Along with our primary Game of the Year Awards 2021, every member of the PC Gamer workforce is shining a highlight on a sport they liked this yr. We’ll publish new workers picks, alongside our primary awards, all through the remainder of the month.
Reward be the staunchly uninnovative fashionable indie Metroidvania. There are plenty of them, and like Desmond Hume in Lost, together with his reserve of Dickens novels, I’ve to apply restraint in order that I am going to by no means run out.
Not that I am going to doubtless ever run out of video games on this fashion: 2021 was an enormous yr for the exploration-platformer style. Axiom Verge 2, Ender Lilies, Aeterna Noctis, F.I.S.T and Greak: Reminiscences of Azur are among the many heavy hitters, and that is with out mentioning Metroid Dread, which is already on PC via emulation. However my favorite Metroidvania of 2021—favorite total sport, actually—is Astalon: Tears of the Earth. It is that uncommon breed of sport that feels prefer it was an absolute pleasure to make, an actual labour of affection.
Like plenty of fashionable Metroidvanias, it has just a few vaguely novel twists. Astalon has a number of playable characters who you may swap between on the fly, representing pretty typical RPG-style archetypes. Every has a unique fight fashion—Algus shoots fireballs, Arias makes use of a sword, Kyuli a bow and arrow—and every accumulates their very own array of map-expanding power-ups. These embrace Kyuli’s capacity to endlessly scale partitions, Algus’s helpful Cloak of Levitation, and Arias’ energy to chop by means of in any other case impenetrable partitions.
The target is to climb to the highest of a sprawling tower so as to, uh, reverse the apocalypse or one thing. Once you die, you respawn on the entry, however don’t be concerned: It is not a roguelite, and regularly unlocked shortcuts get you again to the place you wish to be fairly rapidly. It is so much much less punishing than Hole Knight, and whereas Astalon requires persistence—particularly in relation to navigating the labyrinthine tower—it is not intentionally troublesome.
And that is it, these are the twists. That is about as orthodox a Metroidvania as you will discover on Steam, and whether or not you dig it or not will hinge on the 8-bit artwork fashion. For me, enjoying any sport with attractive pixel artwork can paper over any minor issues elsewhere, and the pixel artwork in Astalon is the work of probably the greatest within the biz: Matt Kapp of Fortress within the Darkness, 1001 Spikes, and The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth fame.
I performed a bunch of pixel artwork platformers as a child of the ’90s, particularly of the Apogee shareware selection, however I do not suppose pure nostalgia is the explanation I more and more flip to those video games as a substitute of the loud seasonal blockbusters. There’s so much to like about fashionable video games in 2021—they’re trying higher, they’re getting smarter, and there is a ridiculous abundance of them—however appallingly, to me no less than: they by no means finish. As engagement metrics grow to be as necessary as uncooked gross sales figures, it is uncommon for a giant, closely marketed, purportedly cutting-edge videogame to be completed by the typical mortal. They need me to log in on a regular basis, to finish weird challenges, and they email me after I go away them unfinished.
Generally this want to put declare to all of my consideration strikes me as cynical, however perhaps that is as a result of I am as inclined as others are for gratification—to hit a degree cap, to unlock a beauty, to listen to the ping of a Steam achievement. I do not like these impulses, however I positive as hell really feel them.
However as a salve for the strain this zeitgeisty strategy to sport design provokes in me, I am more and more drawn to little video games like Astalon—video games you may both take or go away, that are not launched to any actual fanfare, that by no means enter the discourse, that simply exist to be stumbled upon and savoured. Astalon and its ilk really feel like the sport equal to zine tradition or the nonetheless flourishing demoscene: small, intimate artefacts made by passionate lovers, at odds with the lightning velocity growth-oriented tradition that surrounds them. You play it, you like it, you progress on, and also you perhaps revisit it some day. Astalon positively reeks of the enjoyment of creation, which just about all the time means you are in secure palms.
And on the threat of sounding much more like a turd than I’ve already, I simply discover Astalon’s pixel artwork soulful. There’s a lot expressionistic verve juiced from its 256-color gamut, a lot room for creativeness and interpretation in its essentially unrealistic environments. Possibly you will accuse me of being a fundamentalist (I am going to cop to it, for now), however that is precisely a sport, within the sense that I grew up with: a giant unusual world to discover, with a giant dumb story you may safely ignore, with a sure chunky, textural high quality that belongs—was created by—our beloved medium. Oops, and that is me being blatantly nostalgic.