My top ten favorite games of the year, presented in ascending order each day leading into the holidays. Look for my full Top Ten list with categories and awards on December 24!
#10 Dead Cells
#9 Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden
#8 Pokémon: Let’s Go, Pikachu/Eevee!
Developer: 11 bit Studios
Publisher: 11 bit Studios
I was a bit late to the party with This War of Mine, a unique sim-survival game that played out like a strategic board game with a harrowing real-world theme about the horrors of war upon civilians. This War of Mine put 11 bit Studios on my personal radar, and I was very much looking forward to Frostpunk when it released earlier this year.
Frostpunk did not disappoint. Like This War of Mine it takes some very heavy survival themes and treats them with the cold-hearted seriousness that befits surviving during an apocalypse.
Your haggard survivors have found a geothermic reactor and established a city amid a world blanketed in sub-freezing temperatures.
The real-time strategy game forces you to manage precious resources like coal, wood, and food, but also regulate the happiness and morale of your people. Stuffing food with sawdust will help ration meek food stores but your people won’t be happy. A 24-hour shift could be just enough to make it through the night, but injury and exhaustion will spread like a plague.
Little story events force you to make tough decisions, like giving leniency to a mother stealing food for her children. Ultimately you’ll need to choose either a zealous or totalitarian path to unlock new laws and edicts and keep everyone in line, a sobering look at how humanity survives extreme conditions.
Thanks to its incredibly immersive atmosphere, haunting string soundtrack and compelling writing. Frostpunk is more than just a thematic city builder. It’s one of the best games of the year.
Six years, two Kickstarter campaigns, and one home equity loan later, Hero-U: Rogue to Redemption has finally been released. “A year after the first Kickstarter we were approached by an outside investor,” says Corey Cole, part of the husband-wife team behind Hero-U. “We would’ve gotten half a million in additional funding. The problem was they wanted 50% of the game’s sales for life. At the time we felt it was too much to give up. Had we looked into our crystal ball in 2015 or 2017, we would’ve jumped on that.”
I spoke to both Corey and Lori Cole about the lengthy, yet passionate development of Hero-U, an adventure-RPG modeled after the 1990s Sierra series that once made them design icons: Quest for Glory.
The life of a cloned, intergalactic bounty hunter is about what I expected, though with a lot more loot boxes. Brig 12 offers an interesting mix of character class progression, tactical turn-based battles, and crew management, but it’s hampered every step of the way by free-to-play card mechanics that turn the gameplay into a repetitive grind.
The basic loop of Brig 12 is simple: Select a bounty target, track them using my crew—a fun mechanic I’ll talk about more later—then beam down with my landing party for a series of turn-based battles.
A unique post-apocalyptic city-builder that forces you to maintain hope as much as heat and wood.
Things were going well, or least as well as can be expected against an apocalyptic snowstorm, until the temperature plummeted another 40 degrees. “Snowmaggeddon” is a joke during brutal winters. But nobody’s laughing in the world of Frostpunk when temperatures approach -90 degrees, rendering most of the world uninhabitable.
In the last city my supply of coal dwindled to nothing as my geothermic reactor began shutting down. I watched a cascade of Bad News as my workforce grew sick, homes grew cold, and people began dying.
I was forced to pass a law to enable emergency 24 hour shifts. Brave men and women operated frozen coal mines in the dead of night to give us the juice we needed. Some grew sick, and some were so frostbitten they had to have limbs amputated.
But the city survived. These harrowing moments solidify Frostpunk as one of the most memorable and emotional city building sims I’ve ever played.
It is a truth universally acknowledged that Heroes of Might and Magic 3 is not only one of the best PC strategy games ever made, but one of the best games period, perfectly capturing the magic of building castles and battling fantasy armies. Unfortunately 3DO filed for bankruptcy soon after producing the disappointing fourth entry in the series in the early 2000s, taking New World Computing, the developers of Might and Magic, with them. Ubisoft swooped in to take over, and would then go on to produce increasingly mediocre sequels.
But fortunately for us, in 2008 King’s Bounty: The Legend came from Russia, with love.
This article ran as part of PC Gamer’s Class of 2008 series of retrospectives.
“We wanted to make a beer game,” says Michael Austin, creative director and co-founder of Hidden Path Entertainment. “That’s a game you can play with one hand while holding a beer.”
Though Austin and his fellow veterans at Hidden Path had previously worked on several games, Defense Grid: The Awakening was their first self-published title. They released it in 2008, when the tower defense genre was still mostly mods for games like Warcraft 3 and a few smartphone and browser games. Austin saw a fellow employee playing Desktop Tower Defense, and became inspired. “I wanted to make a AAA tower defense game, since the genre had only been in mods and flash games so far. I wanted to make Defense Grid because that’s a game I wanted to play.”
“Growing up I’d read articles and see pictures in Nintendo Power about behind-the-screen game development,” says Andrew Aversa, lead designer and programmer at Impact Gameworks, who recently released roguelike dungeon crawler Tangledeep. “I thought it was so interesting, but that fell by the wayside.” Though games were his first love, it was music, specifically game music, that captured his attention in his formative years.
Aversa is best known as Zircon, one of the most prolific video game remixers and professional game-focused composers in the industry. “In 2002 a friend introduced me to Music Maker 2000 Deluxe,” he says. “I had taken piano lessons as a kid and liked it, but once I could make music on a computer I got really into it. Being able to adjust knobs and sliders to create different sounds—I couldn’t get enough of it.”