such secondhand vendors. I don't actually get sets very often, but last week I built a police station, which can slot next to the bookshop I got for my last birthday. And while the bookshop has cute details - like a book called Moby Brick with a white block leaping from the sea on the cover, and an attic flat with a pet iguana in a glass tank - the copshop has some secret secrets that are the Lego equivalent of leaving a skeleton in a toilet stall. But better.