Game On: The Best Polish Video Games of 2018
default, ‘Tsioque’ (OhNoo Studio, Smile), photo: promotional materials, center, tsioque.jpg
Poland has become a video game empire. It comes as no surprise then, that 2018 was, yet again, a good year for Polish video games. This year, two studios really stood out: 11 bit studios (Frostpunk) and CD Projekt Red (Thronebreaker: The Witcher Tales).
Polish game designers and developers are still working hard on producing exciting games for users. This year, two studios in particular left their mark: 11 bit studios released Frostpunk and CD Projekt Red – Thronebreaker: The Witcher Tales. These are unquestionably the best Polish productions of the year.
Some may be surprised by the large number of interesting adventure games that came out this year (they had not been a Polish specialty in the past) – Apocalipsis, My Brother Rabbit or Tsioque are attractive thanks to their unique themes and distinctive graphic design. The strength of the Polish games industry has always been in tiny indie developers and it remains the case. Buckshot Software is a great example with their especially well-made Project Warlock.
Here are our picks of the most intriguing Polish video games released in 2018.
Thronebreaker: The Witcher Tales (CD Projekt Red)
For many, a release of a new game set in the Witcher universe was a surprise. It came out in a different way than all the other parts of the famous trilogy – without spectacular announcements and an exciting countdown towards the constantly delayed release date. It is because Thronebreaker was, at first, supposed to be a small project – a story expansion to the Gwent card game originating from The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. But the tiny expansion gradually grew in scope, new story chapters and areas to discover were added and everything turned out to be so interesting that in the end it became a full, standalone game.
It is common knowledge, that in digital card games, no plot is necessary – a backstory is merely supposed to add flair to the gameplay (and it’s quite engaging in Gwent). Thankfully, the writer of Thronebreaker, Jakub Szamałek, didn’t care about what was ‘commonly done’. The story of queen Meve returning to her war-torn homeland does not pale in comparison to the stories told in ‘big’ Witcher games. Just like them, it draws the player into political intrigues, surprises with sudden plot twists, and both moves and makes them laugh.
Frostpunk (11 bit studios)
The previous game by 11 bit studios, This War of Mine, told the story of civilians trying to survive in a city under siege. Frostpunk also portrays a community facing an extreme challenge: in a world gradually freezing over, there a city emerges that attempts to resist the constantly falling temperature. In This War of Mine, the player managed a small group, but here they are put in charge of an entire city. In a desperate fight for heat and survival, they have to make a chain of difficult decisions, choosing between the fate of individuals and the common good.
Somebody who hoped Frostpunk would be an experience similar to This War of Mine, might be a bit disappointed with the larger distance from which the player sees the action – specific citizens are usually tiny dots on the screen, which makes Frostpunk slightly less compelling. But this does not change the fact that it is a masterfully designed and thought-provoking game in which social issues are treated in a much more interesting and serious way than in similar productions of its genre.
Apocalipsis: Harry at the End of the World (Punch Punk Games/Klabater)
The story is simple, it really is just a skeleton of a story – the main hero, Harry, loses his love and goes on a long journey to find her. The challenges he faces along the way are usually rather conventional puzzles that have appeared in many adventure games before. Then what guaranteed Apocalipsis a spot on this list?
The answer is also simple: the wonderful atmosphere of the game world which transforms a run-of-the-mill adventure game into something unique. Harry travels through mediaeval Europe on the verge of apocalypse, filled with ghastly harbingers of the end taken from the works of Albrech Dürer, Michael Wolgemut and Hans Holbein. It is clear that the makers of Apocalipsis love and understand the source material from which they borrow. The gloomy landscapes of Harry’s journey, filled in equal proportion with mystical symbolism and the macabre, are difficult to forget.
Tsioque (OhNoo Studio, Smile)
When other creators turned towards 3D graphics, the stubborn animator Alek Wasilewski decided to create an adventure game which was fully drawn and animated by hand. It tells the story of the brave princess Tsioque, who, in the absence of her monster-fighting mother, is trapped by an evil wizard in the dungeon of her own castle. But it quickly turns out that the wizard underestimated her – the princess is a vibrant, strong, confident girl and not only escapes her cell but also turns the entire castle on its head.
The level of Tsioque’s puzzles can be uneven and the mortal dangers facing the princess sometimes have to be overcome by trial and error. But the charm and the atmosphere of the game often make it possible to overlook these flaws. The story of Tsioque is full of warm humour and lovely touches – sometimes even the details of the animation show how much heart was put into this game. And it also turns out at the end that the princess’s story is surprisingly personal and inspired by life. The game might have its flaws, but it also has plenty of charisma.
Project Warlock (Buckshot Software)
In the 1990s, the 3D shooters of the likes of Wolfenstein 3D or Doom fascinated some and offended others. Today, they have become a part of gaming culture and an important example of digital nostalgia. No wonder that there is an avalanche of games aimed at allowing the players to return to this golden era: getting lost in labyrinths in search of enemies that were scary not only because of their stern faces, but also because of the size of the pixels of which they were made. One of the best of such ‘time machines’ was created by Buckshot Software led by the 19-year-old Jakub Cisło.
Project Warlock is an amazing pastiche of classic FPP games. It skilfully portrays the mixture of naivety, subversive sense of humour and brutality that contributed to their success. The game is very apt at juggling the themes that were once popular in such games – it has everything from dark fantasy to dark (obviously!) sci-fi. In addition – and this is perhaps the most distinctive part of the game – it is great at constructing the nostalgic graphics and audio as it plays with the limited colour palette, which used to be a necessity and is now an aesthetic choice. Of course, the shooting in Project Warlock is also delightful.
My Brother Rabbit (Artifex Mundi)
When the younger sister of the protagonist of My Brother Rabbit falls seriously ill, he does not know what to do. After all, he is only a little boy. He decides to help her in the only way he can think of – he tries to comfort her with a plush rabbit. The story quickly transports us to the land of child’s imagination in which the friendly mascot saves the girl and a (also sick) plant from harm.
The (slightly sugary) world of My Brother Rabbit, suspended between the classical madness of Alice in Wonderland and the more recent madness of the Amanita Design games, is simply beautiful. The designers mix fairy tales with elements connected to the treatment of the sick girl. The gameplay is not too original, but it turns out rather well – it mixes the hidden objects mechanisms that are typical for Artifex Mundi with elements of adventure games similar to the simple but charming productions of Amanita Design.
My Memory of Us (Juggler Games/IMGN.Pro)
The creators of My Memory of Us came up with a risky idea: they decided to create a story about the trauma of the Holocaust rooted in the imagination of a child. World War II turns into a fairy tale in which an evil wizard and his army of robots invade the country of the pair of protagonists – a boy and a girl. The robots separate some of the citizens from the others and begin to transport them in an unknown direction. Beneath the fairy tale, there are traces of the true horror of war – the death camps or the explicitly referenced story of Janusz Korczak.
Inspirations for My Memory of Us can be found in two works. The mechanics of the game and some of the approach towards history is influenced by Valiant Hearts, a French game about World War I soldiers in which the cartoony graphics and the convention of a simple platforming game does not prohibit the creators from discussing very serious issues. My Memory of Us is also indebted to the book Wroniec, written by Jacek Dukaj and illustrated by Jakub Jabłoński, which transforms the events of martial law in Poland into a surrealist fairy tale.
polish video games
cd project red
11 bit studios
Phantom Doctrine (CreativeForge Games/Good Shepherd Entertainment)
The year is 1983. CIA vs. KGB. Spies, mounting intrigues, double agents, interrogations, brainwashing in secret bases, tracking devices. And most importantly: ubiquitous paranoia. The tactical game Phantom Doctrine allows players to run the operations of a cell of American or Soviet intelligence during the last (but still intense!) years of the Cold War. The player is tasked with organising the work of their group of spies (everything from training to planning where, how and why to strike) and commanding them during operations, depicted in a turn-based manner similar to the popular XCOM series. But spying is different than fighting aliens – here firepower is often not as important as discretion and the ability to steal key data from the pockets of the enemy.
Phantom Doctrine is not a phenomenal game – there are some flaws and it can be a bit monotonous, there is also no engaging story – but it meets some of its ambitious goals. Fans of tactical turn-based games have reasons to be happy.
Originally written in Polish, Nov 2018, translated by MW, Dec 2018