3 Amazing games you may have missed

While Game of the Year accolades are being marinated in a zesty lemon vinegar in preparation for their inevitable consumption, it’s worth taking a look at a select few of the unsung heroes of the year – the most novel games, or perhaps just those which for some reason or another didn’t sell very well but which were highly acclaimed nonetheless.

Papers, Please – PC, Mac

If anyone has described Papers, Please to you and you haven’t played it, I don’t blame you. To describe this game is to describe the humdrum life of a paper-jockey sitting behind a thankless booth at a customs checkpoint in a country that doesn’t even exist. Things don’t go awry and you alone survive, there is no alien invasion, you are not the chosen one or any of that nonsense – you read papers, stamp them approved or denied, then do it again. And again. And again.

Which is why I don’t begrudge anyone for having skipped this little gem, even if people have bleated on at them about how ‘intelligent’ and ‘politically insightful’ it is.

But what most people won’t try and sell Papers, Please to you as, which I will now, is also an incredible tense, edge-of-your-seat experience. I shit you not. All you need to do is be remotely invested in what’s going on – just try to do a good job – and this game will genuinely get your heart racing.

Your family hangs in the balance. Not from terrorist threat, but just from lack of proper food, medicine, and heating in the awful mess of a nation you represent. In order to keep them healthy, you’ll need to process as many people as you can each day.

But if you get too trigger happy with your approvals, you’ll be found out by the feds and fined or fired. Let the wrong person in and a bomb might go off in a capital city the next day. Keep the wrong one out and you may read about their tragic death in the papers the next day.

It’s a truly harrowing and nail-biting experience and can be played with friends.

Gone Home – PC, Mac, Linux

Game worlds are charged with feeding information to the players at all times, giving them directions, telling them where they can and can’t go, what parts of the world are interactive and which aren’t, and in most instances, it tells us the power relations between the inhabitants of each world.

The world is usually a supporting character in an otherwise traditional narrative style.

What Gone Home has done is to use nothing but the game world itself (the family home) and a series of audio diaries and hand-written notes to tell the entire story. It’s only a two hour story, but it’s an incredibly moving tale of a young girl’s adolescence. We learn where she first ran into trouble at school, what she used to fantasise about being when she was little and get to put on some of her favourite punk banks to listen to while we read her diary.

Ok, so it sounds a little creepy, but the protagonist you play as is said girl’s sister. Although, frankly, it’s all still a bit of an invasion of privacy if you ask me.

Several players have responded very negatively to the game on account of there being no monsters or other characters to interact with – just the environment. If you’re not expecting that, I can understand why people might feel jipped.

But make no mistake about that going in, and you’ll come out understanding the power of games to tell stories better than you did before.

Thomas Was Alone – PS3 / Vita (Previously PC, Mac, Linux)

For those of you without PCs, a real charmer from yesteryear has just landed on PSN for Vita and PS3 – Thomas Was Alone. Narrated by Danny Wallace (the British dude from the Assassin’s Creed games), the game tells the story of Thomas, who is a rectangle.

It’s a very simple platform game, but, like Gone Home, it uses only one element of game storytelling to engage players, and remarkably does it well.

Thomas and all his friends are squares, rectangles and the like, and none of them speak or are animated in any way, yet through elegant narration alone, they actually manage to deliver a story which is at once epic and triumphant, sad and gripping, and manages to still be affecting even to adults, while being a game I really wish I’d been able to play when I was a kid.

These aren’t games which are stunning and marvellous examples of craftsmanship on every level, they are games which remind us of just how different games can be, not just from other mediums but from one another, and gives me personally great hope for the future of gaming.

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