Brethren Moo, and resident gaming guru, Numbers awards/ reviews 2013’s best indie games!
*Original article from True Game Truths and posted here with permission of the author. The views and opinions of this article do not necessarily reflect those of Atomic Moo. Though with poor diet, social exclusion, and eighteen hours of Team Fortress Two, they soon might.
It’s that time of year again! When major videogame publications post “game of the year” lists populated by “triple-a” titles from publishers who’ve taken advantage of the aforementioned publications’ generous advertising/sponsorship offers. With that in mind, welcome to the 84th annual True Game Truths Two Game Toots, the prestigious Golden Warp Whistle Awards! Each year, we give out a couple of awards to particularly noteworthy releases. These may not be the best games of the year, or ones you’ve played, or even ones you’ve heard of, but they deserve recognition and praise. That’s why we’re here.
The first of the Two Game Toots goes to…
Developer: Wolfire Games
Platforms: Windows, Linux, mac
Nutshell: suspenseful first-person survival adventure handgun simulator
Get it from Wolfire Games’ website (DRM-free), Steam
Forget what you know about video game heroes who can operate any kind of equipment without any prior training. This time around, the hero isn’t ex-special forces, but just somebody with a tape player, a sidearm, and, if lucky, a few bullets and a flashlight.
Welcome to Receiver, the result of a 7-day FPS challenge. In but a week, Wolfire Games have done what most big-budget triple-A game companies fail every year: create a deeply engaging, atmospheric shooter with a non-linear world to explore and mechanics that are not merely gimmicks. Receiver boasts detailed, realistic gun handling mechanics as well as ricochet and bullet drop physics, making every firefight a pulse-pounding challenge. Safeties can be toggled, full-auto modes can be engaged, revolver cylinders can be spun, and enemies can be blinded or immobilized by gunfire, but bullets can bounce off your targets, or drop too much to hit their mark. The little things we take for granted in shooters become immensely satisfying in Receiver, such as reloading a weapon. Bullets must be manually inserted into each magazine, which in turn are manually removed from and inserted into the weapon. Just don’t forget to check if you have a round chambered. If any of this sounds needlessly complicated, it would be for a standard, conventional shooter. But Receiver is far from that. Set at night, in a randomized building complex populated only by floating robot drones and sentry turrets, players must explore empty apartments in search of ammunition and the mysterious audiotapes which, through their bizarre recordings whose words are not unlike those of a real-life cult, might hold the only escape from the upcoming Mindkill Event. Having to constantly fiddle around with your weapon to get bullets in and, with luck, take foes down, adds so much to the already suspenseful atmosphere. Supplies are scarce, the taped messages are deliberately puzzling, and death lurks around every corner and beneath ever ledge. Upon dying, a new world is rolled and you start your adventure through the night from the beginning with a different equipment loadout, so thread lightly. Being made in a week (further patches and additional features notwithstanding), the game is, understandably, not exactly graphically stunning. But rather than look like an incomplete 3D Studio Max project, Wolfire Games made the smart decision to embrace a minimalist aesthetic. Walls, floors, and objects are coloured, not textured, and the lighting engine takes care of the rest. Dynamic shadows, clever placement of lights, and excellent variety of colours grant Receiver an almost otherworldly look. The minimalism extends into the soundtrack by H. Anton Riehl, which is reminiscent of Vangelis’ Blade Runner soundtrack. Dripping with atmosphere and solid ideas, Wolfire Game’s survival/simulation/adventure title is filled with the imagination that is so painfully missing from modern, big-budget FPSes. Receiver is a trip you should take, and a journey you won’t soon forget.
Our second and final of the Two Game Toots, the Golden Warp Whistle Awards, goes to…
Developer: Iron Galaxy Studios
Platforms: Windows, PSN
Nutshell: two-button comedy-themed fighting game without sticks/d-pads
Get it from PSN, Steam
One complaint I often hear about fighting games is that they are difficult to get into, and, to a certain extent, it’s true. But what if a fighting game could be simplified and confusing special-move inputs done away with, without sacrificing the core elements of the genre? The team at Iron Galaxy has your answer in Divekick, the first ever two-button fighting game. I don’t mean two buttons and a d-pad. I don’t mean two buttons and an arcade stick. I mean two buttons, full stop. All inputs are done with only two buttons, even the menus (pause button notwithstanding). It sounds like madness, but here’s how it works. The Dive button sends you jumping vertically (“diving,” if you will) into the air. On the ground, the Kick button allows you to perform a back kick, jumping away from your opponent, but in the air, it will unleash a devastating DIVEKICK attack, sending you toward the ground diagonally. Press both buttons on the ground for a ground special, or both in the air for an air special when you have enough meter to use them. First hit wins the round. Five to five rounds wins the match. Sounds simple enough. That’s the beauty of Divekick – under the veneer of simplicity lies the core concepts of the fighting game genre. At its base, a fighting game is a strategy game, but unless you allow yourself the time to memorize moves inputs, learn priorities, and play with and against multiple characters, the strategy might be difficult to find. Not so in Divekick, where, just like you would in any conventional fighter, you must outsmart your opponent, look for and create openings, read your opponent’s play style, and use your character’s strengths to your advantage. Every character has his or her own unique look, feel, and stats. Some dive higher, others can control their kick angle, and of course, everyone’s special moves are unique. Plus, each cast member has a personality and story, with many lines of dialogue as well as arcade-mode stories, complete with cutscenes and rival fights. Inescapable comedic overtones permeate every Divekick character, menu, and loading screen. Humour is everywhere in this game, based primarily on pop-culture references and fighting-game-community in-jokes. There are nods to Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat, Tekken, Marvel Vs. Capcom, specific real-life people, and more. That being said, even if you don’t know who Seth Killian is, there is still more enough to keep you laughing and asking your opponents for one more match. If you want to put your Divekicking skills to the test, you’re in luck, thanks to the multiplayer modes. In addition to a standard two-player local versus mode, you’ll find online ranked and unranked matches, with the option for private battles, all backed by reliable GGPO netcode. Divekick began as a joke yet is anything but. Iron Galaxy Studios have successfully rendered the fighting game accessible without dumbing it down. They have retained the essence, the core elements of the genre. Divekick is not just the best fighting game of the year, it’s the best thing to happen to fighting games in years. Now, where’s Divekick X Skullgirls?
There you have it, folks! Two of 2013’s best, but unfortunately easily-overlooked, games that are not only great in their own rights, but they also represent the imagination, the creativity, and the fun that is so desperately missing from modern, big-budget releases. Here’s to more outside-the-box indie games in 2014 that show the triple-A industry just how the hell to make games again.
All screenshots taken from the games’ respective Steam store pages.