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Our PC Games of the Year 2019

A good year for games

Featured post

Streets Of Rogue

Astrid: Streets Of Rogue is one of my favourite rogue-adjacent-ish games. In many ways, it’s the closest thing to a tabletop RPG I’ve played in the digital realm – at least in terms of how open-ended it is. I also like it because, as a smoker, it allows me to exist in a world where the addictive substance that chains me down doesn’t produce any negative side-effects whatsoever.

I went on my first ever (voluntary) run outdoors recently, and I somehow managed to do a whole 5km, admittedly with a few breaks. I’d never have expected to be physically capable of such a thing, and it seems that neither were my lungs. I couldn’t stop coughing for two hours. Probably because of all the smoking. I can run forever and ever in Streets Of Rogue, though, no matter how many smokes I choke down. Just imagine how unstoppable I would be.

Sin: I don’t have a favourite genre so much as a favourite… ethos? Principle? Style? Well whatever it is, it’s when a game has enough structure and content to sustain itself, but also lets you dick around however you like. Not a sandbox filled with sand (which, let’s face it, lets you do one, maybe two things) but a game that lets you rummage through a shed full of toys and then out into the whole playground to see what you can do. It’s generous, showering you with items and in-game currency to unlock more goodies and mutators. The given characters already make for lots of playstyles, even before you start creating your own. That too lets you go wild, ignoring balance if you like.

It could use more variety in objectives, true (although there’s a mutator that lets you ignore them anyway. Or replace permadeath with a 3 lives system. Or make everyone look like a gorilla). But something about the opening track of its first level cries out to me with a gleeful “Okay now… go!”, and everything from there is irresistible. Of course I’ll snatch the gun and truncheon right out from a cop’s inventory. Of course I’ll hack into that cloning machine. Of course I’ll play as Black Dynamite and summon his friends to smack a drug dealer through a building. It’s the fluffiest, laziest writing to say that Streets of Rogue is “just fun”, but that’s invariably what I end up saying about it. It’s simply a joy every time I play it.

Nate: I’m totally with Sin on the music. Even though I’ve not played the game since we Couldn’t Stop Playing it that one time, I still sometimes find myself doing the first level tune to myself under my breath when I’m trying to get really pumped up for something.

In retrospect, I think the thing I liked most about Streets was how utterly relaxed it was about the whole concept of balance. It seemed to be well aware that some ways of playing were always bound to prove massively more successful than others, and it was absolutely fine with that. And it’s not like there weren’t a ludicrous number of things you could do to make things harder if you were finding it too much of a waltz, so I was absolutely fine with it too.

I think, when you’ve got a game with as many interacting systems as this one, it’s the right approach to take. I can only imagine the horror involved in trying to fine-tune the balance of such a machine, when failing to account for any one of a hundred variables could lead to unforeseen emergent chaos. Better just to take the approach of throwing new things in at any old power level, seeing what happens, and then maybe throwing in some more wildly powerful elements, if you feel it still needs levelling out. A bit like cooking when you’re shitfaced, I suppose.

Unforeseen emergent chaos was pretty much the whole USP of Streets of Rogue, so I’m glad it wasn’t more carefully thought through. If it had have been, I might not have been able to annihilate so many apartment buildings while temporarily being a giant gorilla. And that, after all, is what Christmas is all about.

A mod where you play as the arrow, and fly along as it's let loose.

Mordhau

Matt: Mordhau is silly and sublime. It lets you ascend to great heights of swordplay, heights that loom larger than any sword swinger of yore. These heights are also filled with bare-chested idiots pretending to be boxers.

Heads roll, torsos crunch. Each grizzly detail, every meat sound, sells the fantasy. I once decapitated two people at once and shrieked.

Spectacle lures you in to Mordhau’s combat, but finesse is what makes you stay. Techniques are myriad and subtle, more about mind games than precision or even speed. You survive by being unpredictable, constantly mixing up moves, lunging when and where your opponent least expects. It’s intoxicating, whether you’re submerged in the purity of a duel or the audacity of a fight where you’re outnumbered.

The highs are higher when you win those fights. It’s easier than you’d think, too, once you learn how to exploit people’s arrogance. The trick is to play with people’s attentions, deliberately looking away in order to lure them into surprise counter attacks. When it works you feel like a movie superhero, imbued with psychic battlefield awareness.

Those moments are ecstatic, but I might not pursue them if failure didn’t always feel like my fault. That’s what keeps me coming back. After every death, I immediately know how it might have been avoided. My head needn’t have rolled if I’d ducked. If I’d been smarter, or more aggressive, or come up with a better plan. It’s fundamentally different to being shot at by people with faster reflexes and better aim, a competition where the result hangs in the moment rather than years of experience.

I still have to play with the chat disabled, mind. I’ve never felt the need to do that in another multiplayer game, but crusader imagery has an awful tendency to draw in awful people. It sucks even more that the developers have facilitated this, at one point claiming a chat filter would be seen as “censorship”, refusing to delete a racist forum thread, and internally discussing a toggle to hide women and non-white characters. A chat filter is now on the way, but that will do little to help the rot Triterion have tolerated.

Sin: Chivalry with wankers.

Ollie: Matt and Sin have already taken all of the words I had to say and made them better; but I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the greatest discovery I made during my time with Mordhau: the existence of Skirmish Duel servers.

I was already a familiar face on most duelling servers in Mordhau by that point, but they were just the bogstandard free-for-all duels, where you could challenge anyone anywhere to a fight there and then. No structure, no narrative, just duelling. Skirmish Duels changed that by dividing everyone into two teams, everyone with one life. You’d all pair off with someone from the other team, fight to the death, and the survivors would do the same until one team was left standing.

The reason this was such an incredible revelation to me was that it combined everything I loved about 1v1 duels with the spectacle and drama of larger team matches. Sometimes I’d end up as the only player left alive on my team, while five players remained on the other side. And as my fallen comrades looked on in amazement, I’d butcher my way through all five foes one at a time, and carry my team to victory. Those John Wick-style comebacks were something I’ll always remember about Mordhau. I don’t think any game has ever made me feel so powerful.

Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order

Ollie: I think it was a mistake to replay Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice in the leadup to the release of Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order. Sekiro is perfect. Sekiro is music and dance woven into deadly swordplay. In every way that matters, Sekiro is just a better game than Fallen Order.

Except it isn’t. Because Fallen Order has lightsabers. And Force Powers. And lightsabers.

I felt so incredibly torn playing through Fallen Order. I hated the fact that the excellent, engrossing combat segments were broken up by extended platforming and sliding and puzzle sequences. I hated how lethargically you’d climb walls, and how late into the game you get the upgrade which allows you to climb them more quickly. I hated the constant framerate drops. I hated that the camera would flip out at times and render you unable to see anything that’s going on. I hated that there’s no fast-travel option, and that you had to spend ten minutes platforming your way back to your ship from the other side of the planet whenever it was time to head somewhere else. I hated that the yellow tint of an enemy that previously killed you would obscure the red tint that signals an incoming unblockable attack.

There was an awful lot that got on my nerves while I was playing through Fallen Order. And yet, despite all this hardship and suffering, the moment I finished the game I immediately started a new playthrough on Grandmaster difficulty. And once I finished that, I started another and 100%’d the game. And after that, I started another.

Because LIGHTSABERS.

Dave: There’s a lot of crossover between what Ollie said and what I currently think of Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order. I’m still wading my way through the first few planets, but it’s scratching the particular itch that Sekiro left. I still prefer FromSoftware’s samurai epic, and I could have done without the bloat of platforming, but Fallen Order is still very good.

The lack of fast travel is a bit of a drag, but the inter-connected levels are full of shortcuts and they have the same intricately designed feel as, dare I say it, the first Dark Souls. Finding a hidden boss fight with an albino spider away from the main path remains a highlight for me.

I also enjoyed the story of unearthing the secrets of an ancient civilisation, while being hunted by an anti-Jedi taskforce on the side, like. Main character Cal may have a personality that’s as flavourless as a table water biscuit, but it’s hard to claim it isn’t fun to use lightsabers to deflect blaster shots at AT-STs, or force powers to send enemies flying into walls.

Alice Bee: Such cautiously qualified praise from my force bois! Not so from me, the real fan. I am still enjoying the lack of fast travel, because I appreciate the maps even more and I learn their little secrets. Oh, alright, Cal is boring. But it’s okay, because he carries his personality on his back, in robot form! Good ol’ BD-1.

I think a hefty part of Fallen Order’s charm is probably carried in a big branded bucket marked, crudely, in crayon, with U LIK THE STAR WAR, but I do like the Star War, and they’ve done all the Star War bits exactly right. And listen, the rest of the charm is in cool wall running bits, slugs with the head of a big sheep or something, and having a little terrarium of alien plants on your spaceship.

It’s about time we had a decent third-person adventure again – especially one where people don’t argue about it being art, or whatever. I don’t care what the meaning of life may or may not be. For now the meaning of life is: killing space fascists. Fallen Order is honest and solid, like a big ploughman’s lunch. But made out of that grim blue milk, probably, to make it all sci-fi.

Also, you can give the small personality robot different paint jobs.

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