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Games of Christmas: Also-rans

Hello! You won’t believe how tricky RPS is to digest. Well… maybe you will. I’ve been looking at this website thing, and there’s some dense indigestible paragraphs in here. I thought games were supposed to be fun! Anyway, I was rooting through my faeces earlier and I found amidst the healthy dung of a well-fed monster a load of notes in panicked hand-writing on old bus-tickets. I’ve typed them up, because I thought you may be interested. They appear to be some manner of “also-considered” games which they missed out of their Advent Calender. I bet they just forgot.
Anno 1404 / Dawn of Discovery – A rich and engaging take on the explore/build management genre, this time using your little ship to splendid effect as a kind of quest-romping avatar within the world itself. Probably best in its sandbox mode, but nevertheless fulfilling as a grand campaign packed with tiered challenges that introduce the concepts of the game to beginners, and the weak.

Braid – Released on the PC, but slipped our communal memory. I suspect because most of us actually had played it in its Beta state back in 2008. Hyperclever 2D time-based platformer which picked up all the acclaim in the world, and totally justified it. Everyone’s just waiting to see what Jon Blow does next.

Modern Warfare 2 – The biggest game of the year, but this seemed to entirely underwhelm the RPS Hivemind. Are we bored with FPS games? Or just with faux-militarism? We really did seem to think it was bullshit. Unparalleled production values, shame about the cynical hole it left in our gut.

Mirror’s Edge – Running and jumping for the modern age. Deeply flawed in many ways, there’s nevertheless a kind of design freshness to the game. It’s the kind of beautiful failure we’re hard-pressed to recommend, and yet keen that nobody ignore. If this had been more like Canabalt instead of being too cowardly to drop the tepid, irritating combat, it could well have been a true champion of modern gaming.

Armoured Princess – In any other universe it would be have been Splendidest Of All Things, but it just couldn’t match the invention and freshness of its 2008 predecessor – it’s almost as if Katauri’s divine madness had burned out by this point.

Gridrunner Revolution – Sleek and elegant and lovely. The sister game to Space Giraffe, it’s good cop to its ungulate sibling’s bad-cop. Ironically, it perhaps goes too far the other way – in that it takes a long time before you’re forced to really step up your game. However, it is mainly a game about maximising scores – as such, the after-release addition of online scores finally completes it and gives it meaning. A mass of ideas, beautiful, crazy.

Gravity Bone – Played to death – both literally and figuratively – in the first days of the year, this is one of the finest stand alone short-form indie 3D games. Just an incredibly charming James Bond parody with an unforgettable ending. And that music! Man!

The Void – Probably too weird for anyone except Quinns to truly love and/or get around to playing… but filled with weirdly wonderful moments. Killing monstrous bats with colour, and killing yourself as the colour drains out of you. Sinister, beautiful, and out-Arting any Art game this year.

Demigod – Utterly crippled by its networking failure in the months after launch, Demigod was probably the technical mishap of the PC gaming year. Behind the problems was a brilliant strategy game that had been meticulously sculpted by what is clearly a highly talented team. What a shame it was never allowed to bloom to its fullest.

FEAR 2: That there’s barely any writing on it on RPS should have probably been people’s hint as to what we thought of it.

Dirt 2 – Fuck yeah, it’s just a brilliant racing game. Not realistic by any means, but who cares about that? The trailblazer modes make for the kind of hypnotic high-speed racing that very few games are able to cough up. It’s a shame there isn’t more genuinely rallying, but, well, kids these days, eh?

Fuel – Not a great racing game by any means, but instead just a great act of videogame creativity. The colossal post-apocalyptic terrain, about half the size of Wales, gave Jim an excuse to spend an entire day racing across a kind of fever-dream America, where the forests were on fire, and the cities were abandoned to deserts and flooded valleys.

Trine – A storybook brought to life through physics puzzles and astonishingly well-constructed co-op play. This is the modern age returning to the 16-bit era platform game with the technology of our era, and the comfortable knowledge of the intervening years.

The Path – Something about growing up? Someone had a difficult adolescence, but aren’t they all? The hardest are the ones that end in untimely death. In terms of the debate around it, the most controversial indie game of the year. And if you take RPS as the whole gaming universe – and if you don’t, what’s wrong with you? – the most controversial game of the year. Except Left4Dead2, and that was controversial for boring old capitalist reasons.

Prototype – Freewheeling, super-powered ultra-violence in a vast city, with a character able to dropkick helicopters and dress up as old ladies. Buckets of bloody fun, but ultimately its city and protagonist alike were too lifeless to burn a lasting scar into our collective memory.

Time Donkey – Flashbang continued their High Concept + Creature game naming/creation experiment in ever-confident fashion. Not as evergreen-outrageous as Minotaur China Shop or Offroad Velociraptor Safari, but you can’t grumble about playing as hip-hop donkey in search of time-lost tacos.

Serious Sam HD – Not in our actual, gong-giving list by dint of it in fact being a game from 2001, but with better graphics. But if we’d somehow discarded the whole Not Being Eight Years Old criteria, this would have been somewhere near the top. As impressive as it is silly, it’s a bug-eyed beast of a thing – standing atop a mountain, tearing off its shirt and bellowing LOOK WHAT GAMES CAN DO.

Bookworm Adventures 2 – The return of the spelling game proved to be one of the most entertaining casual/puzzle games of the year. Not since Typing Of The Dead have we so enjoyed getting a word right.

Section 8 – Ludicrously ambitious Unreal-powered shooter from TimeGate Studios. This was one of those games where we felt humbled by the deliberation with which the sci-fi world was put together, if not slightly disappointed that there wasn’t more of a game for the community to get into. A solid, old-school shooter in many ways, this was one of the best combat games of ’09.

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The Monster That Killed Kieron

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