Underrated Gems from the Steam Summer Sale: 2015 Edition! Part 2
This is the second part of my recommendations list of lesser known titles for the 2015 Steam Summer Sale. You can find the first part and a more complete introduction to the list here.
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.
Regular Sale Price: $2.99 (-70%)
Gemini Rue is a noir+cyberpunk indie point-and-click adventure game published by Wadjet Eye, whose prodigious Blackwell Series made last year’s list. While most modern point-and-click adventure games have started to dispose of the heady puzzles that were the genre’s anathema in the ‘90s, Gemini Rue (as well as most Wadjet Eye) games still features a fair bit of cogitating over the erudite uses of your inventory dispersed within its multi-faceted story. These puzzles are on the harder side of modern adventure games, I feel, but they’re still not nearly within the realm of perplexity that caused the original wave of adventure games to go extinct. With enough patience and experimentation, I found myself able to progress without an inordinate amount of frustration. That said, even if you do find yourself having to run to GameFAQs once in a while, the story that unfolds still makes playing the game worth it.
The story features Azrael Odin (….yes, I know what you’re thinking) an elite, interstellar assassin on a mission to the urban decaying, crime-ridden planet of Barracus searching for his missing brother. As he navigates the underworld crime rings of Barracus, the story of his brother’s captivity in a mysterious government-controlled research facility plays out. Beyond that, I don’t want to go into more detail. Needless to say, I thought this was one of the more interesting story-driven games I’ve played in the last 5 years. I recommend this to those who might be looking for something more elaborate than the soap opera-style Telltale games that have become fashionable since The Walking Dead arrived. Not that I don’t like Telltale games, it’s just that sometimes their stories have a very “made for TV” quality to them (I wonder why?) that I think sometimes stunts what they’re capable of achieving.
Regular Sale Price: $2.49 (-75%)
Half-Life is a mostly forgotten FPS from the late ‘90s that was unfortunately overshadowed by contemporary releases like Unreal 1 and Sin. It had one sequel which was accompanied by two downloadable “episodes,” but apparently the series didn’t sell all that well because there was never a Half-Life 3, and the story remains unfinished. You may be surprised to find out that the developer behind Half-Life is none other than Valve, the proprietors of Steam. That’s right, this was the first game developed by the company that made Dota 2!
The story features Gordon Freeman, a scientist who becomes involved in a teleportation experiment that goes awry and cracks open the barriers between dimensions. Aliens start invading his super secret lab, and I know what you’re thinking, the story is a total ripoff of Doom! And you’re right. But it’s still a good game. Also, the Opposing Force expansion pack is pretty good too (or at least I thought so 15 years ago). Blue Shift, on the other hand, is not so good. I wouldn’t waste my time with that one. Anyway, if you’re looking to take a break from something like Counter-Strike: GO, then Half-Life is definitely a good palette cleanser until you’re ready to get back into online socially-connected multiplayer games.
Regular Sale Price: $5.09 (-66%)
Oh look, an indie puzzle platformer with big pixel graphics. You don’t see many of those! I’m being sarcastic, but I actually do really like this game. You play a boar (as in the wild pig) who lives in a world of sentient boars and a few other animals. One day while frollicking through the forest, the ground falls out from underneath our protagonist and he finds himself trapped inside a large, empty vault. When he emerge, he’s accused of being the one who emptied the vault and is sentenced to hard labor, digging in the mines to pay back what has been stolen. As you can probably begin to tell, the story here is very off-beat, but in a sincere way, not in a cloying “look, how crazy we can be!” kind of way. And while it seems very simple at the onset, the events that begin to transpire afterwards are actually really quite amazing. Honestly, I really didn’t expect the story to take off like it did.
Proving that indie developers can (and will) take any popular concept and mesh it into any imaginable genre (see roguelikes), Full Bore is actually what might be best described as Metroidvania block pushing puzzle game. You travel across this open 2D world in a fairly non-linear fashion and must basically figure out ways to reach treasures within the mines that are not easily accessible. The environments are composed of big pixel art with a ton of creativity and detail put into them. There’s a wonderful amount of variety here. And the music is also quite good as well.
The indie puzzle platformer genre is incredibly saturated, no doubt. But I think Full Bore actually does stand out amongst the crowd. And aside from the well-designed block puzzles, the bizarrely unexpected story, the splendorous images and music, there’s actually a whole lot of content in the game. I don’t think you’ll be left wanting more, and I mean that in a good way.
The Longest Journey
Regular Sale Price: $4.99 (-50%)
This is an oldie, but a goodie. The Longest Journey is a point-and-click adventure game that arrived well after the first wave of the point-and-click adventure genre had come and gone. This game was the first game that I ever saw that had a 1 GB install (and to my knowledge it was the first game to actually have one). That was a big deal in the year 2000. When you combine that fact with a title like The Longest Journey, I was expecting this game to be huge.
…It is a reasonable length. I mean, it’s not a short game. Howlongtobeat.com says it averages between 17-20 hours in length. But that also means it’s quite a bit shorter than some of the RPGs that were coming out around that time which could often require >50 hours to beat. Back in the day, on completion, I remember being a tad bit disappointed by the game’s “brevity.”
But really there’s nothing to be disappointed about here. It tells an amazing story that manages to successfully combine both elements of scifi and fantasy. April Ryan is a young artist living in a technologically-advanced world that is culturally not too different from our own, known as Stark. Events lead her to discover that she is a rare being that is capable of travelling to the fantastical realm of Arcadia, a parallel world that is governed by magic rather than technology. These two universes exist in a delicate balance and once formed a single plane of existence. But after arriving in Arcadia, April and those around her soon come to believe that she is destined to play a pivotal role in protecting the fate and stability of the two diametrically-opposed dimensions.
The story here gets huge props. April is one of those characters that just doesn’t conform to the standard lone warrior trope that overshadows vast portions of gaming. And instead of violence, she’s forced to use her wits, determination, and luck to advance toward her goals. I always liked her for being such a relatably human character. And the characters around her, whether human or fantastical, come together in a way that compliments the heartfelt story in a very naturally.
As for the gameplay, it’s standard point-and-click fair. You have to find the right combination of items or figure out the right thing to say to the right NPC to progress. I think most people have a long lingering fear of the genre’s potential for impenetrability, but really for these types of games, I’ve resigned myself that if I have to go to GameFAQs, I will. The story is really the main draw here. And like Gemini Rue, while the puzzles in this game can get hard in the context of modern adventure games, neither are really as baffling as what the genre offered in its darkest days.
Regular Sale Price: $4.99 (-50%)
Indie platformers by and large tend to be puzzle-focused, but there are a few that are more technique-based challenges like Super Meat Boy and BattleBlock Theater. Pid falls into the latter category, although at first you might think it falls into the former. The game follows Kurt, a school-aged youngster who falls asleep while taking the space bus home from school. Waking up at the last stop, he then finds himself trapped on a planet caught in a bizarre centuries-long holding pattern where the residents go about their tasks as if they have no end. This includes waiting for the bus off the planet, which means Kurt is effectively trapped. While exploring for an escape, he stumbles upon a treasure which gives him the power to create repulsor beams on the ground that allows him to cross difficult to traverse areas, and he sets off to find a solution to the world-engulfing malaise that bars him from going home.
What precipitates is a charmingly off-beat story where the oblivious Kurt seeks escape but is actually threatening the shadowy power that has inflicted the purgatory on the planet. As I mentioned, it’s a technique-driven platformer, where progression is more based on how skillfully you can maneuver with the repulsor beams rather than trying to test out your spatial reasoning skills. I think the game was received poorly on it’s XBLA launch, mostly for what was considered it’s exceptionally high difficulty. While I think this game can be challenging, I don’t think it’s unreasonably difficult like some claim. It’s not in the same league as something like Volgarr the Viking or 1001 Spikes. I think the problem most reviewers had lied with the 360 controller not being appropriate for it. Analog sticks are simply too sluggish for the quick reflexes required by this game, and the 360 d-pad is just too poor to be an option. I hated playing this game with the 360 pad, but found it to be a lot of fun when using the keyboard or a dual shock controller. I recommend those as the way to go for this game.