The days are so short at this time of year that the light of the sun barely touches the mighty calendar. It’s particularly dark inside door number five…
John: Released in December last year, OneShot employs RPS’s unique Advent Rules for inclusion in this year’s list, and goodness me, it deserves it. OneShot is unlike anything else you’ve played, which is quite the claim to make in such a saturated gaming world. But a true claim.
(And no, don’t let anyone tell you, “it’s a bit like Undertale”. If you bounced off Undertale as hard as I did, ignore this. OneShot is doing something very different, something very specific.)
First, and most importantly, you are a character in OneShot. The main protagonist is a lost little girl, known in the strange land in which she finds herself as “the Messiah”, clutching a light bulb the locals think is the sun, and bemused as to how she got here. But she’s not the game’s only protagonist – that’s where you come in. And indeed the game itself. The game is a character in this game.
The layers start piling up, and then peeling off, in ways I’ve never seen a game do before. The first time it popped itself out of fullscreen to a little RPGMaker window, and then a dialogue window appeared on my desktop directly addressing me (presumably using my Windows account to get my name), I was utterly spellbound. And that’s its move for the opening moments – it gets smarter and more interesting the further you get.
But what makes OneShot so very, very special is that it’s not a collection of super-smart gimmicks – it’s a wonderfully compelling and moving story that embellishes itself with all these fascinating, frame-breaking ideas. Where it could have been smug, it’s instead full of heart. I cared about Messiah more than any gaming character I can think of in years, her vulnerability made so much more meaningful by her directly engaging with me as she explored. She knows I’m there, the game knows I’m there, and she knows the game’s talking to me instead of her. And none of us is entirely comfortable with the situation.
This becomes more complicated by Messiah’s understandable assumption that you, the person playing, might be some sort of god. The game lets you choose whether this is something you want to lean into, or dispel her of immediately, and knowing which way to go isn’t simple.
And then it just keeps getting cleverer. It does things I didn’t know my PC could even do. It messes about with you desktop, it uses hidden files, it… well I can’t spoil the good stuff. I can just implore you to switch off any non-standard desktop management software you might have running before you start (I had to disable DisplayFusion). And none of it is for the sake of it – all these odd little features directly tap into the story, and deepen the relationship between you and the game, and Messiah herself.
Oh, and even the game’s name is a stunningly clever little idea, that reveals itself as you play. Oh gosh, it’s all so clever, but also all so lovely! Games this special are rare, and it’d be such a shame if you missed out on OneShot because of its RPGMaker wrapping. It’s gorgeous and smart and packed with feels, and the most innovative game in forever.
Head back to the calendar to open the door to another of 2017’s best games.