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Our PC Games of the Year 2019

A good year for games

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A Plague Tale: Innocence

Alice Bee: You know what, A Plague Tale was really bloody good, wasn’t it? Probably not a laugh a minute if you’ve got a thing about rats, though. Actually, not a laugh a minute even if you love rats. Rats do feature heavily, as a literal flood of danger and a metaphorical flood of corruption. Hugo and Amicia, children of a local noble whose family home is attacked by religious zealots, are going it alone in the medieval countryside.

Their tale is mostly hardship and woe. But it’s the bits that aren’t woeful that are especially worth highlighting. The grim, goffic bits, with rats and wars and monks getting eaten alive, would be unrelentingly grim without contrast. Hugo and Amicia’s ragtag Goonies gang of orphans, and their sunny wintry days together in an abandoned castle hideout, make the bad times grimmer by contrast. Sacrificing a live a rat horde doesn’t carry the same weight if you’ve got nothing to fight for.

It’s almost unrelentingly goth, though. A Plague Tale absolutely stacked it in the boss fights, but the rest of the time the one hit death nature of the puzzles and combat made it all feel tense. Some big soldier with ‘orrible breath bears down on you, while a sea of writhing, squealing rats is kept at bay by his torchlight. But I can douse your flame with my sling, matey. Not so clever now. It became almost a rhythm game on some levels: one, two, put out torch, four, five, throw explosive, seven, eight, demon rats.

Hugo is what you fight for, by the way. My little chubby cheeked angel, so barely out of his toddling days. I love him so much. He’s such a little sweetheart, and he’s trying his best! He must be protected at all costs.

Alice L: A Plague Tale gave me something I didn’t realise I wanted. Or perhaps, didn’t realise I missed. A linear, single player game with a strong female lead in Amicia, and… Oh, a child. But, as Alice Bee said, Hugo is really not that bad. And I, too, was expecting to hate him.

Not for any reason other than I don’t like children. In video games, or in real life. Because of this, I wasn’t even sure that I’d want to play an escort mission for an entire game. But it turns out, I did. And I loved it. There were a lot of things I really enjoyed about A Plague Tale, in fact. The medieval setting, the characters you encounter along the way, the use of light and dark to fend away those little plague ridden ratties, or having those same ratties doing your bidding… Mainly Hugo, though.

I’m a little bit sad about how much bad press rats might have gotten from this, though, and I wasn’t a fan of what happened to the pig. Both pigs and rats are really very nice. But I couldn’t stop myself playing. I couldn’t bring myself to step away from it for too long, as I just wanted Hugo to be okay. And like I said before, I hate kids. (And in games.)


Alice Bee: Noita is an action-y roguelite. You, a small witch creature with a flappy robe, go down down, deeper and down through some nice proc gen dungeons. There are monsters. You find wands, and shoot the monsters with magic. Except! Every pixel is simulated. Every little bit in the game can act and be acted upon, to often spectacular end. Liquids pour. Ice shatters. Wood burns slowly, oil burns quickly. I am very bad at Noita, but Noita is very good.

Despite Noita’s capacity for ridiculous explosions, my favourite thing to do with it is set off a slow reaction and see what happens as a result. It is a genuine joy to explore the limits of the Falling Everything engine, where lanterns drop from the ceiling, barrels explode, and sometimes you fall into a puddle of potion that turns you into a big worm with pincers. I do just, if you’ll forgive me, want to watch the world burn. This is my favourite gif that I done in Noita, where I just set a wooden vat of acid on fire and grimly watched it split and pour its contents everywhere.

We picked it as our Can’t Stop Playing game for October, and it is true! Graham has been playing it on his lunch breaks. The other day he found a wand that shot fireworks.

Graham: I do play it on my lunch breaks. Also in my evenings and on weekends. I have played Noita enough now to have advanced from “crap at it” to “so-so”, but I think I love the game because getting better at it isn’t required in order to see new things. Without special effort, I am continually discovering new secrets, new locations, new wands, new liquids – love those liquids – and each time I discover a new thing, the whole game becomes about that one thing.

Here’s my current obsession: worm detective. Instead of heading right and down the mine from the starting area, head left till you come to a wall. Fly up until you find a branch with a nest and an egg in it. This egg contains a free worm! Smash the egg (which is about 6 pixels by 3 pixels, by the way) and your worm may arrive in one of three sizes: a small, pointless, disappointment; mid-sized; and ‘ah geez that’s terrifying.’

Anything mid-sized and above will carve tunnels through the earth as it burrows towards you or the next nearest pool of blood. Wait for it to start tunnelling downwards into the mines, and then use the paths it has made to follow it down from a safe distance. This is great for two reasons. One, because it creates new and interesting shortcuts. Two, because the worm will cause destruction wherever it goes, and so you can play detective in its wake.

The worm isn’t invincible. They tend to end up dead somewhere near the bottom of the mines, but while pursuing one case yesterday, I couldn’t find any dead worm. Instead, half the level was covered in a puddles of polymorphine, and there were half a dozen dead sheep floating on its surface. It seems that the worm had spilled a vat of the stuff and, as a consequence, been transformed into one of those fragile sheep, upon which it had been killed. Case closed. But start a new game now, because seriously, I can’t stop playing this.

Sin: Yeah alright, roguelikes are bad, I hate fun, etc, etc. Noita is a winner though. It does a few too many things that irk or frustrate, and its extreme difficulty and roguelike structure fight its granular physics playground concept too much to fully win me over. But I whiled away more than a few afternoons with it, and with a few tweaks and a several decimals still left to go before its 1.0 version, it could well end up a bit special.

It’s Winter

Alice0: It’s winter, it’s night, and you are alone in your apartment within a Russian block. Snow keeps on falling, and your neighbouring block is already snowed-in. The pipes are gurgling. The fridge hums to life. The shops are closed. Most windows are dark. Your neighbour keeps clomping about but they don’t answer if you go upstairs and knock. The world hasn’t ended but it might feel like it.

It’s Winter is that special kind of night aloneness. It’s isolating but liberating. The world is your playground and the rules of day are not currently enforced. Unseen, or at least unseen by anyone who cares, Hell, if you want to eat half a dozen fried eggs, that’s Day You’s problem. And you can do that in It’s Winter.

You can fiddle with plenty in It’s Winter. Play with the taps. Rummage through your cupboards. Take your pills. And cook. You can use your oven and microwave to cook, frying eggs, roasting sausage, toasting bread, and such, then scoffing your midnight feast. What else do you have to do on a night like this? You could throw things around your flat. Or clear up your building’s stairs by carefully putting rubbish in the chute. Or play in the austere playground. Or flush your dinner down the toilet. Or just run into the woods.

It’s an immersive sim with no goals. It’s Warren Spector’s “one city block RPG” in a world where the rest of the block doesn’t care about you. It’s a game vague enough that I still feel like I’ve missed something huge, a big secret or goal that will turn this mundane reality into a wild fantasy. It’s nice to have a dream when you’re unable to sleep, you’re all alone, no one cares, and you’re munching on canned meat while listening to the eerie music of a half-tuned television because that’s as grand as your life allows.

Graham: I never roleplay in role-playing games. Adam Jensen’s fist-chisels have never felt expressive to me, and I don’t feel embodied in Mr. Witcher’s scar tissue. Plop me into a game with a set of mundane verbs like It’s Winter though, and I’ll quickly start playing along. I’ll crouch on chairs to make like I’m sitting, I’ll awkwardly drag physics objects onto plates to set the table. I will imagine my character is world-weary. Best stare out the window at the mist-covered gloom to convey the turmoil of my soul. Best do a big sigh. Will this winter never end?

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