The year in apocalypse

Among Rain World’s best tricks is that it doesn’t end with you. Fall afoul of the reptiles who coil and flop through its moulting, fungal catacombs and you’ll be dragged to a crevice and swiftly guzzled. The restart prompt appears, but you’re under no pressure to hit the button, and really, what’s your hurry? Death is an opportunity to enjoy Joar Jakobsson’s chiselled 16-bit aesthetic and the game’s AI ecosystem at leisure, freed from the rat-race of its core mechanics.

Predators come and go from boltholes: depending on where you’ve copped it, you might even see them fight, tumbling through the muck in a writhing knot, coughing up bright bubbles of neon blood. Light drifts over backdrop layers, burnishing dead machinery and throwing the shadows of unseen structures across the view, an effect that rather uncannily places the environment behind the player, as though you were perched on a rail in the foreground. It’s mesmerising and, given Rain World’s difficulty, reassuring: where other game worlds turn on the player’s motions and decisions, your participation here is never represented as essential. This grotty, inhuman reality was getting on just fine before you arrived, and however hard the rain may fall, it will continue long after you are gone.

Games are fond of ending the world or staging its total corruption, and 2017 has (appropriately enough) delivered a bumper crop of post-apocalyptic and dystopian fantasies – all thrillingly distinct, and each a commentary on or unwitting reflection of historical forces that threaten disaster in reality, from climate change to religious fanaticism. Some of them take a guilty pleasure in the idea. For a role-playing shooter like Destiny 2, the apocalypse continues to be wish-fulfilment for compulsive hoarders and gladiators, a return to a simpler, more permissive “heroic” era, steeped in the pomp and hubris of the Space Race and the work of venerated sci-fi illustrators like Syd Mead and Chesley Bonestell.

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