With Steam’s indie sale coming to a close, we here at VGU.TV want to take a look at what we feel are the best games available at low, low prices. These are presented in alphabetical, not numerical, order.
Amnesia: The Dark Descent
What more can be said about Amnesia? Ever since it launched in 2010, Amnesia has garnered attention from not only PC gamers but the horror community at large. Arguably the most effective horror game ever crafted, Amnesia puts players in such a vulnerable position from minute one that death feels imminent up until the stunning conclusion. The hook of this success is due to two things: heart stopping atmosphere, and intelligent gameplay choices. The former is a simple combination of limiting the players view and making the game very quiet, giving every sound and sight an unexpected startle, even in the most innocent of circumstances.
The gameplay is where the game shines brightest (or most darkly, perhaps) however. By giving the player no chance of fighting back against the enemies stalking the mansion in which the game takes place, and by essentially making “light” a currency by way of matches and lantern oil, players must make difficult choices of which rooms to illuminate and when to leave them dark enough to hide in. Being this defenseless in a game is a unique experience, and one Amnesia delivers on to the fullest.
Jonathan Blow’s breakout game Braid can’t be praised enough. An intelligent mix of platforming and puzzle solving, Braid uses these tools to create engaging (and at times maddening) gameplay that perfectly compliments the genre-busting story the game props itself up with.
The gameplay itself is relatively simple. You are able to walk and jump just as in any (sans Bionic Commando) platformer, but Braid takes a turn with its final mechanic: time travel. The hook of Braid is using the ability to rewind and fast forward time at will to solve increasingly more complex puzzles. By the end of the game, the mechanic has been woven into the story so deeply, that you find yourself shockingly attached to what began life as a simple platformer with a twist.
Dear Esther is a hard thing to call a game. More of an interactive experimental short story, Dear Esther doesn’t offer much in terms of gameplay outside of walking and reading. However, the reason Dear Esther makes this list is because of the way it tells its story, and the ways in which it uses the story to set itself apart from just about every other game out there.
Dear Esther’s story is not branching, and it’s rather linear. It is not, however, consistent among playthroughs. Details blur, motivations of characters are altered, and set pieces change location, making the inherently vague story open to different interpretation from player to player. Dear Esther is, in a way, a multiplayer experience. The storytelling method encourages discussion amongst players and comparisons of playthroughs. Much like a good book, Dear Esther wants to foster discussion long after the game ends, and in this goal it succeeds greatly. A haunting score and minimalistic visuals add to this, making it a must play for those willing to put down the shotgun and pick up a book for just a couple of hours.
Dungeons of Dredmor
Roguelikes have been in vogue lately, and of all the new releases reviving the genre as of late, Dungeons of Dredmor might be the best among them. While the gameplay, level designs, and item variety are second to none, it’s the off-beat humor that separates Dredmor from the pack. Skills like Warlockery, Necronomiconomics, and Mathemagic add flavor and personality to an especially difficult game, and it’s all the better for it.
Somewhere between a space sim and a roguelike (I told you they were in vogue), FTL: Faster Than Light won a lot of people over with its simple style, beautiful music, and complex and difficult gameplay. The myriad of options available to you as you fly through space in an attempt to take out the enemy mothership helps keep each playthrough fresh; and believe me, you will be playing through it many times before finally toppling the end boss. FTL is one of the first real Kickstarter success stories, and it’s something that will have you saying “just one more stage” well into the early morning.
Hotline Miami is, in a word, insane. From the insane visual style, to the insane gameplay, to the seriously insane music, Hotline Miami still manages to keep players involved because of the story. Presented out of order, the game somehow weaves a tale that holds on tight without distracting from the brutal and straightforward gameplay: kill everything. While it may look simple at first, the levels almost play out like little puzzles, requiring players to find the best path from beginning to end, as death is always right around the wrong corner.
Limbo is a game that drags you in with the allure of its stark, high contrast artstyle and haunting atmosphere. It keeps you around for the intelligent puzzles and, well, its stark, high contrast artstyle and haunting atmosphere. Yes, Limbo’s graphical hooks are quite possibly the highlight of the experience, but don’t let that turn you away. The gameplay is no slouch and backs up the visuals just fine, creating a unique puzzle-platformer that keeps you on your toes from beginning to end.
Legend of Grimrock
A lot of games try to look back to the halcyon days of 8-bit console gaming, but few look back to that same era for PC games. Enter Legend of Grimrock, a first person RPG set in the style of Dungeon Master and Ultima Underworld with modern graphics. Gameplay relies on puzzle solving and RPG-style combat, though this is hardly Final Fantasy, and the search for loot is second only to exporation and discovery. The number of high quality puzzles is very refreshing, and for those looking to take a step back to the late 80s are sure to find something to like on Mount Grimrock.
Mark of the Ninja
Stealth-action is a genre that has had its ups and downs over the years. Metal Gear Solid defined the genre back on the Playstation 1, and Splinter Cell aped it just enough to invoke a similar feeling without stepping on its toes. A game like Tenchu tried to change the setting and incorporate Oriental influence into a decidedly modern genre, but it wasn’t until the unexpected Mark of the Ninja that an Oriental setting blended perfectly with the genre. Mark of the Ninja, from the creators of Shank, is a 2D stealth game that manages to so effortlessly blend gameplay, linear progression, and branching choice, it stands as as significant of a jump in quality for developer Klei Entertainment as The Walking Dead was to Telltale. It’s truly a landmark title for not only Klei, but possibly the stealth-action genre on the whole.
Retro City Rampage
Before Grand Theft Auto 3 hit the market and redefined open world action games, the series had its sights set on being the best top-down 2D murderfest it could be. Enter Retro City Rampage, a game hellbent on usurping Grand Theft Auto 2 as the best damn top-down 2D murderfest around. Boasting a stark 8-bit style and featuring a large number of visual styles aping everything from the NES to the Game Boy to the Virtual Boy, Retro City Rampage pays homage to dozens of games and genres. While not the deepest game in the sale, it is sure to please those that need a quick 30 minute distraction here and there.