The RPS 2016 Advent Calendar, Dec 4th – North

What was the best free game of 2016? The RPS Advent Calendar highlights our favourite games of the year, daily, and behind today’s door is…

North!

Brendan: It’d be easy to give up on NORTH a few minutes in – it isn’t a game that explains itself very well. You know that you are a refugee, and that you have to go to work, that there are other tasks you need to do – send a letter to your sister who still lives in SOUTH, for example. But while that summary makes it seem straightforward, the process of discovering and comprehending the finer details of your new life is confusing, almost to the point of wanting to quit out. But don’t.

Keep on fumbling through your refugee’s confusion and you’ll have some of the most alien encounters you can ask from a game that’s mostly about walking around and looking at weird walls. Not to mention the strange and oppressive architecture looming all around you. If you’re really stuck, there’s no shame in looking up some answers – I did, and it didn’t ruin anything. But imagine being unable to look up the reasons for your confusion. A real refugee can’t Google: “what do I do about surveillance cameras?” or “how to pass the TV test” and expect to get a straight answer.

Alice: North’s cruelty is in its familiarity. We recognise doctors, churches, security cameras, diagrams, symbols, and so on, but we’ve no clue what they’re supposed to mean to us here. Is it even good or bad to help someone who seems to be suffering? North may have the most alien city I have ever visited in a game, because I feel I should understand some of it.

I’m really into how stark and ugly parts are, how formless some of the aliens are, and yet how beautiful some of it all is. Even in this awful place, you can find a few delightful moments.

From this site

18 Comments

  1. meepmeep says:

    Worth pointing out that this is available for “pay what you want” at link to outlands.itch.io

  2. A Gentleman and a Taffer says:

    There’s always something in the RPS advent calendar I’ve never even heard of, and 2016 hasn’t let me down. Thanks! Downloading now.

    • April March says:

      That’s the best thing about RPS’ calendar, IMO. When on the first calendar I saw as a regular-ish reader I saw they had placed Space Funeral, I knew I’d end up staying here for good.

  3. Grizzly says:

    I never noticed this one, which is odd as looking trough the tag that basically means I have been ignoring all the free games on offer this year. Clearly I have been missing out!

    Also, kudos for not shying away from pointing out the less obvious games this year, and indeed all the time.

  4. Botanicas says:

    so this is a game that i have tried to play through a number of times now because everything about it is very much up my metaphorical street

    but on the other hand that doesn’t mean it’s not tough to get through. that, of course, doesn’t mean i can’t recognise that it’s really good. but it’s really good because of that little bit of reality in its alien world and emotionally i deal with enough of the alienation as is + would prefer not to experience it in digital form lol

  5. Turkey says:

    Dang. For a second I thought that Burroughs inspired stealth game had come out without me noticing.

    • DelrueOfDetroit says:

      I was really hoping somebody had released a game based on the 1994 film starring Elijah Wood.

    • poliovaccine says:

      Dude… that Tangiers project died apparently, the lead from it appears here and there in other lil projects tho. But yeah, I went looking for that recently, and apparently it’s currently toast.

      Believe me, I feel your pain. Thief: The Dark Project was my childhood, and Burroughs was my young adulthood (for better or worse). I wanted that game. It would have been downright psychologically cathartic for me to play that game. *I feel you.*

      • Turkey says:

        Aww, man. That’s terrible.

      • emertonom says:

        I feel like there’s a joke here about a first person William Tell game, but if I tried to make it, I’d only wind up murdering it.

  6. Premium User Badge

    Ben King says:

    I’m hesitant to say I ENJOYED North, but it’s stuck with me more than some of the other itch.io games I picked up. Surpassing the dream reading psychiatrists was disturbing for me on several levels. I’m really glad I got to play it, but what a disturbing world. I think North will always stand out to me more as a grimly surreal reflection the US and EU immigration policy crises than as a compelling game world. I’m going to go stand in front of a CCTV camera outside the police station now so that no one thinks I’m hiding from the government…

  7. poliovaccine says:

    Yeah NORTH is totally interesting, and totally worth giving credit. But it’s also totally worth mentioning, frankly for the devs’ sake, that it’s a tough nut to crack and many will bounce off it straight away. Maybe that’s even what they want, but I doubt they want that purely for design reasons.

  8. Premium User Badge

    Harlander says:

    This should have been number three, surely.

  9. Premium User Badge

    alison says:

    This game was excellent. It hit close to home for me, because I have lived almost my entire life as an immigrant in several different countries. It busts the whole narrative that people are taking easy street by moving countries. It doesn’t matter where you go, even the smallest things for locals are thoroughly alien and hard work to figure out for newcomers. But despite the fear and hatred and bureaucratic roadblocks, all us migrants really care about is figuring out how to contribute, how to fit in. I can’t recommend this game enough, especially to people who have never moved. It might seem depressing or dystopian, but it captures the essence of the migrant experience perfectly.

    And i can’t let an article on this game go without my usual call for indie devs to put their game on Steam. This would have completely passed me by on Itch. I love reading the round-ups of Itch games on RPS, but I will never play them because the Itch client is garbage. Steam games get my money, my play time, my reviews and my evangelism. I know distributing there is selling out to the man, but sometimes that’s what it takes to get your message out to the masses.

    • April March says:

      If you don’t like the itch.io client, just download the .exe from the game’s page. Kids these days! Oh, look what you’ve done to me, RPS, you made me old.

      At any rate, I personally feel more disappointed for devs not selling games outside of Steam (or, dumbly, not matching Steam sales on other channels in which they make more money).

      • Premium User Badge

        alison says:

        I am also old. I used to play games by attaching the tape recorder to my home computer and listening to squeals for ten minutes. The thing is that now I am grown up I am all about the tablet, so I buy games on Steam and play all of them in my bed via in-home streaming.

        But even in spite of the fact that the Itch.io client doesn’t support streaming, I would happily use it, since I love indie games and most of them would probably run on my tablet, but last time I used it you couldn’t even search for, buy or download games in the client. This is a big blocker. Sure, I could download free games from some website and run the installer.exe and bla bla bla, but that shit got old in the days of http://ftp.cdrom.com.

        Today when there is so much opportunity to have great gaming experiences through Steam, you have to be at least as easy as that, otherwise people aren’t going to bother. I am lazy. Sorry, not sorry. PS I <3 indie games.

        • Premium User Badge

          alison says:

          Interestingly, I did not deliberately linkify ftp.cdrom.com. WordPress magic. If that site still existed we could downloand FreeBSD and Doom Shareware and Scream Tracker Pro and Slicks’n’Slide.