Underrated Gems from the Steam Summer Sale: 2015 Edition! Part 1
The Steam Summer Sale is here at last! This time it appears to be running until the 1:00 EST on the 22nd. (That will be when all the deals will be taken down.) I always find this a great time to take advantage of the low prices to try games that I might not usually be inclined toward. It’s a great way to expand and develop your tastes! Last year, I wrote up 10 games that I thought were underappreciated gems and were also steals during the sale, and here I am again with another list of recommendations. Of course, the 2014 list is still just as valid during this year’s sale. This is going to be a long post, so I’m splitting it in half. The second half will be available very soon.
All games on this list meet the following criteria: 1) They must be under $10 (USD), 2) they must be at least 50% off, and 3) they are lesser known titles (or at least I perceives them as such). I’ve played through all of these, so they are based on my personal recommendations, and, consequently, they all favor my own idiosyncrasies a little bit. I’ve tried to keep the prices for the list as low as possible to inspire people to maybe take a chance on games that are out of their comfort zone and try something new. For the same reason, I’ve tried to keep it to titles that are lesser known, so you won’t see anything like FTL or Rogue Legacy on here. (Not that those aren’t great games that you should check out if you haven’t already.) The pricing criteria apply to the games’ regular sale price. Many of them may go lower during a flash or daily deal. As always, follow the Steam Sale flow chart to maximize savings.
Rise of the Triad (2013 Reboot)
Regular Sale Price: $3.74 (-75%)
Rise of the Triad is a rebooting of Rise of the Triad: Dark War which was a somewhat forgotten FPS in the era immediately post-Doom. You really don’t need to have played that game to enjoy this one, but you do need to have an appreciation of the early styling of PC FPS. The story is that you are an agent of HUNT, an elite, multinational anti-terrorist organization that is launching an assault against the fortified hidden headquarters of a Nazi secret society. And that’s basically all there is to that. It is a game that is intensely action-driven. And this game is fast. Like really fast. While the game has controller support, I think most prefer the precision of KB+M for a game this quick-natured. I almost always play action games with a controller nowadays, but KB+M just felt way more natural for this game.
There are a lot of games that claim to capture the feel of old-school FPS, but this is probably the one that actually lives up to that ideal the most. I think anyone who might have fond memories of adrenaline-charged, run-and-gun action games should not pass this one up.
Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed
Regular Sale Price: $9.99 (-50%) (will go lower on daily or flash)
I’ll say this upfront, I’m pretty sure this game will go down to $5 during a flash or daily deal at some point. It’s been that low before, so I would wait for that price. This is actually the second Sega-themed racer put out by Sumo Digital. The first game, Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing was actually a fairly decent kart racer, but Racing Transformed really just completely stomps all over it in quality, design, content, and ambition. While its predecessor was a kart racer, Racing Transformed is really more an arcade racer with a fantastical and whimsical bent. The track are far more creative and grandiose than what had been seen in the first game. Racing Transformed borrows the Mario Kart 7 idea of having transforming vehicles (as the name implies), so you’ll be racing on wheels, water, and through the air. In addition, it’s not just the vehicles that transform, but most of the tracks will transform in some way between laps.
Really this game leans heavily on Sega nostalgia with characters and tracks built around themes from not just popular Sega series like Sonic and Jet Set Radio, but also deep cuts like Skies of Arcadia, Golden Axe, and Space Channel 5. I think one of the strengths of the sequel is that it avoids relying so heavily on Sonic themes and more evenly uses Sega’s massive catalog of brands and characters.
I think any Sega fan will probably get a kick out of it for just for how well it makes use of the many Sega worlds it dives into. And even if you’re not a long time Sega-fan, it’s still a fundamentally good racer that focuses more on “arcadey-ness,” which makes it pretty unique considering how serious racers have become over recent years.
Ys: The Oath in Felghana
Regular Sale Price: $7.49 (-50%) (will probably go lower on daily or flash*)
Do you like to hack? Do you like to slash (preferably while hacking)? If either of these things sound appealing to you, then Ys: The Oath in Felghana might be up your alley. For those who don’t know, Ys is a long running action RPG series from Japanese developer Nihon Falcom, and Oath in Felghana is widely regarded as one of the series’ finest chapters. Ys follows the travels of Adol Christin and his bro Dogi as they perpetually stumble into conflict with long-dormant ancient evil entities It’s not so much an action RPG in the vein of Diablo, which focuses on loot, grinding levels, and randomized dungeons, rather its more like if Zelda became entirely combat-focused and got rid of all its puzzles to have something that’s focused just on tearing through hordes of enemies. Like I said, it’s for those seeking a fast-paced, hack+slash experience.
I will admit that I haven’t played through the Steam version, but I’ve beaten the game on PSP, and the Steam user reviews are “Overwhelmingly Positive,” so I’m confident it’s a good PC port. I will say, though, that if you’re looking for a traditional JRPG, Ys might not be it (which might be a relief to many of you). It’s not a very story heavy game, but concision works to its advantage. Falcom works with an anime artstyle, but it’s a rather tame anime artstyle that avoids becoming the over-embellished mess that most anime artists lose control to. In addition, the story and characters are rather heartfelt and mature. The writers of the game expertly avoided the anime tropes that most people find obnoxious. But then again, there story is not really all that elaborate.
*Often Ys has a series sales as part of a daily/flash deal, so I would keep a look out for that.
Regular Sale Price: $1.49 (-70%)
Gateways is a small, but fun little 2D puzzle platformer that I think went entirely unnoticed when it was released. It’s basically Portal in 2D. Here, you play as a mad scientist who has lost control of his lab and must use his inventions to regain power. That’s really all there is to it. Your primary ability to tackle the obstacles you face is your portal gun, but it goes a step beyond what Portal does with its mechanic and allows the portal gun to be upgraded with a number of offbeat functionalities that cause the puzzles to reach far more mind-bending states than what you see in Valve’s series. In addition to just point to point teleportation, there are portals that shrink or gigantify the protagonist, portals that shift gravity, and, by far the most impressive, portals that allow for time travel.
The time travel in this game is by far its most mind-blowing aspect. Many video games, like P.B. Winterbottom, make use of “time travel” by allowing you to “record” a time clone of yourself that will repeat your actions, but Gateways actually has portals that connect two points in recorded time. That is, the portals connect both a recorded “past” and the (constantly moving forward) “present” state. I have a hard time fully articulating how it works in words, but it is a mechanic that is utterly unique in a world of puzzle platformers who often derive their mechanics from a handful of commonly recurring archetypes.
Regular Sale Price: $7.49 (-50%) (will probably go lower on daily or flash*)
Binary Domain is a bit of a peculiar title from the 360 generation. From an era during which action shooter games pave-rolled over the Japanese domination over consoles, Binary Domain is a fairly earnest attempt by Sega’s Yakuza team to not only try to crack into the genre but also inject some new ideas into the saturated field. I think it’s a fairly good action game. It doesn’t reach the same peak as Vanquish, but it doesn’t fall into an abyss like other Japanese shooters of the time like Quantum Theory and MindJack.
The game features an international team of peacekeepers who have been sent into Japan to arrest the leader of the Amada Corporation who has been creating illegal human-like robots. Of course, the mission doesn’t go that easy, and you end up fighting his vast army of robots through the streets of cyberpunk Japan. The game’s main gimmick beyond the gunplay is that the team members have a dynamic interaction system, and you can respond in various ways to their conversations using the d-pad (I strongly recommend a controller for this game). Depending on your responses, each team member will either grow to like or hate you, which will influence their actions in the heat of battle.
The story gets a bit…ummm… anime weird, for lack of a better word. It’s an okay story I think, but I have a hard time following the characters’ motivations sometimes. When the villain finally revealed his ultimate evil plan to the protagonist, I really didn’t understand why it was such a bad thing. It seemed really innocuous, maybe actually good for the world. Still, I enjoyed my time with the game. The gunplay is merely competent, but still fun. And even though the story turns into a poor imitation of a Philip K. Dick novel, I really enjoyed fighting alongside the cool characters that made up my team. After all, one of your partners is a French karate robot who might as well be voiced by Lumiere from Beauty and the Beast.
*Since this game comes from a major publisher, I fully expect it to go lower on a featured deal at some point.
Well that’s all for Part 1, make sure to keep an eye out for Part 2 coming soon!