Oh, I see how it is. I see you, Walker. You’re just… you’re lucky you’re always wrong about everything, mate, or this would get messy very fast.
We like competition here in the Pleasuredome, although the thousands of games whose digital innards coat the walls might not. It is time, of course, for the last fight in the Unknown Pleasures schedule before the big one. The last chance for one of the countless little-known games on Steam to sneak in and seize a spot in the hallowed best of 2019 list. It’s already close, my friends. It is very close.
Automatically disagreeing with John on principle this week: electoral events, cowboy cutters, and robot roads.
This Land Is My Land
£35 / €40 / $40, early access
I was hoping the boring cowboy game might inspire some interesting games in the absurdly neglected Western setting. I’ve separately hoped for years for a game where settlers are not the protagonists. I am entirely here then, for This Land Is My Land, an open world stealth game in which you play as an indigenous warrior whose main hobby is hacking up colonisers and kicking them the fuck out.
In the spirit of Reverse Beastmaster, how about a Reverse Far Cry? After escaping from the invaders, you have a land, a camp of loyal braves, and the freedom to immediately wander off and do your own thing. Mostly that’ll mean finding and sneaking up on idiot cowboys so you can grab them. There’s a slight Splinter Cell/Shadows of Mordor thing going on where you can interrogate dudes at knifepoint, or stun them out and do vague hand movements over their helpless body (I’m not entirely sure what these are, but I think you’re deliberately being weird and ‘foreign’ at them to freak them out) until they run off in a panic.
There’s tonnes of loot, mostly food and gun parts, which tie into an unremarkable crafting system. You also get to expand territory, and while you’re off exploring your people will gather and make stuff back at camp, which you can direct by leaving instructions at any time. They take very little supervision and can be used to patrol your land and attack enemies, but I’ve not got to that point yet because I was having too much fun just wandering around stealing horses and messing people up with my bow. The bow is a little dissatisfying, truth be told, but it’s effective and silent, and you can steal a variety of muskets and rifles, complete with slow reloading animations. They sound fantastic, and sprinting away from a chorus of slow, innacurate 1800s gunfire from the survivors of the camp you just decimated is brilliant.
Adam: Robot World
£5.20 / €5.70 / $7, early access
Economic/industry strategy sims are a very mixed bag here. I’ll be honest, I almost didn’t include Adam on the long list as it looked a bit ropey, but I’m glad I did. You’re a robot reactivated by an AI to start gathering resources on a fairly gross, desolate planet. You place extractors and factories and connect them with roads so that you, and later other robots, can shunt all the goods about and export them to other robot settlements. You’re gradually exposed to more and more complicated material processing chains, and more trading partners to contact, invest in (so their economy will need even more of your goods), or fight.
There’s a plot too, see, and a tower defence element where you play as both defender and sometimes attacker, to weaken your enemies and recruit more robots from them. Combat takes a back seat to the infrastructure, though – this is a game about road networks and efficient placement of production sites, as well as expending your research points to improve your facilities or robots’ parts. I love that over and under production is communicated by simple, clear icons at the top of the screen instead of asking you to find the figures yourself.
It’s a lovely little game, even if it’s a bit on the ugly side. The budget classical soundtrack is relaxing, and it all just comes together really easily and comfortably. The translation work is solid too, which is worth saying as it can often sink games like this.
£11.40 / €12.50 / $15, early access
A sidelong entry in the ‘great game, crap name’ category, XO is essentially Battlestar Galactica, except that you’re in charge of normal humans instead of the stupidest people in history, and the writing is good instead of some of the worst I’ve ever seen on TV.
You’re dumped in charge of a battleship during a massive crisis. The galaxy is hit by a storm of unstoppable purple ships that kamikaze and absorb any ship they find. You have to get your people to the rendezvous point on the other side of the galaxy, managing resources and upgrades and relations as you go. Each jump costs fuel, which takes very little time to recharge except when you need it to (and is also consumed by weapon fire, making for some great pressurised decision making). You gather ore, which does what you’d expect if you’ve played FTL with its scrap money.
I didn’t get on with FTL but I enjoyed XO a lot more. Instead of directing individuals about your ship, you’re scaled up, and charged with a duty to hail any ships you find and rescue as many people as possible. This is complicated by limited food and water, and your reputation with five factions, all hostile to each other unless your heroic actions make enough impact. Salvaged ships must be crewed, often with specific factions, civilian ships tend to offer more resources and space but do nothing in a fight, and if you put mixed crews on a ship you will get random events based on how their relations with each other are. I put a socially weird, suspicious Rover crew on a ship crewed by the pacifist, arrogant Irenic, and got several tense stand offs as their cultures clashed, some of which I had to resolve by sending negotiators, going in nasty with soldiers, or encouraging the Irenic to just flush the Rovers into space.
The decisions are genuinely difficult, and you’ll have to abandon people even if you manage to gather a sizeable fleet. The music is great and the constant threat of the Harvesters warping in and swarming the system makes for some brilliant moments – can my flagship make it to that space station in time to rescue the people there? Should I add this mining ship to the fleet so we can use it to gather extra ore, at the cost of hitting our water limit? Can I reach both ships here or is it time to skip ahead a few planets and hope the crew won’t be too upset that I’m neglecting the mission? Great, great stuff.
£11.40 / €12.50 / $15
Hmmmm, I said. Hrrrgnh. But. I mean… argh. These were the noises I made while considering Still There for the shortlist.
It’s a really solid game, I can’t deny that. You’re a bereaved father who signed up for a solo job on a space lighthouse to get away from the world, and from himself. The monotony is the point, in-universe, but the game is a hybrid of adventure game (but without the backwards moon logic that still threatens the genre thanks to parents not vaccinating their game devs), technical puzzles based around fixing things and carrying out mechanical procedures, and an introspective narrative. It’s a very interesting light sim, in which an early challenge means looking at a technical manual so that you know which modem prongs to stick the little plastic nobbly bit on in order to connect two devices.
That will appeal to some of you and I sort of get it. I do. I honestly can’t fault it so far – its tone is a little weary and sad, but not tactless or oppressive with it. The light banter with the ship’s computer is the right mix of jovial and combative. Everything kinda works how you think it will, and getting things done, even the routine stuff, is gently satisfying.
But it’s not really for me. I just don’t care for operating its many gubbinses or plugging things into different things in a specific order, let alone fictional ones. The instructions are just a little too unclear to me, even though they’re quite simple, which undermined my motivation just a little bit too much. That’s a real shame, because the dialogue, and the player character’s old, brief diaries and emails are lovely, and I’d like to know where the story goes.
Do I recommend it? Yeah, definitely. Just not to myself.
The Political Process
£11.40 / €12.50 / $15, early access
Can’t believe they put politics in my game about campaigning to be elected for public office, godddd.
The Political Process is weirdly, weirdly compelling. It’s sort of like Football Manager but with US electoral jobs instead of managing football teams. You create a candidate and decide their stance (for/against generally, but done well enough that I was impressed. I didn’t do the usual thing of reading the question/answer and going “weeeeell it’s a lot more complica-“), then choose a job you’d like to run for. It’s not about being president, see, although that’s an option. You can be the mayor of a specific city anywhere in the US, you can be … er, state captain for flag manufacture or whatever. I don’t understand America at all.
For example, I spent most of a year campaigning for a humble position on the school board in AMEIRCA!!, a major city that critics will insist was once called “Minneapolis” (chosen for reasons). I spent my 40 hours a week knocking on doors, fundraising, telling radio listeners that I’d give their kids free pre-school and community colleges, and actually pay teachers money. I filled the internet with adverts – god, I’ve already become a monster. At this level I didn’t have the money to train my staff, but they did fine. I met with union reps, gave speeches to parent-teacher meetings, women’s groups, civil rights and racial equality organisations, and eventually made a name for myself and polled well enough that I sailed through the election.
Then it turned out that this was only the election to decide who got to be the candidate for the Democrats. What the hell, America? Even your bloody city school board elections take a million goddamn years and end up with everyone just voting for the most familiar name to get it over with? Even at this level? This is insane. Ugh.
Anyway I won the ACTUAL election too, and proposed a bill that would feed thousands of hungry children at a cost of 0.1% of the education budget. It got voted down.
When will people learn?
I loved this game, honestly. It’s so workmanlike in its presentation, yet it’s clear and fairly user friendly. It’s very complex and yet quite easy to figure out by looking around enough. I could see myself losing whole evenings to this without even realising it or understanding why.
Vote for Victor Schmictor: He won’t starve your kids. Christ.
Pick of the week: Get. OUT. It is, of course, This Land Is My Land.
The setting has always needed more games, and certainly more from a perspective of righteous fury (I am also still waiting for a guerrilla FPS about a farmer tooling up to kick Charlie Sheen out of Vietnam, by the way). TLIML is a stealth action game above all, has no real story, and doesn’t dig into any real historical or cultural commentary. Your warrior is generic and a bit stereotypical, but in what seems to my white eyes like a fairly benign way.
It’s in need of polish, but it looks really impressive and is hard to stop playing. It’s totally a single player game, but for unknown reasons there’s a “social” element that just means an annoying chat box in the corner, and some NPCs you meet are apparently named after, or by other players, which inevitably leads to notifications that you just got XP for killing XxXmetalsLAYer420XxX or whatever, so I’d strongly recommend playing offline. Bewildering.
Also the character creation is wonderful. Your character gets bonuses or penalties based on the name you give him. It’s very much like those stupid “how long will you and your crush last” websites we played with in school. It hates most of the RPS staff, giving all of us penalties except for Dave, Ollie, and me. I am updating my battle plans.