I confess: I usually did my damndest to rig the RPS Advent Calendar vote. When every year has so many more than 24 good games, I always tried to tactically vote and reshuffle points to wedge in a few wee great games I knew not many people had played. But with a change to voting procedure this year, I simply couldn't get some games on our list. So, here are the games I would've slammed into our advent calendar if I were still allowed to cheat, along with some that simply didn't quite make the cut.
Mothered - A Role-playing Horror Game
There you are, a poorly little girl named Liana, returning home after major surgery to find oh dear god who is this horrifying mannequin claiming to be my mother?
I'll be vague about this horror game, only explaining that it takes place over a week as you reacclimatise to home by chatting with mother, exploring, and doing little tasks. It's a great experience, starting out striking and weird then revealing itself to be increasingly clever and terribly sad.
Launching on Christmas Eve in 2021, Mothered was too late for last year's calendar and I wish I could've squeezed it into this year—especially after it hid a miniature sequel in the new demo. In the end, I had to choose between whether I'd make a big push to ensure this or Who's Lila? made it onto the calendar, and ultimately came down on the side of Lila. Both deserve to be there. So it goes. I am excited for the next game, Echostasis, coming in 2023.
Warhammer 40,000: Darktide
Darktide launched too late in the year for our advent calendar voting, and by our rules it could appear on our 2023 calendar, but I fear it won't. While I've really enjoyed the month I've played of the cooperative first-person shooter, I can already see why I'll stop playing.
It's not that it's not fun. Like Vermintide before it, Darktide is basically Left 4 Dead rebuilt in a world of Warhammer. I adore 40K, the loud and weird and grim vision of humanity's future after technological advancement runs screaming into aliens and demons and we exist on the brink of utter annihilation, clinging to a galaxy-spanning fascist religious cult venerating a man who really, really did not want to be seen as a god. Darktide throws us into a beautifully loud and grubby corner of this, with all the towering Gothic factories and skull-encrusted sewers I could ever hope for as we shoot and stab through hordes of mutants and heretics. It's fun, mowing down hordes while preparing to counteract the AI director's attempts to ruin your day with special big baddies and minibosses. A joy to commit this megamurder.
I could talk all day about how much I adore its weapons, these giant rattling, shaking, jumping devices which feel as much out of World War 1 as they do the 41st millennium. The chunky revolver which pops heads with ease then takes ages to reload. The breech-loaded grenade launcher which fires grenades so large that you can kill even tough enemies by clonking 'em in the face, sending the explosive donking upwards off their forehead to detonate in mid-air and clear the horde around them. The chainsword, oh the chainsword!
The weapons are also why I'll probably stop playing Darktide. They're tied into a network of rubbish random loot systems built upon four in-game currencies, the real-world passage of time, and just plain luck. It sucks. It is never fun. It creates no interesting decisions. Simply hold on and hope it throws up some good numbers for you. It's time-padding trash. Hate it. Without it, I might happily dip in and out Darktide with pals across a very long time. But I'll soon grow sick of engaging with this unrewarding and uninteresting nonsense to help me survive the higher (and more interesting) difficulty levels so yeah, not a keeper. What a shame.
The surprise follow-up to Devil Daggers is faster, murderier, and even more striking to look at, and... it did not enrapture me in the same way. Maybe the speedrunning violence of Neon White earlier this year had exhausted my limited annual supply of video game competitiveness. Maybe the initial learning curve in Hyper Demon was too high and frustrating. Either way, I was initially so delighted to see Hyper Demon launch out of nowhere then I've barely played it since.
I respect the heck out of Hyper Demon. It's gorgeous, and it sounds beautiful too. What fresh hell this is! I also admire the shift from your score being a timer on survival to being points which reward speed and megamurder. Rather than trying to last as long as possible, you're kinda trying to finish as fast as you can.
But the things which make it different to Devil Daggers, possibly even better than Devil Daggers, make it mighty impenetrable. There's a lot to learn, and the tutorials cannot do enough to help internalise this, and it strongly punishes failure so experimentation and learning are frustrating, and a good run can easily turn bad then finish with a score well below its high point, and… Another time, I might well be praising many of these points, delighting in the new tricks to master and the higher skill ceiling. I could have again spent hours jostling for position on the leaderboards with my pals. Not for me, not right now.
Hyper Demon is dead impressive, and I wish I had caught it at a different time of year or different stage of my life.
Forget 'God Of War Ragnarök versus Vampire Survivors versus Elden Ring', Wordle is by far the biggest and most impactful game of the year. This might be the most I've heard people chat about a game, ever, and especially amongst people who don't play many games. It even beat Untitled Goose Game on that front.
I didn't even really play Wordle myself. I had a few goes, on and off, but didn't commit. I already spend my workday shouting and swearing at words, y'know? But I heard about friends' scores, and their with their friends, and their parents, and their aunts, and the whole family WhatsApp group chat, and their colleagues, and... for a while, it felt like everyone was playing Wordle—and not just playing, competing. How rare for so many people to play together.
I also enjoyed the birth of the -dle genre, the many mediums and topics that daily guessing games could venture into with a simple website and an easy way to share your scores. Movies, football, maps, songs, weather, Google Street View, long Wordles, multiple Wordles at once, cooperative Wordles, and so many more. Wonderful. What a fantastic year for little games that became part of our daily lives and our relationships.