Saturday, December 31, 2011

Steam Holiday Sale, Day 13: New Years' Eve

Today's list of stuff is eclectic, but good. There are a couple of gems in there.

Bioshock Series: $4.99 each - These are both really good games, but more than that, they're really influential games. Bioshock in particular did a lot of things that now turn up in games all the time. Well-written, too, and some of the best art direction of any game series ever.

Magicka: $2.49 - Ridiculous fun, and great gameplay, too. There's substantial depth to be found in the magic system. One of these days, I'm going to program my gaming mouse and keyboard with a profile for all the magicks in this game.

What I'm getting: nothing. Hoard is a little bit tempting, but I've already got so much new stuff, AND I've exceeded my data limit for this month. I think I'm done with this sale.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Steam Holiday Sale, Day 12: Programmable Chemistry

There are only two things I'm going to recommend out of today's batch, but they're both quite solid.

Fallout: New Vegas: $4.99 - A nice combining of the new and the old from Fallout. The game uses the perspective and engine of Fallout 3, but takes place back in the western US and a lot of the original creative team from the first couple of games worked on it. Not quite as good as Fallout 3 in my estimation, but still an absolutely fantastic game.

SpaceChem: $2.49 - This game is, as a friend of mine on Steam observed, more about programming than chemistry, and it gets brain-meltingly hard, but it's really, really, REALLY good. It's also one of the most original puzzle games I have ever seen. For the price, it's absolutely worth it.

What I'm getting: Still deciding. Probably Universe Sandbox and the Fallout: New Vegas DLC, but not sure yet.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Steam Holiday Sale, Day 11: This one's easy.

Not much I've got or played in today's line-up, but there's one I do need to recommend:

Left 4 Dead 2: If you're one of the seven or so people left on Earth without a copy of this, get it. Co-Op shooters don't get much better. 

What I'm getting: nothing today.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Steam Holiday Sale, Day 10: MOAR STUFF

This is the first time I can ever remember actually feeling fatigued at a Steam sale. But they do keep putting good stuff out there at steep discounts, so I'm not going to complain too much!

Space Pirates and Zombies: $2.49 - Or SPAZ, for short. Games like this aren't really made any more, which was kind of the point of this one being made. The developer is just a little two-man outfit, but they've pulled off a remarkably polished game. Much like Terraria, it gets periodic updates, too.

Dungeon Defenders: $3.74 - I've spend quite a few hours in this game with my buddy Aaron Stack, who liked it so much he gifted me a copy so we could do multiplayer together. It's a great little game. The indie scene has gotten to the point where it really maes quality product, and this is a prime example. It's well worth having, playing, and exploring the ins and outs of the game is deceptively deep and a huge amount of fun.

What I'm getting: Homefront. I hear it's not the greatest, but I'm captivated by the concept and really want to try it out.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Steam Holiday Sale, Day 9: Series bundles.

Today, Valve has discounted a bunch of whole catalogs of games tied to individual IPs. They have bundle deals on FEAR, Gothic, and Star Wars. They also have a number of smaller things on sale. Here's my picks, as usual.

Terraria: $2.49 - I've recommended this before, and at $2.49, it's a great impulse buy. The game mixes some "Metroidvania" style platforming with building and exploring a la Minecraft. It's also updated with new content fairly regularly and in fact just got a huge upgrade.

All Dawn of War games: 66% off. I normally don't even like RTSes, but for some reason, this series just works for me. I think it's the territory-based resources or something. Regardless, lots of fun and a good deal today.

Disciples III: $4.99 - If you like the Heroes of Might and Magic or King's Bounty series of games and aren't aware of the Disciples series, this is more in the same vein. By far the prettiest strategy game of this type available, and incorporates a bit of King's Bounty style tactical movement, too. Fun and well worth playing, if a bit repetitive after a while.

What I'm getting: I snagged the Gothic series. I've had some friends bugging me to try these games for a while, so now I guess I'll give 'em a shot.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Steam Holiday Sale: Day 8, Boxing Day

I'm running out of non-repetitive stuff to say by way of introduction in these posts. That's okay, though - today's post belongs to the deals, because there's a lot of them.

Bastion: $5.09 - I got this as a Secret Santa gift this year, and wow, it's good. The adaptive narrator mechanic works really well, actually says meaningful stuff, and never repeats himself. The combat works really well, too, and the art style is unique and beautiful. Despite the fact that the story is post-apocalyptic, the color palette is bright and colorful. Bravo, designers.

Far Cry 2: $4.99 - Though the story is about as bleak and depressing as you're liable to find, the shooting and freewheeling around the war-torn African nation where it takes place is great. Also of note is that everything you do, including pulling up your map, is done in-game.

Anomaly: Warzone Earth: $2.49 - Tower defense in reverse. In this game you lead an armed convoy through a maze of enemy weapon emplacements. It's exciting, fast-paced, challenging, and really cool. s another reviewer pointed out, it's amazing that such a fantastic game could come out of nothing but a collection of escort missions!

King's Bounty series: $8.74 for the Platinum edition with everything. A great take on the Disciples/Heroes of Might & Magic style of strategy games. Seems shallow and cutesy at first, but becomes deep and involving very quickly.

Red Faction: Guerilla: $4.99 - Do you like to smash things? Do you like to bash, trash, crash, and explode things? Does going on a rampage of destruction in a world where just about everything breaks sound like fun? Yeah, thought so. :) I haven't progressed very far into the story of this, but the visceral thrill of smashing down buildings with a massive hammer is pretty great. 

What I'm getting: Nothing today - the only thing I really wanted was Bastion, and I was fortunate to receive that as a gift.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Steam Holiday Sale, Day 7: Christmas Day

The Christmas day list of things for the Steam sale is as good as any day that's come so far. Let's get straight to the deals:

Fallout 3: $7.49 - Years ago, when this game first came out, I sank over 400 hours into it. I don't think I've spent that kind of time with any other game, ever. The expansions make it better yet, particularly Broken Steel. Though it's a pretty radical shift in UI from the original Fallout games, it is absolutely a worthy successor to that series. It's also just a fantastic game all on its own, and very much worth playing.

Batman: Arkham Asylum: $4.99 - The original Rocksteady studios Batman game demonstrated that yes, in fact superhero video games can be good. Great, in fact. They got the voice actors for The Joker and Batman (Mark Hamill and Kevin Conroy, respectively) from the excellent Batman: The Animated Series to reprise their roles, and wrote the game much like the series, but not for kids. The result is something incredible. Well worth playing.

Atom Zombie Smasher: $2.49 - A kind of unique quasi-tower defense game centered around pulling people out of zombie infestation zones. The graphics are nothing special, but the gameplay is very solid. It's definitely worth grabbing for this price, or pick up the bundle that includes it.

Overlord Games: $4.99 for the complete pack - I'm starting to sound like a broken record as this stuff keeps going on sale again and again, but this series really is fantastic. Rhianna Pratchett (Terry Pratchett's daughter) was involved in the writing, so the games are genuinely funny. The gameplay is good, too, though I'd recommend playing Overlord 2 with the aid of a cotroller.

What I'm getting: I picked up the X mega set thingy. The space combat/exploration/trade genre is one that's always sounded cool to me. I've given it a try various times before, but it never took. We'll see if this one scratches the itch.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Steam Holiday Sale, Day 6: Bordering on Zombies

Today's Steam Sale has good stuff in it again! (I know. What are the odds?) Anyway, here's my picks for today:

Borderlands: $4.99 - I have recommended this game so many time, I'm out of new stuff to say. It's a very good shooter married to an okay RPG, the art and the humor both work. It's good, it's worth buying, it's dirty cheap. If you don't have it yet, here it is yet again for just a few bucks.

 Plants vs. Zombies: $3.39 - This game is by Pop Cap, which may lead some readers to scoff. Don't it garnered a 91% rating and an Editor's Choice from PC Gamer - the game is fun, surprisingly deep, and incredibly addictive. Also: cheap.

Jamestown: $2.49 - This retro Shoot-'em-up is part of the latest Humble Bundle, so if you're after it, I'd recommend getting it there, but if the $3 or so between the cost of the game today and the cost of the Humble Bundle is a factor, it's worth having.

What I'm getting: today, just Prototype. That's been on my watch list for a while.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Steam Holiday Sale, Day 5: Clilly Notes

Once again, shock of all shocks, the Steam holiday sale has some great stuff in it. Here's my picks for today:

Audiosurf: $2.49 - This was one of the first (if not the first) games to generate some important facet of the game from music files. I bought it for full price back in the day when it first released and really enjoyed it then, and years later I still fire it up on occasion. The game is a puzzle racer where you collect colored blocks and make patters with them through a course generated off the song you're playing. At $2.49 it's well-worth the meager price they're asking for it today, and its one of those things that belongs in every PC game collector's library. Mellow tracks make an easier race course, heavier, up-tempo music is more challenging.

Frozen Synapse: $3.74 - One of the coolest and most surprising game experiences a lot of folks, myself included, have had this year. Frozen Synapse is a great simultaneous turn-based tactical game. It's very hard, but very rewarding. I hear the multiplayer is even more fun than the single-player, but I've yet to try that. Still, for under $4, it's not bad.

E.Y.E.: Divine Cybermancy: $2.49 - This isn't a great game by any stretch of the imagination, but it is an interesting one to fiddle around with. I don't think I'd recommend it for a higher price than it's currently at, but for $2.49, it's worth getting to poke at.

What I'm getting: I picked up Rage, since it's dropped to half its original price and then dropped to half of that in the sale. I've been wanting to play it, but not for $60.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Steam Holiday Sale, Day 4: Piles of Awesome

Some really amazing stuff in today's Steam Sale! I'm going to get right to the details.

Mass Effect and Mass Effect 2: $4.99 each. The Mass Effect series is the best RPG series of at least the last five or so years, IMHO. I am almost beside myself with anticipation of the third one. Grabbing the first two for a combined total of $10 is one of the best uses of your gaming dollar I could imagine.

Torchlight: $3.74 - One of the best Diablo-likes ever made, including the Diablo games themselves. It's very satisfying, and funny to boot. Will play on anything down to and including a netbook.

Brink:  $4.99 - I really enjoyed Brink, especially its world and setting, but my love of it was far from universal. Still, for $5, I'd recommend trying it to see if you like it.

Divinity II: The Dragon Knight Saga: $9.99 - I've yet to finish this, but I have gotten a lot of fun hours out of it. The hero has more unique and cool stuff they can do than most game heroes, and you can play a complete smart-alec who is still a good guy with ease. It does a lot of interesting things and is well-worth playing.

What I'm getting: I'm not sure yet, as I'm typing this on my lunch break at work, but I think I'll pick up Avadon: The Black Fortress (I like Spiderweb software games I've tried so far) and I might pony up the $3.74 to get Torchlight on Steam instead of Direct2Drive (which is going away soon).

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Steam Holiday Sale, Day 3: Stalking Battily

Day three of the annual Steam Holiday Sale has rolled around, and today there's a good spread of stuff in it again. My recommendations out of today's lot:

Defense Grid: The Awakening: $2.49 - A classic, defining tower defense game. It's very tight and the voice acting for the general that's been uploaded into a computer talking in your ear is great. If you like tower defense, it's definitely one to have in your collection. If you've never played tower defense games, it's a wonderful introduction.

S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Bundle: $8.74 - (or grab individual games for 75% off, if you prefer.) The S.T.A.L.K.E.R. games are some of the most immersive and creepy games you're likely to play on any platform anywhere, ever. They're an interesting mix of realistic shooter and lightweight RPG set in a kind of quasi-post-apocalyptic setting that's sprung up in an alternate history version of the area around the Chernobyl reactor. There's a bit of a steep introductory curve, but if you can get past that, these games will hook you something fierce. I already have all three and I'm still a little tempted.

Batman: Arkham City: $24.99 - this game just came out and is well worth full price, so at this price point, it's both a no-brainer and a steal.

Stuff I'm picking up: Today, I'm just getting Mount and Blade: With Fire and Sword. I keep hearing about how amazing this series is, almost incessantly, actually. So I've finally decided to break down and try one.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Steam Holiday Sale, Day 2: Dred-ful

I have only one recommendation from today's Steam Sale bargains, but I implore you to take it if you enjoy anything vaguely resembling roguelikes: Dungeons of Dredmor. I've been playing the living daylights out of the game for the last week (seriously - something like 29 hours logged in the last 7 days.) With the expansion pack, the game is $1.87. Please, just go get it. It's less than the cost of a soft drink from most fast food joints and it is one of the most fun and the most funny games I have played in quite a while.

Stuff I'm Getting: Today, nothing. I already have everything I want from the sale.

Monday, December 19, 2011

And here we go again with the sale-ing. (Steam Holiday Sale, Day 1)

Steam has begun their holiday sale. Hold onto your wallets!

Here's what I'd recommend out of today's batch:

Just Cause 2: $4.99 - This is a crazy, over-the-top action-movie take on the sandbox genre. There's more shooting and explosions than a Michael Bay film if you're trying at all. It's not the smartest or most sophisticated game ever, but it's gloriously silly fun.

Metro 2033: $4.99 - This is one of the most atmospheric and affecting shooter you'll ever play. It's not funny and silly like Just Cause 2, but it's very immersive.

Fable III: $12.49 - I played this and really liked it. The story is solid, and I like the Industrial Revolution + Fantasy setting Albion has evolved into.

Orcs Must Die!: $3.74 - This will probably get a blog review before the month is out. I've been playing this game a fair bit lately, and it is a very quality piece of indie gaming. Everything's tight and polished, and the core mechanics are both well-refined and very satisfying. Especially at this price, just buy it already.

Singularity: $7.49 - I thought this game was great when I played it back in May, and I've been feeling like playing it again, actually. It's a good game.

Max Payne and Max Payne 2: $2.49 each - These predate The Backlog, but were fantastic for their time. A mix of modern crime drama, film noir, and bullet-time actually done well make these great additions to an action gamer's library, especially if you like third-person shooters.

Terraria: $4.99 - This just got a HUGE content update, so now's as good a time as any to pick it up. This is a modern classic that should be in every serious PC gamer's library.

Stuff I'm Getting: Picked up Portal 2 and some DLC for Orcs Must Die! and Magicka.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

"Later" Has come.

I have some more additions. I'm spending the evening sorting through my Steam Library and am going to put some stuff on the list, or possibly back on it.

PC Games:
Anomaly: Warzone Earth
Bioshock 2
Breath of Death VII
Cthulhu Saves the World
Dungeons of Dredmor
E.Y.E. Divine Cybermancy
Space Pirates and Zombies

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Bundle fatigue? Not likely, but I do need to be a bit picky...

Holy cow! The indie bundle scene has exploded in the last month. Between Humble Bundle, Indie Royale, and Indie Gala, (and burning off my GamersGate blue coins) I have an enormous pile of unplayed games sitting on my hard drive now, but I'm not truly interested in all of them. Here's what I'm adding to the backlog for now, though there may be more later:

PC Games
Orcs Must Die!
Runespell: Overture

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The "Interesting" problem - resolved for now

My wife and I managed to get ourselves a car today. We picked up a 1995 Ford Taurus wagon with only 63,800 miles on it (we got one of those mythical "old person cars" that every used car buyer dreams of finding) from Buss Ford in McHenry, IL. I'm linking the dealer's website because they deserve a plug - everyone there treated us like family, which was especially nice considering that we were buying a car that cost us under $5k out the door. I have never had such a relaxed and pleasant car buying experience in my entire life. The next time we need a car, we are going straight back there.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Off the List: Dungeon Defenders

I was fortunate to receive a gifted license of this game from Aaron Stack a while ago, and have been playing it with him and another of his friends on a fairly regular basis. The central premise of this game is that while the big heroes are off Elsewhere, some ancient evil awakens and their younger heroes-in-training have to protect, well, basically everything. Dungeon Defenders is a kind of modified action tower defense game.While there aren't tiled out areas like in Sanctum, or Defense Grid, or even Sol Survivor, you do have to construct traps and barriers to keep some large, glowing crystals safe. There are four little apprentice heroes, each with their own set of abilities and structures they can build, so if you do co-op like we did, you can get a much more effective marshaled in a much shorter period of time. Aaron Stack and I, for example, found that the Squire and the Apprentice make for a particularly devastating one-two punch. The Squire has a number of structures that do a good job of keeping enemies from passing by them (or at least, passing by unscathed) and the Apprentice has about a thousand lethal variants on "magic blasting tower" so the Squire builds barricades and the Apprentice constructs magic towers that fry anything that approaches said barricades. However, much like Sanctum or Orcs Must Die, once the wave starts, you don't just sit there and build stuff, you are down in the thick of it, fighting monsters and sometimes repairing your defenses. Also, unlike any of the other games I've mentioned in this review, it also folds in some lightweight Diablo-style leveling and loot. Your character persists and can pick up loot from fallen enemies and treasure chests around the games' levels. It's a fun game that can get a little tense, but it doesn't take itself too seriously. Or seriously at all, really - the art style is very cartoony and while enemies do bleed, it's in no way gruesome, as their blood is about a zillion bright colors and there's never any visible wound - slain foes go down in a splash of garishly-colored liquid and vanish. That lightheartedness, plus the headset banter one inevitably gets when playing with friends, makes this a great co-op experience. I'd recommend it for sure, especially to play with friends.

RPG notes: There's really not much to spoil here, so feel free to read on, even if you haven't played the game. For my money, the best RPG material to be gleaned from this game is the idea of young heroes that nobody expects to be able to do much of anything actually stepping up and doing the job, and doing it admirably. Now, this idea isn't exactly new in video games (how many times have teenagers saved the world in the Final Fantasy series alone?) but I haven't seen too much of it in my tabletop gaming, and I can't help but wonder why. I also can't help but wonder, for that matter, if my experiences are typical. If you're reading this and feel inclined to reply, weigh in on this for me: how often do you see young heroes, seemingly out of their depth, in your tabletop RPGs, especially as player characters? And is that a cliche, underutilized, or indifferent?

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Off the List: Ticking

In the interest of full disclosure, I should mention that I know the author of the tale I'm about to review, but as you'll soon see, that doesn't really matter. Laura Anderson, writer, editor, blogger, Booter and all-around renaissance woman recently published a piece of flash fiction called Ticking. It's a work of short horror/suspense fiction that's available in ebook format from either Amazon or Barnes & Noble. The story makes excellent use of both economy of words and suspense - though it's only a few pages long, the tale gets genuinely tense, and also manages to describe a lot with just a few words. Furthermore, the implied setting that reveals itself throughout the story definitely bears further examination. I'd recommend it to anyone who enjoys tasteful, tense horror or urban fantasy.

RPG notes: The usual warnings about spoilers apply and for goodness' sake, it's a short story. Go read it and come back. I promise it's worth the dollar. All right - done? See? That only took a couple of minutes. The thing that really stuck out to me in Ticking that would make good game setting material is that the vampires* in the setting are both scary predators AND take a mentor/companion relationship with their (former?) victims. It's also pretty strongly implied that they run in a pack. ("They" ripped up the floorboards.) The "why" of that could be used as grist for the story mill quite easily in any setting where vampiric predators are appropriate.

*At least it's implied that's what they are - you'll notice that the word "vampire" is never used and also that HE talks to her and IT is hungry, which could imply either some sort of a third party spread to her by the attack such as a possessing spirit or a parasite of some kind or her loosening grip on her humanity. Not sure which of those options is scarier to me, really...

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Cleared: Borderlands: The Zombie Isle of Dr. Ned

This piece of DLC for Borderlands added, shock of all shocks, ZOMBIES to the list of enemies to fight off. Surprising, I know. In all seriousness, though, the zombies actually made a worthwhile and fun addition to the game. Borderlands is full of a lot of enemies that fight you with quality rather than quantity. Bandits and Crimson Lance members use cover and will try to flush you out with grenades and the like. Skags are nasty, jumping things that attack in small groups and strike quickly. Zombies, by comparison, are slow-moving, stupid enemies that just overwhelm you with sheer numbers, which require a bit of a shift in tactics to fight effectively. The game also includes some variety in their zombies, including torsos that pull themselves along the ground and attack from below your field of vision, Defilers which spit L4D-reminiscent vision obscuring vomit at you, suicide zombies which explode up close, psycho and midget zombies that move faster and more erratically, and Tankensteins which look like a 1950s film version of Frankenstein's Monster and lumber around with explosive barrels to pitch at you in addition to bog-standard normal zombies. They spawn fast enough that surviving until, for example, a hand-cranked elevator gets to you can get genuinely desperate and frantic. The game's sense of humor is very much on display here too, as the villain asks if you want brownies, then remembers he's trying to kill you and other hilarious moments of ridiculousness. The ending also deserves special mention for breaking the forth wall and making you jump out of your skin and laugh at the same time.

RPG notes: As usual, spoilers all over the place. If you don't want it spoiled, stop reading. While this seems like a fairly standard "...and zombies!" kind of story, and on some level it is, there's some useful stuff in here that can be cribbed for other games. First of all, the corporation in charge of the area doesn't evacuate and instead sends in troubleshooters to resolve the problem. While we've certainly seen this before, it bears mentioning as a useful plot device for some kind of monster infestation. While the right thing to do is pull out survivors, the problem is that, well, monsters are scary. Whether it's zombies, aliens, killer robots, or something else, anything that can overwhelm a well-armed settlement is definitely going to be treated with a certain level of fear my those on the outside, especially if said menace has the ability to hide inside the "unaffected" population and/or reinforce itself my transforming them somehow. And speaking of transformations, the final boss battle is a great piece of inspiration every GM should use at least once. Follow up an anticlimax boss battle with a more powerful form of the defeated boss after they players are sure the boss is down and are in post-fight mop-up for an extra shot of tension and chaos.

Cleared: Fate of the World

Well, this is a new one. This is the first thing to come off of this list because the introduction turned me off. Fate of the World is a left-wing enviro-socialist game where you go about fixing climate change through the Magical Power of The State. (In this case, a worldwide version of the EPA with absolute power over the actions of (apparently formerly) sovereign nations.) I just can't stomach its central premise enough to even really play the game. Trying to get someone like me to play this and enjoy it is like trying to get an atheist to play and enjoy one of the Left Behind games. (Or trying to get me to play those and enjoy them, come to think of it, but I digress.) The ideology behind it is so opposed to my own that I can't stop grinding my teeth long enough to actually dig into it, and that precludes any fun I could have. That said, if you lean to the left politically, you probably should not be without this game. It'll probably fire all your switches, and you'll likely enjoy it a great deal. Me, I'm glad it didn't really cost me anything - I got this as part of an Idie Royale bundle.

RPG notes: I've got nothing. I can't even make myself play this. Sorry, folks. I can have friends that oppose me politically without trouble, but entertainment that requires me to accept the basic premises that this game does in order to play it just doesn't work for me.