Beat those January blues.
Hold yourselves together folks – We’ve done January. Only a few more months of intermittent ice, snow, fog, and rain until it’s ‘outdoor’ weather for at least one week in August. Until that time: games.
Here’s a quick selection of the best offerings from the finest indie devs, blasting back these cold winter months with a touch of warmth.
When I was a kid, I had a veritable stack of Choose Your Own Adventure books. In fact, given the choice I’d probably still sink into one quite happily today. If you want a neat way to do this without the hassle I would definitely recommend SELF. It’s a branching narrative game with a focus on text-based storytelling and surrealist minigames, a winning combo that seems to offer good value for the length and longevity of the content.
SELF provides you with the chance to relive choices and memories in your subconscious CRT as you struggle to make sense of your missing father’s whereabouts. No one seems to notice his disappearance aside from you, and your seemingly meaningless answers will have big consequences later on down the line. The choices you make decide how deep you are able to go – and how much you are able to see.
With some nods to classic text-based games, and the Black Mirror episode Bandersnatch (such as choosing your breakfast carefully), this is a game to really sink into when you’re feeling a bit introspective. Every now and then the narrative will break and you’ll get a minigame bullet-hell or an ominous floating word salad to navigate. Self is a very simple concept executed with finesse – enough flare to keep you guessing but easy enough to play in one sitting. It’s unnerving, chilling, and a lot of fun.
[Reviewed on PC]
Deathtrap Dungeon: The Interactive Video Adventure (Early Access)
Okay so here’s another nostalgia trip but hear me out – when I heard they were remaking Ian Livingstone’s Deathtrap Dungeon as a verified FMV vidya game I may have shed a little tear. This book held within it such charm and energy for something so rudimentary, and of all the possible ways they could have paid homage to it – this is surely the best.
The Fighting Fantasy series was always a special kind of adventure, and this superb outing encapsulates its wonder with over five hours of video footage, seamlessly merging with each branching decision. Narrator Eddie Marsan is a perfect choice, a measured and calming presence that makes everything feel like some epic tale told on the knee of a grandfather way back when.
Keeping many of the original artworks and sticking completely to the original dialogue, the team behind this reboot have done themselves proud. The UI, or lack thereof, can be a little daunting, but stick with it and you’ll eventually discover a map which makes things a whole bunch easier. It won’t be everyone’s cup of tea – or even most people’s – but it’s a great throwback to the classics.
For something with such a foreboding name, Deathtrap Dungeon is extremely cosy. If you’re like me and love D&D but have no humans to play with, this is a pretty sweet alternative. Eat some mushrooms, drink something foul, try not to die, and enjoy this surprisingly intimate experience.
[Reviewed on PC]
Cook, Serve, Delicious! 3?! (Early Access)
Honestly, I wasn’t here for this when I got assigned the task of playing the damn thing – excessive punctuation aside, these kinds of kitchen management sims make me want to join a monastery – but CSD3 really is exactly as good as it promises to be.
By far the most streamlined entry in the series, CSD3 implements everything it learned in feedback from the past few games and gives you a truly zen experience. Don’t get me wrong, the first half hour or so is pure physical pain. But once you master the basics, you’ll soon find yourself whizzing through plates, ingredients splashing left and right, click click click in perfect rhythm – so good you feel like you might just keel over if you ever stopped.
There is a whole range of new food items to master, and on the plus side, even if you don’t enjoy the game, at least you’ll be much better at typing by the time it’s over. If you’re a beginner to the series, make sure to check out the “chill” mode, as they really aren’t pulling any punches with this one.
Not to mention the surprising undertone of a war-torn American hellscape where people seem to really need the joy that your food brings. You almost feel morally bound to cook, serve, and by God, make it delicious.
[Reviewed on PC]
Through The Darkest of Times
Animated in black, white, and red, this chilling strategy game amps up the usual pressure with a genuine and dark topic. Not for the faint-hearted, Through The Darkest of Times puts you in the position of ultimate moral dilemma more times than you can count. You play the part of a small resistance group in Nazi Germany, and although your actions won’t affect the outcome of the war, or the atrocities committed, you can still make a difference in your own small ways.
If you want it drilled into you that you can’t save everyone over and over again by a creepy cast of cut-outs reminiscent of early Soviet children’s programming, look no further. This would be the game you’re after. But honestly, I wouldn’t be surprised if this little gem becomes a must-have for any history buff and strat fan (who am I kidding, we are one and the same).
If you’ve grown tired of Map Painting Sim #400392 but still want to get a compelling fix, this is a great place to start. The storyline is sensitively written, well animated and filled with agonising choices that will have you questioning yourself pretty harshly.
[Reviewed on PC]
If you’re not feeling enough paranoia with the world in its current state, have a go at Simulacra 2, the found phone game from the creators of Sara is Missing.
Channel your very own Joe Goldberg-type voyeur in this mess of cynical privacy violations and genuinely chilling horror, scoping out a woman’s lost phone for information on what has happened to this poor woman.
You’ll come to regret picking up that phone, but you’ll probably not regret picking up the game. It’s well priced and a thrill ride from start to finish, including fully working apps and different live-action endings to uncover. Although a little predictable in places, and maybe a tad preachy, it gets the job done and will probably make you flush your phone away.
[Reviewed on PC]
Miri is an English grad with a fascination for sci fi, RPGs, grand strategy and point-and-click games. She also enjoys strong coffees and cats.