The Bestest Best Being Pleasantly Lost Of 2014: Bernband

Give up on trying to find your way around Bernband‘s neon alien futurecity. Give in to wandering, see where your tippy-tappy feet and the turbolifts take you. One minute’s wandering might take you through a bustling club, over a bridge with hovercars zipping past, to a horrible trumpet performance, then bumping into an alien weeing in a corner. Variety is the spice of life, They say.

Graham: Science fiction says that people living in crowded, loud, futurist cities will turn to virtual reality in order to visit peaceful forests and remember what the sky looked like. What it won’t tell you is that the reverse is true, too: I can see trees outside my window, but I long for a crowded metropolis full of strange aliens and jazz bars.

Bernband offers that and it’s become an extension of the ways in which I try to create ambiance in my home. The other methods I use are all good, too – Noisli offers some background hum, music can add a little old-fashioned class, and street-level YouTube videos can whisk me momentarily away somewhere else – but I can sink further into Bernband. The common complaint that all you do is walk around in games like this betrays how good games are at giving you the experience of walking around. And they are the only medium that can do this.

From a point of remove, Bernband is impressive over and above other walking simulators because it wrings atmosphere and a strong sense of place from such a small number of pieces. The bridges you cross and bars and churches you stroll past are barely textured, and the aliens who walk, dance and chunter are crude 2D sprites. It certainly benefits from riffing on familiar kinds of futurist cities – there’s a lot of Blade Runner here, a dab of Star Wars’ cantina there – but mainly it sucks you in and takes you to that place with music, lighting, and a pixellated filter that turns rough edges into an aesthetic.

But screw standing at a point of remove. I didn’t vote for Bernband because it was cleverly made, but because I love spending time in it.

Alice: I did have something to say about the freedom of being alone in a crowd, the joy of noise washing over you and filling you, and the pleasure of wandering with no purpose beyond wanting to have time to yourself and see some interesting things, but I couldn’t quite find the words. Instead, have a few of my snaps from my travels in Bernband:

This band play loud and they play relentlessly. I’d happily stay here all evening, the noise blocking everything, but it seems too early in my wanderings to settle.

This fella in the metro station keeps barking at me. I think they think I’m trying to listen in on their call. Honestly, if you’re worried that everyone’s staring at you, remember that everyone else is as caught up in their own lives as you are in yours.

Stumbled into a classroom. Whoops. They didn’t mind, but I felt rude.

The folks at this child’s awful trumpet recital clap a little too enthusiastically.

This dark theatre with a dance performance is way more my scene.

I don’t understand the art in this city. They’re really big on Troll dolls. I try not to divine ‘meaning’ but I do wonder what’s going on. Maybe that trumpeting was considered great here.

Slightly nervous walking across this catwalk with hovercars zipping past above and below. Maybe I shouldn’t be here. I’m sure it’ll be fine. Keep on walking and I’ll end up somewhere.

Found this lot in a distant corner of a deserted car park.

I accidentally ended up inside that fish tank at one point.

There’s something hostile about the glare of this greenhouse and the chirping of birds I can’t see.

I spend a lot of time looking up. I’m a huge advocate of looking up, discovering parts of the world we never usually see. I want to shake people who go everywhere looking down at the ground.

I like this bar but…

I feel like I’m crashing these strangers’ groups. I’m perfectly happy going to clubs (and movies, gigs, restaurants…) by myself but can feel anxious people might mistakenly think I’m trying to dance with them. Nah, I’m cool by myself, ta. I’ve mostly stopped doing it as I end up dancing tighter, unable to just feel the music when I’m worried I might be imposing on other people’s evening, and don’t enjoy it as much. Besides, I keep being distracted by that guy pissing in the corridor outside.

Found myself in a dead-end alley with a quiet bar and a beautiful view of the city. The bartender waved at me. It’s the sort of place I’d settle with a book. That’s what I ended up doing on my last holiday, drunkenly meandering across Paris with a book in my pocket, being a bit confused but enjoying gawping at stuff.

Just a hovering orb I guess.

Is this the power core? It goes up a long way. Should I be down here? How did I get down here?

Back to the complete bestest best PC games of 2014.

35 Comments

  1. Ross Angus says:

    Excellent choice. I think credit should be given for how much they did with so little. The lighting in particular is quite lovely.

  2. Hex says:

    The eff? I don’t recall ever hearing about this game before.

    Anyway.

    We’re down to

    Best Game
    Best Something Or Other
    Best RPG
    Best CCG
    Best Space

    So…I guess The Banner Saga is going to have to be Bestest Best RPG? (Though I suppose it could also be Something Or Other or Bestest Best Game.) It clearly needs to be on the list somewhere.

    Disclaimer: I just finally beat TBS after any number of abortive attempts after it came out, and taking about 6 or 8 months off of it during the middle of the year. I’m now more convinced than ever of its greatness.

    I hope RPS didn’t forget about it. :(

    • Premium User Badge

      Aerothorn says:

      They didn’t forget, they just disagreed.

      The Banner Saga is my GOTY 2014, but RPS had a very different experience – John felt put doubly put out because he didn’t understand the narrative and found the combat too difficult, and Alec appreciated the storytelling but felt the caravan mechanics too removed and the combat too repetitive.

      It will probably get an honorable mention but the chances of it being on the calendar are basically nil.

      • Hex says:

        Indeed. I recall how they frustratingly (to me) bounced off of the game when it was released. I’m nursing hopes that the crew has come back to it and poked around in it over the past year, and have recognized its great worth.

        As much as I enjoyed it initially, my appreciation for it now is even greater, after a long hiatus from the game. Coming into it after that break — already knowing what to expect, but having the distance to let me look at it with fresh eyes — has had a pretty major impact on how I view the combat in particular.

        Also, after my first half-dozen runs or so choosing more-or-less the same options for shepherding my caravan, I broke form and started picking wildly different choices on the run where I finally ended up completing the game. It was quite the eye-opening experience. I hadn’t realized to what extent the saga could vary. What a pleasant surprise!

    • Premium User Badge

      Aerothorn says:

      Incidentally –

      Best Space: Elite Dangerous
      Best RPG: Shadowrun: Dragonfall OR Inqusition
      Best Game: Whichever doesn’t get the above
      Best CCG: Hearthstone
      Best Something or Other: Obviously the hard one to guess. I want this to be Roundabout because it’s the perfect fit, but I’m not sure more than one person played it.

      • Chris D says:

        Best Space: Kerbal Space Program
        Best Something or Other:Dungeon of the Endless
        Best RPG: Probably Inquisition
        Best CCG:Netrunner. Ok,not really but anyone who picks Hearthstone for this hasn’t played enough CCG’s
        Best Game: By process of elimination it has to be One Finger Death Punch

        • Cockie says:

          KSP wasn’t released this year (nor early access nor final release)

          • Chris D says:

            As if that’s stopped them before.

          • Premium User Badge

            Aerothorn says:

            Chris is correct – it doesn’t have to have been released this year, it just has to be “the year of that game.” KSP is a very good guess.

          • Cockie says:

            I see. In that case KSP gets my vote too – it deserves the title more than Elite does. :)

    • WHS says:

      Notable games left off so far:

      Dungeon of the Endless
      Elite
      Consortium
      The Banner Saga (I hope!)
      KSP (maybe? I dunno, it seems to have hit the big time this year)

      • Hex says:

        I don’t recall hearing anything about Consortium since its release. Any good?

      • Melody says:

        You forgot the GOTY Transistor.

      • Premium User Badge

        DelrueOfDetroit says:

        Everyone seems to be forgetting The Evil Within when making these speculations.

      • Caiman says:

        Hard to believe Legend of Grimrock 2 hasn’t been mentioned yet, given how much of a huge improvement it was over an already excellent game. Probably my GOTY in a year that ended with a lot of strong games.

  3. Ayslia says:

    I *really* wasn’t expecting this to get a best game of the year award, but it totally deserves it. By far and away the best pure walking simulator I’ve ever played.

    Also, I didn’t know street-level videos were a thing, but the one Graham linked was pretty cool and now I kind of want to watch more of them.

    • Premium User Badge

      Hodge says:

      I tried to take some street level footage in Sydney the other week, but I chickened out when I got a few odd looks and felt a bit creepy about it.

      It doesn’t surprise me that it’s a thing, though, especially for people who can’t afford to travel.

  4. Arren says:

    …futurist cities…

    Gads, I hope not. Lord Mayor Kurzweil? ::shudder::

  5. Guy Montag says:

    I can’t wait Bernband to reach its full potential, though, as game wot replaces the cancelled Prey 2.

  6. Geebs says:

    Does anybody know how invert mouse controls in this-and-many-other-interesting-but-impossible-control-because-everything-is-backward Unity games?

  7. Premium User Badge

    SputnikSweetheart says:

    I’d figured Eidelon for the Pleasantly Lost prize. I enjoyed wandering around it’s wire frame cities and abandoned highways.

    I haven’t tried Bernband but I’ll have to give it a try. I do like the look of it’s sci-fi city hustle and bustle.

  8. RARARA says:

    Futuristic bustling cities with seedy underbellies are the best things about sci-fi games.

    I’m so glad I check into RPS. Few sites would shine a light on oddities like this.

    • B.rake says:

      Gosh, that was surprisingly fun. Like what I wish Citadel in Mass Effect had been.

      Shout out to the Bestest Best Pool of Green Urine in a Small Hip Hop Club Located In a Vacant Parking Garage 2014.

      oops reply fail, ohwell

  9. Premium User Badge

    Hodge says:

    Yeah, I loved this. I don’t think I’ve ever played (or watched, come to think of it) anything which so perfectly captures the feeling of wandering around a city at night.

    Makes me wonder if Glitchhikers might take out Best Something Or Other… but then where would Dungeon Of The Endless go?

  10. AXAXAXAS MLO II: MLO HARDER says:

    I started reading RPS around the time they gave an Advent Calendar Award Thingy to Space Funeral. I was sad that, last year, nothing like it won anything. Maybe it’s because a free game made about a single person about weird stuff became commonplace but it still made me sad because one of the reasons I love RPS is that they’d use their limited Best Stuff This Year slots on stuff like Space Funeral.

    Bernband ain’t Space Funeral, but it’s damn close. Excellent choice, friends.

    • A Gentleman and a Taffer says:

      Space Funeral! Yes, one of my favourite RPS moments too. There’s a few left field choices popping up this year, I like it. Must play Bernband.

  11. InfamousPotato says:

    This game was… brilliant. Somehow, they managed to make a world seem… alive. It’s kinda hard to explain. They really manage to make you feel like a stranger exploring a world that doesn’t revolve around you. I mean, I know the npcs are static, they stay where they are repeating the same action endlessly, but they make the world big enough that it doesn’t seem to matter. I moved on to the next area soon enough, so it didn’t really bother me. I hope to see more games capture this, and perhaps expand upon it. I kinda want to be able to participate in these worlds, even if it’s just sitting down and having a (virtual) drink at one of the alien bars.

    Walking simulators… intrigue me. I tend to get board a lot, but there’s still something about them that fascinates me. I was watching the first person trailer for GTA, and I got really excited. Just being able to explore a world for the fun of it… sorta like that video of Tokyo above. I know it’s kinda silly, I could just go take a bus to the nearest city and explore that in the real world. Still, I think video games have the potential to let us do so much more exploring than we’d usually be able. I want to walk through Venice, drive through the rain in Hong Kong, and then perhaps after that enter a new world that’s only possible in fiction.

  12. emertonom says:

    I think it might have been worth mentioning that this game is free. I realize that the game’s quality doesn’t depend on that, but I feel like more people would have a shufty if they knew it was both a Bestest Best and a freebie.

  13. Sizzkesticks says:

    I can’t help but feel that Alice’s gallery gives away a bit too much. I appreciate you want to demonstrate what’s great about the game, but it shouldn’t come at the expense of the sense of discovery of anyone who might want to try it out as a result.

  14. Contrafibularity says:

    Only just got around to it, and absolutely loved it. It plays even better than the screenshots. The first or second bar is my favourite, I love how the NPCs have 4 different angles to them.

  15. SalaciousJames says:

    Oh man, just finally let myself get into this one – suddenly brought me back to a childhood memory of spending the night one weekend at a huge church as part of youth group. In this case, that’s a good thing. :D