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A Jaded Look At Recent Steam Releases, May 29th 2014 Edition

As fate would have it, my part time schedule falls right on the 3 day head start for WildStar, which begins the very first minute of May 31st, PDT.  Being a penultimate computer gaming geek, that's the kind of thing I schedule vacation time for.   What can I say?  You have your interpretation of "vacation," I have mine.
I don't normally play a character of the opposite gender, but the
thematic perfection of a Mekari Engineer may have made me a convert.

Traffic on the WildStar forums has been surprisingly slow for a game whose release is just around the corner.  I was already expecting the usual round of investors to be shocked to discover that it is infeasible to expect to earn World of Warcraft subscription numbers given this genre's over-saturation.  However, having witnessed low forum activity, I now believe it's possible that WildStar will not even do as well as Rift or The Old Republic, which puts it less than a million subscribers.

Do I know how to back the wrong horses, or what?

That said, that's not doom for Carbine Studios if you bear in mind that EverQuest only had around a quarter million subscribers in its prime.  However, these former Blizzard employees will be experiencing money hats of the size of mere rowboats compared to the cruiseship-sized cranial opulence they may have enjoyed in the past.  It's a good thing caviar is already rather salty, lest their tears threaten to ruin the taste of it for them.

[Edit: Maybe I'm mistaken.  At less than 12 hours until the servers are going up, the forums are slammed so hard that they're inaccessible, so it seems everyone might have just been waiting for launch hour.]

Alright, enough venting, lets get to work deciphering the deluge of content that Steam has dropped in our lap this week.

A Jaded Look At Recent Steam Releases, May 29th, 2014 Edition.

Honestly, not a whole lot happened on Steam this week.  Memorial Day weekend resulted in nothing getting released on Monday, despite Valve not being particularly beholden to a primarily government holiday... perhaps they had to go pay proper respects to all those who died by falling on Gabe Newell's knife collection?  I will separate the games into the usual tiers, with one bonus edition reserved for the AAA blockbusters because we had a couple of doozies this week.

Interesting Tier

The cream of the crop, these games look pretty good and are worthy additions to a Steam wish list.

A Story About My Uncle - If you've ever played Mirror's Edge, you may have noticed that first person platforming is annoyingly hard, but this game seems to get around that by giving you a power glove that lets you latch on to things and swing around with relative ease.  It is entirely possible that, should enough people notice it, this game will become the model of how first person platforming is supposed to work, making it a tough act to follow.  It also doesn't hurt that the game is gorgeous and uniquely stylized with a sort of Fraggle Rock style fantasy.

Distant Worlds: Universe - "A vast, plausible real-time 4X strategy game," Distant Worlds has a reputation of being huge, "up to 1400 star systems with up to 50,000 planets, moons, and asteroids," and simultaneously deep, "the full depth and detail of turn-based strategy, but with the simplicity and ease of real-time, and on the scale of a massively-multiplayer online game."

I know from past experiences that such an endeavor can either become an obfuscated mess or blow the player's minds with its depth.  Judging by the generally positive user reviews on Metacritic, I think Distant Worlds has the good fortune to fall on the latter end.

I'm very interested but, despite the scope of the game, I'm not going to cough up $60 for it.  Who does Code Force think they are?  Some yahoos out of New Zealand who made a really epic 4X game, I get that, but $60 does not an indy title price make.

Killer Is Dead - Nightmare Edition - Killer Is Dead is a game by the infamous SUDA51, a Japanese developer who loves to make really off-the-wall games with strange themes and brilliant pop culture references so bleeding edge we don't even know they're pop culture yet.  One could say that his games are hit and miss, but I would say he has a perfect record when it comes to producing memorable experiences.

Calling Killer Is Dead a game about a suave secret agent with a cybernetic arm dicing up bad guys with a sword is a bit like calling a clown car a subcompact with too many people inside of it: it omits a thousand little details about the deliberate, artful lunacy of what you are seeing before you.  For example, our suave secret agent is actually a silly little ponce who speaks ridiculous truisms and seduces women in the most infeasible way imaginable, and you only realize this is deliberate in hindsight, because the game plays it straight.

Perhaps the most impressive thing about this game is that it carries a $20 price tag.  That demonstrates a certain awareness for the PC audience that is rare to see from a AAA developer.

"Please Pay For Our Expensive AAA Game Development Costs" Tier

The biggest thing that happened since the last entry of this list was the release of two big name games that people have been looking forward to for months.

Tropico 5 is a legitimate continuation of perhaps the best game series in the city builder genre.  Few other games simulate every single citizen to such a detail, and the fusion of environment, city planning, politics, and economy is a seamless work of art.  Sprinkled on top is a Caribbean charm with a twist of lighthearted political satire.  Make no mistake, this is one delicious dish.

Tropico 5 is currently receiving lackluster reviews, but not for the reasons you might think.  The game is fine, the reviewers say, and even the best in the series... but everybody was really hoping they would do more than just slightly improve Tropico 4, a game that slightly improved Tropico 3.  Considering how much we were nickle-and-dimed for Tropico 4 DLC, and how Tropico 5 feels oddly sparse compared to its predecessor, many reviewers have a hard time recommending a game that seems suspiciously set up to encourage people to fish out their credit card for many months to come.
Watch Dogs is basically what happens when the minds behind the Assassin's Creed series decide to make a Grand Theft Auto 3 clone.  It's prettier than ever, and the protagonist has a greater freedom of movement than ever, but you're still just driving cars and fighting with that unnecessarily clunky third person shooting mechanic.  It really is remarkable how the desire to imitate can fly in the face of common sense sometimes.  Yet, something about the Grand Theft Auto series really gets people excited and scrambling to the brick and mortar shops to buy every copy on the shelf.

The gimmick that sets this clone apart is that you're an awesome hacker in a city that has wired everything to a computer network, from traffic lights to the steam pipes and even the hand grenades carried by guards... what, do the hand grenades need to check their e-mail regularly?  As the ultimate jerk - oh, sorry, the correct term is "digital vigilante" - you can manipulate the city in uncountable ways, learn a bit about everyone you see on the street, and even effortlessly clean out bank accounts, all by fiddling with your smart phone. Yeah, right.

Well, interject a bit of suspension of disbelief, and the game is entertaining enough, but I understand a lot of people are having trouble getting Watch Dogs to run well on their computers due to it being rife with incompatibilities, but it runs just fine on many other setups.  The physics are rather wonky, too... but then, the game never did advertise itself as being a physics game.  Another source of complaint is that UPlay, Ubisoft's online DRM service, is required to play it, which is pretty ironic considering the game's subject matter.

Consequently, the user reviews have taken a nosedive irregardless of the quality of this game, which I would say just holds the bar of "Open World Sandbox" genre exactly where it was to begin with... you can probably get as much enjoyment out of Sleeping Dogs (no relation) or Saint's Row IV for a fraction of the price.

Semi-Interesting Tier

A tier reserved for decent efforts, though just slightly below interesting for this jaded gamer.
Among The Sleep - This indy-developed first person horror adventure game wants to be unique enough to capture the success of Amnesia: Dark Descent... just like everybody else.  Yet, despite the over-saturation of these types of games, it's well-worthy of at least semi-interesting tier just because it looks like it's unusually well done.  It had a quarter million dollar kickstarted budget, and puts you in control of a two-year old working with his teddy bear to unravel the mysteries of a nightmarish cthulean dimension.  That's pretty screwed up for a horror game, but also quite original.

Where Is My Heart? - One of those clever 2D platformers that mix things up by allowing you to modify the level dynamically.  This time, it seems to involve rotating a number of cells that make up the screen of the level.  It's not a new game, it's been around on other platforms, but now it's on Steam.

Anomaly Defenders - The Anomaly series is pretty good, a reverse tower defense game with you playing a fellow in a high tech suit directing a customizable vehicle convoy in order to destroy or circumvent an infestation of alien defensive towers.  That said, this is the third game in the series, and I have yet to get around to playing Anomaly 2 yet.

Dracula 4 And 5 - Special Steam Edition - Point and click adventures with pretty good looking environments, but not that far removed from a hidden object game.  The name suggests that this is a re-release of an older game, but Dracula 3 from The Dracula Series was in 2008, and the visuals seem newer, so it's probably not quite fossil tier.

Monochroma - Clearly this stylish 2D platformer is grasping after Limbo's crown, "a game about being a kid ... solving unique puzzles in a dystopia 1950s setting" presented in mostly black and white, often with the protagonists coming to needlessly grisly ends.  But despite not being much of a 2D platformer fan, I'll kick it up to semi-interesting because it does look well-stylized, with some very memorable scenes.

Kill The Bad Guy - At heart, Kill The Bad Guy is just another silly physics game.  But it's sort interesting because they give you a city block to work with and allow you to sabotage it as required to "accidentally" kill one of the pedestrians, the titular "Bad Guy."  If a game about hitting unsuspecting people with wrecking balls evokes much schadenfreude in you, you may be in the target audience of Kill The Bad Guy... as well as the local authorities.

Final Fantasy III - A 3D remake of a Final Fantasy game that never released outside of Japan in its original form.  If you're a fan of Final Fantasy, you already bought this game.  If you're not: it's a JRPG from the company that popularized JRPGs.   Honestly, I don't have high hopes for this game, as nostalgia only translates so far in game form, and here's an updated version of a game based upon a design over two decades old!  However, I'm sure it's a well-wrought product nonetheless.

Frederic: Evil Strikes Back - We saw the previous game of this rhythm game series last week, and I imagine the sequel is at least as good.  In practice, it's really more of an interactive comic book with rhythm game segments... but that's not a bad idea.  In fact, it's good enough of an idea for me to handwave that this is a mobile game port.

Fossil Tier

There was not that many games over 3 years old released on Steam this week... unless you count the ones that were ported from other platforms.  This is probably a coincidence, and Valve is just as willing to republish old games as ever.
  • Putt-Putt Joins The Circus, Freddi Fish 4, Pajama Sam 4, ect - Just how many of these kids' point-and-click adventure games from the turn of the century does Humongeous Entertainment have?  They have been putting out around a half-dozen of them on Steam for every week since I started this feature.

Shovelware Tier

Per usual, this tier is reserved for games that look like they were easier to make than they are for a hardcore player to endure.  You're not missing much if you'd like to stop reading at this point...
  • Strata - A puzzle game involving drawing diagonal lines of the correct color in the correct order.  "Simple. Elegant. Challenging." is their tagline.  "Simplistic. Port-job. Annoying." is mine.
  • Gearcrack Arena - A single-screen top-down shooter, basically a crappy version of Crimsonland with a cyberpunk backdrop.  It's only a couple bucks, but you can find better free flash games than this.
  • Capsule - It's cute how they took a game so simple that it could have worked on a 1980s arcade cabinet and put a video filter on top it in order to modernize it.
  • Starlight Astronaut Academy: G-Ball (developed in conjunction with NASA) - Oh, come on, we've had 3D sports games, and we've had zero-gravity games, and this one basically makes a big deal about being both.
  • Growing Pains - It's a knockoff of VVVVVV, an 8-bit 2D platformer made up of hard platforming screens.  Is it better than the original?  Don't bet on it.
  • Hippocampal: The White Sofa - Another walking simulation game.  Walk around as a dude in an astronaut suit trying to puzzle why it seems like he's in a game made by 3D modelers screwing around.  I think I know the answer to this mystery.
  • Ibb & obb - "A two player cooperative game set in a puzzle filled world-" whoops, you already lost me.
  • Labyrinthine Dreams - A one-hour-long RPGMaker game with a message "about overcoming scars of the past and following the right path, even in the face of overwhelming challenges."  So basically it's the game developer equivalent of panhandling.
  • A-Train 9 - Wow, they're still making these?  I find it amusing that Metacritic doesn't even have any reviews for A-Train 8.  Anyway, it's about building a railway system in a city, and probably has less overall features than Cities In Motion 2.
  • They Breath -Yeah okay, it's another stylized 2D platformer, I guess you're playing some kind of amphibian in a pond with pixel graphics.  It doesn't look quite interesting enough to be semi-interesting to me.
  • Showtime! - It's a menu-driven game about running a movie studio.  Sorry, it just seems like a major letdown to me after having played The Movies, which wasn't a great game but did this whole idea in gloriously artful 3D as a kind of theme park management game, with built-in machima production capabilities.
  • Cobi Treasure Deluxe - The only treasure here is the potential for a match-3 game to snag casual gamer wallets.

  • Air Control - This is basically another one of those Dadaism games that goes out of its way to be deliberately bad.  Jim Sterling gave this a play (above) and it's clear that they were successful in making this awful.  For the love of God, stop giving people like this your money, the whole profit model of this game is to get a few bucks out of people who just want to see how bad the game is or want to leave a negative Steam review.  What precedent are you setting when you are paying people to tell everyone you shouldn't be paying them?!  Buying this game is paying idiot tax.
  • Numba Deluxe - Another casual puzzle game, nothing to see here unless you're dazzled by floating numbers, in which case you should probably keep as far away from casinos as possible.
  • Gauge - "An experimental and minimalistic sport game."  Let me let you in on a secret: the real experiment is to see how many people are willing to spend money on this.
That's it for this edition of A Jaded Look At Recent Steam Releases.  I'll guess I'll see a few of you in WildStar this weekend.
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