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The Amazing & Astonishing RPS Advent Calendar: Day 22

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Calendar Entry #22

It’s Teleglitch: Die More Edition!

John: I’m absolutely amazed by the number of games I’ve loved this year that I’m absolutely no good at. From Spelunky to Don’t Starve, I seem to have rediscovered something I thought was completely lost: the ability to replay the first few levels of something over and over until my fingers fall off. As a kid, I played the first ten screens of Chuckie Egg 2 perhaps a million times. I never got past the first two screens, because that game was ridiculous. Or Impossible Mission 2, for which I did not have the instructions, so never had any idea what I was supposed to be doing with all the tapes I collected. But I’d keep playing them and playing them, never seeming to mind. Roguelites seem to have reawakened that in me, and none more so than Teleglitch.

That it also looks like it might have been a game I was playing in the late 80s is surely just coincidence. My wife looked at it and said it “looks like a top-down version of Minecraft”. “It’s not like Minecraft though!” I said as I was being chased by ten monsters with no ammo and had already accidentally spammed all my explosives in a wrong-thing-selected incident I don’t like to talk about. My failure came, as it usually does, on level 2 moments later.

But I’m slowly getting better. While I certainly haven’t mastered the spiralling circle-strafing necessary for effective use of the ammo-reserving knife, I’m an awful lot more competent than I was. I’m far more sensible and judicious with bullets, recognising them as something to only ever be used in dire emergency. But I’m still no better at just getting out of a level before I’ve explored every inch of it. What if there’s more bullets over there?! What if there’s some canned meat?! Yeah, sure, I’m going to lose more health and use more ammo getting them than I’ll gain, but WHAT IF?!

I adore how it looks. Teleglitch does more with less than anything else bar Proteus. I love that enemies made of just thirty or so pixels can be so distinct, and so utterly terrifying. “OH NO!” I’ll think as I see a slightly different shade of green, and begin pegging it backward. And the sound – the use of sound is sublime, it’s scritchy-scratchy noises, the monstrous trainyard sounds as you walk past anomalies, and the buzzing, clacking, fuzzing sound of mysterious machines all ominous. They create the game’s soundtrack, accompanied by grinding doors, swishing knives, and dreadful guttural growls.

Teleglitch isn’t the sort of game I think I’m going to enjoy. An emphasis on difficulty and perpetual failure usually puts me off. But this one draws me in. I would happily spend entire days just playing it. In fact, so alien is the occurrence that I don’t even care about its story, just skipping past the text to focus on the running around. What’s become of me? It truly is a glitch. And it’s definitely one of the best games of 2013.

Graham: Like John, I’m rubbish at Teleglitch. I’ve fought my way towards a comfortable standard in games like Spelunky, but I’ve never really made any headway with Teleglitch. I still can’t resist haphazardly spilling bullets into pursuing enemies, or munching down cans of food unnecessarily just so I can make more cannons out of them.

That means I’ve never really progressed in the game, yet as an aesthetic experience, it’s stuck with me more than any other this year. It starts the moment you run the executable: a console appears, its blue background covered in streaming text as the game boots. It’s a throwback to games of yore – Id games especially – and it fits perfectly with the world of old command lines and clanking machinery you’re about to enter.

I love every little detail. The wibbly-warping of the phenomena eating the facility. The slow arc of the camera as it pivots around your movement. The way your vision floods into new areas as you open doors. The distorted explosion effect. The greens and yellow colour palette, the pitter-patting momentum of your footsteps, absolutely everything.

I love also that it makes you excited about mundane things. Finding a tube or an empty can in Teleglitch is as exciting as finding a magic potion in a fantasy roguelike. I spent a lot of 2013 playing games in which you snuffle around in bins, but it’s Teleglitch’s tiny sprites that most succeed in making scavenging exciting.

There’s plenty I wish was different about Teleglitch, but I still hope the games of 2014 are similar to it.

Adam: Many of my favourite games seem to have been drawn from an alternate history, a divergent branch from our particular machine age in which genres or types survived and flourished. Dark Souls is perhaps the strongest example of that phenomenon. It’s as if Dungeons & Dragons or Zelda deviated from what we know many years ago, eventually culminating in a weird dark fantasy masterpiece. However, to an extent, Souls sprang fully formed form its creators’ minds rather than following any particular tradition.

Teleglitch is similar. It reaches back to Doom and Quake, but farther to the Amiga of my youth. It’s a terrifying assault, with no regard for health and safety. The existence of crafting, the randomisation, the viewing angle and the cruel difficulty level all invite comparisons to Rogue but Teleglitch is an arcade game. It has bullets for blood, and the apparent crudity of the graphics hides a perfectly designed lighting rig and a brutally effective simplicity.

‘Brutal’ is a useful word when discussing Teleglitch. It is a fine example of a brutalist game, aesthetically and otherwise, and it is without a doubt one of my favourites of this year. As well as inviting a regime of rigorous self-improvement, the difficulty also prevents Teleglitch from committing the great sin of many modern action games, which is to place far too much padding between the action.

Teleglitch is one of the year’s fully-formed treasures, at once a throwback to the past and a startling vision of a possible future.

Jim: My dark love for Teleglitch has been smeared across the internet like blood at a crime scene for the greater part of the year. The game is brutal. I can’t recommend it to anyone. I can’t stop playing it. I have The Boy Quinns to thank for pointing me towards it, long before the Die More Edition, in a conversation where he described it as “a phenomenon”. Beyond that I didn’t know anything about it, and I plunged in, swaddled in a mix of anticipation and nostalgia. It was somehow like the games that gripped me in the 16-bit era, but at the same time nothing like them. It was low-fi, even for the Alien Breed and Chaos Engine era, and yet it was somehow more accomplished than such games: the levels randomised, the weapons structured for crafting, the atmosphere unparalleled. A bruising nailbomb of a game.

Games are capable of expressing and addressing many things. Games in this very list touch on issues like paranoia, delusion, allegory or metaphor, they play with myth and ideology and expectation. Some of them are satire, or simply brash explosions of experiential bravado. Not Teleglitch, though. This is something more basic. It works on the lower part of your mind. It’s horror and violence. This is just a the throbbing undertone of videogames: running down a corridor, ammo spent, praying you missed something so you can turn and take on what lies behind you.

It is also proof – throbbing, warping, rumbling truth – that even the barest and most stripped down of visual palettes can evoke incredible atmosphere. It’s one of the most atmospheric games I have played, it accomplishes that out of next to nothing. It is conjuring. It is dark magic.

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