2023-01-04: More Stuff I Played Recently
New year, old me - still playin a whole bunch of games. Today's list is a bit less niche than I would have preferred, but then again I'm an imperfect man. To compensate, I frontloaded the less well known stuff, so you can just ollie outie when you start recognising the titles. You're welcome.
A melancholy, introspective game, but significantly less surreal and abstract than the developer's other games. You walk around and talk to people in a small Scottish village, take in the sights and sounds, and occasionally grapple with the existential issues of the characters you meet along the way. Just keep in mind that there are some genuinely discomforting and depressing things to experience, in case that's something you'd rather avoid.
This game is very unique, but I'm having some trouble articulating why this is the case with any degree of grace. So here's a numbered list instead.
1. Very cleverly, the game uses what looks like low resolution photogrammetry to depict imperfect reconstructions of a dead person's memories.
2. It separates memories into "objective" and "subjective" states, where the former is as close to the objective reality as your mind reader AI can get, and the latter represents the person's mental state and emotions in symbolic and interpretive ways.
3. There are very (very (very...)) verbose (but optional) bits of worldbuilding and philosophy to flesh out the world and the implications of your choices.
In short: cool game, fun story 👍
Some developers know their limits. Arachnid Games, the developers of Diluvion, do not. The game is tearing at the seams, with a janky and dysfunctional UI, docking stations clipping through the terrain, enemies materialising out of thin air, and quests failing to trigger; from a technical perspective, it's a fucking mess. And yet, it's a great game despite all that. It looks like the developers ditched this poor malformed baby somewhere along the line, unable or unwilling to apply the sticky tape and prayers required to get the game in a polished state, but what's left is a deeply charming game, which is fairly simplistic but very addictive, all about piloting a ragtag submarine crew trying to free humanity from the underwater ice prison the gods put them in centuries ago. To avoid waffling too much about the gameplay, Diluvion feels a lot like one of those obscure PS2 games, creative and buggy and punching above its weight, but never really achieving commercial success for one reason or another. Overcome the bugs and there's a brilliant subnautical adventure to be had here, a torchbearer of early 2000s game design in a world that seems to have, for better and for worse, moved on.
I love tight, fast-paced 3D platformers, and if they look like they came from the PS1, that's just icing on the cake. Lunistice is exactly that, with tight and fair controls, level design that encourages satisfying flowing movement, and a fair bit of challenge in S-ranking all the levels. It took me about three hours to S-rank the game (as the main character - there are two crossover characters with their own movement styles), but that's three hours of gorgeous chunky retro graphics, fun platforming, and some very enjoyable music.
Hello Charlotte (EP1, EP2, EP3)
This is a difficult game to talk about, partially because you start to spoil the game as soon as you get into anything of substance. The first two episodes are free, the third is dirt cheap. Consider this a very brief but enthusiastic recommendation.
ACE Team, who you might know better for Zeno Clash, Rock of Ages, or the Eternal Cylinder, are no strangers to making weird and offbeat worlds, and in a way this is actually one of their most grounded games. Aesthetically and narratively, it's a parody of shlocky 60s and 70s sci-fi flicks, with the game being treated as director commentary over film footage. The gameplay is some twin stick action RPG business with platforming elements. I don't play enough ARPGs to know if it stands up as an ARPG, but I know what I enjoyed most about the game was the exploration. The entire game is set on a small island with a gigantic tower, and progress takes you progressively higher up the tower, unlocking checkpoints/fast travel spots along the way. At basically any point you can leap off the nearest edge and skydive down to any point below you - this is actually the only way to reach some areas! You're encouraged to peek off edges to hunt for hidden bullseyes and skydive through rings, and platform around to hidden or difficult to reach areas for Easter eggs and upgrade materials. It has the sort of level design philosophy all platformers should strive for, in my opinion.
I'm gonna be real, the actual gameplay in this game is nothing to write home about, it's utterly unremarkable in every single way, serviceable at best and unpolished and overly easy at worst. The game is also extremely endearing, to the point that the story and the tone saves the whole experience for me. It's got that Toby Fox style of overbearing sincerity, where, sure, there'll be jokes and references and the game will sometimes poke fun at itself, but when push comes to shove it's going to be wearing its heart on its sleeve and letting emotional and sombre moments play out without sabotaging their impact with insecure irony. It's an enjoyable world to spend some time in, even if it can get a bit saccharine at times.
Shadows Over Loathing is to Lovecraftian horror what West of Loathing is to the Wild West, and both of these games are like Kingdom of Loathing except actually playable for a reason beyond a psychological addiction to seeing numbers go up. In case this means nothing to you, Shadows Over Loathing is a stickman comedy RPG with turn based combat, puzzle solving, many secrets, and lots and lots of dialogue with lots and lots of jokes. It's got a very characteristic sense of humour which I have no idea how to describe, which is quite unhelpful considering it's (in my opinion) the main draw of the game.
The first and only game from ULTRA ULTRA, a short-lived studio founded by former IO Interactive devs. Less niche than the games I normally talk about, perhaps, but I find there to be something quite romantic about lost causes. Speaking of, I'm not sure how to describe ECHO while doing it justice. It's certainly a beautiful game, offering a sort of ornate sci-fi aesthetic I've not seen outside the Deus Ex prequels, with levels that have this architectural uncanny valley quality to them. It's not the most varied game, visually, but it's simultaneously lavish and Baroque and empty and sterile, a funky little juxtaposition that had me hooked for the game's whole runtime. The third person stealth also kinda reminded me of the Deus Ex prequels, and all the hours I'd spend in third person, back glued to a wall, waiting for the exact right time to execute a little animation of Jensen beating the shit out of someone in what I am meant to believe is total silence. To be fair to ECHO, it has no sticky cover mechanics, the camera is fixed to third person, and your takedowns explicitly aren't
silent, but the vibes are similar. I'd talk more about light-dark cycles and echoes and shit, but you can read about all of that on the Steam page. Just consider this a Certified Rickommendation.
I've heard of this game. You've heard of this game. Everyone's heard of this game. Don't you fuckin lie to me. Anyway, it's pretty good. It insists on using every frustrating mechanic from PS1 era survival horror games that inspired it, but at least the tank controls are optional.
And that's your lot. Or my lot, I guess. I dunno, hopefully there'll be some games more deserving of my (extremely dim) spotlight next time, when I actually get around to playing all the fuckin games I bought during the winter sale.