I didn’t play as many games as I wanted to this year – but then I say that every single year and will probably continue to do so until the end of time (I assume at some point my consciousness will be uploaded into an immortal robot that will exist until the heat death of the universe, and that robot will still be doing previews). Like everyone else who has written their selection box, my top picks made it onto the Advent Calendar this year. But some didn’t! Here are but a three of them.
The Excavation Of Hob’s Barrow
We’re in a period of good folk horror (see: day three on the advent cal.). The Excavation Of Hob’s Barrow is a point and click mystery game that would, in some ways, not be completely foreign to fans of something like The Case Of The Golden Idol. But Hob’s barrow is also a creepy horror game, with all eldritch folk rituals and sleeping evil and all that.
It’s a period piece, set in and around the beautiful but desolate moors of northern England (with troubling locals all voiced in very fine style). You, Thomasina are a modern woman and self-taugh archaeologist who is in the remote town of Bewlay with the intent of digging the local titular burial mound the hell up. The game does a tremendous job at making the whole place feel like that scene in a spaghetti western where someone walks into a saloon and everyone goes quiet. Many of the locals insist they don’t know what a Hob’s Barrow is, and even if they did they certainly wouldn’t tell you where it was, or what happened to the last group who tried to excavate it.
As you progress you become aware that something horrible is going to happen, and there isn’t anything you can do to stop it. The puzzles you solve, which are almost all pleasingly logical, and contain a few bait-and-switches, are leading you inexorably to a terrible conclusion. You don’t want to dig up Hob’s Barrow. And yet, you are compelled to. Come for the unsettling story, stay for the even more unsettling art. Sorry I keep using the same screenshot of a terrifying cat, but it is very good, isn’t it?
A Little To The Left
We’ve posted quite a lot about adorable puzzle game A Little To The Left because it has big “several members of the RPS editorial staff like puzzle games” energy. It’s pretty simple: you get presented with a mess, and you tidy it up. The messes are sometimes literal (lots o’ stuff you need to fit in the bathroom cabinet), and sometimes more abstract (bunch o’ leaves you can arrange in a nice symmetrical pattern).
I think what I like about it most is that it’s a puzzle game with leeway. There are often two or three different ways of solving a mess – different ways you can tidy it – so A Little To The Left allows for different ways of thinking. Some levels are more like jigsaw puzzles, with a right place for everything, and others are like little art projects. Plus there’s a naughty cat.
I can’t remember if there’s a cat in FixFox, but it seems likely, because it’s set in a far off future where humans have gene-spliced with animals to get e.g. nice warm fur. A furries dream, essentially, although to be clear the game does not approach the topic at all. You’re a fox called Vix and you fix stuff for the robots living on a strange cuboid planet, on which you have crash landed. Mostly this involves bodging with found items that broadly match the qualities you’d need for a tool. You don’t have duct tape, but stamps are also sticky, or plasters. Some of the machines want to taste or smell a certain thing. There might be a sensor that needs potassium, in which case you need to rustle up a banana.
You can find things in caches around the world – which comprises a desert, a forest, swamps, etc. – or trade with people for what you need. Often you get a literal meal ticket, and sit down and eat a local delicacy. The trailers all emphasise the cosy aspect, and FixFox is very cosy. It’s homely. You zoom about on your little bike, talking to your toolbox, sleeping under the stars.
The thing that FixFox doesn’t really get across initially is how weird it is on top of that. A large part of your time involves finding the pieces of some really big animal mechs. I don’t want to spoil stuff, but we get into some transhumanist territory. While staying cute. It’s a trip, and one I think a lot of people might have missed out on.