This is a little series where I talk about games that I’ve been playing lately. I had this series on Pillowfort, but moved it here while Pillowfort is down. I haven’t decided whether I’ll keep it here when Pillowfort returns.
This month: two narrative games, two automation games, and two puzzle games.
Spiritfarer is a game about death. Your role is to ferry the dead to their final rest, listening to their stories and completing tasks in the mean time. The impact of death is also mechanically enhanced by having each character teach you some new mechanics, which continue to be associated with that character even after they are gone. I explained this premise to my husband, and he balked. “Sounds horrible.”
My own reaction is more on the opposite end. The game did not have a strong emotional impact on me. Maybe that’s because I’m overly aware of the virtual nature of these deaths, or because I have non-normative emotional reactions to death in general.
Regardless, I still thought it was a good game. I liked the gameplay loop of repetitive menial tasks. And there are the character sketches told through rambling anecdotes, as if by a person in a hospital bed or nursing home. I’m not making this sound very appealing…
Paradise Killer is a murder mystery taking place in a wholly original setting. The titular paradise is a world created by an elite class of immortals, who kidnap and enslave ordinary citizens and force them to worship their genocidal alien gods (a metaphor for capitalism, surely). The protagonist is an immortal brought out of exile in order to investigate the murder of the rulers. The investigation is conducted by jumping around a large 3D open world, collecting everything you can find, and interrogating the exceedingly flamboyant cast.
With detective games, there’s always the question of how the game validates the player’s conclusions. For example, Return of the Obra Dinn asks you to identify causes of death, but will only validate answers in groups of three, to prevent you from just guessing. Paradise Killer takes another approach, validating any conclusion you choose to make, so long as you’ve found evidence to support it. Furthermore, you can execute or exile characters extrajudicially after trial. The disadvantage is that you don’t get much feedback on your choices, but it provides ample space to express your own theory of justice (or roleplay what you think the protagonist thinks is just). For instance, you could decide that everyone is guilty for participating in an evil death cult.
Paradise Killer was a real standout game. I love 3D collectathons, and it has a story that begs to be discussed and analyzed further.
Shapez.io is a factory game about moving shapes around on conveyor belts and building a giant factory. If you’ve ever heard of Factorio, it’s like that, but streamlined and distilled into it’s purest form. It’s probably easier to get into than Factorio, but speaking as an experienced Factorio player, I found it too simple, and lacking in mechanical variety.
Also, it lacks multiplayer. I’ve played a lot of Factorio with my brothers, and it’s great because we all have different factory design styles that would clash with and complement each other. Basically, I like Factorio a lot, and would rather talk about that.
Malmyr is another automation game, but survives the comparison to Factorio by being totally distinct. Rather than focusing on scaling things bigger and bigger, it focuses on smaller micromanagement. To build anything, you have to deliver resources on location, which means rearranging roads to build anything, and then rearranging once again after construction is complete. This is all done in a small space crowded with buildings that can’t easily be moved because that would require restarting construction.
There are a lot of subtle details to the mechanics that you have to work around, but rather than enjoying the challenge, I found it a bit annoying. So, it’s not a winner for me.
Understand is a puzzle game that has you drawing paths in a grid, and figuring out the rules as you go. The premise is copied right out of The Witness, minus the whole 3D open world aspect. But rather than being a knockoff, I found it to go far beyond what The Witness accomplished. There is much greater focus on learning the rules, because the rules change every single level. Furthermore, this game often deliberately misleads you about the rules. This forces you to constantly test your own assumptions. A top tier puzzle game, and very underpriced too.
Altered is a Sokoban puzzle game where you solve puzzles by altering the shape of the player character. There are multiple characters who alter in different ways, for instance one has two long arms, and another can merge with stone blocks. This was very short, and not that difficult, but generally a positive experience. It just looks very pretty, and the puzzles are pleasing to work through. These are not the sort of puzzles that require any big insights to solve, they’re more the “muck around” kind of puzzles. That holds it back from being at the top of my list, but it’s still easy to recommend.