Unknown Pleasures: our favourite new Steam games

best-new-steam-games-sep-17

Welcome back to Unknown Pleasures, our weekly round-up of the best overlooked new releases on Steam.

This week: choose your own trousers, Devil Daggers on a motorbike, forgotten rally classics and No Meow’s Sky.

Quick housekeeping note: this actually started last week, though John and Adam had the reigns then as I was doing things on trains, but we’re going to restrict Unknown Pleasures to 5 games from now on. Some weeks there are many more gems, other weeks it can be a bit of a battle, and I just don’t want to fall into the habit of including stuff I don’t quite believe in, purely to make up numbers. In other words: we’re closer to creme de la creme now.

Super Fancy Pants Adventure

($9.99/£6.99)

A latter-day follow-up to a fondly-remembered back-in-the-day Flash game, as was also the case for the recent and joyous West Of Loathing. Fancy Pants Adventure was and is a stick man plaformer with positively delightful animations and physics, and this new standalone version amps up the presentation and especially the scale while retaining that core essence. It’s a treat just to make your character move, and to see scratchy enemies cross the sometimes dizzyingly wide land. Stuff like the only graphics option being to change the colour of your trousers is icing on the cake. That aside, I wouldn’t argue it had anything like the wit or personality of fellow stickperson odyssey Loathing – but again this is about movement, not jokes or stories. Very lovely.

SWARMRIDER OMEGA

($0.99/£0.79)

Bestest name and, it turns out, bestest game (for this week, anyway. Er, spoiler there, sorry.) It’s billed as an endless runner crossed with a shmup and sure, it’s that, but here’s a better one: DEVIL DAGGERS ON A MOTORBIKE.

Except it’s much more shmuppy and nothing like as hard, if I’m honest, but the spirit’s there. Alice, our resident Daggers doyenne badass motherfucker, complains that she lasted 150 seconds on her first go, and really it should be more like 15. Well, I got 50, so maybe I should stick to XCOM. But I really do dig this: partly because it’s FAST and LOUD with a soundtrack that sounds like ENGINES and partly because it’s got a single great twist on the usual survival wave shooter formula: you are being pursued throughout, a horde of cyber-things on your tail as you cruise down an infinite highway, ripped into dark clouds of smoke as you auto-laser ’em to death, your shock of neon hair unruffled throughout.

51p (it’s currently on sale) extremely well spent, say I.

Unbalance

($0.99/£0.79)

This week’s Minimalist Puzzle Game Of The Week in this, the third week of September 2017, is this stately, physicsy affair. It’s all about using weight to create momentum – specifically, set a ball rolling along one facet of the various abstract shapes each level presents you with in the hope that its force causes the whole construct to spin, thus depositing another ball held within it into a ‘goal’.

Or, at least, that’s the theory. Solutions exist in the hazy space between intuitive guesswork and absolute precision, and what that means is practice is a real sense of wonder when something you didn’t expect to work works. ‘How can I possibly do this?”, I thought often, swiftly followed by “well, whaddayaknow?” Peaceful, simple and clever and made by someone with the kind of mind I most definitely do not possess myself.

Morphite

($14.99/£10.99)

Can I call this No Meow’s Sky? It is, after all, an exploration/combat/trading game set in a galaxy made up of primarily procgen worlds (though it has pre-generated storyline ones too), and you’re accompanied by a chatty feline AI at all times. It’s definitely ploughing a similar furrow to NMS, but it’s a whole lot more – in a positive sense – casual. Look around, scan and shoot some things, bit of mild platforming and resource-gathering and ship/character upgrading, but it’s never intensive and is, altogether, rather sweet in nature. The acting’s a little bit cloying, but tolerable, and the low-poly, almost spectral art style lends its planets a pleasant sense of wonder.

This is exactly the sort of well-done, heartfelt game which clearly involved an awful lot of work but which very sadly gets overlooked in this age of constant new releases.

Screamer 2

($9.99/£6.99)

Forgive me a little self-indulgence here, but seeing this pop up on the Steam news feed was a total…

…moment for me. Screamer 2, the Virgin-published 1996 rally title from still-active Italian studio Milestone, was the first and only racing game I ever truly loved. This was my Forza, my Gran Turismo, my Project Cars, my, for a few weeks in 1997, everything. Not too easy and not too hard, it was and, it transpires, is my absolute sweet spot for racing games: it’s plausible that I can do well, but I do need to fight for it. I’ve remembered the ‘England’ circuit, all country lanes, hedgerows, castles and millstones, very fondly for decades, and I’m surprised and delighted to discover that its depiction software-rendered Super VGA-res 3D still holds up remarkably well even now. It’s like Everybody’s Gone To The Rapture: The Racing Game.

What I’m saying is that this is still a cracking wee racer, even twenty years on. I didn’t in all honesty expect that to be the case, but by Jove it is. This re-release will never gain any traction, of course (that it’s been available on GOG for a while longer doesn’t help), but if you want an accessible yet still credible rally game, Screamer 2’s still got it where it counts.

This week’s pick of the week is… well, I already told you. Weren’t you listening? It’s SWARMRIDER OMEGA. Though I almost chose Screamer 2 on principle.

44 Comments

  1. FurryLippedSquid says:

    The Screamer games were amazing. The first was the point for me where arcade games truly came into the home, it was so close to things like Sega Rally and Daytona as to be almost indistinguishable.

    I had it running on a DX90 CPU (I think) with a wheel and pedals. Thanks for the store card, Dixons.

  2. Demiath says:

    My relationship with Screamer 2 is pretty much exactly the same as the one described in this article. The England circuit (from the demo) was etched into my brain in 1996-1997 and no other driving game has ever come close to the same level of enjoyment…

  3. mepto says:

    Obligatory reminder that other stores for games do exist and that always exclusively mentioning steam, the inventor and popularizer of online DRM and quasi-monopolist getting a 30% cut of the whole market, does no good to any of us.

    How about more articles about games on GoG, itchio, gamejolt? Or literally anything that doesn’t involve the s-word.

    • SebfromMTL says:

      And what about Origin, Windows Store and Uplay amirite?

      Honestly they just go with what is probably the most popular platform that people use to buy games.

    • Premium User Badge

      Drib says:

      “does no good to any of us.”

      It’s good for those of us not up our own asses about imagined monopolies and fairly common publisher/storefront cuts. You can’t say there’s lots of other stores and then claim this one has a monopoly. Every games seller takes a cut of the sales, that’s how they make money and stay in business.

      This highlights interesting new releases on the current largest digital storefront. That’s the point of it. Don’t be dumb.

      • mepto says:

        @Drib
        They’re a quasi-monopoly on most AAA games, 95% of indie games and every time you hear of a new game, it’s always “now on steam”. I’d call it quite close. Just because something isn’t the only option to get EVERYthing from doesn’t negate its monopolistic situation.

        Also, what about itch.io? I have nothing against paying people (well) to maintain a business; I’m opposed to paying a company 30% off every game I buy. I does not take billions to maintain the “service” steam does, most of it is profit that computers and developers generate FOR them.

        It’s also paying 30% to the people responsible for industry-wide online DRM and our community favorite, always-online DRM – just one step above steamworx.

    • Edgewise says:

      Please don’t listen to this guy. Like most PC gamers on the planet, I use Steam almost exclusively. I don’t care what’s on those other platforms. I very much enjoy a good videogametron, but I have other interests and don’t give a shit about how evil Valve supposedly is (it isn’t).

      • Viroso says:

        I think mepto’s argument is valid even if the delivery was heavy handed. Games similar to SWARMDRIVER OMEGA and Screamer 2 can be found at itch.io and GOG.

        Unknown Pleasures shows us new interesting games, they don’t have to be Steam games. I imagine scanning Steam only makes it easier for the author, but the release volume in other stores is a fraction of what’s on Steam, so it isn’t much work.

        By opening up to more stores this article isn’t creating a quota system. There could very well be week after week with Steam games only. No pressure to include other stores. It just means we, the readers, may see even more interesting games.

        Games from platforms that can be extremely easy to use and buy from (like itch.io and GOG, bonus for no DRM on them).

        To wrap things up, I just want to thank RPS again for this weekly column. I think I’ve never actually bought a game featured here (yet), but it’s one of the RPS features I always come back to.

        • Pink Gregory says:

          A 30% cut sounds quite reasonable for a leading digital distribution platform.

      • mepto says:

        @Edgewise
        “I don’t care” That’s right. You don’t care. Not that valve has a quasi-monopoly, at least on anything bigger or AAA-level, you probably don’t care that they got into business by forcing buyers of retail versions to use their online DRM, you don’t care that they make billions off of…well, hosting other people’s content, which hardly takes billions to do…you want your one comfortable store and you don’t care about the monopoly you maintain in the process.

        • spamdangled says:

          When you lecture people with such a patronizing, finger-wagging tone, you’re never going to achieve anything except rubbing people the wrong way.

        • Sarfrin says:

          “Quasi” monopoly as in not a monopoly? It may be that a lot of people don’t look further than Steam for games, or buy them there for convenience, but as far as I know they’re not actively preventing games being sold in other stores.

          • upupup says:

            Valve’s approach isn’t to make a general statement to publishers that they can only release their games on Steam and nowhere else, but to throw up ‘soft’ barriers that make games on Steam the ‘best’ version of that game. Development tools like Steamworks and Steam Workshop make it so that developers can more easily release their content on Steam without needing to create systems, such as for multiplayer matchmaking, by themselves, but also locks that content into Steam and makes it so that non-Steam versions are either inferior products that lack these features or require the developer to put in the time and effort to create an alternative. This is especially effective in tying down the multiplayer and increasingly the modding scenes of games to Steam. Examples of this are how Itch.io and Humble Bundle don’t even bother with alternatives and simple re-sell Steam keys when it comes to multiplayer, while GoG had to pursue crossplay with Steam through their own client, which indirectly reinforces Steam’s position by making GoG dependent on Steam for players.

            All of this is aimed at making and keeping Steam as the heart of PC gaming by making Steam-versions the most complete and playable versions of that game, which is not good for consumers as it severely reduces their options when Steam already has little respect for consumer rights and also stifles competition. When people talk about Steam having a monopoly they mean it in the sense that Windows has a monopoly (or used to have to a greater degree), where it’s become nearly synonymous in a lot of people’s minds with the platform (Windows and PCs, Steam and PC gaming) and where the alternatives aren’t real competition able to threaten their position.

            To put it in retail terms, it’s like a product was made by a particular company and sold at several stores within the same price-range, yet only if you bought it at the Big Mega Store would it work as advertised and it would also somehow not be compatible with any of ones sold at other stores (couldn’t exchange parts, use together, etc), even though supposedly being the exact same product.

    • Leafy Twigs says:

      I’d back you up on this. Just to go a step further, I would suggest a weekly column on the new weirdness at itch.io specifically. I’m sure there’s some rough diamonds we’re all missing in the flood over there.

      • upupup says:

        Preferably, I’d like to see them apply it to PC games that are available in general. There’s a lot of smaller stores with interesting games that people have never even heard of because they don’t get reported on.

        • Premium User Badge

          alison says:

          RPS had a column very similar to that called Freeloaders. I read it every week, but never downloaded any of the games because none of them were on Steam. Now the column is gone, but interesting games not available on Steam continue to be mentioned on RPS all the time. So… i don’t see the big deal. It’s not like having a column about games available on Steam means no other games get covered.

          • April March says:

            I find that incredinly weird. Other than the little pop-up asking you to tip some money to the creator, downloading a game on itch.io is just downloading an .exe and running it. (Specifically with regards to Freeloaders, which were always free games.) Do you really think that downloading a file on the internet is harder or less convenient than downloading a game on Steam? I imagine that if you needed non-gaming software and I directed you to something that wasn’t on Steam you would download it without issue; it boggles my mind that you wouldn’t do so if it was a game just because Steam exists.

          • Premium User Badge

            alison says:

            I have explained this many times before on RPS. Steam has in-home streaming. None of its competitors do this anywhere near as cleanly. On Steam i could buy a game on my phone, download it to my Alienware Alpha and play it on my tablet. The process was seamless. Now i am overseas and only have a tablet, so i guess i could play itch.io games, if they ran on low enough spec. But now i don’t really have the time to play games, period.

            But my reasons for choosing to use Steam over downloading random installers from whatever store on the internet is beside the point. The point is people will choose to play games however they want to play games. RPS reports on many different games available on many different storefronts and that is just fine. Most of us read RPS because their writing is good, not because we are going to download or buy every game they report on. I would hope most people also don’t make a decision NOT to read RPS just because they happen to report on a game that they can’t or won’t ever play. This whole thread is stupid.

    • GeoX says:

      On the one hand, I do kind of understand the anti-steam sentiment. On the other…well, the idea that I am required to inconvenience myself by using multiple online storefronts for ideological reasons is a bit of a hard sell, I’m afraid.

      • mepto says:

        @geoX
        How do you feel about walmart or amazon? Giant companies dictating how cheap some product has to be, how little the actual producers of it get from the profit, monopolizing some whole cities’ basic food supply? If you only buy your games from one place, you’d have to be ok with one store chain, one car manufacturer, one insurance provider, one newspaper, one television corporation, one ISP; ultimately, one world government (hey, other money, int. relations and having to get a passport is “inconvenient”). And trust me, you don’t want that. This is basic competition from different business. Valve currently dominate the HUGE global pc gaming market; why would you want every dev to have to go through them? For a 30% cut when a good portion of that just is pure profit that’s taken from people doing the actual game-making?

        • GeoX says:

          If you only buy your games from one place, you’d have to be ok with one store chain, one car manufacturer, one insurance provider, one newspaper, one television corporation, one ISP; ultimately, one world government

          Seriously, dude? Nope. None of this remotely follows, and now you’re just making yourself look crazy and undermining whatever argument you might’ve had.

          EDIT: Seriously, I’m actually a little in awe of how deranged this argument is. Well done.

          • upupup says:

            It’s not that hard to follow though? It’s exaggeration to make a point, but the idea is to question if you would be alright with other products practically only being sold by a singular storefront as well. The inconvenience of it is only like that right now because the storefronts themselves have a vested interest in keeping it that way – keeping every storefront as its only little world.

          • GeoX says:

            I mean, I agree that there are issues here worth thinking about. But when the argument goes YOU DON’T BUY GAMES FROM ENOUGH STORES THEREFORE YOU WANT A ONE-WORLD GOVERNMENT, you have gone well and truly off the rails.

          • April March says:

            OK, how about this: if you’re OK with buying games with a single store because it’s convenient, you’d also be OK with a one-world governemnt because it’d also be convenient. Does that make more sense to you? Because I’m not seeing the craziness you’re seeing; it’s a stretch, sure, but it’s ultimately the same thing on a different scope.

          • GeoX says:

            Er…no, claiming that doing something because it’s convenient means you must want a one-world government because in some obscure, unspecified way that’s also “convenient” doesn’t actually sound any less nuts.

            Seriously, people, it’s not that I don’t think these issues aren’t worth thinking about; it’s just that when you persist in twisting them in completely insane directions and spewing logical fallacies all over the place you really, really have no one to blame but yourself when you’re not taken seriously.

        • Premium User Badge

          Phasma Felis says:

          You’re equating video games with basic food supply.

          As far as I can tell, your actual main argument is “a 30% cut is too much.” Okay, I can get behind that, it does seem a little greedy given the scale of their operation. But I don’t hear devs complaining much, even angry burned-out ex-devs, so you can’t really claim that they’re not giving value for money.

          And, BTW, GoG also takes 30%. I learned that in half a minute of googling. You didn’t do basic research before getting angry, which suggests that your argument is based in emotion rather than facts.

          • mepto says:

            @Phasma Felis
            No, it’s not that GoG takes that amount, it’s that they ALSO that amount, probably because they can get away with it because steam legitimized it. Again, GoG didn’t start online DRM and become popular through forcing it onto people.

            Funny how people get so riled up over criticism of steam that they take the first argument they can to defend them, in this case whataboutism.

        • MacTheGeek says:

          Wait, you mean that if I want to see a unified planetary government, I have to eliminate my GOG account, my Origin account, my Uplay account, my Amazon account, and my Humble account? Well, shit. I guess I screwed up.

          Sorry, United Earth Government of the Federation, you guys don’t get to exist now. Damn that temporal cold war, forcing me to choose the wrong timeline by creating choices!

    • falcon2001 says:

      Chiming in with the rest to say almost every single one of your arguments are badly reasoned and explained. Steam’s massive but it’s not like there aren’t competitors or alternatives for titles that aren’t made by Valve.

    • emptyhalls says:

      Seconded. There was a good article about steam’s general awfulness on polygon a few months ago, for those who aren’t convinced: Clicky clicky

    • April March says:

      I’m the guy that always complains about Steam and… I disagree completely. This column has been, from its inception, about cool games in Steam’s new releases. I’d like to see a similar thing about games in general, or about itch.io in particular (since new games on other platforms are likely to be on Steam as well or be well-publicized). But that wouldn’t be what this column is. Both things can coexist, as long as RPS remembers to link to games in other stores when they review them (which they’ve tended to do quite consistently as of late).

  4. Otterley says:

    Wow, Morphite looks amazing O_O

  5. and its man says:

    I’m a bit sad The Nose hasn’t been mentioned in this week’s Unknown Pleasures. Listen to that guitar.

    • April March says:

      Looks very up my alley, but if the game’s English translation on par with the trailer’s it’ll be nigh unplayable.

      • and its man says:

        You might be right. Some people are complaining about its translation. Anyway, it’s already in my bag, I’ll see.

  6. racccoon says:

    My best steam is game is leaving the dam thing off! .. lol

  7. Merry says:

    “we’re going to restrict Unknown Pleasures to 5 games from now on… I just don’t want to fall into the habit of including stuff I don’t quite believe in, purely to make up numbers”

    That doesn’t do much to relieve the problem. There will still be weeks where there aren’t even five games to “believe in”, while there will also be times when there are many more worthy games than that.

    Surely the solution is rather to write about as many games as you feel are genuinely promising and have the time to assess? Graham’s Sunday Papers has worked well for years on that basis.

    • April March says:

      Agreed. Just put as much games are you think deserve it. If one day gives us twenty games and other gives us three… well, it must be November.

  8. trjp says:

    Screamer 2 was a real classic – it was better than Sega Rally at a time when Sega Rally was the absolute driving game benchmark.

    I’d not play it now tho simply because it won’t be that anymore – I played early VRally games to death in-the-(later)-day recently and they were AWFUL – we complain about controls on some newer games but holy-moly were older driving games almost IMPOSSIBLE to control at times ;0

  9. baristan says:

    A new Zach-like game, Silicon Zeroes was released this week.
    If you like Shenzhen I/O you should give it a try.
    Demo is available on steam.

    • twaitsfan says:

      “Zach, do you remember that game Shenzhen I/O we played together? That was a zinger, wasn’t it? Wait, hold on, I need to pick up the pot lady. It’s getting cold again.”

    • poliovaccine says:

      I wouldnt say I *like* Shenzhen I/O, but it makes me feel proud when I progress in any way haha.

  10. poliovaccine says:

    So I didnt realize the videos were at the bottom of each blurb, not the top, and because of that I was reading the description for Morphite, this spacefaring procgen exploration combat trading game, and watching the video for Unbalance alongside it. I’m seeing these 2D patterns spinning lazily to maneuever little balls and I’m thinking, “Just how abstractly did they mean all that stuff to be? Were they being sarcastic..? Or were they just high on stimulants and extrapolating wayyy too much meaning from these little shapes and balls that’s just not there..? Or am I just being super dense and not seeing how this is somehow obviously a spacefaring exploration/trading game..??” Then the title came up and I realized my mistake, but I spent the whole video on that trip haha. Juust thought I’d share, cus what is the sound of one man embarrassing himself if there’s no one there to see it??