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Supporters only: I really like kicking in doors in Deathbulge: Battle Of The Bands
I think there's some sort of musical RPG thing going on as well, maybe?
Longtime readers will know that I really appreciate a good kick in a vide-oh my god I've been working here that long. Anyway, I like a kick, and I like a game that manages to actually be funny, and I have been playing Deathbulge: Battle Of The Bands. You do the math(s).
I actually wrote about Deathbulge in a round up of best demos in a Steam Next Fest back in 2020, at which time I enjoyed the RPG antics of a band entering a cursed Battle Of The Bands competition and finding out that it's a fight to the death. The full thing came out a month ago without my noticing, and got past the endpoint of the demo. It's fun! I'm enjoying the combat, which is both real-time and turn-based, and has some surprisingly deep tactics attached to it. But more importantly, the full Deathbulge game starts in a town where you enter houses by kicking doors in.
Supporters only: The art of the pause
Hitting pause in a video game is like dropping a wall across it. On one side of the wall lies what is called the diegetic space of the game, aka the fictitious world, which is generally the aspect that receives the most interest, the aspect that tends to attract the weasel word "immersive". On the other side of the wall lie menus, settings and other features that form a non-diegetic layer of bald operator functions - technical conveniences and lists of things to tweak or customise, from graphics modes to character inventory, that are cut adrift in a vacuum outside of time.
In theory, the pause screen and its contents are not truly part of the game. There is no temporality, no sense of place, no threat, no possibility of play, no character or narrative, no save the princess, no press X to Jason or pay respects, no gather your party before travelling forth. As the scholar Madison Schmalzer points out in the paper I'm wonkily paraphrasing here, "the language of the menu itself emphasizes the menu's position as outside of gameplay by labeling the option to continue as 'resume game.' The game world is always privileged as the site that gameplay happens."
OU is... something
I first clocked the mysterious-looking OU when Japanese indie collective Asobu did their pre-Bitsummit showcase stream in 2021. It wasn't entirely clear what OU was going to be at that point, other than a sort-of-puzzle game about an amnesiac boy who'd found himself in a fantastical world of picturebook pages, and even when Alicia Haddick played it for herself at Bitsummit proper the following year, OU still had a strong, impenetrable sense of ambiguity about it.
But its striking art and rustic guitar soundtrack have stuck in my mind ever since, and finally, OU is now out in the wild. I've only played about two hours of it so far, but it's clear there's still a lot more to discover within its dreamy little vignettes. It's one of those games that's designed to be played multiple times to get the full extent of the story, and I've just hit the first of those Nier Automata-esque restarts. Honestly, I'm not quite sure what to think of it yet, but one thing is certain: I can't get it out of my head.
Supporters only: The Man Came Around centres hope over misery and is better for it
The Many sings to us
Although most of my favourite films are tragedies, games with a grim and heavy premise don't often appeal to me as much as you'd think. I wasn't quite expecting to enjoy The Man Came Around, then, as it's about a group of desperate people trying to cross the border to escape their authoritarian government. In Winter, no less.
It's actually rather light in practice, although not in a flippant or trivialising way. The message is clearly that these things are serious and our sympathies should be, well, basic concern for the wellbeing of other people. But it's not as miserable to play as games with such serious themes often are. The premise is serious, but the act of playing it is not. I'd call it "diverting" rather than "entertaining", but the bottom line is there's a good afternoon or two in there for you.
Supporters only: I've become obsessed with short games, do not send help
Maybe it was replaying Aperture Desk Job for the RPS Game Club, or maybe it was the sheer scale of Baldur's Gate 3 activating the ol’ fight-or-flight. Either way, I’ve recently developed an intense appreciation for teeny, tiny microgames, to the point where I’ve essentially been begging in the RPS Slack channel for recommendations. Just one more Steam link and I’ll be fine, promise.
And I don’t mean short games in the seven- or eight-hour sense. Not even film-length games like Portal or Jazzpunk. No, I seek to gorge on the slightest sub-hour canapés, games in which you can see and do everything in one or hour or less. "Irresponsibly large"? Another time, Mister Starfield, I crave something irrevocably small.
The same goes for 'hype'
Hello folks. How was Baldur's Gate 3 August for you? Ready for Starfield September? I hope you are, because lemme tell you, it's coming all right. In truth, I was surprised (and somewhat saddened) by some of the comments we received around our Baldur's Gate 3 coverage. If you missed them, they were mostly in the vein of saying our increased volume of BG3-related posts felt like "spam", harking back to when we (and the internet at large) all went similarly bananas over Elden Ring last year. I know it can sometimes seem like writing about these games - particularly on RPS - feels like we're somehow neglecting everything else going on in PC gaming. But the truth is a little more complicated than that, so I wanted to take some time to talk a bit about this in this month's Letter From The Editor, because there are a number of reasons why this happens - and will probably continue to happen more generally as websites fight for survival.
Supporters only: I loved being turned into a cheese in Baldur's Gate 3
A very stinky cheese
People have talked about Baldur's Gate 3 going a bit wonk in the final chapter when you reach the titular big city. It was actually my favourite act of the whole game - not that I doubt other people saw things going on the wonk a lot, but I did, thankfully, escape more or less unscathed (apart from one instance where, for some reason, Gale the smug sex wizard had a conversation with me, and then immediately repeated the exact same conversation). For me, the final act of BG3 is the act when all my nonsensing in the rest of the game paid off. The part where it turned out it did matter that I spent a painstaking hour separating and killing a bunch of guards in a mine, so I could save the gnomes trapped in a cave-in. It was also where a genie turned me into cheese.
Spoilers, obvs, if you're that way inclined.
Shadow Gambit: The Cursed Crew is a masterclass in teaching you how to have fun with it
This week's news that the amazing Shadow Gambit: The Cursed Crew will be Mimimi Games' last hurrah has left me absolutely devastated. As the kids might say, I am shook. Besides being a bestest best in class tactics game with great characters, a witty script and deviously designed stealth puzzles to blast and backstab through, Shadow Gambit did that very rare thing that's seemingly eluded both other types of strategy game I've played recently (*cough*The Lamplighters League*cough*), and even Mimimi's own work in the past - and that's teaching you how to actually have fun with its large cast of murder pirates through its brilliantly-conceived bespoke tutorial missions.
All for Nautilus
Sometimes I open with "I hate x" because it's funny (and I'm right), but sometimes it's because I'm not sure if that's the source of my mixed feelings about a game. Verne Colon The Shape Of Fantasy is, at least in part, an adventure game, and weaker for it. Taken as 'pure' interactive fiction, it'd be shorter and simpler, but might allow its premise, atmosphere, and intriguing world to shine the way they ought to.
The premise actually takes some explaining. Jules Verne himself takes the place of Aronnax, the protagonist of Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Seas, and instead of mere hermitry, his new submarine home/prison is devoted to a guerrilla war against The Nation, a Prussian-ish empire you might be able to stop using a techno-magical gubbins that allows you to edit reality. Intriguing, right?
Tagged in this article
We're in the midst of an unspeakably good couple of months for game releases, even if you ignore the boring corporate ones that we'll never hear the end of. The downside of such a bounty is there are even more gems getting overlooked than usual, because nobody has the time even when we're aware of them. Like, for example, Bomb Rush Cyberfunk.
It absolutely is the Jet Set Radio tribute it looks like, and it's a delight even if, like me, you never really liked the originals. Inspired by, rather than tracing over the rail grinding, spraypainting, all-dancing classic. It plays a little smoother, it clocks in shorter, and runs a little faster, but it's undeniably dancing to the same beat.
Supporters only: Most of you will enjoy Black Skylands more than I do
We all float up here
"Everything is floating islands and airships and we're not going to explain how or why" is a setting I nearly always respect, but fighting a campaign against pirates leaves me feeling distinctly uncool. This is the dilemma Black Skylands leaves me with.
You're a very young officer of... something, battlefield promoted to captaincy of the Fathership, essentially a giant floating base from which you set out on your airship in an open world kinda way to trade broadsides with baddies and land at occupied islands to do the twin stick shooter thing on foot. I… don’t like it as much as I want to.
Supporters only: You don't need to like or know about D&D to enjoy Baldur's Gate 3
I'm rolling dice and sometimes things are nice
I haven't played Dungeons & Dragons before, and I don't know much about it besides the obvious. I know there's a dungeon master, or DM, who directs proceedings behind a cardboard shield. I know you lob some dice to determine the outcomes of an adventure that's contained in the heads of everyone at the roundtable. And that's about it.
Baldur's Gate 3 is based on D&D's 5th edition and it's meant to honour its rules to the absolute tee. I'm sure it does! To be honest, though, I haven't exactly learned much about D&D by playing it. I don't even think of myself as playing D&D, instead I'm just playing an RPG whose complexity adds a nice mystery to proceedings.
Supporters only: Sclash is a short but sweet low-pressure duelling game
Every day the samurai
Sclash is gorgeous. That's not the reason I'm writing about it, but it definitely helps. Style can't fix a bad game, but it can elevate a decent one about, say, a little hand-drawn 2D samurai running across the world stabbing dudes for peace. Little Jinmu does a lot of running to the right, a lot of slashing, and probably very little parrying and punching once you figure out the power attack.
There is, bluntly, not a lot to it, especially while its online mode is still listed as "coming soon". But even with remote multiplayer, I see this as more of a diversion for friends to enjoy than a serious competitive fighter and intentionally so.
I enjoyed it though. Actually, I think I enjoyed it more for that, though it does perhaps limit its audience.
Sparse but effective storytelling
This week I wrote a little post alerting you, my best friends, to the existence of Murdle. This weekend I went to town and bought a copy of the Murdle book - or, I should say, Volume 1, because you can already pre-order Volume 2. It's a chunky enough tome made up of 100 of the puzzles that form Murdle's daily little treat, split into sections of escalating difficulty. And, against my expectations, and despite basically being a vehicle for logic grid puzzles, Murdle has an actual plot. Which is more than many video games manage.
Have bow, will travel
Rangers aren't everyone's favourite Dungeons & Dragons class, especially in the current 5th Edition ruleset, which is the one that smash hit RPG Baldur's Gate 3 is based on. I met another player who likes rolling rangers at a D&D table earlier this week, and I actually high-fived her because I was so excited at my one-woman ranger defense squad doubling its membership. Making your character a ranger in BG3 (which has some very slight differences) is even better; you can essentially brew a rogue that is better at taking damage, but can still do most other things you traditionally use a rogue for. Let me explain.
Supporters only: Videoverse's fictional video game magazines are the stuff of dreams
All hail the publishing companies brave enough to put a visual novel on the front cover
As a liker, consumer and person who used to work in print media, I always get a thrill out of seeing things like books in games, DVD shelves, magazines, you name it. If it's a bit of video game set dressing that has a legible spine with words on it, I will absolutely scrutinise it to the nth degree. Videoverse, the excellent homage to early 00s internet forums and Nintendo's Miiverse that came out earlier this week, doesn't have spine-filled book shelves, per se, but throughout the game you will see a collection of game magazines piling up on Emmett's desk, and readers, let me tell you, they are a delight.
Supporters only: Intrigue and empathy overcome UI annoyances in Frank And Drake
A room with a who
It's been a while since I picked a game that irritated me quite so much. I quit playing Frank And Drake twice before even meeting its second protagonist, but something about it kept pulling me back.
It's partly the style. Some gorgeous rotoscoping gives its few characters a sense of constant motion that's unreal and very lifelike at once, and it's sometimes pushed further by having them decelerate to a blurred freeze frame when you stop walking. The backgrounds are static but interactable things shimmer a bit, like in old cartoons where you could always tell what was background and what was going to do something. More than that, though, it had me intrigued.
Yes, I'm very jealous of Edders Sheeran
I'm not afraid to admit this, but it's become increasingly obvious over the last few days of playing Baldur's Gate 3 that my ability to create interesting custom characters is severely lacking compared to other members of the RPS Treehouse. Case in point, our Ed breezily announced yesterday in our team Slack that he was playing as a Dark Urge bard called, wait for it, Edders Sheeran like it was no big deal whatsoever. I'm not gonna lie, a tiny part of me died inside upon hearing this, simply because of its sheer (not a pun), unadultered brilliance. I mean, come on, it's so good it should actually be illegal.
But it also confirmed to me a deep dark truth about myself that I think I knew deep down, but had kinda been pushing under my equally drab mental carpet for years and years. I'm quite boring at the end of the day, and am the type of person who, no matter the game, always creates basically the same identical person every single time.
Supporters only: The joy of cheesing bosses in Remnant 2
We haven't deserved a single victory
Liam and I have been playing looter shooter Remnant 2 in our spare time, as we realised we both couldn't stop thinking about it. Having been burned out of Destiny 2 and most live service games, we discovered Remnant 2 delivers all the benefits of blasting gangly creatures for skill points without all the live service baggage. What a refreshing thing.
Thing is, if two out of the three major bosses we've faced so far took us to court for cheesing them, we'd lose. And it brings us no greater pleasure, knowing we've carved powerful new weapons out of their remains. God, it feels good to be totally undeserving of any credit whatsoever.
Our review might be a while
Hello folks. It sure has been a while, hasn't it? Huge apologies for that. I would say it's been an unusually busy year, but then again, it's always a busy year, so I really have no excuse. Sorry about that. But! After some much appreciated feedback on how I can improve these Letters From The Editor, I return to you today with some notes and thoughts about how we're going to cover Baldur's Gate 3. I'll tell you now, it's going to be a while before you see our review, as review code only arrived a couple of days ago.
Supporters only: Gravity Circuit feels far fresher than any other retro platformer
I have a complicated relationship with retro-style games in general, and no particular fondness for the Everything Was Nintendo school. Or platformers, or double jumping, or dashing, or neon, or being alive in general. Dislike is the wrong word, but "weary neutrality" about covers my feelings when another retro platformer comes down the game tubes.
Gravity Circuit, however, is good enough that I can't not mention it here. It's loud and bright without being obnoxious or overwhelming, fast and precise without being overly demanding, and generally just a damn good effort at creating a modern action platformer whose main influence is obvious, but isn't just going through the motions for the sake of nostalgia. I'm saying it's good, yeah? Maybe not quite for me, but good anyway.
Supporters only: The RPS (not quite) 100: Honourable mentions
This year's #101 list
Every year when I ask the team to vote for their favourite games of all time ahead of us putting together our annual RPS 100 list, I'm regularly astonished by the sheer breadth of games that fly into my inbox. Everyone on the team has such varied, individual tastes, and it heartens me to see so many different genres and types of games represented every year. This year's list (available to read now in Part One and Part Two is another great testament to that.
But as we (sometimes) jokingly say any time we compile a big list like this, the games that didn't make the cut are always at #101. Well, this year I thought supporters might like to see those games at #101 this year, and crikey, there are a lot. There are so many here, in fact, that we would have had to have stretched to an RPS 200 to include them all. So here are our honourable mentions this year (listed, for ease), and I'd love to see you try and guess which games belonged to which member of the team.
Supporters only: Alan Wake is a terrible writer but dammit, I respect him
Dreamweaver (almost literally)
While I was on holiday last week I started playing Alan Wake for the first time ever in my whole life, due to a working theory that I might end up reviewing the sequel one day, who knows. I am furious because none of you told me Alan Wake is essentially Garth Marenghi in his Twin Peaks era, and if you had I would have played it ages ago. The game is such a knowing snake ball of mating tropes that it ouroboroses round into being brilliant, flawless, ridiculous. And also Alan is a terrible writer, I would hate his books. But also everyone should leave him alone because he's doing his best.
Your AI crime-solving companion needs to lay off with the logic puzzles already
Crime O'Clock is a game that should (apologies in advance) tick (sorry) a lot of boxes for me. There's a time-travelling detective story at the heart of it, in which you and a very Minority Report-style AI work together to stop crimes that will disrupt the one true timeline throughout history, and it's all played out on gorgeous black and white tableaus like Adriaan de Jongh's wonderful Hidden Folks. You'll rewind and fast forward time to plot suspicious movements, track stolen objects as they move across town, and work out who (or what) is causing all this chaos. I'm having good fun with it, but I do wish it would stop whisking me away from its lovely maps to go and complete yet another tedious mini-game.
Supporters only: Decarnation is a well-tuned psychological horror
Dance Dance Revelation
Fun as it is to pose as an expert on everything, I am not the best judge when it comes to the old psychojalimical horror. Which may be why I don't quite know how I feel about Decarnation.
There's a big content warning needed here for sexual assault, something that I assumed would turn out to be the whole point of the game. An unfair judgement, it turns out, as one of its strengths is the intriguing mystery of what's actually going on, not the more common "what traumatic thing is everything a metaphor for".
Protagonist Gloria has a lot going on, see. She's a talented cabaret dancer who recently modelled for a statue, for an artist who immediately makes some creepy remarks about how she's an ugly old hag at 29. Misogyny and self image are at the heart of this, but they're wrapped up in Gloria's worries about getting older, chasing intimacy with a new lover, and her deep love for dance, an art form that games so rarely do much with. It's not an ugly or blunt game, despite its distressing themes, and I think that's why it works for me overall.
The Helion Dispatches come straight to your inbox every month
It's weird when one of your favourite notE3 announcements ends up being a little more than a notion of a game, or rather a trailer for a game that doesn't quite exist yet. But hey, when it's Citizen Sleeper 2: Starward Vector we're talking about, I think it's okay to give it a pass. I am so, so pumped to head back into the world of the Helion System developer Jump Over The Age has created here, even if it's going to be a good long while before we get to do that yet. Indeed, when I spoke to them ahead of the game's reveal at this year's PC Gaming Show, creator Gareth Damian Martin said it probably wouldn't be until at least next year before we start seeing it in action.
The good news is, while we wait for Starward Vector to come into orbit, Damian Martin is putting out a free monthly newsletter to help fill that Citizen Sleeper-shaped hole in our lives. Entitled The Helion Dispatches, the second episode just came out this week, and I've been enjoying it immensely.
Supporters only: Mars First Logistics is even more delightful than it looks
High plains lifter
At last, a game to unite Graham, Ollie, and me in a triumvirate of absolute dorks. Mars First Logistics is a game about designing little moon rover buggies to pick things up and drive them to somewhere else.
If you looked at it and went "ooh", your coo lobe was right. "Design a vehicle" games are often too fiddly and/or competition-oriented for me, and trucking games too businesslike and grounded. This threads the needle beautifully. It's challenging, but gently, prioritising an approachable design and smooth controls without sacrificing the satisfaction of solving a decent engineering puzzle. It's even pretty, so that even plain driving back and forth is pleasant and rewarding.
Supporters only: Doomblade asks us: what if a weird little gal had a hellsword?
Let my people glow
There are games about being a weird little guy, and then there are games about being a weird little gal infused with the power of a vengeful demonic sword. Doomblade is both metal and kind of cute, and it's held my interest longer than the average platformer or metroidy castley oh my god do we seriously not have a better word for this yet.
The main thing marking it out, apart from its style, is that instead of stabbing monsters, you attack by hovering the cursor (actually the shimmery face of the sword's spirit) over them and clicking, which launches your little globby shadow man directly at them. You can probably already imagine that this is also a means of getting around the world.
Supporters only: I love Return To Grace's gorgeous retrofuturist-ish design
It's space, Jim, kind of as we know it
Look, it might be a bit tired by now, but dammit if I'm not a fool for designs that are like "Space, but the 60s", or "Space, but the 30s", or even "Space, but the 80s", which by that point was basically just "space". You get my point. The future, but via a second-hand retro clothes store full of dungarees and big print. I'd hesitate to say Return To Grace, a gentle adventure about exploring an ancient complex that houses a long-dormant god-like AI, entirely meets the strict definition of "retrofuturist", but it's definitely "space but the 60s", and it looks bloody lovely.
Supporters only: The narrative outranks you in The Pegasus Expedition, and it works
Alright, sure, so we technically assassinated your leader, and detonated a populated planet, and wiped out the first clan we ever met. But that was all self defence and we're not here to cause trouble. We just... have a lot going on okay.
The Pegasus Expedition is one of my favourite kinds of game. I'm not sure if it quite comes together enough, but it's trying something so original that even its partial success is worth celebrating. You're leading a 4X-ish effort to establish a power base in an unfamiliar galaxy. But you're not doing it to conquer everyone or win victory points. You're doing it so you can go back home and save Earth from annihilation.