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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.
Supporters only: Shout out to Game Gengo, my new language learning obsession
A perfect evening hang
As some of you might be aware, I went to Japan earlier this year and had a great time. Off the back of the trip, I've finally decided to get my act together and pursue a long, arduous road to some degree of fluency. It's always going to be a work-in-progress, but I think I've settled into a language learning routine which leaves me with plenty of time for Love Island in the evening. DuoLingo's owl has been punted to the curb, too, because the bird is awful.
Naturally, I've turned to a textbook: Genki I. At first I thought there was no getting past it being a bit dry - I mean they aren't meant to be thrillers, are they? Until, that was, I discovered Game Gengo, a YouTuber who takes each lesson from the textbook, breaks them down into manageable chunks, all complete with loads of examples from video games. I spend most of my evenings with the guy, and what a treat it is.
Make them smaller or, so help me God, do not make them
Last week while I was away from my desk, Pete Hines showed that the Starfield hype train is an unstoppable perpetual motion engine, and he certainly won't pull the emergency break for something as normie as a federal court. While his comments were part of the ongoing Actiblizz acquisition malarkey (the point seemingly being "it's so big it'd be too hard to optimise for PS5"), hearing him pitch Bethesda's upcoming grey-rocks-but-in-space-this-time RPG as "irresponsibly large" made me want to go full Reggie Perrin.
Every time I bring my reviews of giant games to the altar of the industry, I weep tears of blood and beg that games be shorter. And every time the golden idol with the face of Phil Spencer opens its maw to spit a new £80 disc out and says: "Bigger than ever before. A million pointless collectibles. A feast of zero-calorie content. Lol. Lmao."
Supporters only: I would like every developer to make an escape room game, thank you
Lock me up and throw away the key
I really like escape rooms IRL, and have a tremendous amount of respect for the people who devise them. But seeing as how they last about an hour and cost approximately the same as it would for Wales to secede from the United Kingdom, I can only afford to pay an immersive experience what it deserves every so often (the rest of the time I'm honourbound by my fatherland to donate to causes supported by Michael Sheen). I'm therefore pleased that there seems to be an uptick in escape room video games. Plese do more of those, developers.
Supporters only: To Hell With The Ugly is a cracking name and even better game
Celibate good times
A decent name is one thing, but one like To Hell With The Ugly plain demands to be looked up. That's when you see the striking art style, and yeah okay, I'm already on on board.
Based on a French novel by Boris Vian, this tells a strange and surprisingly dark story about a famously handsome young himbo who gets caught up in a sinister plot in 1950s Los Angeles and has to adventure, talk, fight, and - horrors - reason his way to the truth. It's an adventure game with quick-time event bits, and a 50s America setting, all of which could put me off it entirely, but I can't bring myself to say anything bad about it at all.
Supporters only: Kvark's atmosphere defines it as more than a Half-Life rehash
Hostile environment work
The glut of "old school" shooters has largely passed me by, not least because I can easily play Doom today if I want to. But Kvark looks to Half-Life instead of the Doomquake clone era, and is all the better for it. You're a worker/prisoner in a sinister nuclear facility deep under 1980s Czechoslovakia where things, as you might guess, have gone terribly wrong.
The satirical Soviet posters and propaganda reels are here, but used sparingly, and more convincingly than the usual "Russia, haha! Vodka! lol!" fare, and although all its parts are fairly familiar, Kvark feels distinct enough that I had a hard time actually putting it down.
Look at that lil rabbit cat thing go!
This weekend I spent some time trying out a bunch of games that I meant to try earlier, but didn't have the time to. I played through all of Superliminal, for example, and really enjoyed it until the very end when I got an inspirational lecture from an invisible scientist living in my ear - and I did not care for it. One game I played for literally half an hour and thought it was great, but I was not good enough to beat the first boss I came across. But I thought to myself, other people are better at Metroidvanias, and at least one of them might appreciate being nudged in the direction of a year old one I think is cute. Thus: Islets.
RPS supporters can get a free drink, too
Our sister site Eurogamer is celebrating 15 years of EGX (aka: the Eurogamer Expo) this month, and they're holding a charity pub quiz in its honour down in London this Thursday, June 8th. Yes, yes, we know that's the same day as Geoff's Annual Trainer Showcase (aka: Summer Game Fest), but hey, at least it's for a good cause, with all proceeds going to the lovely folks at GamesAid. Tickets are on sale now, and RPS supporters can also get a special code to nab themselves a free drink. Details below.
Supporters only: Raid On Taihoku is strangely relaxing for such a grim setting
Waiting for the drop
I'm unsure whether to call Raid On Taihoku a "historical game", since it's an adventure game with enough daftness to feel a bit unlike what that phrase brings to mind. But it's set very thoroughly in Taiwan towards the end of World War II, and though the focus is a young girl's relationship with her family and friends, that context is critical to why I've enjoyed it so much.
Taxonomy aside, then, the important thing is that it's enjoyable. It hasn't hit the emotional highs of the kind of interactive fiction I favour, but for a story with such heavy themes, it provides a relaxing drip feed of mystery reveals and plot thickenings in between low-pressure minigames. It's a good time, without undermining its obvious respect for the people who had to live through this.
Supporters only: If you think writers should use AI you're a giant idiot loser
Bad words done quick
Today is another out of sync Bank Holiday for me. It's not one in Ireland, so I'm the only one rattling around in here at the moment. And it occurs to me that the vast, vast, vast majority of you will never have met me in real life. The evidence that I exist in physical space is comparatively minimal! How do you know I'm not an AI? An AI could probably replicate my writing style quite thoroughly, because there are at present many thousands of my - mine, my own - words on the internet, and they and everything else have and are being scraped by AI. This thought process is as a result of a few AI things intersecting with my workspace at once recently. Several of them are quite funny, and also not. If you think AI tools are actually good for writers then I have to assume you don't really think much about either.
Supporters only: I'm having a delightful time in tiny woodland survival sim Smalland
We don’t do things by arthropod
It is entirely irrational that I can see a hundred largely identical online shooters and not blink, but see a single game cover similar ground to something unique can make me go, "Oh, it's a Grounded knock-off".
It's also extremely unfair on Smalland Colon Survive The Wilds, a lovely survival game about being a teeny tiny person in the wilderness, where bottlecaps serve as tabletops and beetles are a deadly threat. It is absolutely comparable to Obsidian's garden adventure, but a peer rather than a pretender. I even prefer it in some ways, but they have such a different vibe that there's plenty of room for both.
Kujlevka is a strange, clever game about an ageing village bureaucrat already troubled by political upheaval and dreams about death and trauma, suddenly given responsibility for communicating with and controlling access to what appears to be humanity's first contact with an alien intelligence.
All those themes suggest a heavy, self-serious game. But Kujlevka's great strength is its levity. While not particularly funny, its consistent wry humour perfectly counterbalances all the talk of political chaos, existential futility, and petty greed. Its opening should have been a clue, really, considering you hang out with skeletons while drinking and commenting on the food on a train in outer space.
I’ve been playing a lot of The Legend Of Zelda: Tears Of The Kingdom this week. It’s good. Really good. I know you’ve all been waiting for your favourite PC gaming-focused website to offer their take on it so there you go. It’s properly, properly good. The best open-world adventure since Elden Ring, except arguably better because it doesn’t pull your trousers down and point out the colour of your underwear every time you dare to explore a forest or watch a sunset.
As you’ve probably seen, the game’s biggest new draw is “Ultrahand”, which allows Link to pick up loose objects and glue them together. Three logs make a raft. A plank and four wheels make a car. Two stones and a log make a... Ahem. You get the idea. In addition to this are “Zonai Devices”, components that give life and movement to your doohickeys. A fan pushes your raft across the lake. A steering stick lets you manoeuvre your little car. It’s a marvellous construction system that leverages the pre-existing physics engine seen in the game’s predecessor, Breath Of The Wild, to startling results. Does this all sound familiar?
I've missed it so
Here I am, once again, The Gears Of War-liker. I'm back, specifically because vidbud Liam and I played some Gears Of War 5 co-op campaign the other night, a rare occasion where we hadn't played a game for work but for just like… fun? Anyway, through all the roadie-running and chainsaw-gun-toting, I kept thinking, "I haven't played a video game that feels so much like a video game in ages, I miss it".
Supporters only: Mech Punk is bizarre, overwhelming, and actually punk
Mech Punk is taking the piss, and I like it. Deliberately opaque games are one thing. Artsy games making a point (that seldom grab me, I shouldn't admit) are another. But Mech Punk is something else altogether, and an incredibly rare game that actually earns the "punk" in its title.
Does that mean it's good? Well, umm. Yes, it's good at what I think it sets out to do. Being an irreverent mess is a valid artistic approach, but still means your game is exactly that. It's not a good game in the traditional sense, though. Do I recommend you buy it? If you can spare £20 to pat an artist on the back, maybe. What kind of artist? Put it this way: on release, its developer changed all their Steam page credits to "Alan Smithee". I don’t think they’re disowning it.
Supporters only: Jake Solomon uncut: here's our post-Firaxis GDC interview in full
The full Q&A transcript of our hour-long chat
Over the last week and a bit, we've been steadily releasing a bunch of stories from our big, hour-long chat with XCOM and Marvel's Midnight Suns director Jake Solomon that took place at this year's GDC. It was a wide-ranging interview, looking at what Solomon plans to do next now that he's left Firaxis, and how he feels about his 20+ year career there. You can read the condensed version of that interview here, but as a treat for RPS supporters, I thought you might like to read our chat in full. There's still a lot I couldn't quite squeeze into separate news stories here, and I think (and hope) you'll find it interesting to read as a whole. So here it is. All 8760-odd words of it. Enjoy.
Supporters only: Lunark is more than just a love letter to Flashback
Quest for identity complete
Aeons ago, I wrote about the Leftfield collection that was supposed to happen at Rezzed 2020. Ploughing through several emotions without comment, in amongst the games that we never got to see as a result of Things Happening was an earlier version of Lunark, a clearly Flashback-influenced action puzzle platformer.
I've kind of worried about it ever since, so I was glad to see it released recently, and gladder still that it's a lot of fun.