VVVVVV

Source: Devil Daggers

‘Metal as fuck’ is a modern colloquialism used to indicate whether an object, idea, or action is verifiably rad. But calling something metal means much more than ‘cool, but edgy’. It’s a phrase that should be reserved for only the raddest and the saddest of shit, to be wielded precisely—break glass in case of impossible geometry. 

Which is why I want to avoid easy picks for our professional take on which PC games are the most metal. Any game can have skulls and Satan, and sport cool hats that say “Metal” on them. But a true metal designation comes from something beneath the surface. 

True metal is emotion that swells infinitely into a dead signal, a raw, sustained wall of noise that blots out everything else. Metal can also the the total inverse, a complete lack of emotion and the struggle or fascination that results from wrestling with the meaning of existence. Metal can be triumphant and transcendent, a screaming chorus against oblivion. Metal is also sometimes just some people screaming passages from Moby Dick, which I endorse. With that in mind, here are our picks for the most metal PC games, and some companion albums to get you into a similar headspace. Mute the trailers and play their song to hear and see for yourself. 

Neverending Nightmares 

Companion album: Moonlover by Ghost Bath

While the art looks right out of children's storybook, Neverending Nightmares is a blunt exploration of depression and suicidal thoughts. Designer Matt Gilgenbach would know—the game was inspired by his personal experiences with mental illness. Ultimately, it’s a hopeful tale, but finding that light requires tip-toeing through one eerie location after another, while getting harassed by monsters and extremely graphic visions—like, some seriously awful stuff. You’ve been warned. But it’s this plain, honest approach to mental illness that makes Neverending Nightmares so metal. Metal as fuck. It’s a game that addresses something very real and personal without flinching, taking a long soak in darkness to exfoliate the soul. 

VVVVVV + MMMMMM 

Companion album: Epicloud by Devin Townsend Project

VVVVVV’s vanilla form isn’t quite metal. It brushes against psychedelic rock with such bright coloring, but there’s something transcendent in overcoming its difficult platforming challenges. It’s not quite metal on its own, but a second, officially sanctioned soundtrack by the original composer SoulEye just pushes it over the edge. MMMMMM is a metal version of the VVVVVV score created as a collaboration between SoulEye and guitarist FamilyJules7x. After seeing a metal cover medley of VVVVVV’s tunes on YouTube, SoulEye reached out and immediately went to work on a louder, brasher, more triumphant recreation of his original songs. Even better, with every download, he included a mod file that inserts the MMMMMM compositions into the game. It’s the only way I can play it anymore.

Yankai’s Triangle 

Companion album: The Direction of Last Things by Intronaut

Yankai’s Triangle is an eerie, psychedelic puzzle game about spinning triangles to form triangles so you can keep making triangles. Some of them have eyes. Some make squishy sounds. Some of them whisper. 100 puzzles in and little has changed, but I’m still going, hypnotized by the rote act of spinning shapes. If I didn’t need to eat or sleep and didn’t need to work, I might be content spinning shapes forever. A pointless existence? Nah, we’re talking triangles here.

The Cat Lady 

Companion album: Commitment to Complications by Youth Code

I’ve never played a game as bleak as The Cat Lady. You play as Susan, a woman who commits suicide and is transported to a strange nether world where the ‘Queen of Maggots’ makes her immortal until she rids the world of five psychopaths. It’s one hell of an opener, but nothing about the game is pleasant. Susan is severely depressed, and interfacing with a character that wants nothing more than to die, while tasked with murdering murderers—well, it’s an uncomfortable journey through terrifying, true aspects of human experience. The Cat Lady reflects some of the darkest metal out there, trashed up in the slightest by a scribbly, industrial aesthetic that prevents it from being too dour to play. It’s still sad as hell, offers little in the way of hope, and doesn’t care much about how much fun you’re having. In other words, it’s metal.

American Truck Simulator 

Companion album: Four Phantoms by Bell Witch

Peak solitude is best experienced on dead silent freeway in rural Nevada. I know the mountains are out there, but I can’t see them. Tiny lights flicker on and off in the distance, either the occasional porch light or a blinking LED on some strange power station. If I tell myself I’m driving on a highway through the ocean, or nothing at all, I’m there. The experience isn’t painful or aggressive—it’s wonderful, and a bit overwhelming. Look at all that darkness. Look at everything we can’t see. Just make sure to stay under the speed limit. Fee notices crowding the screen take me out of it.

Devil Daggers 

Companion album: All the Waters of the Earth Turn to Blood by The Body

The game is set in an abyss and you shoot daggers out of your fingertips against an endless stream of flying skulls and abyssal centipedes. Devil Daggers is PC gaming’s cursed arcade cabinet, so oppressive and indifferent to the player it feels evil. It’s an FPS that feels dangerous to play and impossible to conquer. There’s nihilism in throwing yourself against the demonic horde time and time again, only to gain a few more seconds or inch up the leaderboard. To what end? None. Just more demons, more darkness, and infinite, guaranteed failure. But buried beneath all the failure is a graceful, entertaining shooter. Hold onto the fun. Never let go.

Dark Souls 2 

Companion album: NO by Old Man Gloom

Every Souls game is metal, but Dark Souls 2 puts on a clinic. Some of its set pieces feel more tongue in cheek than the other games (see the ghost ship in No-man’s Wharf), but if that means we get to fall hundreds of feed through a tear in time and space onto a throne room suspended in a chaos realm before taking on an ancient king and his cronies with a litany of soldier friends at our back—it’s straight up Paradise Lost fan-fiction—then I don’t mind some cheese on occasion.

Darkest Dungeon 

Companion album: 777 - The Desanctification by Blut Aus Nord

Fill out the soundscape with metal instrumentation and Darkest Dungeon’s narrator will fit right in. He’s already the vocalist to your dungeoneers’ inevitable demise, commenting on the impurity of the land and describing enemies with sticky, odorous prose—so why not? He’s right though, about how awful everything is. Darkest Dungeon’s unforgiving turn-based combat will build a pile of corpses to heaven in no time. Go ahead, climb it. There’s nothing up there.

The Banner Saga 

Companion album: Times of Grace by Neurosis

Darkest Dungeon doesn’t give a damn about the player, but The Banner Saga sets up interesting, sympathetic characters and then proceeds to not give a damn about them. You just get to their lives get progressively worse through the medium of grid-based combat. Congratulations, you just beat the level—oh, and by the way, you’re starving and everyone you know is dead, including the gods. So where do you want to allocate those stat points?

Doom 

Companion album: Koloss by Meshuggah

Chugga-lugga-lug. No, I’m not drinking chocolate milk, I’m drinking blood. Hell yeah! It’s the sound Doom makes, chugga-lugga-lug, both in the soundtrack and the sound of demons turning to gristle beneath DoomGuy’s fist or a light red mist from direct super shotgun buckshot to the general face area. Doom is a self-aware montage of blood and pulpy demonic imagery, an ode to angsty trapper keeper doodles and a reminder that, damn, church is boring. Instead, go to hell. Doom is loud and fun and dumb in the first five minutes and all the reading is optional. You’re going to have the insides of a demon splashed all over your mug—and into your mug, if you have one handy like I always do. Drinking blood is metal. Do it. Drink blood.

“Drinking blood is metal. Do it. Drink blood.” — James Davenport, 2017

Night in the Woods 

Companion album: Grind your bones to dust by Exoskelett

Night in the Woods contains and addresses: witches, rural decay, the failures of capitalism, existentialism, and pizza. It’s metal. If you’ve ever seen your favorite food place’s windows boarded up with a sign that says ‘Going out of business!’ hanging from the front door, then you’ve experienced metal. Metal is sad, but true. Metal kind of sucks, really. So why play or listen to anything intended to be such a bummer? For some, it’s a helpful exercise that helps them overcome feelings of listlessness in tough times. Everything is slowly weathering away, including ourselves. Might as well hang out with our friends, break shit, eat some hot pies, and chip away at the man. There might be a happier ending somewhere down the line, but this isn’t it. Not yet.

Second Life 

Companion album: Monoliths and Dimensions by Sunn O)))

Metal often addresses transcendence, a means to escape our plane of existence, though not always literally. At the very least, good metal is a temporary vessel through which you can perceive the world in a new light, from above or far below. And Second Life has it right there in the name, a new world, a new life. But what truly makes it the most metal MMO is that upon shedding this mortal coil and Logging In, you’re not necessarily granted a clean slate. You’re bombarded with everything that every was and ever could be rendered in 3D engine from 2003. 

Second Life is a better life for many and a horrifying mirror for others. If you want to be a tall rabbit who fucks, you can. If you want to be a beauty blogger, you can. If you want to be a Chad and raise your seven sons in a quiet suburb, you can. It’s the time stream continuum compressed to exist on server farm. It contains the most primitive forms of good and evil, the big bang happening all at once, history remixed, terror, love, joy, unicorns with boobs—Second Life is more metal than we can comprehend.

Thumper 

Companion album: Teethed Glory and Injury by Altar of Plagues

I’ve already written at length about how much I love Thumper’s insistence on feeling awful: “I’ve been waiting for a game to bend my arm past my elbow for years now. That’s Thumper’s specialty, using the familiarity of a traditional music game ‘note highway’ to make the player feel anything but groovy.” If it wasn’t obvious, ‘awful’ is a compliment. Thumper is sustained discomfort in music game form, condensing the sense of tumbling down a hillside and barely staying fully conscious into a small metal scarab flying down an cosmic highway. It leaves me feeling exhausted and tense, but better prepared to face the pain again. 

PC Gamer

survey fridays

Every week we ask you to rank a series or just reminisce about PC games in a not-very-scientific survey. Look for the survey link in our  Twitter and Facebook feeds each week, and the results every Friday. Previously, we ranked the Mass Effect and Call of Duty series.

You guys really love hard games, or at least, you love whichever game you remember as the hardest. In my latest survey, I asked respondents to rank the hardest game they've played on a scale of 1-10. Over 40% scored their most challenging experience a 10, and 70% scored it an 8 or higher.

You also love a lot of different hard games, and have different ideas about what makes a game 'hard.' Among 2,660 respondents, the top game cited as the hardest they've ever played was only mentioned 385 times—around 14% of the total. (Actually, one person wrote in SEGA Bass Fishing 1,006 times, but I've cut that from the results, along with several variations of "your mom.")

What's the hardest PC game you've played?

the top 10

Click the icon in the upper right to enlarge.

Unsurprisingly, Dark Souls got the most mentions, with 14% saying it was the hardest game they've ever played. It was followed by Dark Souls 2, which took in about 5% of the results. From there, though, the results are immediately diverse, with shooters, platformers, puzzle games, strategy games, and MOBAs all bunched together. When I cut out jokes, console games, games with specific caveats, and those that received only one or two mentions, I was still left with over 70 games. (Here's my curated list of the top 77.)

The top 10, naturally, are the most popular hard games—and games that are arguably best known for being hard—so the results actually get more interesting the deeper into the list I go. At number 11, for instance, you'll find I Wanna Be The Boshy, a fan game based on number six, I Wanna Be The Guy, an intentionally difficult tribute to early platformers.

Further down (and I'm skipping around a bit), we find StarCraft II, STALKER, Insurgency, Alien IsolationKerbal Space Program, the Touhou seriesVVVVVV, Volgarr the Viking, SpaceChem, Dustforce, Commandos: Behind Enemy Lines, and, of course, Bad Rats, a notoriously awful game which has accrued a positive rating on Steam, because ironic Steam reviews are all the rage.

It's good to see the Touhou Project's bullet-hell games earn some mentions. We recently published an introduction to the series, which is currently being localized by Playism.

VVVVVV, Volgarr the Viking, Dustforce, and SpaceChem all come recommended (I don't think I ever made it past Vogarr's first stage, though). I did expect to see a few more puzzle games. One game no one mentioned, I presume because it's newer and a bit more niche, is TIS-100. It's made by the creators of SpaceChem and Infinifactory, and might be one of the most challenging puzzle games I've played (though it's presumably easier for experienced programmers, and anyone who paid more attention in school than I did). Print out the manual if you can.

Choosing difficulty

difficulty levels

Click the icon in the upper-right to enlarge.

All of the games I mentioned up there can easily be described as 'hard,' if for different reasons. Against skilled opponents, CS:GO, Dota 2, League of Legends, and StarCraft 2 are very hard, and they're complex. Dwarf Fortress and Kerbal Space Program require a lot of learning. Super Hexagon, and the bullet-hell games and platformers, require precision control.

But plenty of games which aren't known for being hard can be very hard. The Witcher 2, for instance, came in at 19, in part due to its permadeath mode and first boss. Those damn RC missions from GTA: San Andreas also came up. Civilization V on Diety difficulty, too.

In the survey, I asked which difficulty setting (based on four generic settings) the takers were most likely to choose when starting a new game. The distribution is about as I expected: almost no one takes the easy route, the most people (39.8%) leave it on the normal difficulty, and slightly fewer choose the hard (28.7%) or the hardest modes (26%).

Broken mice and broken bones

When asked to tell us the worst thing they've done to express frustration with a game, plenty said that they don't react physically—they curse, uninstall the game, go outside, or do other healthy-sounding things. "[I] stopped playing for few months to get over my anger and hopefully renew my interest," said King_Matt. A calm and wise king is Matt. We can all learn from the great King_Matt.

And apparently, a lot of us need to. The word "broke" came up 222 times and "smash" was included in over 100 responses. Banana peels came up an awful lot, too. Here are a few examples:

I chucked my keyboard at my brick wall. It dragged the desktop with it. It corrupted my hard drive, broke my keyboard and most functions on the case didn't work properly. - Abernath

Thrown a banana peel out the window. But I picked it up later. - Kenu

I once got so frustrated while just trying to get fuel up to my ship [in Kerbal Space Program] that was trying to get to Mun that I decided to fly all my rockets into Kerbol (the sun). I spent about 5 hours just designing the booster/fuel ships to help get my whole fleet there and give them the last push into its blinding embrace. Once every single one was burned to ash, and all the crew with it, I deleted the save and went to bed. It was only after I woke up that I realized what I had done. To say the least, I cried. - Nerd__Guy

 Threw my lamp out the window. It was a damn good lamp too. - Anonymous

Literally ripped out a chunk of hair in frustration once. - Nate Dogg

I actually broke my grandfather's trackball mouse while playing when I was a kid on his PC. I had to buy him a new mouse from Walmart. - Brain

Threw more money at it. This is a recurring theme with me in multiplayer games. - Ryan Daniels

In my grandest fit of frustration, I suppressed my volatile feelings with the warm, cheesy comfort of Hot Pockets. A lot of them. It turns out one man can eat a lot of Hot Pockets. They come out a lot faster than they go in. - Chudbunkis

Threw a banana peel at the screen. - As7iX

Broke a finger. - Dodie

So is Dark Souls really that hard?

I predicted that Dark Souls would be the most popular game in the survey, so I added an extra question. I asked everyone, regardless of which game they put down as the hardest, to agree or disagree with the statement "Dark Souls isn't even that hard, ugh." I think we can all agree that I chose an extremely unscientific way to phrase the question, but we definitely can't all agree on whether or not Dark Souls is hard. 

Portal 2

We've all been there: we want to play some PC games, but we're stuck with a laptop equipped with a paltry old GPU. Or worse: nothing but integrated graphics. That rules out the Witcher 3s and PUBGs of Steam, but thankfully PC gaming has a wealth of amazing games for any and all hardware, no matter how weak.

This is our collection of the best games for laptops and low-spec rigs—games that can give you hours of entertainment without stressing out your system. We've pulled from a variety of genres including adventure, action, strategy, puzzle, and whatever the hell Mount & Blade counts as.

Here are some things you won't find on this list:

— A huge collection of 90s and early 2000s PC games. Obviously Age of Empires and Half-Life will run on any ol' rig today, issues with Windows notwithstanding. To vastly expand on our collection, go check out all the games on GOG released through 2004.

— Tons and tons of 2D platformers and visual novels that will run on any system (though we did pick a few favorites!).

Be sure to check the system requirements first if we've inspired you to reach for your wallet, and to remind of us any great low-spec games we've forgotten about in the comments.

Some online stores give us a small cut if you buy something through one of our links. Read our affiliate policy for more info. 

Developer: tobyfox

Link: Humble Store

2015's breakout RPG inversion might owe a bit of its widespread success to the fact that a toaster could run it. This isn't to say it's not a looker or fun. For those versed in RPG and popular video game tropes, Undertale is a colorful, charming, upsetting swan ride through your habits and behaviors. Date a skeleton, pet (or kill) some dogs, think way too hard about mice and cheese. Undertale will make you second guess every key press except the 'Buy' button.

Developer: Red Hook Studios

Link: Humble Store

A brilliant, stressful strategy dungeon explorer that channels Lovecraft with brilliant narration and truly terrifying quests. As your party encounters horrors in the dark, the stress piles on, and too much stress causes them to take on new personality quirks that snowball into yet more stress and loss of sanity. This creates a constant tension. What if your plague doctor is the most reliable member of your party, but insults his comrades every few minutes, raising their stress levels? Permadeath is brutal in Darkest Dungeon, but you'll find it hard to quit even when an entire party of heroes gets wiped out.

Developer: Valve

Link: Steam page

We could have included pretty much any Source engine game here, such is the impressive way it scales to lower-spec hardware. (Admittedly, that might be because it's getting on a bit.) While Half-Life 2 shines these days with visual mods and at higher resolutions, Portal 2 remains one of the funniest, smartest puzzle games around, even if you had cause to play it at 800x600 with all the settings turned to 'Low'. You're not playing this one to be wowed by fancy graphical effects—you're playing for Stephen Merchant's, J.K. Simmons', and Ellen McLain's terrific voice acting, and of course for that bit with the potato.

Developer: Terrible Toybox

Link: Humble Store

A throwback point-and-click adventure from Maniac Mansion and Monkey Island creator Ron Gilbert. It's full of classic point-and-click puzzles, but is open-ended enough to allow you to wander and find a new path when you get stuck. In our review, we called it "a quality adventure game with challenging puzzles, oddball characters, and an intriguing, mystery-laden plot."

Developers: Edmund McMillen and Florian Himsl

Link: Humble Store

The original version of Isaac looks like the kind of game that could run on anything, but it was a weirdly CPU-hungry little game that pushed Flash to its very limits. Re/demake Rebirth is much more comfortable on laptops and netbooks, thanks to its new engine—it doesn't hurt that it also boasts a lovely new visual style, bigger rooms, and a ton of extra content. 2D roguelikelikes like The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth tend to be quite at home on lower-spec machines, so if you have room in your life for more permadeath and procedural generation, be sure to check out the likes of Dungeons of Dredmor, Spelunky, FTL and Rogue Legacy too. And once you're hopelessly addicted, make sure to check out Isaac expansions Afterbirth and Afterbirth+, too.

Developer: Obsidian Entertainment

Link: Humble Store

We're undergoing a cRPG revival at the moment, which is great news for those of us with cheap computers. While a few games, such as the fully 3D and rather gorgeous Divinity: Original Sin, will need a bit more oomph in the specs department, others stick fairly close to the Infinity Engine blueprint.

Thanks to its pre-rendered backgrounds and relative paucity of flashy visual effects, Pillars of Eternity runs pretty well on modest machines. Its requirements might be a little more insistent than Baldur's Gate's or Planescape: Torment's, but you're getting something that looks and plays great out of the box, without you having to install a bunch of visual and convenience mods first. Read our review for the full lowdown on Obsidian's old-fashioned RPG, and make you check out Harebrained Schemes' equally laptop-friendly Shadowrun: Dragonfall as well.

Developer: Failbetter Games

Link: Humble Store

Another game with lots of lovely text that should run on pretty much anything with a screen. Failbetter Games' follow-up to their browser-based text adventure Fallen London is a more gamey affair that channels the roguelike genre—but that manages to retain its heavy storytelling focus. Explore an underground ocean in a Victorian world that's gone to Hell, then wreck your ship, die and do it all over again.

(Disclaimer: PC Gamer contributor Richard Cobbett worked on Sunless Sea.)

Developer: Mojang

Link: Official site

One of the main questions you see asked online about laptops is “Will it run Minecraft?”, to which the answer, for future reference, is “Yeah probably”. Mojang's infinite block-'em-up isn't terribly demanding specs-wise, and it's the perfect game to mess around with on a laptop when you're supposed to be writing features for PC Gamer about low-spec games. While it's often played on a tablet, phone or console these days, you're getting the latest updates and mod support if you choose to build stuff with your PC. Here's our frequently updated list of the best Minecraft mods.

Developer: ConcernedApe

Link: Humble Store

An indie sensation that brought the idyllic farm life of Harvest Moon to PC. Build your farm into a vegetable empire, go exploring, learn about the lives of your neighbors, fall in love and settle down. Simple graphics ensure this one will run like a dream on your laptop, and it'll make long flights pass by in a snap.

Developer: Firaxis Games

Link: Humble Store

Civ is usually a safe bet when it comes to low-end machines, and you won't need too beefy a PC in order to play the second newest entry in the series. Just don't go blaming us when you forget to sleep, so embroiled are you in your quest to wipe the warmongering Gandhi from the face of the Earth. 4Xs in general tend to be quite kind to laptops, so if you meet the (slightly less modest) requirements, it's worth casting your eye over Amplitude Studios' fantasy-themed Endless Legend, and Triumph's Age of Wonders III as well.

Developer: SEGA

Link: Humble Store

The great thing about the surprise release of a game from 2008 is that it's from 2008, and should therefore run on most computers with a pulse. Valkyria Chronicles is a fine tactical RPG that plays a lot like Firaxis' XCOM reboot, with a beautiful illustrative art style that absolutely shines on PC. It's at the forefront of a new wave of belatedly ported, laptop-friendly JRPGs, including Trails in the Sky and Falcom's hyperactive Ys series.

Developer: Technocrat Games

Link: Humble Store

Wadjet Eye, and their collaborators, continue to bend the creaking Adventure Game Studio to their wills, producing quality modern adventures with system requirements that ask for “Pentium or higher”. If you're reading this on anything other than a cubicle wall, there's a good chance you can run Technocrat Games' Technobabylon on it, a cyberpunk point and click set in the gleaming future. (Here's our review.)

Developer: Klei Entertainment

Link: Humble Store

Klei all but mastered the stealth genre on their first try with Mark of the Ninja, a sidescrolling ninja-'em-up that effortlessly surpasses most 3D sneaking games. You don't need a supercomputer to run it—it plays surprisingly well on older PCs.

Developer: TaleWorlds Entertainment

Link: Humble Store

The dictionary, probably, describes TaleWorlds' Mount & Blade as a “roleplaying simulation strategy sandbox”, and it's one that still has an active community several years after its release. Warband is your way in if you've not had the pleasure of piking bandits on horseback (it's the original game, essentially, but with extra stuff). Mount & Blade II: Bannerlord promises to add fancy visuals to the business of conquering settlements, but if you can stomach its basic appearance, Warband and its expansions will keep you battling for many months.

Developer: Infinite Fall

Link: Humble Store

A bittersweet coming of age story about doing crimes, solving mysteries, and struggling to connect in an alienating world. Night in the Woods is light on puzzles—play it for the characters, who are genuinely touching despite sharing the same affected cuteness, and the playful melancholy. Bounce around on power lines, make mistakes with old friends, disappoint your parents, question authority. Its pace is languid at first, but engrossing. Highly recommended for rainy train rides.

Developer: 2x2 Games

Link: Humble Store

Don't let the cutesy units fool you: this is a serious WW2 strategy game set on the Eastern Front. It's also, yes, incredibly cute, boasting an uncommonly attractive interface that sits atop a wargame of great depth. If you've long fancied dipping your toe in the genre, but you've been put off by the nested web of menus that tend to greet you in wargaming, give the unusually approachable Unity a try.

Developer: Dennaton Games

Link: Humble Store

See also: most indie games, particularly the two-dimensional ones. We'll go with Hotline Miami though, firstly because it's great, and because, like most Game Maker titles it should run on anything that can power an email client. One thing you will need, however, is a good pair of headphones or speakers—Hotline Miami has one of the best game soundtracks ever put to MP3.

Developer: Inkle, Cape Guy

Link: Official site

80 Days is a wonderful take on Jules Verne's Around the World in 80 Days, and appropriately you'll be spending most of your time reading. It's a choose-your-own adventure novel with the best writing of any game of 2015, and some light strategy elements help break up the text as you navigate your trailblazing path around the world. A laptop is our favorite way to play—a large enough screen to appreciate the art direction and easily read the text, but still portable enough to play on a plane or curled up on the couch.

Developer: Noumenon Games

Link: Humble Store

Don't let Snakebird's deceptively cute presentation fool you, because it's actually one of the most challenging puzzle games we've ever played. The mechanics are incredibly simple—move your Snakebirds around the level in order to eat all of the fruit, then make your way to the exit—but the puzzle design is excellent, and seemingly straightforward levels can be difficult to work your head around. If you are a fan of puzzle games, Snakebird will definitely give you a run for your money.

Developer: Yacht Club Games

Link: Humble Store

Booting up Shovel Knight feels like unearthing treasure, like digging through your parents' old NES collection in the attic and stumbling into Mega Man or DuckTales for the first time. But it's better than those games, an homage that wraps in more secrets, buried mechanics, and subtle artistic tweaks that extend beyond anything the 8-bit era was capable of. Challenging, but fair, Shovel Knight's simple platforming controls work wonderfully on a keyboard. Its 8-bit aesthetic doesn't require a hog to run either, which makes it perfect for any laptop out there, controller or not.

Developer: inXile Entertainment

Link: Humble Store

A successor to Planescape: Torment? It seemed too good to be true, and yet inXile took the engine Obsidian made for Pillars of Eternity and managed to return to the world of Torment in an RPG that recaptures much of what made the original so special. Lucky for laptop gamers, it can also run on low-end hardware, which is fitting for a throwback RPG. In our review, we wrote that "a slow start gives way to a thought-provoking adventure in a remarkable setting. A fitting follow-up to a beloved RPG."

Developer: Spike Chunsoft Co., Ltd., Abstraction Games 

Link: Humble Store

We've kept our visual novel recommendations light, but Danganronpa earns a spot by being the most talked-about, craziest Japanese visual novel of the past few years. This bundle comes with the first two games in the series, Trigger Happy Havoc and Goodbye Despair. Our review attempted to summarize the first game like so: "A twisted, mischievous villain called Monokuma, who appears in the form of a mechanical bear, traps the students in the school and forces them to play a sick game. The only way to leave this makeshift prison, or ‘graduate’ as he calls it, is to kill another student in cold blood."

And it's good.

Developer: Metanet Software

Link: Humble Store

A finely tuned platformer with approximately one billion levels. Okay, not that many. But it's literally thousands, and with modding support, billions is within the realm of possibility. As Shaun wrote about N++ when it hit PC, "as far as I’m concerned, N++ is more a toy that you’ll stop and fiddle with occasionally, just to relish the silky smooth, momentum-oriented pleasure of knocking a stick ninja around a bunch of austere platforming gauntlets. I don’t think there’s a better feeling platformer out there."

Developer: Blizzard

Link: Official site

As long as you have Wi-Fi, you can keep on battling the world in Blizzard's card game, still the reigning king of the genre on PC. New expansions keep Hearthstone fresh and exciting, and it's free to play, so there's thousands of hours of competitive play ahead of you for as much or as little money as you'd like to invest.

Developer: Subset Games

Link: Humble Store

We may be bending our "no obvious games" mandate a little here, but we couldn't resist closing out the list with FTL, one of the best "just one more turn" game ever. The space roguelike puts you in charge of managing a starship on an important mission, balancing resources as you fight and flee your way across the galaxy. The ability to pause at any time makes FTL easy to play on a laptop, and its simple graphics mean it can run on just about anything. Just note that taking it on the go with you can be dangerous, because every destroyed ship at the hands of space pirates or cruel aliens will make you want to rage...and then restart for just one more run.

PC Gamer

Speedruns are artistry. Not only do they demonstrate complete mastery over a game, but they also poke away at the edges of what a game intends you to do. Watching a perfect speedrun is similar, I imagine, to watching good gymnastics, but they're more than just skill-based. They're borne of a curiosity about the edges of games: the things we're not meant to see and the things we aren't supposed to do.

There's a whole science behind speedruns. Players spend weeks and sometimes years chiselling a perfect path through a game. They exploit minor traversal bugs to gain speed, they tap away at the outer limits of a game world in search of hidden routes, and then they move to execute all these tricks in one graceful swoop. There's a strong collaborative spirit among speedrun communities, because in the end, it's all about what's possible, not who wins.

There are lots of different speedruns, and the rules vary depending on the type of speedrun a player hopes to achieve. Most of the runs I've featured below are Any% runs, which simply require the player to complete the game under any difficulty setting as quickly as possible. These contrast with 100% runs, which as the name suggests requires full completion of the game (any secret worlds or any optional collectibles, for example). 

What follows aren't "the best speedruns of all time" but instead a selection of especially impressive runs. I've tried to collect those most suited to spectating, so there are a lot of shooters and platformers. Meanwhile, I've generally avoided speedruns too heavily reliant on glitches that bypass huge sections of a game (like this Pillars of Eternity run, for example). I'm not arguing these aren't legitimate: just that they're not as fun to watch.

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

Bethesda made a big deal of Skyrim's 100 hour potential back in 2011, but I'm sure they're not surprised that speedrunner gr3yscale has beaten the game in less than 40 minutes. After all, Skyrim QA guy Sam Bernstein managed to complete the whole game, glitch and cheat free, in two hours and 16 minutes. If you know what you're doing, the biggest games can be reduced to a series of carefully timed leaps.

Gr3yscale's world record time of 39:24 uses a number of built-in exploits, but arguably more interesting than the run itself is this accompanying tutorial video on how he achieved it. The lengthy video is a step-by-step instructional, detailing everything from the graphics settings you should use (as low as possible) through to how to steal the Blank Lexicon from Septimus Signus in less than five seconds. If you've got any interest in the painstaking process of routefinding for a speedrun, it's a must watch.

Dark Souls

For the best example of speedrunner Kahmul78 s thoroughness, look no further than the 1:56 mark below. The way he switches his inventory load out in the middle of a plunge attack demonstrates that every second is precious for an adept speedrunner. He won t need those newly equipped arrows for a while, but when you re looking to shave off precious seconds in a notoriously difficult game, you don t waste time.

After clearing the tutorial area, Kahmul78 takes a very unconventional route through Lordran. Using the Skeleton Key starting item he passes through New Londo Ruins and Valley of the Drakes into Darkroot Basin, then onto Undead Parish. This not only skips the second boss encounter, but it also means facing off against the first mandatory boss battle by the eight minute mark. 

For the average first time player it s likely to take up to five hours to make that much progress (or about ten, if you re like me). The fact that this whole run wraps up in under 48 minutes naturally  attracted a lot of attention when it was first posted. There are quicker Dark Souls speedruns out there which exploit a major glitch, but this is the real deal.

Dishonored

With so many tools at his disposal it's little wonder that Corvo Attano can get the job done quickly. He's not really meant to do it this quickly though, with speedrunner TheWalrusMovement completing the stealth adventure in 34:35. Attano's Blink ability a lightning quick dash mainly used for covert operations is utilised a lot in this run, to the extent that it's difficult to keep track of TheWalrusMovement's routing. 

Nonetheless, Dishonored is a surprisingly enjoyable game to spectate, and TheWalrusMovement is forthcoming with his secrets. This world record run can probably be improved the runner's commentary points out a couple of areas of improvement but this is the best out there in the meantime.

Doom 2

Picture this: you ve just returned from Hell only to find that Earth is in worse shape. You were really looking forward to having a beer though, so you want to save the world as quickly as possible. But how quickly is as quickly as possible? How s 23 minutes and three seconds sound? Not bad at all! Start pouring.

The work of speedrunner Zero-Master, this Ultra-Violent mode playthrough managed to topple a record set in 2010 by Looper. That s a long time in speedrun years and it only managed to come out on top by 22 seconds. A backseat speedrunner will no doubt see areas of improvement in the below video, which Zero-Master concedes to in his YouTube description, but for the time being this is the quickest run there is.

While Doom 2 is probably the most popular speedrunning instalment in the series, it s worth checking out speedruns of the two Final Doom WAD packs too. These outings upped the difficulty dramatically, and if you want to see a run with a few clever rocket jumps, look no further.

Duke Nukem 3D

Duke 3D s Build engine is home to a lot of glitches very handy to speedrunners. As Duke speedrunner LLCoolDave explains in this video, a major one is crouchjumping . If you crouch while freefalling and then hit the jump key before touching the ground, Duke can clip through certain walls and structures. The engine in Duke 3D is less than stable, allowing for switches to be triggered from unintended vantage points and whole regions of levels to be skipped.

As in most glitchy speedruns, triggering the engine s limitations at just the right moment is an impressive skill in itself. Speedrunner Mr_Wiggelz manages to complete the game in 9:19 below, though it s worth noting that only the first three episodes of the Duke Nukem 3D Megaton Edition feature (the fourth episode didn t appear in the original game).

Mr_Wiggelz admits that he messed up a couple of times during this run, so it probably won t be long before we see it bettered.

Click here to watch on Twitch

Fallout 3

Some genres, especially platformers and shooters, are particularly suited to the speedrun. Others, like the open world RPG, definitely are not. That doesn t stop people from trying to beat the likes of Pillars of Eternity, Skyrim and Fallout 3 in the time it takes to prepare an English breakfast, but there s inevitably glitches involved. Games like these are designed to eat up your time and life.

Rydou s 18:53 speedrun of Fallout 3 (that s 18 minutes, not hours) utilises a few glitches, but no cheats or third-party programs. As he explains on his YouTube page, this run makes liberal use of a quicksave bug. Basically, if you rapidly quicksave and then quickload you ll briefly have the ability to clip through walls. In this way, the player-character goes from birth to saving Washington in less than 20 minutes.

After a bit of publicity off the back of this speedrun, Rydou moved to emphasise the difference between cheating and exploiting glitches. For those who wonder about the legitimacy of the run, using and exploiting glitches have always been a part of the speedrun community. This is a way to push the game even further, and [is] not considered cheating.

Half-Life 2

An hour and 32 minutes might not sound impressive for a Half-Life 2 speedrun: the game's an all time classic and ten years old to boot. You can blame the game's regular unskippable dialogue sequences for that record, but hey, at least it gives record holder Gocn k some time to take a break. He needs it.

There are some interesting strategies in this video. GocAk makes liberal use of two traversal glitches common in Valve's Source Engine, namely Accelerated Back Hopping and Accelerated Side Hopping. For a stunning example of the former skip to the 29 minute mark, where a sequence of careful jumps actually propels the player into the air. 

Sourceruns.org has a more detailed description: "When you exceed the game's speed limit, the game tries to slow you down whenever you jump, back to the desired speed. By default the game thinks that you're moving forwards, so when you exceed the speed limit, it'll accelerate you backwards. If you are facing backwards, this will only increase your speed. So, the faster you're going - the more you will get accelerated."

Hotline Miami

No big tricks or glitches here, just an exceptionally talented player. Speedrunner Dingodrole completes Hotline Miami in 20 minutes and seven seconds, but his ultimate goal is to get below the 20 minute mark. If you watch the whole run you'll notice there's very little room for improvement, and Dingodrole seems to have the routing down pat. He's been steadily chipping away at the time for a while now, so it's probably inevitable that this will be beaten some day.

I Wanna Be The Guy

It pays to know a game intimately before embarking on a speedrun, but that rule has a different meaning when it comes to I Wanna Be The Guy. A parodic love letter to 8-bit platformers, I Wanna Be The Guy subverts every reliable trope in the platformer rule book. Shiny red apples aren t collectibles: they ll kill you. Don t worry about reaching those spikes: they ll come to you. Nothing is predictable, and everything is learnt from the experience of dying. You can t learn this game, you have to memorise it.

So it s always fun to monitor the speedrunning community s progress with I Wanna Be The Guy (as well as its many follow-ups). You need a great memory and superhuman dexterity to complete the game once, let alone in 28 minutes and 40 seconds without glitches, as Tesivonius has done.

Click here to watch on Twitch

Portal

A few caveats: this is a segmented Portal speedrun, which means the game wasn't completed from beginning to end in a single playthrough. Instead, the best level times were stitched together for the final video. Additionally, there were four different speedrunners involved: Nick "Z1mb0bw4y" Roth, Josh "Inexistence" Peaker, Nick "Gocnak" Kerns, and Sebastian "Xebaz" Dressler. Some would argue a segmented speedrun is illegitimate, but wherever you stand on that matter, it's still interesting to see what's possible.

This run uses neither cheats or hacks, but it does exploit a number of glitches. "This run first started after the discovery of a new glitch, which snowballed into a whirlwind of discoveries of new tricks, skips, and glitches," the team writes. As you'll see below, the glitches make for a disorientating watch, but its fascinating nonetheless.

Quake

The Quake speedrun scene used to be massive, boasting its own highly organised community in the form of Quake Done Quick. The below video sees all four episodes of the game completed in 11 minutes and 29 seconds (on Nightmare difficulty!) and demonstrates world class bunny hopping and rocket jumping skills. The occasional glitch is implemented and whole chunks of certain maps are skipped with the help of rocket jumps, but no cheats were used.

Spelunky

Twitch streamer Bananasaurus Rex is, or was, the world authority on Spelunky. It was he who figured out how to kill the game s invincible ghost. It was he who achieved a solo Eggplant run (this involves carrying an Eggplant to the end of the game, obviously). It was he who collected $3.1 million worth of gold in a single playthrough. Arguably the highest bar he set was the legendary 5:02 Hell speedrun. Simply reaching Hell is difficult enough on its own, but completing the whole game using this route is punishment. Doing it in five minutes is God tier.

Unfortunately for Bananasaurus Rex, someone managed to beat his Hell run, and not by a measly couple of seconds. Youtuber Latedog beat secret boss Yama in 4:36, creating a new record which let s face it will probably only be beaten by accident. Like Bananasaurus Rex he utilises the warp device, which is somewhat reliant on luck but pretty much crucial if you want to shear minutes off a playthrough.

Super Meat Boy

When humankind is wiped off the face of the earth by some malevolent alien society, the planet s new inhabitants will learn a couple of things as they sift through the rubble. First, we really liked bottled water. Secondly, Coca-Cola was an especially totalitarian leader. Thirdly, we were really bloody good at Super Meat Boy.

Speedrunner Vorpal has been chipping away at the world record for a while, but this is the best he/she has managed so far: the base game completed in 17 minutes and 54 seconds. That stat doesn t include the dark levels or any of the retro themed ones, but anyone who has spent half-an-hour with Team Meat s punishing platformer will peek through fingers as Vorpal passes the final boss run by the skin of his teeth.

VVVVV

Speedruns can be beautiful. Twitch streamer sheilalpoint completes VVVVV in 12:12 in the below video, and watching it (with the sound down) can be like watching a weird 1970s art film about a little man s efforts to euthanise himself in outer space.

The beauty of this run is that there aren t really any major tricks, just a thorough knowledge of the game s layout. Sheilalpoint pulls some interesting maneuvers with the game s checkpoints particularly in one sequence where hitting them as they collide with spikes actually increases the momentum of the player character but otherwise, this is plain old fashioned mastery.

For more awesome speedruns, speedrun.com and speeddemosarchive.com are invaluable resources. Think we've missed something important? Leave it in the comment section below.

Rock, Paper, Shotgun - contact@rockpapershotgun.com (Graham Smith)

Have You Played? is an endless stream of game recommendations. One a day, every day of the year, perhaps for all time.>

VVVVVV is about you and the challenge in front of you. Are you fast enough with your left-right maneuvering to dodge spikes as you fall upwards into the sky? Are you skilled enough to reverse gravity the second your feet touch the ceiling, to send you tumbling back floorward to dodge spikes in reverse? There are no other controls to consider, no lives to protect and restore, and generous checkpointing means you never need to repeat yourself. The game asks you a question and removes everything else in between: are you good enough?

… [visit site to read more]

Rock, Paper, Shotgun - contact@rockpapershotgun.com (Adam Smith)

The noisE3 is dying down and we’re returning to some semblance of normality. That means I might actually find time to play some games on this here computer rather than watching hundreds of trailers and livestreams about games that I probably won’t dabble with even when they are> released in December 2015. It also means I can take a moment out of my day to report some jolly good news from Camp Cavanagh. The designer of fiendish musical masterpiece Super Hexagon has released a free version of his acclaimed spike-dodger VVVVVV and it’s available now for Windows, Mac and Linux.

… [visit site to read more]

Community Announcements - terry
I'm pleased to announce that version 2.2 of VVVVVV is out today! This version adds steam achievements and fixes a number of small bugs from the previous steam version. Enjoy!
Rock, Paper, Shotgun - contact@rockpapershotgun.com (Nathan Grayson)

Well excellent, because I'm totally stuck

Naya’s Quest, the latest from VVVVVV and Super Hexagon creator Terry Cavanagh, is an incredibly stressful game. You know that whole relationship you have with your eyes where they by and large tell you the visual truth of a situation? That thing your entire basis of reality is more or less founded upon? Yeah, well, forget about that. You play as a girl (presumably named Naya, unless even that part is an insidious trap door of a lie) who seeks “the edge” in a world that’s falling to pieces. So you hop between squares and everything is just dandy until – if you’re anything like me – you fall right through the ground. Or so you think. But actually, the isometric viewpoint just made it look> like a square was right in front of you. In reality it was above you or on the other side of the level or in outer space. And that is when the (exceedingly nauseating, nerve-wracking) learning begins. It’s occasionally frustrating, but also frequently brilliant.

(more…)

Rock, Paper, Shotgun - contact@rockpapershotgun.com (Adam Smith)

That is my facial expression throughout the many deaths I have endured

The ever-reliable Indiegames.com notices that Increpare, the devilish mind behind English Country Tune and other mind-twisters, has released MMMMMM, a free spike-laden tribute/alternate take/sequel to Terry Cavanagh’s VVVVVV. It’s a puzzle game about trinket collection and spike avoidance, with success being reliant on forward thinking and, of course, gravity manipulation. I was playing for about thirty seconds before diagonal surfaces were introduced and after five minutes I’d become intimate with more spikes than there are atoms in the universe. Sometimes the rules of a game create a sort of synthesis with my mental workings; in this case the two were at war and I was caught in the middle, hoist by Increpare’s pixel petard. Everyone go and beat it then tell me how rubbish I am.

Shacknews - Jeff Mattas

Developer Terry Cavanagh is at it again. And this time, he's made a social multiplayer game starring cats.

With highly-respected titles like VVVVVV, At a Distance, and Don’t Look Back already under his belt, Cavanagh's name is already synonymous with great indie games. His latest release is a free browser-based Flash multiplayer game called ChatChat. It's distinctly unique, on top of being adorable.

ChatChat's only instructions to the player are "be a cat." Players quickly name their randomly-generated feline avatar and then run around the world doing all sorts of cute cat-tivities.

As with much of Cavanagh's work, ChatChat is much better experienced than described. A lot of this is because much of the game's charm comes from discovering its various systems and the possible actions to take. Some might interpret the game's humorous construction, delivery, and subject matter as a subtly backhanded commentary on the current state of mainstream MMOs, but for me, ChatChat's brilliance is in its simplicity. The game basically boils down some of the traditional pillars of an MMO into their core essences, and then wraps them in a framework that most folks can immediately understand. It also lends more weight to the notion that you can have an entertaining multiplayer experience that doesn't revolve around killing things. Except mice, that is.

ChatChat is deeper than one might expect, but don't necessarily expect multiple hours of entertainment. In fairness, however, that doesn't really seem to be the point. What the game does do quite well is get the player attached to their avatar, while posing the question: "What would I do if I were a cat?" There's no combat to speak of, and the game instead allows players to find and explore their inner kitties. It's social, it's strange, and you should probably check it out.

Cavanagh also indicates tentative plans to add a few extra things to ChatChat with the help of fellow developer Hayden Scott-Baron who made the game's crude but charming graphics. "There are a few small things I'd like to add to ChatChat, if @docky is up for doing more artwork. Will have a go tomorrow at CB2 :)," Cavanagh tweeted earlier today.

You can play ChatChat for free on web-based gaming portal Kongregate.

...

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