Unknown Pleasures: five of the best new Steam games this week
A welcome reprieve from AAA
Welcome back to Unknown Pleasures, a weekly column wherein I recommended five new Steam games released during the past seven days, and which you probably haven't heard of already.
This week: what-if GTA, mental health Metroidvanias and Neverending Story dragonflight simulators.
Another entry in Unknown Pleasure's bulging "terrible writing, good game" filing cabinet. External Visions is a mostly slick, SNES-styled Metroidvania whose conceit is that it's some guy's stress/misery-induced breakdown, with levels and bosses manifesting as a monster'n'spike-filled take on his unhappy workplace and, er, The Evil Woman who wants him to be someone else. It could do with a lighter touch on all that stuff, and a proper translation. However, it's a complex and inventive take on the whole explore'o'jump-em'up formula, with chatty NPCs, shops, weapons that build new platforms or rain hellfire across the whole screen, and all sorts.
Nicely put together, with some neat, Delphine-esque art, making it a shame that the iffy storytelling harms the atmosphere.
The latest from Kyntt creator Nifflas - I say that, but actually it's an expanded version of a game the Niffster put out earlier this year, now with co-op, more bosses and other moremoremore. If you missed it first time around (entirely possible, as it was a Humble exclusive), definitely treat yourself now. The hook here is that you can pick up and carry almost anything that isn't nailed down - and everything that isn't nailed down is a blocky-creature with a special power of its own. Kidnap the creature, use the ability to reach other parts of the game and otherwise solve various puzzles.
In practice, this is a delightful rethink of everything we expect from a jumpy game of this sort: you use the creatures rather than avoid or kill the creatures, and it really does open up a new way of thinking. The random-o-music is a blippy-boppy treat too, plus there's the multiplayer option, in which the second player controls a dog leashed to the first player. Just full of invention, this one.
Deep Sky Derelicts
$15.99/£12.39; early access
Junkerpunk sci-fi roguelike/CCG mash-up, mixing in bits of Darkest Dungeon's resource-chewing tile crawl with a more randomised take on turn-based combat. Card Hunter-style, whichever weapons you have equipped affect the attack/defence cards that might come up during a battle, which means each turn is not rinse'n'repeat shoot/heal but instead desperately hoping that a strong card will show up soon. It's all comicbook-styled, in a vaguely 2000ADish manner, with large, characterful sprites and nice XIII-style panel-in-panel animations so show e.g. killing moves.
The major downside is that, during missions, moving from tile to tile is a drag, performed via a PDA map, with you just waiting for a tile in which something actually happens. But it's early access, so hopefully they'll figure out how to pep things up there. That aside, looks great, and does a fine job of mingling turn-based squad combat with survival elements.
Pulling inspiration from twin schools of wistfulness, the exploratory noodling of Journey and the magical dog-dragon rides of the Neverending Story, Oure also folds in a wee bit of Snake Pass-style reptile coil-o-puzzling. Basically: you're a kid who can transform into a dragon, and are to some extent free to fly the pastel-coloured, cloud-filled skies. Until Bad Things happen, anyway. It's all a lovely sight, but it does have bit of Superman 64 syndrome - giving you all this power then making you use it to fly through hoops. It would also be far more effective from a storytelling point of view if it were wordless, which it is most certainly is not.
Truthfully, I'm more hesitant than I usually am in Unknown Pleasures about including this one, but it is very nice to be a flying snake-dragon, so I'll let it pass.
Very cool car-based action-roguelite (yes I made that up: this is games in 2017) that is a little like how I'd imagine if GTA had stayed closer to the madcap Micro Machines presentation of GTA 1, but was also given an explicitly heist-based setup. You careen around a very attractive 70s-styled environment in a car which gleefully skids constantly, grabbing fleeing criminals from stick-up jobs and then trying to get them to a drop-off point before the cops can shoot you to bits.
While being pursued by cops, it turns into a twin-stick shooter of sorts, but you can also ram the buggers off the road if you're careful/lucky. Frenetic and stylish and altogether like a violent, immoral Crazy Taxi, it's a lot of fun with a lot of flair and some excellent fonts.
Pick of the week this week is... I'm gonna break ALL the rules and pick two, those being PAKO 2 and Uurnog Uurnlimited. The former is hyper and thrilling, the latter thoughtful and sweet-natured: an upper and a downer, if you will.