That’s right, readers: we’re back with another set of tremendously silly awards for 2019. Like taxes and death, nothing can stop the arrival of PC Invasion’s Alternative Awards. Except possibly death. And maybe taxes.
By way of introduction, I’ll say that we don’t really go in for traditional “best of 2019” awards here at PCI. They’re so nebulous that declaring something as the Best Whatever of 20xx seems a little silly, and at least one of us would invariably disagree. We do offer up our own personal picks, giving nods to some of our individual favourite games of the year, but that’s the extent of it.
Then we have the Alternative Awards, where we dish out accolades that are even sillier than proclaiming something the best game of the year. Most of the time, these awards are there to celebrate an individual game. Sometimes we want to poke fun at something, or point out a particular aspect worthy of recognition. Other times, we use them to complain about some of the year’s games, or events that have transpired over the last 12 months.
Either way, you’re unlikely to see these awards given out anywhere else. If you’re curious to know which game is the most surprising Lovecraftian horror game, which contains the worst workplace assignment, and even which award we can’t give out, then read on.
Best title screen music that uses the syllable “fa” a lot: Dandy Dungeon: Legend of Brave Yamada
I’m sticking this award at the very top because it gives me an excuse to link the song in question here, and you can listen to it while reading the rest of the awards. But really: this title screen song was enough to make me fall for Dandy Dungeon.
Onion Games is a company that makes a lot of weird and fun stuff, which isn’t a surprise if you know their heritage. I mean, Yoshiro Kimura previously made a PS2 game called Chulip in which you had to kiss everyone in town in order to prove to your dream girl that you were cool enough to kiss her. Dandy Dungeon, meanwhile, has you play as a middle-aged programmer making a game starring him. You debug it, and this… somehow helps him move along in life and makes his neighbor fall in love with him? It’s as strange as it is utterly charming.
From what I can gather, it was a mobile game and now it’s a PC game. A PC game without microtransactions, which is fun and addicting and simple. It’s a nice background game. It also has absolutely fantastic music and audio design; the title theme above is only the beginning.
Fa… fa fa fa… fa fa… fa fa fa fa fa fa fa…
Best not-Bjorn Borg underpants: Vincent Brooks, Catherine Classic
Gosh, but this is a throwback both to an older award (for bizarre Bjorn Borg promo tie-in First-Person Lover back in 2015) and to a game that technically came out years ago. But! Catherine only launched on PC this year, and this means I can celebrate both it and its dedication to high-res underpants in 2019.
Catherine is about a man named Vincent who is stuck deciding between his long-term girlfriend and a surprising new flame. Unfortunately, this decision also appears to be giving him horrible nightmares in which he has to push and pull blocks to climb a tower, while manifestations of his subconscious attempt to murder him. And if he dies in the dream, he dies in real life! Excellently, though, he does all of this while clutching a pillow and wearing a pair of lovingly rendered boxers adorned with pink polka dots.
From what I can gather these underpants were indeed a pre-order bonus in some regions when the game first came out, but alas, that doesn’t really work with digital PC re-releases years after the console launch. Still, we can dream! Of underpants. And being chased by horrible manifestations of our subconscious.
Best spiders: Resident Evil 2
I think I’ve mentioned before that I have a lot of love for basically every Resident Evil game (included the much-maligned Resi 6), but there’s one thing that always puts me off the original trilogy. That thing is the spiders. The giant spiders. The horrible, massive, eight-legged scuttling nightmare machines that regular people refer to as “spiders.”
So as fantastic as Resident Evil 2‘s remake looked, I was terrified by the prospect of new high-res arachnids. For the unaware, there’s a vast difference between “fun” scared and “phobia” scared, and the latter has legitimately prevented me and many others from playing some games. I don’t expect devs to change everything just for me, or anything, but I’m thankful for mods. And then…
… It turned out that Resident Evil 2 didn’t have any. Yes. I can now be scared of all the normal things in the game instead! I can jump when Mr. X bursts through a door, or a Licker drops onto my head, and it’s fun! I don’t have to worry about that Licker being an octo-legged hairy monstrosities instead! Thank you, Capcom. I love you.
Now don’t fuck it up and kill my goodwill by putting spiders in Resident Evil 3‘s remake, I beg you.
Most surprising Lovecraftian horror game: WWE 2K20
If there’s one issue I have with a lot of spooky horror games, it’s that we always know what’s coming. Call of Cthulhu, The Sinking City, Moons of Madness and the like are all predicated on “Ooh, it’s a spooky game with Lovecraftian eldritch abominations.” Little did we know that WWE 2K20 — ostensibly the latest in the long-running wrestling series — was not actually a wrestling game, but a terrifying horror game.
Sure, it looks normal enough at first. There are people in their underwear doing sweaty hugs and stuff. But then the ring ropes start moving unnaturally. Things float through the floor. People begin levitating; limbs bend impossibly. Arcane forces cause people to hurtle around the ring like a cat trapped in a washing machine. And then you start seeing the faces up above.
WWE 2K20 is secretly a Lovecraftian horror game, and I’m sorry to spoil that for you but it deserves an award. And it makes sense, in a way! Fictional depictions of dark rituals regularly involve people making strange movements around a shape of some sort (usually a pentagram) and not wearing very many clothes. All hail this amazing bait-and-switch: we thought we were getting a wrestling game, and we got eldritch horror instead.
Well, that, or it’s just got a lot of really hilarious physics bugs of the kind we see and giggle at with most annual sports releases. But shh.
Most Roberts in a single game: Detroit: Become Human
Detroit: Become Human, David Cage and Quantic Dream’s latest choose-your-own-adventure-’em-up gives us a fascinating glimpse at the future. You see, in this vision of the future, there are a lot of people named Robert. So many, in fact, that they’ve become second-class citizens: people are very unhappy about all these Roberts taking their jobs, and so on.
For the most part all of these Roberts put up with the crap they get, but some don’t. There are lots of allegories and references to historical movements and current issues in here, even if it’s a bit bizarre that it’s all based around people called Robert. And none of them seem to go by “Bob” or “Robbie” or anything, either.
Oh, hang on. They’re robots, not Roberts? Shit. Okay, never mind. That’s a bit more boring. Moving on.
Best horrible murder cats: Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night
There’s a lot of praise you can lavish on Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night. For one thing, it’s a really excellent rendition of Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, which is rightly considered one of the absolute best Castlevania games.
Personally, I prefer to lavish praise on the fact that it has horrible bastard murder cats. There are some tragic backstories for these things if you read their bestiary entries, but any game that has giant horned cats (and yes, according to the bestiary, they are cats) is a winner in my book. There are even multiple types of these majestic creatures. They even lick their paws.
Weirdest leap onto the current bandwagon: Forza Horizon 4, The Eliminator
The big bandwagon of late has, it seems, been the battle royale genre. There have been dozens of battle royale games (Fortnite, Apex Legends, PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, Ring of Elysium…) as well as games with big showcase battle royale modes. I mean, Call of Duty: Black Ops 4‘s headline mode was, indeed, a battle royale mode.
We’ve even seen this hit some incredibly odd areas. I don’t think many people expected Tetris 99, a battle royale version of the Tetronimo-dropping puzzler. Fewer still likely expected it to be good. But that’s a Switch game, and thus is out of our PC remit.
We can, however, stare in wonder at Forza Horizon 4, which got its own battle royale mode in the form of The Eliminator earlier in December. So yes. There’s now a battle royale game in which you drive around trying to find better cars, and racing against people to the death. (Or the elimination, anyway.) I’m eager to see the next bizarre twist in this genre.
Award for new genre that every bloody game is going to copy for at least another year: Auto Battler
That’s assuming, of course, that the battle royale genre remains the big one to copy. Right now, another new genre has popped up and slowly but surely everyone’s creeping onto this new bandwagon. That’s the auto battler.
This started with Auto Chess, a Dota 2 mod. That then spun off onto its own game, while Dota got a stand-alone version called Dota Underlords. Then there’s League of Legends‘ version, Teamfight Tactics. And there’s Hearthstone‘s Battlegrounds mode.
While I eagerly await the next non-combat game to inexplicably shunt a battle royale mode in, I’m equally eagerly looking forward to seeing what absurd wonders people cook up in the auto battler genre. Total War auto battler? Actually, no, that’s almost plausible. Trials Rising: the auto battler? Crusader Kings, with unit relationships that involve strategic marriages and heir assassinations? Or, y’know, just a Forza 4 auto battler. Somehow.
Most misleading game name: Sunless Skies
I’m just going to copy and paste what are, quite literally, the first three lines of Sunless Skies‘ Steam blurb: “SAIL THE STARS. BETRAY YOUR QUEEN. MURDER A SUN.”
The skies can’t be sunless if you can murder a sun. Okay, fine, maybe it’s metaphorical, but still.
Best PC game that really, really wasn’t: Red Dead Redemption 2
We’ve been waiting for a PC version of Red Dead Redemption since the original game’s console release in, ooh, 2010. Unfortunately, the (reported) spaghetti code and numerous other issues mean we’ll probably never see it on PC. But that’s okay! We got Red Dead Redemption 2, and… oh.
Red Dead Redemption 2 is, for many people, an absurdly broken piece of crap. At launch the same framerate-related glitches that plagued Dark Souls 2 were present, with the higher framerate making rootin’-tootin’ protagonist Arthur Morgan’s “cores” (hunger, and the like) drop more quickly than they should. Likewise, the day/night cycle was far too quick, and both of these issues are because these bits of game logic were tied to the framerate. Of course, all of this was only problematic if you could get the game to run, which was another issue for many. Red Dead Redemption 2 simply wouldn’t start for a sizeable number of prospective players, and for others it would crash within minutes. And that’s without getting into the rather inconsistent performance across PCs: high-end machines would occasionally have more problems than those with middling specs.
There was also the mild issue of Rockstar initially denying refunds, possibly because of the slightly predatory text that effectively said that the usual 14 days for refunds may not be accepted if any in-game currency rewards were redeemed. Problematic, because pretty much all pre-order versions of the game came with just those things, which were automatically redeemed. Thankfully, the company appeared to backtrack on that really quickly.
This wasn’t true for everyone, of course. Our own Steven Wong didn’t have too many issues when he wrote our tech review, and a few patches since launch have ironed out some of the issues. Nonetheless, it’s hard to say that this was the limitless and exciting wild frontier that we were promised.
Award for “Why the hell didn’t you just give us a proper Front Mission game”: Left Alive
I really have no idea what’s going on with the Front Mission series, but I don’t think even Square Enix knows what to do with it. You may not have heard of the IP, so here’s a brief rundown. The main series is a load of tactical role-playing games focused around mechs (with the unfortunate but deeply amusing name of “Wanzers,” for “walking Panzers”) battling it out, and by and large it’s a really good series, even if very few of them got exported from Japan. There were also spin-off games, like a delightfully explosive side-scrolling shooter.
The problem is that the last actual tactical RPG entry in the series was Japanese only, initially built for mobile phones, and came out in 2008. Since then we’ve had two Front Mission games: Front Mission Evolved — a lackluster third-person shooter from 2010 — and Left Alive, this year’s dire stealth-action game.
So this series has effectively sat in limbo for over a decade, with Square Enix occasionally trotting the IP out to make uninspired shooters. Considering the love so many of us on PC have for solid tactical RPGs, I’m slightly baffled by the fact that we haven’t had a “proper” Front Mission game… well, ever. Instead, we get Front Mission Evolved and Left Alive, neither of which have done the series any favors whatsoever. It’s an IP that’s ripe for a return as a mech-based turn-based tactics game, especially on this platform.
As long as we can stop snickering at “Wanzers,” anyway.
Obligatory award for FromSoft for making a good game: Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice
I think we’ve given an award to From Software every single year we’ve been doing these awards. Usually it’s for Dark Souls, but this year we’re going to have to stretch it a bit. So well done, Sekiro, for continuing FromSoft’s streak of making really excellent games that are very satisfying because they’re difficult but generally fair. Well done indeed.
Obligatory complaint about FromSoft’s newest game: Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice
I’m slightly less pleased that this is another new IP in the same vein, though, for one simple reason. Soulsborne was an acceptable genre moniker, but does Sekiro mean we have to refer to this genre as Sekiroulsborne games now? Or is that only if they incorporate stealth elements? Either way…
Best thing I’ve spent hours with and still haven’t bloody written about: Mythgard
Aargh. I’ve been meaning to write about Mythgard for, quite literally, months. It’s a truly, truly excellent digital CCG which is still in Early Access, and yet is somehow more full-fledged and feature-complete than many other CCGs out there. There’s a story mode that’s a really good introduction to the mechanics and the world, and has more to come. There’s a puzzle mode, a ranked mode, drafts and constructed modes, a vast number of AI opponents, and — perhaps most shockingly of all — an in-game friends list.
It’s also delightfully Shadowrun in tone, in a futuristic world where gods and myths mingle with street gangs and ninjas. It’s got some of the finest card art I’ve ever seen, and a whole bunch of mechanics that couldn’t work in a non-digital CCG, not to mention some very unique twists on the genre. Card burning to gain mana, for instance, rather than just getting it at the start of a turn or playing a specific “land” card. And while acquiring a full set of cards might be tricky, it’s still very kind about dishing out packs and cards. Every week even offers up free community decks that you can use in the game’s various modes without needing to own the cards.
I’m not going to give a full rundown of it here, but Mythgard is absolutely worth checking out if you have any love for collectible card games. I’ve managed to convert about seven people to it just by talking about it to Magic: The Gathering Arena friends, and I’m hoping to spread the word more in the new year.
Most healthy method of spreading communism: Hugging (Disco Elysium)
Historically, humanity has tried a lot of ways of spreading ideology and converting people. Many of them were and are horrifying. But for all the horrifying things you can do in Disco Elysium — and holy shit, there are a lot of them — you also have the opportunity to do lovely things! Like hug a completely random stranger as a means of fighting for the proletariat.
Hug a stranger today and tell them it’s for the working class! And then go and horrify people with your utterly tragic karaoke “skills” or fail miserably at investigating a murder, or something. Life lessons from Disco Elysium, everyone.
(Important note: please do not take life lessons from Disco Elysium. Or at least very, very rarely, and be sure to consult your internal dialogue first.)
Best internal dialogue that usually hates you: Disco Elysium
While we’re on the topic of Disco Elysium, its routine dives into internal discussion are hilarious and brilliant. Based on your stats, different parts of your character’s brain will interject their thoughts into almost everything you do. Sometimes these are useful like giving you warnings or letting you know that someone is telling the truth, like a dialogue version of a gut feeling. Other times, they’ll just mock the hell out of you. Expect regular arguments with yourself, especially if your brain decides that you’re a Sorry Cop and you don’t want to go along with this.
Most horrible, bleak, miserable experience: Pathologic 2
Pathologic 2 is an excellent game, and a truly terrible experience. I do not mean that in the sense of “Oh, it has some nice ideas but it doesn’t really work mechanically.” I mean that it’s a game that is precision-engineered to break you.
Pathologic 2 is a full-on remake of the original Pathologic, albeit currently with only one of the three characters (two, if you count The Marble Nest DLC). While it has the same setting and scenario, it adds and fixes plenty, and thankfully gives us an all new translation. You’re a doctor called back to your hometown by your father, and you find it beset by plague. Over the course of the 12-ish game days, you need to find a cure.
Almost everything in the game is your enemy. Time is against you. Your hunger, thirst, and exhaustion are against you. You have limited resources. Many of the townspeople distrust or outright hate you. And things only get worse as the game progresses and the plague spreads: districts become overrun and dangerous to enter, you need to manage your own infection as well as trying to cure that of others, and the price of goods skyrockets as the survivors get more desperate. And that’s without mentioning that friendly and helpful characters can and will die: you only have so much time in each day, and saving everyone may prove impossible.
It’s a game about desperation, basically. Your efforts are routinely frustrated, and every small victory comes with a host of problems and setbacks. It’s as much a fight for survival as it is for success, and you’ll have to fight tooth and nail for every single inch you gain. It’s exhausting, and that’s not only intentional but a part of the experience, setting, and especially the atmosphere. The game’s hardest difficulty is the intended one, but if it gets a bit too much you can always lower that mid-game. Changing it (by, amusingly, toggling “Intended Difficulty” off) comes with this tooltip, though:
Note that it doesn’t say “unbeatable.” Just “unbearable.” Pathologic 2 is not a game about having fun, and that’s worth applauding.
HONK HONK HONK HONK HONK: HONK HONK HONK
What? No! That award isn’t for you! Get back here with that award!
Sorry, everyone. Untitled Goose Game has stolen this award. I’ll try to get it back. Hang on.
Award I can’t actually give out because that horrible goose stole it: N/A
No, I’m sorry. The Untitled Goose Game goose has dropped the award in the lake. It’s gone.
The goose is now running around with a radio and flapping happily though, so at least someone‘s pleased. The dick.
Oh no, I completely forgot about this when doing my personal picks: Horace
I forgot Horace existed and I’m so very annoyed at myself.
Okay, so Horace is an indie platformer which came out back in July, made by a grand total of two people. It’s about a little robot named Horace who is assembled and raised by a family. Unfortunately, disaster strikes: Horace shuts down, and when he wakes up the family is gone and the house is in disrepair. He decides that he’s going to find his family, and maybe clean up a lot of trash along the way.
It’s a love letter to the old days of British games, with plenty of nods to titles like Jet Set Willy and systems like the Commodore 64, and I really do mean “love letter.” Every single pore of Horace oozes with adoration for the days of British bedroom coders, and it shows. It’s a cunning, clever, and difficult Metroidvania platformer broken up with linear segments (and, thankfully, offers infinite lives), with a genuinely heartwarming story and a lot of gameplay variation. Even when it segues into a bit that doesn’t work too well — like when it briefly turns into a side-scrolling shooter — it’s hard to get upset simply because of how lovingly crafted the entire thing is. It’s a beautiful, sumptuous work that deserves adulation.
If you’ve any love for the old British stuff (and are likely to get a lot of very British references and jokes, like there being a character called Anton Deck) then Horace is very definitely worth a look. Just be prepared to do a fair bit of cutscene watching and not a lot of playing for the first hour or so.
Most uncannily accurate flashback to my teenage years: Hypnospace Outlaw
For anyone who wasn’t on the internet in the ’90s, the above screenshot may look like somewhat vomited a load of low-quality GIFs onto a screen and called it a website. I’m afraid to tell you that, back in the days of Geocities and Angelfire, that is exactly what most of the internet looked like. And it was all animated, which you thankfully can’t see in the screenshot.
Hypnospace Outlaw tasks you with policing exactly those sorts of sites. It’s marvelously in-depth, with an entire virtual ecosystem of characters, feuds, petty hacks, Y2K terror, internet drama, and absurd products to explore. Best of all, almost none of it actually matters in the scope of the game’s wider plot. It’s just there for you to find and enjoy.
But these entirely extraneous things that you can explore are touching and human, and trigger more than just a twinge of warm familiarity in those of us who were ’90s cybernauts. It manages to feel like it’s full of ’90s websites, rather than just being something modern that vaguely (and cynically) references ’90s websites. That’s no small accomplishment. Hell, it probably deserves an award for being the best game of 1999 that’s not actually from 1999.
Our Brian wrote about Hypnospace Outlaw in some detail earlier this year. There are some spoilers in there, but with the exception of the final section — Digital Memorials — there’s nothing too major.
Most horrifying in-universe product: Granny Cream’s Hot Butter Ice Cream, Hypnospace Outlaw
Please, no. Not even with that ear-worm of a jingle. I have no doubt that some poor bastard has actually tried making this, but personally, I’ll pass.
Best pursuit of Lu Bu: Total War: Three Kingdoms
Despite what Dynasty Warriors may tell you, pursuing Lu Bu is occasionally a good idea.
Especially if it’s going to end with you killing him.
The “What Took You So Long” award for 2019: Metal Wolf Chaos XD
I’ve actually owned Metal Wolf Chaos since, ooh, about 2005. It was an Xbox exclusive (and I mean the original Xbox, not any of the confusingly named successors), and it was released only in Japan, despite the game being largely in English and set in a highly fictionalized America. It’s a third-person shooter in which the president flies around in a mech to defeat the evil vice president and it’s about as cheesy and hilarious as that sounds. I mean, over-the-top dialogue about FREEDOM and JUSTICE is screamed into the microphone. The thing is, I never managed to play it because, despite numerous attempts, my Xbox stubbornly refused to accept any region-free modifications.
It was actually intended for a western release, mind you. Unfortunately, it was at a time when the Xbox was near the end of its life-cycle, and the early 2000s weren’t a great time for games — even satirical ones — themed around terrorism on US soil. As such, this quirky FromSoftware title slipped into further obscurity, with gameplay videos and cutscenes being shared around as a number of us bemoaned its fate and tried to spread the word.
Fortunately, 15 years later, we finally get this game in the form of the remastered Metal Wolf Chaos XD. While the actual gameplay hasn’t aged particularly well, it’s still a bit of a gem just for how completely bonkers it is. I’m kind of stunned it’s taken this long to happen, but at least we have it now.
Award for getting four awards this year, while also continuing a ludicrous award streak that’s been going on for years: FromSoftware
Until writing that Metal Wolf Chaos XD bit, I’d actually forgotten it was a FromSoftware game. I inadvertently managed to sneak an extra FromSoft award in. Well done me, and well done FromSoft for sweeping our Alternative Awards again.
Arguably worst workplace assignment: Yuppie Psycho
Considering this year has a remake of Resident Evil 2, in which a rookie cop is assigned to a zombie-infested city designed by a nutter with a taste for keys themed around chess pieces, this is actually a pretty contested category. But I still think Yuppie Psycho wins out, and not just because these are the Alternative Awards and they don’t have to obey any sort of internal logic.
Still, when you get a seemingly routine office job only to find that the floors are crowded with soulless drones and acid-spitting HR people, things are probably not great. It gets worse when you find the contract you’re to sign in an empty office, complete with a giant, static-filled TV daubed in blood — blood that reads “KILL THE WITCH.”
Any sensible person would probably just quit on the spot, because seriously, as far as workplace assignments go, that one’s more than a little worrying. Thankfully, we’re here to play games and not make sensible choices about employment opportunities. Quitting on the spot is an option, but doing so means you miss out on a rather good horror adventure.
Thinking about it, there’s also probably a statement in there about working for a large corporation, but let’s focus on the other horror in Yuppie Psycho for now.
The “Hang on, what do you mean this MMO has a story worthy of a single-player game?” award: Final Fantasy XIV: Shadowbringers
Finally, a brief award for Final Fantasy XIV: Shadowbringers. And I do mean brief, because I intend to write something very lengthy about this in the near future.
I don’t know about you, but when I think of MMOs I don’t tend to think of “story” and “plotlines.” Most of them have one, but it’s usually a side thing — an elaboration of the setting and the current conflict — rather than one of the central driving forces of your experience. You’re there to make numbers increase and maybe do some clever battles.
With Final Fantasy XIV, that’s not the case. The first expansion, Heavensward, really ran with the idea of centering an MMO around a plotline, complete with lengthy cutscenes and a lot of voice acting as you strove to end a 1,000-year war. It elaborated on the world and the characters, and had a fair few shocking twists and turns. Shadowbringers turns that up to 11. It answers a whole lot of lingering questions, finally gives motivations (and some sympathy and genuine humanity) to the game’s greater-scope villains, and offers up too many heart-wrenching moments to count.
Obviously, I never cried, but someone around me was cutting onions a lot during the course of the expansion. Excellent writing and some jaw-dropping voice acting helps carry the pathos throughout, and it’s impossible to not hope for things that you just know are impossible in some of the darker moments. Amazingly, it even manages to take the MMO nature of the game into account for some parts of the plot, and it does so in such a way that it feels triumphant rather than forced or silly.
It might not mean much to say that Shadowbringers has probably the best storyline I’ve seen in an MMO. It might mean more if I say that it’s probably got one of the best storylines the entire Final Fantasy series has had in a very, very long time.