Author Archive

Unknown Pleasures: Almost six of the week’s best Steam games

If you were my router, you'd be reading this while simultaneously insisting it's impossible to read this. Then you'd restart for a laugh. I'd hate you quite a bit.

It has been a trying week, pleasure seekers (Okay, we’re not using that one again – Ed). A lovely weekend in Wales did not prepare me for a week of kafkaesque negotiating with my PC and router and whatever transdimensional demons were squatting in between them. And of course, this week everyone agreed to stop releasing tiny platformers made in Paint in favour of 5Gb monstrosities. Confound those indie rascals.

Fortunately, they also released a fine crop of clever and intuitive games, easily grasped but with that tantalising complexity that makes Unknown Pleasures such a joy.

Restoring my patience this week: roaming dwarves, irradiated artifact hunters, and extremely aggressive feng shui. Read the rest of this entry »

Unknown Pleasures: This week’s pick of new Steam releases

What's the difference between a good butler and a bad rhinologist? One leaves a turban next to me, the other leaves a turbinectomy.

Winter has finally arrived in force in London, bringing with it some questions. Whose idea was it to live on the surface? Why would anyone wear a fleece without arms? What kind of monster thinks it’s okay to make a coat with fake pockets, and why didn’t everyone immediately kill him with spears?

Alas, these are not questions that Unknown Pleasures can answer. But if your local mountaintop hermit has no idea what the best new Steam releases are, you’re in luck.

Lining our inexplicably porous gloves this week: liminal AIs, invisible mines, and gender critical spies.

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Unknown Pleasures: Five more of the best new games on Steam

  Advanced New Steam Game Recommender

Overwhelming though Steam’s catalogue may be, it can be a hell of a tool for testing your assumptions. I pitch this to nobody in particular: a free week of everything on Steam. Not just one or two games, but the whole lot, free to everyone. Play something you’d normally hate, I say. See also: food, music, relationships.

Anyway. In the meantime, there’s always Unknown Pleasures.

Anchoring an unlikely flight of fantasy this week: globular gladiators, treacherous tycoons, and regicidal revenants.

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Unknown Pleasures: The best five unsung games on Steam this week

Which new games on Steam have the most bestness?

Studies say that this week is the best week of the year to move house for gillionth time, attempt the thirteenth Herculean task of speaking to the one human in a Royal Mail call centre, then injure your back. Anti-frustration, then, would be a perfect theme for this week’s Unknown Pleasures.

Washing down an inadequate course of ibuprofen this week: artificial mortality, shotgun-based exploration, and zero gravity monster-dodging.

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Unknown Pleasures: Five more of the best new games on Steam

Several dozen games enter, only five may leave.

It’s that time of the year when joyless, faintly plastic robots insist that you forego the few pleasures January has to offer, calling you a big lazy drunk and demanding you join their dull, weight-obsessed ranks. But not here, friends! This is where we find new joy. It’s Unknown Pleasures.

This week we finish off the knock-off Baileys with button-mashing Empire management, queer aristocratic romance, and murderous teenaged narcissists.

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Unknown Pleasures: 5 fine forms of fun from Steam

 Death, taxes, idiots congregating in doorways, and the best new Steam games.

Revolution! Rise up, comrades, and join me, your mighty new host of Unknown Pleasures! No more shall we labour in the asset flip mines. Our days of languishing in the fields of the Plunkbat clone are over. Never again shall we line the trenches of pages 1 through 7 of the new releases list. Well, I will, obviously.

The first question for the new regime: What are the best new games on Steam that you may have missed over the winter holidays?

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Why I fell out with Fallout-inspired indie RPG Underrail

Underrail [official site] is a game that wants to be Fallout. That’s okay! That’s a legendary game for several reasons, and some are even good. There’s definitely room for an RPG to be to Fallout what Xenonauts is to UFO: neither remake nor clone, but a new game that does all the same stuff we’ve missed, only without an interface from the Stupid Age.

Underrail, however, is not that game. It’s a bold attempt, but ultimately one that misses too many marks, and copies too many notes from the Bumper Book Of Frustrating RPG Design We Still Have To Put Up With For Some Reason.

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EVE Online’s free to play update might change your mind

I almost uninstalled EVE Online partway through the oddly crashy character creation process. Somewhere out there is a parallel universe in which my only experience with the game is a distant memory of an unpleasant and rapidly abandoned free trial. What a terrible world that is.

For you see, I was wrong about EVE. I suspect a great many people are, as perhaps do its creators CCP, who recently released probably their most significant update ever, called Ascension (aka the Alpha update). The first step in an ongoing effort to overhaul the new player experience, this update introduced a free to play option to the long-running subscription-based spacey-tradey blowy-uppy stabby-backy MMO. Like many, I decided to give it a proper chance, to see whether its new structure was an improvement. That was over a month ago. So what’s the verdict? Read the rest of this entry »

Creeper World 3 has the best monster of any game

What’s the best video game monster? Stop and think. You’ve probably thought of something bristling with claws, which snarls as it rushes to bite you, or some skittering horror that lurks in the shadows. Perhaps it’s a shiny robot or a soldier with particularly fiendish AI. These are all understandable choices. They are, however, wrong.

The best monster is in Creeper World 3 [official site]. It is gunge. It has no weak point to exploit. It has no face. There will be no victory. There will only be gunge.

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Cataclysm: Dark Days Ahead: A roguelike you could play for the rest of your life

I don’t like roguelikes and, like all real people, I was sick of zombies years ago. Plus, somehow in just a few years we’ve gone from having next to no survival games to having so many of the godforsaken things that you can barely move without tripping over a hunger bar.

All this and the keyboard-heavy ASCII affectation would, you’d think, make for my nightmare game. And it should. So I am actively irritated that Cataclysm: Dark Days Ahead an ASCII zombie survival roguelike, has taken over my life. Let me tell you about my latest character, a 12-year-old girl who is surviving the apocalypse by jetting around on rollerblades, pelting monsters with a sling, and studying mechanics so she can hotwire an electric van and run over someone who stole her bag of precious salt.

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Friendless Space: Why Master Of Orion 3 Is Important

Games are either good or the worst thing to ever happen. That’s just how it works. Oh, sure, there are divisive games, but once the consensus has been reached that a game is bad, that’s it. Cast it away into the pit of 1 star reviews, the lair of the Thumbdown, to be spoken of only with frothing hatred and contempt. Never to be touched. Never to be examined.

Master of Orion 3 is one of the most important 4X games ever made. There, I said it. It’s all over for me now. Follow not where I dare to tread.

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Fragile Allegiance & The RTS Formula That Never Was

The youngest of you won’t remember The Before Times. One of the minor side effects of the millennium bug killing off 90% of the Earth’s population was that not long afterwards, strategy games stratified into a tiny handful of highly formulaic subtypes. There’s a downside to the unquestionably better standards of design we’ve enjoyed in the last decade or so. It’s rare to find a genuinely bad game in the same way that games were bad in the 90s. But I can’t help imagining what other ideas were bounced around before everyone agreed that the wheel was indeed the way forward, and Unk and Thogg would have to resign their posts as Chief and Assistant Thing Hurler To The Village And Sometimes The River.

Take, for example, Fragile Allegiance [Mobygames link]. Its position in game history was odd even on release in 1996 – both a port and a remake and a sequel to the Amiga’s semi-obscure, direly-named, but terrific K240 (itself a sequel to 1991’s Utopia) – and its design still defies the neat categorisation we’re used to. Technically it’s a real-time strategy straddling “city builder” and “4X”, but not quite conforming to any common model.

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How Imperialism 2 Took The **** Out Of XXXX

Epic grand historical strategy! Ugh.

Look, I’m not bashing the genre – I had to quit Crusader Kings 2 cold turkey as it took over my life – but when things become fashionable in games, we really overdo it, and something always gets lost in the desperate pursuit of the zeitgeist. Lately, it’s regular old historical strategy that’s felt the neglect. Not insanely complex, not gigantic in scope, not a danger to your circadian rhythm or those ‘social life’ things I’ve heard about. Just plain solid, highly playable strategy games.

So, Imperialism 2, then. Released in 1999 by Frog City Software, both it and its 1997 predecessor are far more obscure than they should be.

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Wot I Think – Aurion: Legacy Of The Kori-Odan

Like most of you (be honest), I know almost nothing about Cameroon. I also know precious little about communing with ancestral spirits, launching fireballs, or punching dudes in the face. How fortunate, then, that Aurion: Legacy of the Kori-Odan exists.

Released in April this year following a successful Kickstarter by Kiro’o Games, Aurion is many things. It’s a fusion of a side-scrolling beat’em up with a JRPG. It’s the first release by a small games studio in central Africa. It’s a long, winding, and philosophical story inspired by several cultures and genres and forms of media. But what ultimately matters is that it’s pretty damn fun.

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Why Gothic Is More Believable Than Modern RPGs

One of the many nebulous concepts that spring up when writing about games is “a sense of place”. We talk about worlds and locations and settings, but often these boil down to unusual geography or art direction – surface details and imagery rather than a real identity.

Gothic, by contrast, wasn’t particularly pretty. Its setting wasn’t the singular underground world of Arx Fatalis, nor the varied alien landscape of Morrowind. Instead, Piranha Bytes recognised back in 2001 that a place is a place not because of its landscape or biome or buildings, but because the people there make it one.

Most RPGs have NPC traffic. Gothic had a society.

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You Wouldn’t Steal A Skyranger: X-Piratez Is An Outstanding Total Conversion Of UFO/X-COM

In my intro to Silent Storm, I mentioned both modding scenes and UFO (used to distinguish the 1994 original X-COM from the 2012 Firaxis one, and not only out of increasingly sad Eurocentric obstinance) without tying the two together. That, it turns out, was stupid, because X-Piratez, a UFO mod in active development by Dioxine, is the best total conversion for any game I’ve ever played.

Based on OpenXcom Extended, a long-running open source clone of UFO, it takes the story and gameplay structure of the original, and a huge stock of resourcefulness, and turns them into something that’s simultaneously very similar and completely new. The result is a dangerously addictive compound of comfortable old UFO with constant surprise, discovery, and content.

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What Cinemaware Understood About Cinema And Games

Cinematic! What a loaded word it’s become. Once the game industry’s marketing buzzword du jour, the descriptor certainly earned its current status as a groanworthy sign that a developer would much rather be doing something else.

With such a disclaimer then, it’s safe to specify why It Came From The Desert, and in fact most games from its developer Cinemaware, had “cinematic” firmly in their sights. But in a good way.

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The Joy Of Destruction In Silent Storm

It’s a strange time to look at old turn-based shooters. While we’re hardly swamped, the genre has left its dormancy, casting strange shadows on our old sacred cows. Whisper it now: maybe some of those old things we championed for so long aren’t all that great?

Fortunately, Silent Storm can ignore such insinuations, as it was never sacred. Its 2003 release by Nival Interactive caused little splash, and it didn’t find the legendary status of UFO or the dedicated mod scene of Jagged Alliance 2.

Playing it now, that strikes me as completely unfair.

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