This year, I’ve mostly played smaller games, mostly from small or solo developers. Playing a giant timesink game all day hasn’t appealed as I’ve sought to spend more time in forests and up hills and down rivers, and Destiny 2 burned me out so hard on live service games that I still can’t face those. But a year of little games has been great fun, short bursts of play and ideas explored concisely, so here are some of my other favourites.
Who knew that what road build-o-repairing games needed was a constant stream of traffic spilling over your works in progress? It is, at minimum, very funny to watch physics-simulated cars and buses and lorries cascade over wonky roads, flipping and skidding crashing and smashing and tumbling over the edge into the void. Great joke. It’s helpful too, I think, giving far more immediate feedback to your tweaks than the usual wait to run a test.
Sebil Engineering, to back up for a bit, is a puzzle game about repairing extremely busted roads. Well, you’re not repairing roads as much as rerouting them. You can’t build anything new, can’t construct bridges or fill holes, can’t erect traffic lights or stop signs, but you can reshape what’s already there. Left-click on the sparse terrain vertices to raise that point, and right-click to lower. That’s it. So your ‘repair’ might take the form of shifting the road into a ramp to launch cars over a collapsed section, or raising a rim to catch and guide cars as two streams attempt to collide. As long as they reach their destination intact-ish, you’re good.
This is pleasingly freeform puzzling. Your cars might reach their destination skidding, sliding, or on two wheels about to roll over, but hey, they made it! Congrats. As long as your solution used few enough clicks to keep the budget, you’ve done it. I have enjoyed creating elegant solutions which carefully guided vehicles to the goal and sent them safely on their way. I have enjoyed creating daft solutions which caused giant pile-ups but were just good enough to count. And absolutely I have enjoyed creating speculatular stunt solutions. What a joy to watch an endless torrent of cars stunt to victory. Especially for my cat.
That Which Gave Chase
A dogsled musher brings a scientist back to an abandoned exhibition deep in the snow, braving treacherous paths, perilous conditions, hostile wildlife, and unknown horrors. And it’s all wrapped up inside an hour. I like a horror game which doesn’t outstay its welcome, doesn’t show its hand and offer its answers and reveal its secrets then stumble on naked and unscary and fall back on escalating violence until the end eventually arrives. That Which Gave Chase doesn’t hurry either. It’s a slow burn, establishing isolation and unease with the scientist nattering as you guide your sled through the snowy nothing. It’s just involved enough, requiring a little thought and procedure to guide your sled but mostly letting you wallow in the mood. As it escalates and reveals more of the mystery, it still keeps you on your toes, eventually sends you back to reality a little still, a little afraid. In under an hour. Lovely.
And if you enjoy horror games which know when to end, here’s an entire collection of them! Unsorted Horror gathers five games about operating strange devices and following procedures. Travel to the heart of a colossal machine. Play a deadly game of Battleships. Probe a nest of giant spiders. Keep a drill running to bore through the door of a bunker and make your escape. Seize, anesthetise, and draw samples from unknown and unseen lifeforms from the depths. My favourites of the collection are all about following fiddly procedure: clamping a vice, undoing screws, mixing anesthetic, pulling switches, yanking devices about a lab, replacing parts, charging batteries, flicking through floppy disks, and more pleasing minute interactions. And the mood they’re soaked in is absolutely dreadful.
These are built from giant, terrible concept that would struggle to work in more-conventional games. Encounters with unknowable and unstopabble forces. Vast vistas. Few answers. No guns. Worlds with clearly terrible and wholly explained histories. What a joy to drop into these places for 15 minutes to press buttons, flip switches, and feel utterly doomed.
I had to uninstall Brotato to stop it being a real problem in my life. What praise. What a curse. Looking back, I should’ve pushed this onto the calendar.