Unknown Pleasures: the best overlooked Steam games of the past week

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Welcome back to Unknown Pleasures, our weekly selection of the best lesser-hyped games on Steam that you’ve almost certainly missed.

This week: walking simulation, horse simulation, hang-gliding simulation, Aztec combat simulation, dog-in-a-dungeon simulation and Portal recreation.

Ostwind/Windstorm

($19.99/£14.99)

Oops, my mistake:

Achingly earnest casual horse-riding/care sim, with horsepower (sorry) provided by the Unreal engine. Apparently it’s based on a series of books and movies I’ve never heard of, but I am reasonably confident in declaring that I am not the target audience. Yeah, all the doe-eyed whimsy and horse fetishisation is fairly grating, but y’know what, this is genuinely quite lovely. The timing-based races and checkpoint tracks I can take or leave, but the free ride mode through luscious countryside is an absolute treat. A cantering simulator, if you will. Delightful if slightly too Disneyfied escapism.

I should warn that the controls are on the odd side – it’s straining to be casual-friendly, with a minimum of dexterity required, but winds up somewhere counter-intuitive as a result. I got used to it after a few minutes of bounding over walls and trotting through poppy fields, however.

Fidel Dungeon Rescue

($8.99/£5.99)

We’ve already newsed this puzzle-roguelite, but I couldn’t resist the temptation to give it a go myself in the hope it would scratch a few Desktop Dungeon itches. The shtick is you’re a dog traipsing around enemy-filled dungeons, though doggishness stops short at the ability to bark in order to change an enemy’s facing (you can only attack them without getting harmed if they have their backs to you). So the real shtick is that you can undo any move by retracing your steps, thus devising a hopefully safer alternative route around the dungeon. However, your route is a physical presence, like Snake, so if you cover too much floorspace as you roam around fighting and coin-collecting, you’ll end up blocking the exit. Cunning! Cute and slick – if I’m honest, maybe a little bit too tough for my tastes, as I’ve felt frustration grow fairly quickly. I reckon I’ll sit with this for a good while if I approach it on a particularly zen day, however.

SolarGun

($0.99/£0.99)

Brazenly Portal-inspired first-person puzzler, but it’s smart and refreshingly short and just about manages to have a spirit of its own. Rather than portals, you can fire some sort of energy from a hand-mounted device, which provides power to doors but is finite in quantity. Opening up one path closes another, so the trick therefore is to devise your route through the level, which invariably requires an exact solution in terms of what power orbs you stick where and when/how to reclaim them in order to open the next door.

The jumping element’s a bit scatty, and I’m not sure that also adopting Portal’s minimalist-industrial aesthetic was the wisest course of action, but it’s solidly enjoyable puzzling and a bargain at £1/$1. It’s also got a darkly neat trick in that, if you die, a grey and disembodied hand hangs on the spot where you met your end. In one level I struggled with, the room wound up so festooned with severed hands that I could barely move through it.

The Hunting God

($3.99/£2.49)

Dwelling in the sort of halfway house between walking simulator and narrative game that we usually associate with games from The Chinese Room, but this time using a magic-realistic great outdoors, inspired by Celtic mythology. Though in the main it’s a pressure-free ramble through very pretty Unreal-rendered surroundings, there are a few puzzlettes and a couple of faintly startlingly fantasy moments. It’s appropriately tranquil in the main though, but with a worthwhile sense of journey to it and a rather pleasant, lilting Irish voiceover.

However, on my PC the controls went haywire and I spent most of the game having to pull left, right, up or down to walk forwards. I can’t find anyone else reporting the same issue, however, so I won’t use that as a black mark against this.

Gods Of The Fallen Land

($4.99/£3.99)

Real-time strategy/action RPG mash-up in which you’re a wee small dude trying to simultaneously clobber monsters while ordering settlers to harvest, build and defend. ‘Frantic’ would be the word here, as the game suddenly tilts from tranquil construction into manic fighting of hordes of icy and zombified foes whenever winter arrives (yup, there’s a mild GOT vibe here, it’s safe to say) on a regular basis. You have simultaneous direct control of your character, who can level up and gain new attacks as well as acquiring single-shot loot, and indirect control of followers, constantly changing their assignation from support to attack.

The interface and controls leave a little to be desired, and the learning curve is steep, but that aside this is an effective balancing act of disparate styles. Not merely trying to survive, but trying to expand while trying to survive. I’m pretty keen on this one. (Oh, btw – this has been around on Itch for a few months already, but made its Steam debut this week).

Leashed Soul

($4.99/£3.99)

Third-person puzzler whose aesthetic puts me in mind of early noughties Ubisoft, back when they were still cheerfully being extremely Gallic rather than chasing the mainstream action wind. A bit like Fidel Dungeon Rescue, the key mechanic is finding a path around a grid-based level that doesn’t involve repeating any former steps, but in this case it’s not an impassable snake-line that dictates this and instead every block you stand on falls away once you leave it.

Very gentle, and perhaps a little plainer than it really needs to be, but solid, captivating (and maths-free) puzzling nonetheless.

Aztez

($19.99/£14.99)

Turn-based, empire-building strategy, but where battles switch into real-time, combo-based, mega-bloody brawling. It’s a bit like a boardgame, but every time you try to invade another player’s tile, you have to stab them. We’ve been intrigued by Aztez for a full half-decade at this point, and while it’s pretty sweet, I’d be hard pushed to say that it’s a game that feels like it’s had significantly more development than many other things here. The black’n’white’n’red artwork’s attractive but does look a little spartan compared to, say, Darkest Dungeon, which also does the hand-drawn, atmospheric 2D kinda thing, but the real tell that this is more than the average bear is the complexity and fluidity of the combat system. This is, if you’ll forgive such an outdated phrase, console-quality fightin’.

I felt fairly alarmed during the tutorial, as it issued combo command after combo command at me, but in practice it’s far more organic, learning what works against which foes and lurching happily out of your comfort zone once you’ve nailed the basics. And, when the fighting’s done, it’s time to nab some cities, play some cards and push back against the dastardly Spanish invasion.

All told, a genre fusion that works very well. This definitely would have been raved about the world over a few years ago, but I worry about it getting lost in the noise now.

Firewood

(£4.99/£3.99)

A 2D adventure game with psychological horror overtones (and perhaps just a touch of the Silent Hills), hailing from, I believe, Turkey. The English translation is a little messy (brace yourself for a near-total absence of apostrophes) but in a way this adds to the unsettling tone, including flashbacks, sinister government agents and menacing visions that may or may not be real. Memory and regret are major factors too.

There’s real atmosphere here, with the simple artwork just about landing on the side of haunting rather than plain.

Deltaplan Simulator

($4.99/£3.99)

Definitely should be called ‘Hanglider Simulator’ instead, because that’s exactly what this is: a recreation of one specific thing, that being the art of flying through the air through wind-power alone. Extremely simple controls – movement is all you get – belie the difficulty here, as you catch draughts to accelerate and turn against the wind to decelerate. The challenge, if you choose, of each of the six extremely beautiful levels is to fly through a series of 50 hoops (in an order of your choosing), and to start with this is going to involve regularly slamming face-first into mountainsides.

Really though, the challenge element is incidental: this is about solitary, near-silent flight across impressively vast and detailed scenery. A dream of absolute freedom, so long as you don’t stray too close to the ground. Sure, it’s a little barebones, but if that’s the result of all energies being put into making the scenery so huge and spectacular, I don’t begrudge it that one bit.

And Pick Of The Week this time around is… I’m going to give a joint going to Aztez and Gods Of The Fallen Land. Both do a jolly good job of making well-worn genres collide, and I want to keep playing both of them equally and urgently.

27 Comments

  1. Hatman says:

    I’ve been following Aztez for years and totally missed its release. Would be such a shame for it to get lost now, any chance of you folks giving it a proper writeup?

  2. Premium User Badge

    Captain Narol says:

    “The hunting God” just looks otherworldly beautiful, I added it to my wish list.

  3. Kitsunin says:

    Speaking of unhyped games on Steam, The Letter very nearly slipped past my front page. You can usually get a pretty good feel for whether a story will be good from near the beginning and, if that holds true here, I’m excited. Great visual novels are few and far between.

    Just realized it’s not from this week…odd, I only noticed it because it was listed as a new release today.

    • Zallgrin says:

      Yeah, I had bought Letter too recently (mostly persuaded by the universally positive reviews) and was very nicely impressed! I enjoy greatly the voice acting and the game has a very pleasant feeling to it. I am not very far into it, but it looks so far like a great find

      • The Gear says:

        I picked up The Letter just based on it being mentioned in this comment thread, and I’m really surprised a bigger deal isn’t being made out of it! It’s got some of the best art and voice acting I’ve ever seen in a PC-only VN, is massive (at over 700k words, apparently), and yet this is the first time I’ve heard about it.

        The only real point I have against it so far is a consistent misuse of tense, namely using the present tense where the past should be used waaay too often to be a simple typo here and there. It’s a shame, because it’s the only point against what is so far an otherwise fantastic experience, with so much care clearly having gone into it, and I’m not sure why it hasn’t been mentioned in any mainstream gaming press.

        The devs are also active on the Steam forums for the game, actively fixing the game up as bugs are reported. If anyone is interested to any extent in horror VNs, I absolutely recommend checking it out!

        • Kitsunin says:

          Yes, I have definitely noticed the tense errors fairly frequently. That aside, it’s excellently written and voice acted, and MY FREAKING GOD is it ambitious. How the hell can a story this long and even voice acted still have damn near every scene be one of two or three that could be occurring at that point in the story, with even more variations based on prior choices within them.

          If I could make anyone else learn of its existence I’m very happy. I can hardly believe what a brilliantly told and well-produced story this is to have discovered by complete chance.

  4. KDR_11k says:

    Gods of the Fallen Land is totally Pikmin/Little King’s Story!

  5. xeon06 says:

    What’s the game with the desk and curtains in the first picture in the article banner? Tried to look through the games in the article but didn’t see any that matched the style…

  6. Premium User Badge

    heretic says:

    Gods of the Fallen Land looks good – I was tempted by the Sniper Elite sale but feels it’s overpriced still :/ will wait and get this instead.

  7. Tony Heugh says:

    I’m so glad you do this feature. Browsing steam is like reading a menu in a hurricane.

  8. PC Gamer Girl says:

    I REAAAAAAAAALLY want to play The Hunting God. Thinking I may pick that up next week sometime. :)

  9. Tim James says:

    It’s a sad shame to see Aztez dumped here with a truckload of random novelties. Indie games are truly a hopeless space, but we’ve known about that for years now.

    • ChatterLumps says:

      I get the exact opposite impression. If there’s anything this column has proven, it’s that indies are far from hopeless and that there’s something exciting happening every week.

      • LessThanNothing says:

        There were so many people on the edge of their seats waiting for a great horse sim game!

        The OP post is completely correct. I’m sure there were 30 other trash games that made it to Steam – at least try to cover the good ones.

        • ChatterLumps says:

          Maybe try to understand that a game that doesn’t personally interest you is not disqualified from being exciting to someone else.

          (Horse games have been around forever, and are not a good example of stagnation in the indie market.)

  10. Bluefox says:

    I would also like to point out that Saurian entered Early Access this week. It’s a game where you play as a (feathered) dinosaur.

    I’m not exactly sure what time period it’s supposed to be in (a T-Rex in the same place as a Triceratops?), but it’s neat to wander around as a dinosaur for a bit.

    • oyog says:

      Oh cool! I remember when this game was looking for Kickstarter backing. They advertised it as heavily based on real science so it makes sense that triceratops and tyrannosaurus would show up together since they both date back to the late cretaceous and fossils for both have been found in Colorado.

      I was tempted to back but I’m so often skeptical of games on Kickstarter. I’ll almost definitely buy this if it’s a quality product when it gets out of EA.

  11. sergiocornaga says:

    While still probably being lesser-known, Fidel Dungeon Rescue actually showed up on the popular new releases list on the front page, unlike Maggie’s Apartment, another game released this week that I’m all too keen to hype. Play it if you like oddball point-and-click adventures!

  12. Krag says:

    Deltaplan and Hang-glider are the same thing.

  13. Zeewolf says:

    Deltaplan Simulator is apparently just Hang Glider Demo for Unreal 4, but without the trees…

    Just someone trying to grab a quick buck from other people’s work, it seems.

  14. Premium User Badge

    MajorLag says:

    Fidel was overlooked? That’s a shame. Also surprising to me since, in my circles, it received quite a lot of attention.

    I can heartily recommend it. It’s a solid mashup of puzzle and dungeon crawler and while challenging, it isn’t as hard as, say, FTL. There is time pressure in the form of a ghost that will kill you if you take too long in a level, and I hated that at first, but within a couple dozen plays I was completing levels efficiently enough to not notice it.

  15. Premium User Badge

    alison says:

    Without watching the video and just reading the description i thought The Hunting God sounded like a Tonguç Bodur game and – lo – so it is. His first game was Drizzlepath and every few months he drops another one. They are shameless walking sims – very short, very pretty, very linear and a little pretentious. I highly recommend them all.

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