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The Christmas Leftovers - Part Two

Bubble And Squeak?

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Come on, quickly, we’ve got to get through these before the brandy sauce starts to turn, and the sausage meat takes on that funky smell. Fed up of yesterday’s games in sandwiches? How about a games of 2013 fry-up? Here’s the next bundle of 2013’s fine, fine PC games that didn’t make it into our Calendar.

ANTICHAMBER

Nathan: Antichamber’s great downfall was that its first couple hours were also its finest. It began as this wonderfully clever, eureka-moment-packed experiment in lateral thinking, easily some of the most unique videogame puzzling I experienced all year. Those initial sections felt like an IQ test on one hallucinogen for every color of the rainbow. My brain’s dustiest gears were forced into overdrive, and most of it felt perfectly natural. Unfortunately, later puzzles moved into more traditional (though no less tricky) territory, dulling the sheen on an otherwise daringly novel experience.

THE INNER WORLD

John: While I think you could get a long way with arguing that 2013 was the Year Of The Adventure Game, it’d be coming at them from interesting angles. That what’s technically a point-and-click adventure is our GOTY makes me gleeful. But there still remained few very traditional hand-drawn adventures that shone. Daedalic keep getting close, but missing.

And then out of nowhere appeared The Inner World. Studio Fizbin appeared on our radars with one of the sweetest, most solid trad adventures in years. A fairytale, complete with daft (yet satisfying) puzzles, adorable characters in a melancholic world, and superbly translated from its original German. For classic adventure fans, don’t miss this one. It’s bursting with charm, and reminds you that adventure puzzles weren’t always crap.

FIFA 14

Graham: What few changes FIFA 14 made from its predecessor served only to make the game more imbalanced, but it’s still the best football game around and it’s still the game, alongside Spelunky, that I turn to most often when I’m tired, stressed and in need of a distraction. I want to note it specifically in 2013 because this is the year that I finally fell for Ultimate Team, the mode that offers a propulsive mix of collectible card game, real-time tactics and football. I spent more real money in pursuit of the modern, virtual equivalent of football stickers than I’d care to admit, as I wrote about earlier in the year.

John: You forgot to say “foot-to-ball”.

SHELTER

John: I’m rather surprised that I was the only one pushing to see Shelter get more recognition this year. BADGER CUBS, for crying out loud! Cute, baby badger cubs, and you have to save them from rivers and birds and the dark! Badgers! Baby ones!

Also, it was epically beautiful, and I found it very emotive. No, I didn’t cry. In fact, the deaths of cubs wasn’t what got to me about it. That felt… inevitable. Sad, certainly. Guilty, definitely. But more of what got to me about Shelter was the majesty of nature thing. That sense of its hugeness, and my tinyness.

The game isn’t what I was hoping it might be – something more open, more about improvising survival. It’s a linear story, a progression through the seasons, along a fixed path. That surprised me, perhaps disappointed me. But then I realised that it had something else to say, and my expectations shouldn’t define it. And what it had to say was sad and brutally honest, which are words that you almost never get to say about games. Plus, Lucy was impressed.

SHADOW WARRIOR

Adam: Of the leftovers, there’s only one other game that I would have fought harder to have included in the calendar. I hadn’t expected Shadow Warrior to impress, let alone to become my favourite FPS of the year.

There are a great many words written about retro games, about the many attempts to recapture the Good Old Days, but I’d mostly given up on the association of those sallies into the past with this sort of throwback FPS. I was reaching the point at which I couldn’t be sure that the output of 3D Realms during the special years of the Build engine was actually worth revisiting, in any form.

Then I remembered that I still play through Blood (the first few levels at least) once every few months and have a blast. Shadow Warrior revives the speed, challenge and marvellous splattercore extravagance of Ye Olde Days but isn’t beholden to them. Lo Wang doesn’t retread the old ways simply to show them respect but to find out what was golden in that golden age, polish it up and present it as something fresh.
Here’s to more in a similar style from Flying Wild Hog.

Nathan: Shadow Warrior wasn’t supposed to be this good, or even particularly good at all, for that matter. I mean, a revival of a rampantly offensive Duke Nukem clone whose cult clout was less Scientology and more the weird hooded guy who addresses a squirrel and a tree stump in your local park every day? Not exactly begging for a revamp. And yet, Hard Reset devs Flying Wild Hog turned Shadow Warrior into a glorious tornado of stylish violence – not to mention a game with first-person melee combat that was actually satisfying. I guess what I’m saying is, Shadow Warrior had both the touch and the power. WHEN ALL HELL’S BREAKIN’ LOOSE IT’LL BE RIDIN’ THE EYE OF THE STORM.

CIV V: BRAVE NEW WORLD

Adam: Civ V still isn’t my favourite game in the series, even after two solid expansions, but it can happily exist alongside Civ IV on my hard drive. The changes to the formula that were evident in the base game have been strengthened by both Gods and Kings, and Brave New World. It’s with this most recent expansion that the game has established its identity most clearly, retaining the more competitive drive that has been evident since launch, but effectively spreading it across the length of an entire playthrough.

We have one Firaxis expansion in our Calendar, the scrumptious Enemy Within, and Brave New World narrowly missed the cut. It’s wonderful to see these big-box style expansions, which make a lot more sense than annual sequels would for games of this type, and I almost certainly wouldn’t be playing Civ V this long after release without them.

RICHARD & ALICE

John: This remains, ten months on, one of my favourite narrative experiences of 2013. It’s not a masterpiece. It’s not without flaws, certainly not. But as a short story in adventure form, it evocatively and effectively tells a bleak, sad tale of loss, devastation and resilience. Heavily (and openly) inspired by The Road, this post-apocalyptic story is one of desperate shelter and struggles with disease, rather than roaming cannibal mutants.

It’s especially worthy of note due to the superb writing for Barney – a five year old boy who we meet in playable flashbacks. And he’s so genuinely five, unable to entirely understand his circumstances, wanting to turn danger into play, but honestly terrified at the same time. The game is also gorgeously subtle. There are moments, not flagged up, which decide the ending you’ll see. Genuine diversions in the plot, but not received because you picked A, B or C from a flashing list. It’s a game you’re going to want to play twice. The puzzles mostly aren’t great, but it turns out not to matter in this vignette of a game, a gaming novella with a tale it wants to tell. It’s well worth being told.

The final portion of Leftovers will be served tomorrow.

DMC: DEVIL MAY CRY

Nathan: Over the course of the year, I kind of forgot how much I enjoyed the new DmC. I came in with higher expectations than most thanks to Ninja Theory’s previous game Enslaved, and I largely got exactly what I expected: a younger, hipper slant on a tale so tired that its hair had gone white (OK, to be far, it was always that way). For all its over-the-top bravado and conveniently timed censorship pizzas, DmC’s greatest asset was its heart. Each of the game’s painterly locales and, er, some of the characters were crafted with utmost care. The script had some magnificent moments, too – especially when a fittingly wacky plot spilled over into some surprisingly clever boss fights. Drop-kicking a giant poision slug whose sickly secretions were the secret ingredient in a dystopic, virility-causing cola? Yes please. And oh goodness, the entire Bob Barbas level was ingenious. Conservative media might not be the most revolutionary topic to satirize, but I don’t think anyone’s ever done it like that before.

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