Welcome back to Unknown Pleasures, our weekly digest of our favourite new games released on Steam over the past few days that we’ve not already covered in detail.
This week: roguelite flight sims, The Thing as survival-strategy game, tank racing and cowboy commandos.
Other than the fact it very obviously should have been called ‘Don’t Freeze’, this Antarctic-set survival game does a decent job of channeling the thing via Don’t Starve-ish mechanics. You control two or three parka-clad explorers rather than a lone survivor, attempting to find fuel, food and medical supplies as you find your way into various locked buildings during an eternal snowstorm. And, yes, there’s something else out there with you.
It gets a bit carried away with the whole survival thing, such as people rapidly bleeding to death as a result of cutting themselves while opening a box, or developing instant colourblindness or gluttony if they get too hungry, and it suffers from what seems to be the ur-Unknown Pleasures failing, a dodgy English translation. Neither of these lay it too low though: this is a neat and tense survive ’em up in which the pervasive threat of cold is terrifying enough, even before things go Full Carpenter…
Action-puzzler using Defender-style spaceship physics. Intertia is your key enemy as you try to steer a neon craft around a trap-filled maze – colliding with anything means restarting the (short) level, which becomes a far taller order than it sounds once the likes of moving saw blades enter the fray. The blades themselves can be dodged without too much effort, but stopping yourself from colliding with the wall as you speed by ’em is another matter.
Short, simple, deft and the point – a challenge of patience and observation.
Look up ‘cheap and cheerful’ in your non-existant thesaurus of phrases and you won’t find Survival Driver 2 there, but in a just world you should. It’s rickety in many ways, from the straight-outta-Dreamweaver menu buttons to the over-twitchy mouse controls, but at the same time it does a stand-up job of realising a single, silly concept. That concept is ‘military vehicles on obstacle courses.’ A tank that has to navigate around cramped, mazelike tracks, an APC that has to create APC-sized holes in hoardings with its machine guns and a helicopter flight section that, er, seemed to be broken, but nonetheless features full flight controls. Other vehicles too, and whatever you pick, you’re in a strict race against time, trying to reach the finish line with a vehicle that absolutely was not made for racing.
Survival Driver 2’s this bizarre mix of stony-faced simulation and whooping madness, and, especially at under a dollar, it’s a far better time than anything about it might seem to suggest.
($9.99/£6.99, Early access)
A little bit more hit and miss than an Unknown Pleasure would ideally have, but I’m liking it enough despite how poorly it explains itself to include it here. Essentially, it’s Civilization as a micromanagement-free strategy game in which you pick from a randomly-offered selection of technology cards each turn. You’re trying to balance Earth’s population size and health with how ethically they live, how much war there is, a hippyish concept of keeping the elements in balance and, er, whether or not there are too many murderous aliens on the planets.
It’s an odd grab-bag of concepts distilled into a single-mechanic game, but once sense begins to shine through the storm of numbers it’s extremely compulsive – managing to stick to a certain course, even as in-game events devastate your population or see humanity invaded by angry wildlife, has big pay offs. It’s a bit numberwang and its cards come with little context outside of a title, but this is early access, so there’s every chance it could make itself clearer further down the line.
Block-pushing puzzle, one of those where you need to shove ’em around in a very specific order otherwise one’ll get stuck against a wall and you have to restart the level. Sue me – even though I’ve played various takes on that exact concept many times before, I dig this one because of a) the faux-CRT screen distortion effect and b) the soundtrack that forever sounds as though it’s just about to break out into Marilyn Manson’s cover of Sweet Dreams.
Moreover, it’s no foregone conclusion that someone tackling this familiar type of puzzler can make the puzzles work, i.e. be logical and fluid rather than frustrating or too easy, and this, in its early levels at least, gets it right. I feel awful for saying this, but it should probably be 99c – not because I believe in the idea of games being only ‘worth’ specific amounts, but just in terms of the huge amount of competition it faces that does opt for that kind of price.
Not a pleasant theme, and presented in a detached middle-ground between straight-faced and comic, but it’s essentially an accounting game framed as a black market weapon sales game. You take on an order from various evildoers for specific guns, then toddle off to acquire said weapons from sinister wholesalers. You can attempt to barter the price down, or you can bring thugs with you and attempt to gun down the other party and make off with the weapons for free – which, naturally, might go horribly wrong.
Meantime, spending any profits on conspicuous wealth enables you to level up and thus gain access to better (i.e. worse) gun deals and better protection in meets. It’s a simple but compulsive finance simulation that lands on the side of the angels in terms of intrigue and risk-management, even if it’s in devil territory when it comes to the themes it’s toying with.
Commandos-esque real-time tactics game set on the old frontier, in which you’re the head of a big-hatted outlaw gang, setting out to take out rival posses, rescue fellow cowfolk, raid banks and ambush lawmen in simple but tense shootouts. There’s a spot of stealth in there, a little bit of team management, the option to ‘secure’ a building so you can hole up in it for your high noon showdown and some very lovely art (outside of the bland, Prison Architectural character models).
I don’t entirely love the controls and interface, but it’s a nice blend of the frantic and the tactical, with a theme I forever find irresistible.
Side-scrolling shmup with some sweet cel-shaded art and a nice line in really gigantic-feeling spaceships in the background, in a way that reminds me faintly of the Red Dwarf intro credits. It’s fairly straightforward, being unashamedly a C64-inspired shmup rather than a wild and weird J-shmup-inspired piece, but that means it can get on with cranking up the difficulty and being a pure test of skill rather than bamboozling you with mechanics.
Speaking as someone who only has occasional relationships with shmups and as such isn’t particularly motivated by difficulty, I did find it perhaps a little samey level-to-level, but it’s tight and I do love the model spaceship-like look.
We posted about this proc-gen, permadeath combat flight sim way back in 2014, but it’s just stepped out of the early access shadows. Looking a bit like a more detailed Starfox but starring what look a little like Decepticon jets and with far more open skies and a weapon choice system, this is a stressful but satisfying solid good time. The Dreamcasty look is lovely, and the randomly generated levels and objectives spare it from being a grind through the same missions every time.
Enemy counts are high and unforgiving, so it’s not as accessible as the screens might suggest – a bit of flight simmer in your blood will help a lot here.
Pick of the week is… let’s go with Distrust. It’s a bit ridiculous in some ways, but anything Thing is alright by me, and its themes are so very well-suited to a survival-strategy game.