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  • Image for Kick Blue Monday up the bum with the games that make you smile

    Apparently today is Blue Monday, the most depressing day of the year. I'm not sure what that means. Surely the first Monday we're all back at work would be the worst? Or is this the one where we've had a while to realise that the promise of hope in the new year is, once again, a terrible lie? Perhaps. Either way, I refuse to submit. Enjoy the heck out of this Monday. Have your favourite thing for dinner. Watch your favourite movie. Have a bath and put on a cool playlist of songs and sing really loud to annoy your neighbour.

    Alternatively, play some cool video games! Here are the ones that make me smile when I'm feeling blue.

  • Image for Blink Planets is secretly an excellent urban planning game

    Puzzle games don't need a plot, or even a theme or setting. When very abstracted ones throw one in it's often an indulgence, or just an excuse to hang the aesthetics around something the devs happen to like. Blink Planets seemed like this at first, and that was fine! A little sexy hexy is all you really need if it's done right, after all. I cannot believe I just said that.

    Partway through though, I realised Blink Planets isn't just about connecting things with lines of tiles. It really is about the urban planning its setting suggests.

  • Panam sits at a bar in a Cyberpunk 2077 screenshot.

    On a stretch of futuristic tarmac, something clicked. Yellow quest markers hadn't built my relationships in Cyberpunk 2077. When a job needed doing, then they'd steer me in the right direction. But for those initial sparks of story, my cellphone had been key. Chats and texts buzzed into my brain at all hours. "Hey V", "V, got a minute?", "V!"

    Characters would get in contact with me, not the other way around. And I liked that. In fact, I'd say it helped build a living, breathing world more than Night City's towering skyscrapers and moving billboards. More than, perhaps, any other big RPG I've played over the last couple of years.

  • Image for Every game should put web-swinging in it, regardless of the other content

    One of the presents I got for Christmas this year was a copy of PS5 exclusive Spider-Man: Miles Morales. I had about a week where I was completely by myself this year, and I spent it being Spidey and self-yeeting around New York. It's a great game on many levels, and I especially liked that one of the outfits you can unlock through story missions is a scarf and ear warmers. Mostly though, it's just made me think that web-swinging is the most fun way to get around in games, and more games should do it. By "more games", I mean "every game".

  • Julianna punches Colt in a Deathloop screenshot.

    2021 was the year of the time loop wasn't it? Deathloop topped a lot of charts and made an appearance in our game of the year list. Twelve Minutes: a timeloop thriller. Lemnis Gate: a tactical FPS where you out time loop one another. The Forgotten City, the Outer Wilds DLC, watching a man throw a “traditional shaped returning” boomerang on YouTube. All of them, time loops.

    I’m absolutely sick of them. So here’s me hoping that 2022 is the year of the "time skip", instead. Or at least, one of these coming years an excessive number of games built around skipping time. Yes, they aren't without their flaws, but I'd argue they're less repetitive and capable of greater surprise. Alright, at least hear me out.

  • Geralt tosses a coin purse in a The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt screenshot.

    We're nearing the end of the year and my brain's battery is flashing red. There's some Christmassy-ness flowing in to tide me over, thanks to the mini-Christmas tree in my room. Every year it's popped on the wardrobe alongside an honorary Lynx Africa. They share the same festive colours, after all.

    Having pondered my tree for a bit, I thought about trees in games and how they make for good side quests. Now join me by the bark, as I examine why this might be the case in a roundabout manner.

  • Image for Supporter podcast - The Nate Files episode 6: cave of nightmares

    Supporters only: Supporter podcast - The Nate Files episode 6: cave of nightmares

    Nate chipped his elbow and had encounters with a centipede

    When I was younger I watched a nature documentary narrated by David Attenborough (I realise that doesn't narrow it down) and in this nature documentary David told me about a cave. It is a very big cave, and every night a huge colony of bats come screaming out of the entrance. They spend the day clinging to the ceiling of this big cave, and all their bat poo falls down and has become a towering heap carpeting the floor.

    But then David said look, the carpet is moving. And it turns out that the whole bottom of the cave is covered in cockroaches and giant centipedes. And if ever a small baby bat or an old injured bat falls, it is eaten alive by this hoard of chittering insects. This nature documentary haunted me, for it was the worst thing I could imagine happening.

    Anyway, Nate has been to that cave and he's going to tell us all about it for this episode of our supporters only podcast, The Nate Files. Thanks for being a supporter, pals!

  • A sea of repeating RPS logos.

    Supporters only: Letter From The Editor #05: 2021 in review

    We look back at what's been happening at RPS this year

    Hello folks. It's been a funny old year, 2021. On the games side, it's often felt like a year of shifting goalposts. Games that were delayed by the pandemic last year finally got their due in 2021, but in turn many of the releases we were expecting this year have inevitably slipped into 2022. The pandemic has affected games of all sizes this year, and I don't think it will go down in the history books as one of our all-time greats. There were still plenty of fantastic games that came out this year, mind, and we're still counting down our absolute favourites over in our Advent Calendar.

    That said, I do think 2021 will prove to be a pivotal year for RPS - and not just because I stole Graham's key card and changed the locks on the front door of the Treehouse. It's been a year of immense change here at the site, so I wanted to take some time to reflect on everything that's happened this year, and look forward to what we've got in store for 2022.

  • A black and white portrait of a medieval lord from The Life And Suffering Of Sir Brante

    Oslain Brante tried to be a decent guy. Kind to his relatives except the one who murdered him. Resolutely loyal to his friends, even dying for one. Willing to die once again rather than betray his revolutionary allies. But it just kept going wrong for reasons that felt utterly artificial and sometimes deeply dissatisfying.

    I'd have given up on the game if it weren't so interesting. For one thing, none of those deaths were final. He died as a child and came back. He died as a teenager and came back. These were not saved games, but ordinary occurrences. It's an interesting world made infuriating by awkward design choices.

  • Kids from DokeV perform K-Pop dances on stage.

    I’m beginning to think I need a dreamcatcher. The Lynx Africa on my bedroom shelf simply doesn’t have the same level of nightmare suction. In fact, I bet it attracts bad sleeps. Anyway, I’m considering the installation of a feathery net because DokeV’s music video from the latest Geoff Awards has infiltrated the darkest recesses of my brain again. I thought I’d shaken off the trailer song, but it’s back with full force and haunts me more than ever.

  • Art for Arcane featuring its main characters, such as Vi, Jinx, Jayce and more.

    My mates and I are doing the dishes, discussing whether we’ll see the region of Noxus feature more prominently in the next season of Arcane, an animated series based on League Of Legends. In the air: soap bubbles and excitement. One of my friends asks me whether Jinx is like that in-game. “It’s been a while, but I think so, yeah”, I reply.

    I’m in the car on the way to badminton and I’m listening to the song Dynasties & Dystopia from Arcane, the show based on League Of Legends. In the air: hip-hop and a bobbing head. Something significant has happened here. All of a sudden, I am obsessed with a game I shelved years ago, and yet I have no desire to go back. Is this next-gen? More than that, probably.

  • Image for White Shadows's grim setting doesn't make it any less fun

    I was wary of the possibility that White Shadows would be one of those platformers. You know the ones. The grim and depressing ones that despise you, with a child and a Stasi man, where the Stasi is actually memories of your daughter, and the child has to throw the puppy in a blender to get over a hedge.

    With its stark monochrome look, ominous industrial environments, and dystopian themes, I can't really deny that White Shadows is of that genre. But while I normally get bored of depressing platformers within half an hour, I enjoyed this whole thing and even the credits.

  • Image for Supporter podcast - The Nate Files episode 5: the big flaps of speculative biology

    Needs must, gentle friends, needs must, and in particular I need to once more head into the dank and dreary evidence basement of the RPS treehouse. Here, at the behest of our very kind supporters, I must navigate a strange maze of specimen tanks, suggestions of whiskers, tentacles and odd wings occasionally stirring behind the glass as I pass. Eventually I will reach a row of grey filing cabinets, locate the right drawer, and tug it open, the scream of rusted metal echoing through the dark room.

    I will spend some time rifling through the papers within, growing more and more frantic as I hear the slow tread of heavy footsteps approaching. I must find the right file, but also I must escape in time! I haven't been caught yet. Today I escaped with the fifth episode of The Nate Files supporters-only podcast. It's about speculative biology. Oh no.

  • Mat Ewins performs his comedy sketch Adventureman on a BBC stage

    Supporters only: Let's remember Adventureman, the Tomb Raider that never was

    Dead Pixels and Mythic Quest ain't got nothing on Mat Ewins' comedy sketch

    Every so often, Matthew and I will be browsing BBC iPlayer in our never-ending search for something to watch and we'll get served up some clips from the Live From The BBC comedy series. It's a few years old now, first airing in 2016 before finishing in 2018, but there is one particular episode we will watch again and again. That episode is by the Bristol-based comic Mat Ewins, who in this set appears as a self-styled adventurer, film maker and amateur video game maker promoting his latest work Adventureman 7, a sort of budget Indiana Jones meets Tomb Raider kind of deal.

    He's one of those comedians who uses a lot of multimedia in their sets, playing daft, self-made videos to help deliver punch lines. There's plenty of that nonsense in Ewins' set here, but for this occasion he also created an entire video game companion piece, styled up as a mid-90s, almost N64 / PS1-style affair in which - unsurprisingly - comedy antics ensue. Matthew and I love it to bits, and I thought that in this, the 25th anniversary year of Lara Croft, we should remember the incredible Adventureman and all of the brilliantly-bad video games he was in we never got to play.

  • The loading screen of Super Mario64, with a smiling Mario staring at a star. The star is casting a light on his face.

    I don't agree that being mean is always the funniest joke, but it is often the easiest joke, and let's keep that in mind as we talk about next year's Mario movie. You know, the one where Mario will be played by Chris Pratt. In the event that the film turns out to be good, I will enjoy it - like how the Sonic film was actually pretty decent, especially James Marsden's star turn. But for now, Untitled Chris Pratt Mario Movie is bad, and a guilt-free laugh.

    I saw this extremely funny bingo card on Twitter and my eye was drawn to a discussion in the replies. One of the square on the bingo card is "Jump by Kriss Kross plays" and someone else says they think it's "50/50 they choose Van Halen's "Jump" over Kriss Kross", which leads yet a third person to bring up House Of Pain. From this exchange I am 100% sure that a jump-themed song will feature in this film - but the question is which?

  • Marcus Phoenix from Gears 5

    As much as I enjoy your Call Of Dutys and Valorants, I just don’t think any multiplayer shooter will eclipse Gears Of War. For me, at least, it comes down to movement. The way the beefy boys slide into cover and bounce off it with ease. The side-steps and strafes in those tight-knit shotgun battles.

    Recently, I wondered if there was more to my connection with Gears and its lovely movement. And then it struck me: badminton. Yes, the racquet sport I’ve played for 19 years and consider an immensely important aspect of my life. Turns out they have quite a lot in common, actually.

  • Key art from the mobile game Merge Mansion, showing a young woman holding a shovel and looking confused, next to a smiling older woman with grey hair

    Back in August, which is obviously an unfathomable length of time ago, the adverts for a mobile game called Merge Mansion went semi-viral on Twitter. The post was not unwarranted. The twists, the turns, the drama: it all makes Merge Mansion seem like it must be bananas.

    In that original advert, a bride gets out of a taxi to find her house (and presumably husband) is on fire. Her grandmother takes care of her and unlocks the gate to a huge mansion, which the woman begins rennovating. Then out of nowhere the cops come and arrest grandma, and she presses her hand to the inside of the police car window where, Lost-style, she's written a message on the palm of her hand reading "He is alive". I was reminded of it this weekend because I saw a similar ad where a policeman comes to the house to arrest grandma and she escapes on a motorbike, pulling a sick wheelie.

  • Artwork for The Vale: Shadow Of The Crown, showing a female warrior shrouded in darkness against a red, mountainous landscape

    Supporters only: Why aren't there more audio-only adventures like The Vale?

    Falling Squirrel's debut game sets a new benchmark for accessibility

    As awards season approaches and I start to compile a list of all the great games I missed this year, there's one game I really regret not covering in more detail at RPS around the time it came out. That game is The Vale: Shadow Of The Crown, an audio-only RPG about a blind princess fighting to save her kingdom. You may have seen it nominated in the Innovation in Accessibility category of The Game Awards this year, and frankly if it doesn't win then a great disservice will have been done. A stark contrast to the other, all very AAA nominees in its category, The Vale doesn't rely on flashy visuals to tell its story. In fact, it barely has any graphics at all. Instead, it conjures its world - and tense fighting sequences - from sound alone, creating an experience like nothing else I've ever played.

  • A character in The Sin Collector falls on his knees, his sword lying on the ground, and looks at his hands in horror as he begins to disintegrate into purple whisps

    The Apocalypse came, and it was a shambles. The angels, you see, the divine powers, they did not anticipate that the world had changed, and instead of a hundred million people still impressed by hot food, they had to deal with 8 billion who had long since invented the AK47, and when the holy fires came, humanity tooled up.

    This is how the Sin Collector Colon Repentless starts. I am enjoying it a great deal.

  • A tour guide speaks to three recruits in Final Fantasy XIV.

    Recently, I’ve moved out of the city and into a little village in the middle of nowhere. Look outside the window and I see trees, maybe a little house nestled atop a hill. I walk past sheep and hope they don’t shuffle away from me this time, as it could mean we’re finally mates. At night it gets really dark, darker than you think is possible. An owl screeches and it scares the bejeezus out of me.

    Yeah, it’s nice out here. But getting into the village by car is a challenge. The roads are wobbly and narrow, with little patience for noisy machines. This means I’ve had to stop and let other cars pass a lot. At first it was irritating, but now I’ve come to enjoy it. Getting a wave or a flash of the lights warms the heart and can turn a bad day into a good one. It strikes me that multiplayer games lack this fleeting comradery, which is a shame.

  • A headshot of young Hercule Poirot as seen in Agatha Christie - Hercule Poirot: The First Cases, but over the background used for headshots of cast members on ITV reality show Love Island

    Alright, so I played Sherlock Holmes Chapter One, and just yesterday I finished Agatha Christie - Hercule Poirot: The First Cases, and now I'm like, "When is someone going to put these hot, young investigators into a dating sim?" because that would be extremely funny. You know, Dream Daddy but Dream Detective or whatever.

    Thing is, we've got Sexy Young Holmes and Sexy Young Poirot, sure, but two dudes don't make a dating sim, right? Why, ITV needs somewhere in the region of 35 fragile young adults to head-wreck every summer in Love Island. So who else would I need hot young versions of for my imaginary dating sim game?

  • Forza Horizon 5's new cover art, featuring a Corvette sports car and a Ford Bronco against a summery background of beach and jungle.

    Supercars are boring. That one on Forza Horizon 5’s front cover? Don’t care how fast it goes, mate. Oh, goes from 1 to 60 in 2.7 seconds does it? Yeah, well, that's how long it takes to prepare this knuckle sandwich. No, but seriously, they’re all the same to me: just wedges of carbon fibre with wheels. I’m sure the engineering is marvelous and the innovation groundbreaking. But let’s be honest, in videogames they’re virtually all the same.

    My Forza Horizon 5 fantasy doesn’t involve Lamborghinis or Ferraris. In fact, it’s the complete opposite of opulence. Mexico’s roads are for me and my mundane companions. The Volvo Estate, the Ford Focus, the Honda Civic. The everyday vehicles that make up for their lack of speed with heaps of character. I just wish there were more to choose from.

  • A plain wooden boat sailing the high seas in Sailwind

    Supporters only: Sailwind is just a few updates away from excellence

    Hurl the bay! Waist the mainjilt! I know what I’m doing stop asking!

    Despite my interest in pirates, piracy is probably the least interesting thing about Sea Of Thieves. It's not just its excellent ocean that I want to enjoy without pointless random murder. It's the sailing. The thrill of moving around and operating this vehicle, hearing it creak as you turn a wheel, and whoosh as you catch the wind.

    Sailwind is all about that. You sail a boat. Nobody will attack you. There are no monsters to fight, or guilds to appease. It's just you, the sea, and the skills that will take your boat across it well enough that you don't starve on the way.

  • A cinematic screenshot from Sherlock Holmes Chapter One showing Sherlock standing next to his friend Jon, Jon with a supportive hand on Sherry's shoulder

    I didn't really have the luxury of devoting a cool 500 words to a single character in my Sherlock Holmes Chapter One review, firstly because I'm a believer in word economy, but secondly because what I wanted to talk about is a bit of a spoiler. It's integral to the plot of the game and it's revealed very quickly once you start playing, but it's also not mentioned in any of the promo blurbs or marketing, so I'm guessing it's meant to be a fun little "Oh!" moment. On the other hand, I do really want to talk about how cool Sherlock's best mate Jon is...

    So if you want to go into Frogwares' new detect 'em up cold, then save this and come back to it after you've played about, ooh, 45 minutes? I think that's long enough to get clear of spoiler territory.

  • A warrior on a horse leaps high towards a cliff in an Elden Ring screenshot.

    Elden Ring is on my mind. When I go to bed and I close my eyes, I see giant crabs clack about. When I see a horse in a field, I think of Torrent the spectral steed. I consider laughing at the end of all my sentences. So yeah, to say my time with the closed network test was infectious is an understatement. But there’s just one detail rattling around my brain I simply can’t shake.

    And it’s to do with where I stood in the game’s world. How strong was I? At what point do I take on the big dragon? Should I be here, or over there now? Souls games haven’t traditionally been good at letting you know these things, but Elden Ring felt more confusing. Time to investigate.

  • Image for Death's Door is my kind of Soulslike, and I just can't get enough of it

    Listen, folks, I'm going to hold up my hands and tell you something shocking. I don't get Dark Souls. I've tried to play FromSoftware's much lauded masterpieces several times over the years, but I'm simply not good enough at them to find them enjoyable. No matter how much you try and tell me about the sweet satisfaction you feel after finally beating a boss on the 57th attempt, I've come to realise I simply don't have the time or the patience to see it through. I'm not sure I ever will, either.

    It's the same reason I tend to veer away from a lot of other Soulslike games as well. I never really got on with Dead Cells, for instance, and don't even get me started on Sekiro. But cor, I do also love it when a game proves me wrong. Hollow Knight was the first Soulslike to rekindle my rather begrudging relationship with these games, and now I've fallen hook, line and sinker for Death's Door, the crow reaper sword 'em up from Titan Souls creators Acid Nerve.

  • A sea of repeating RPS logos.

    Supporters only: Letter From The Editor #04: notes from our survey

    We heard you'd like some feedback on your feedback

    Hello folks. I know it seems like I only wrote one of these Letters From The Editor five minutes ago, but that five minutes ago was also about three weeks later than it should have been last month, hence the slight double whammy of RPS Treehouse business you’re getting now. But it’s a good thing, really, as my accidental tardiness last month means I can now address some of the issues you raised in our recent RPS reader survey much faster. We’re still digging through a lot of the results right now, but I thought I’d take this opportunity to talk about some of the more general concerns and proposals you mentioned as part of your overall feedback, and how we’re going to be incorporating some of them into our editorial plans going forward.

  • A child in a woodland scene in Here Comes Niko

    It's the little hint of darkness that does it. For the tiniest fraction of its playtime, Here Comes Niko! is about a horrible thing. The vast bulk of it, though, is basically Good Vibes: The Game. It's warm, welcoming, and very silly, and is never intruded upon unexpectedly with the rest. But that tiny part is what makes the rest so important.

  • A table full of animal-themed cards in Inscryption

    Comedian Dara Ó Briain has an old bit where he talks about video games, and the difficulty barrier that games have compared to other kinds of media. "You cannot be bad at watching a movie. You cannot be bad at listening to an album. But you can be at playing a video game. And the video game will punish you, and deny you access to the rest of the video game."

    Don't worry; I'm not about to take out a cane and start hammering away at the skeletal, equine remains of the "difficulty in games" debate. But I always remember that joke. I like him miming a book quizzing you on what the major themes of the text are so far, and then woomp-ing closed if you can't answer, and I thought of it again recently while playing Inscryption.