Calico is a ghost town in San Bernadino County, California. It's a sad, creepy place, a cluster of empty shacks and dilapidated mines left to collapse in the wake of the silver rush. Wandering its dirt expanses, you really start to understand why they call these things ghost towns, too: amidst the rustling huts and decaying equipment, there's not quite enough context for your mind to reconstruct the place as it was when it was alive. Instead, you picture something stranger. Calico's the perfect prompt for your imagination to slip free and run.
It turns out that Calico is also a planet. It's in MirrorMoon EP and it's been named by a player. (They all are: the first to put boots down gets the chance to fill in the map.) I have no idea whether the player in question has ever been to the ghost town, but the ambience is surprisingly similar. On this Calico, you stroll around another quiet, uninhabited space, trying to make sense of what happened. And, hey: what happened? Grey rocks pass underfoot, a huge dark moon turns overhead, and a shimmer of angular rainfall marks the spot where, if you wait long enough, a large perspex pyramid will rise from the soil and beckon you inside. When all you have is questions, everything starts to look connected. In MirrorMoon it often is.
Santa Ragione's latest is full of this sort of stuff. It's Noctis by way of Proteus, and it's also one of the purest exploration games I've ever played: a genuine thing of wonder. The first planet you land on (let's call it the tutorial planet; the game calls it Side A) contains two or three of my favourite moments in any game this year as you pootle over its curving surface, picking up items, and working out how the sparse tooltips on offer actually translate into things you can do. It would be totally wrong to spoil the key elements of this initial experience for you, crucial to the game's mechanics as they are, so let's just say you're given a gun that isn't a gun, and, in an ingenious series of twists on FPS conventions, it allows you a degree of control over the environment that leaves you giddy with power.