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One of the many brilliant things about the PC is that you’re not tied to the mainstream. Unless you’re housed deep within the labyrinthine offices of the most far-flung Activision studio, you’re free from the shackles of commercial viability and you can make whatever the hell you deem fit.
This, of course, means a whole truckload of glorious ideas, realized in all their indie charm. Developers with day jobs aren’t afraid to aggressively pursue their own vision without compromising a single byte. But sometimes, this level of freedom leads to something far darker, stranger, and often sinister: something only describable by dropping an F-bomb.
These are games which, for better or worse, will leave you with a vague feeling of unease. From the likes of a game deeply rooted in anatomical profanity to the intrinsically absurd, each will give you that gut-punch feeling of driving over a humpback bridge too quickly. At least three will make you nauseated. One will make you question your own sanity, albeit briefly.
The games here, whether shooters, adventures or platformers, are unique and bizarre and are brought together by their singular resistance to the norm. Some are bold and beautiful while others are just words on a screen. Some are rubbish. Some are great. A few deal with serious issues, while a few scream insanity to astonishing levels. But the one thing they have in common, the one thing that bonds this esoteric fraternity together, is that they’re all well and truly f***ed up.
Developer: Ice-Pick Lodge
Publisher: Meridian 4
A sprawling Russian town lost in time. Dizzying architecture that defies Newtonian physics. A pair of guards who wear the most hideous of masks. Brechtian theater. A great big gap where the fourth wall should be.
Pathologic doesn’t do things by the book. It’s a first-person action-RPG-adventure, set in the midst of an epidemic so terrible that even the buildings are diseased. The combat is atrocious, enemies lock on and charge until you go down, it looks like a game from the ’90s, and the translated script is a garbled mess. Yet that’s exactly why Pathologic becomes one of the most sinister games on the planet. The fearlessness of the AI is truly frightening. The blocky visuals paint unnatural backdrops. None of the characters make any sense. You’re stuck in a 12-day fever dream that, even though its length is predefined, you worry you might not ever wake up from.
“It’s tragic and frightening. Disgusting, even,” agrees Nikolay Dybowski, CEO of developer Ice-Pick Lodge. Yet despite the bleakness, Dybowski hopes there’s a happier message to take from the game. “We believe the game is inspiring,” he says, “because the player has the chance to overcome this cruel destiny.” That’s only if you get to the end, though. In a game so stifling, it’s a safe bet that many won’t.
F***ed up moment: The first time you meet the terrifying, bird-masked Executors, who govern the rules of the game world.
Developer: ACE Team
Publisher: ACE Team
The only way to describe Zeno Clash is ‘surreal’. While its central mechanic – punching things in the face – is a pure joy, the game’s lore touches upon some far darker subject matter. There’s the Corwid of the Free, who aren’t slaves to common sense so occasionally eat one another. There’s the fighting trainer, who teaches you to aim by ripping the heads off chickens and telling you to shoot them before they die. There’s the mystery of why the town’s population is giving birth to pigs. It’s rather insane.
All of this, coupled with a strikingly organic visual motif, lets you know Zeno Clash is out of the ordinary. But it’s the moment you discover that the antagonist, Father-Mother, is a giant hermaphrodite bird-man-woman that you realize you’re playing something with an imagination more twisted than a Gordian knot.
The inspiration? “One of my first memories watching TV was of a Sinbad movie where the antagonists were a witch and her son,” recalls art director Edmundo Bordeu. “The witch had transformed into a seagull, but when she turned back into a woman she was left with bird legs. It impressed me that the bad guys seemed to suffer more misfortunes than the hero. For me Father-Mother was similar to this witch, and that’s why I gave those weak bird legs to the powerful antagonist.”
F***ed up moment: One end-of-chapter boss, who appears twice in the game, uses exploding, parachuting squirrels as his primary weapon.
Developer: Cryptic Sea, Komix Games
Website: unprintable, just click here
Above: You can imagine what's under that black circle, but we'll bet it's more graphic than you think
You, a small willy, versus an enormous vagina with a face and an STD. That’s the concept of the webgame C**t. Co-creator Edmund McMillen claims he made the game to show that, as an independent developer, you can make pretty much anything without fear of censorship. “This game contains graphic images of male and female genitalia,” warns the rather aggressive loading screen. “If you can’t deal with that, don’t play this f***ing game.” Quite.