Today’s Humble Caffeine Bundle is chock full of very good games for very little money, but a little hard to categorise. United under the banner of Caffeine – a “social broadcasting platform for gaming”, not the life-giving stimulant – there’s eight games here, each one representing a wildly different genre. We’ve got the Metroidy Headlander, platform roguelike Gonner, party game tank shooter Treadnauts, a historical novel adaptation and even a ninja stealth sim all up in here. There’s only (in my opinion) one game that’s not immediately worth your attention. See the full lineup and trailers below.
Pay What You Want ($1 for Steam keys)
While a little one-note and spammy in its combat, Headlander is a very stylish little comedy metroidvania. Set in a very 60s apocalyptic space-future, you (as the last surviving human head) must commandeer robot bodies and attempt to foil the machinations of the computer that would make itself a god. That could be a grim concept, if it didn’t play the entire thing for laughs – while some of the gags fall flat, it’s hard not to giggle at stoner robots flopping around on an oversized shagpile carpet, mesmerised by lava lamps.
Gonner is just pure, simple twitchy fun. A roguelike platform shooter, but with a focus on precision aim and mastery of your existing skill-set, instead of bloating yourself into a bullet-spewing unstoppable monster. Enthusiastic as the trailer above is, the music actually sells the game’s weird, warbling soundscape short. It’s all rather odd looking and sounding, which I guess makes sense when the story is about a skull-headed blob person attempting to befriend a land-bound whale named Sally.
Treadnauts is a bit like if Scorched Earth had absolutely no patience for anything. Up to four players bomb around the screen in tiny little gravity-defying tanks, attempting to shoot or crush each other in quick party-game style rounds. There’s some single-player challenges, bots and even online play, but this is one you probably want four friends and four controllers for, ideally.
Beat The Average ($5.95/£4.62 now)
Before 11 Bit Studios made us all into monsters with Frostpunk, they set the tone with This War Of Mine. Lead a band of civilians trying to outlast a brutal war. Gathering resources, treating the sick and sending people to scavenge whenever you can. The version in the bundle is just the basic edition, but the season pass (which is still due its third and final episode) is cheap and adds a lot of new, clever scenarios. Surviving is hard enough, but reporting and broadcasting the truth while being actively hunted? That’s a challenge.
I’m a bit surprised that Ken Follett’s The Pillars Of The Earth exists. A gorgeously rendered Telltale-ish adaptation of the well known historical fiction novel. Medieval politics, backstabbery, and the power of religion rule all, as the plot hops between three protagonists and a story spanning decades. The art is excellent, the animation is good, the voice-acting is solid and the choice to adapt a historical novel is still unusual to this day. The only complaint I could level at it is that player choice steers the tone of scenes rather than their content, moreso than even Telltale’s games.
Dear Esther was one the poster-child for the genre we’ve since termed ‘walking simulators’ [no, Dear Esther is not a walking simulator – ed.], but I never quite got on with it. Its landscapes are moody and evocative, but its deliberately fractured narrative – delivering one of a random handful of lines per given scene – robs it of much of its impact, in my opinion. Your mileage may vary, and it’s also very short, so probably worth a peek too. The Landmark Edition is a fancied up remake with even more pretty environments, but not many structural alterations.
The Whole Enchilada ($12/£9.33)
Tyranny is a very dark RPG, building on a simple question: What if the big bad evil force won? There’s only scattered pockets of resistance left, and rather than playing as a chosen hero, you’re an agent of the creeping evil itself. Part lawyer, part enforcer, your goal is to establish order and enforce the rules, although you’re given a lot of leeway in how you interpret them. It’s a shorter trip than Obsidian’s more successful Pillars Of Eternity, but has similar combat, and a whole lot of clever ideas. It’s just a bit emotionally exhausting to play – being professionally evil is hard.
Lastly, we’ve got Shadow Tactics: Blades Of The Shogun. It’s basically a Commandos game, but set in medieval Japan. A stealth tactics game about navigating through an enormous map full of very deadly guards, using the special abilities of your five heroes to carefully pick off targets and safely navigate to objectives. While some enemies have bows and rifles, its generally increased focus on close-quarters combat gives it an edge over its inspirations, in my opinion. There’s more time to think, and less worrying about sight-lines being immediately deadly.
Whew, and that’s your lot. The bundle also includes a discount on ‘gaming chairs’ from Overclockers UK, although nothing could get me to give up my big comfy armchair. Dear Esther aside (and even that has its fans), that’s a weirdly eclectic collection of games, and every one of them worth playing. You can grab the Humble Caffeine Bundle here, and it’ll be available until February 5th.