Unknown Pleasures: our favourite new Steam releases


Welcome back to Unknown Pleasures, our weekly round-up of the most excellent hidden gems we dug up from the past week of new releases on Steam.

This week: botany simulation, electro-tanks, skeletal Wolverine and automatic Starship Troopers.

The Red Front


File under ‘games I feel kinda guilty about including here’ because, y’know, it’s about as smart as a Twitter execs’ boardmeeting. I can’t help but like The Red Front nonetheless. It’s a twin stick shooter of sorts, in which you play as a Russian tank, trying to survive against waves of Axis soldiers, armoured cars, tanks and what not. Some of ’em will drop weapon upgrades, and before long you have yourself a tank firing deathclouds and electric rays and all sorts. That’s it: that’s literally it. But it involves unblinking top-down carnage, has pleasantly ponderous tank movement, you can get stuck in trees and it finds a fairly sweet spot between raining hell and having to constantly manoeuvre your way out of trouble.

Very, very stupid, but the Russian marching band music helps a lot.

The Botanist


A lovely concept (one we posted about back in its Greenlight days) that’s both a very pleasant timesink and a slightly missed opportunity. You, in your apartment, don the mantle of a botanist – growing and cataloguing an effectively infinite array of new plants, procedurally-generated when you type in a name of your choice – ‘New Coke’, ‘Dale Cooper’, ‘Megatron’ or whatever. You can obtain upgrades – fancier pots and more space and the like – by meeting plant enthusiasts’ requests, e.g. by growing a purple flower or an orange grass – and these low-pressure, chummy challenges create a suitably gentle sense of compulsion. The highlight is always finding out what kind of plant you’re going to get from a new seed, although I think The Botanist’s biggest mistake is to have seeds grow instantly into full-size flora. Even having to wait just one in-game day would create a stronger sense of anticipation.

The weird interface, all from a first person perspective but with you fixed in place throughout, is a bit of a shame too – how much nicer it would be to physically wander over to a plant to gaze at it, rather than simply click on it and have it magically teleported across the room to you. Still, tranquil, pleasant and filled with tiny moments of joy.

Alien Hallway 2


It’s bit of a week for stupid, and ain’t nothing wrong with that. This is the sequel to a very stupid top-down shooter-cum-inverse tower defence jobbie from seven years ago (I am so old), which is essentially Starship Troopers – i.e. a few good men and women versus squillions and squillions of insectoid aliens. Your dudes auto-fire in the main, but you can direct them to focus on specific targets, such as gigantic bosses or exploding cannisters full of resources off to the side of the screen.

The key ‘strategy’ if you can call it that, is spending said resources on reinforcements, which is where the inverse tower defence element comes in – hoping your lads survive long enough for you to afford new chums for them to fight with. Yeah, it’s a hamster wheel of unlocks and loot-gathering, but the scale of the enemy swarms it chucks you is a bit of a treat, and it’s very, very difficult to stop watching ’em pop.

After Death


Pretty solid-seeming Metroidvania, with some lovely gothic 2D art and a particularly agreeable Vangelis-y soundtrack. As is always the case with an Unknown Pleasure, I’ve only played a bit of it so can’t attest for how well it holds together as levels sprawl further, powers grow and bosses get all bossy, but certainly it feels like one I’d like to stick with. The audio-visual aesthetic’s great, and it’s dark’n’demony without getting all Deviant Art about it.

Also, you basically play as Skeletal Wolverine.



This week, our weekly Minimalist Puzzle Game Of The Week in this, the week of October 6, 40th week of the 52 weeks of the year, is… well, it fits the mould with worrying precision. Skeletal piano soundtrack, monochrome art, and interactions that don’t go beyond rotating things. But it’s tranquil and pretty and has its own take on a broadly familiar theme, which is Pipemania-style parts-rotation to get a ball from one end to another. The twist here is that, as well as the pipe-pieces themselves, you can also rotate the whole construction at once, in order to make gravity do its thing and usher your ball to the exit. So it’s all about figuring out twin combinations – starts easy, grows more challenging, but pretty much stays relaxing. Most pleasant.

Pick of the week iiiiiiiissssss: well, with the very strong proviso that I’ve only seen a bit of it, I’m going to go for After Death. I just really dig its vibe, man.


  1. duns4t says:

    Soviet =/= Russian. I’ve noticed you make that mistake fairly often Alec.

    • cniinc says:

      I imagine ‘all soviets are russians, but not all soviets are russians’ is what you mean right? If that’s the case I don’t feel like this description is particularly wrong for a soviet-era game.

      • Kollega says:

        Not all Soviets were Russians, because the USSR had something like 100 ethnicities in it, and not all Russians were Soviets, because even during the Soviet times there were people like the Russian diaspora abroad – many of them Tsarist emigrants. So the two are not synonymous – though there clearly was a Venn diagram-style overlap.

        And for added extra fun, even in the Soviet Union not all people were Communists :P

        • Landiss says:

          Are you suggesting not all UK people want Brexit? And that in general any group of people is never homogeneous in every aspect? Heresy.

          • Phantom_Renegade says:

            Excepting of course that while being called a brexiteer is mildly annoying, being called soviet is incredibly insulting.

          • Kollega says:

            I do believe that, once again, depends – on whether you’re a Russian imperialist who just wants “national glory”, the cost and consequences be damned, some stripe of leftist who feels that there really was something “worth it” in the USSR but keeps in mind its numerous flaws and failings, or one of the many, many people trampled over by the Soviet ideology and especially Comrade Stalin >_<

            Still though, what's entirely true is that Brexit doesn't really compare. I'm not even sure what I could compare this comparison to without it being overly crass… :P

          • frogulox says:

            As of now, i have a new respect for the spambots.

            No other entity has the power to so quickly diffuse a conversation.

            I now wonder if there is room in the world for a hired spambot to intervene in awkward conversations:

            “Dave, its not working out, and i think its time we went our separate ways.”
            But Annabelle, I-”

          • frogulox says:

            With the obvious answer being ‘become an interrupting Spambert.
            And in the vulnerable state targets would find themselves when initially targetted, the ranks of the spamberts would swell quickly.

  2. Frog says:

    Oh, you forgot *** OGRE *** !
    After 40 or so years, we finally get a passable version of Ogre on the PC. Not great mind you and I don’t know about the AI but so far I’m having a good time with it.
    The pricing is pretty steep for what you get too. But still, I played the hell out of Ogre with my friends when it came out. A blast from the past.

  3. wombat191 says:

    I read this and just purchased the Botanist.. No I don’t know why either

  4. Monggerel says:

    Time to dust off Jedi Outcast once again.
    There are few games I feel a need to replay, over and over and over and over until the big hourglass gets bottom heavy and we approach universal thermodynamic equilibrium, but Jedi Outcast is one of them.
    Maybe it’s the extraordinary carnage of what *really* happens when lightsaber meets stormtrooper.
    Maybe it’s the knowledge that never in all the world’s turning will there ever again come into existence a game with a control scheme or gameflow that is anything like that of a melee-focused superpowered 3rd person Quake III Engine abomination of a chimera of a mulligan stew.
    Maybe it’s the beard.
    Maybe it’s the vision of a world where the #gamezindusterei norm is not that of standardized assembly patterns and surefire return-on-investment formulas, but rather that of clever and inventive people making games out of a desparate inner need to make a really excellent game.

    Maybe I just need more coffee.

  5. KoldPT says:

    My hit hidden gem is link to store.steampowered.com

    Really special little title that plays with common perceptions about anime tropes and VNs for some existential horror shit. Really good, and free. Please play it unspoiled.

  6. Gamedick says:

    Does anyone wanna talk about how amazing Road Redemption turned out? because i just got done playing it for 7 straight hours and i should contact my doctor about this ceaseless erection

  7. Premium User Badge

    Phasma Felis says:

    I bought The Red Front! It features a “supertank” that dies quickly to men with rifles, takes what feels like a dozen MG rounds to kill one of said men with rifles, and carries a total of three rounds for its main gun. I refunded The Red Front.

    For shame, Alec. Tim Stone must be turning in his grave.