The summer break is ruthlessly nearing its end – makes you want to cry, doesn’t it? Me too, but since we can’t help it, let’s try to lighten up the mood instead. Here are some games released up to the first half of 2015… but you’ve probably never heard of them. While we wait for a new bunch of AAA titles, let’s take a look at games that may have less A’s but make up for it with originality and are no less worthy of you attention than the big-shots like The Witcher 3 or Batman: Arkham Knight. They may be smaller but, as the Ant-Man movie proved to us by topping his full-sized fellow Avengers here and there, this doesn’t mean they don’t pack a punch. Among the titles we’ve picked are games like Her Story, Crypt of the NecroDancer or Door Kickers. Never heard of those? Here’s why you should…
Platforms: PC, iOS in development for: Android, Windows Phone
There were few, if any, that have heard of Robot Gentleman Studios before May, 2015, when they debuted with their post-apocalypse themed 60 seconds!, released first for PCs and then mobiles. The game combines elements of RPG with strategy. The player assumes the role of Ted – a typical head of a typical American family living in the 50’s. When the sirens begin to scream heralding the advent of an atomic war, you have exactly one minute to grab vital supplies, family members and anything that you think can help you survive and shut the door of your fallout shelter. After that, you find yourself in a bunker, where you have to survive for as long as you can, using the items you’ve managed to secure during the hectic 60 seconds. Unwelcome guests knocking on your door will have to be persuaded with firearms, the cockroaches – with a bug spray. Honey, did we take the bug spray? Timmy, did we take mommy? The food is another - and critical - issue. If you’re running out of supplies, somebody should boldly venture into the wasteland and see what can be found. If he/she were to die in the process, it will be permanent, and were it not for the cartoonish visuals and a pinch of dark humor, this game could have become a serious threat to one’s well-being. As one user wrote in his Steam review, “This game teaches ONE very valuable lesson. A can of soup is infinitesimally more valuable than your children.”
Platforms: PC, in development for: iOS, PS4, PS Vita
This is NOT an interactive version of the 1998 classic movie starring Robert DeNiro and Jean Reno. Alas. What does this RONIN bring to the table? Ninjas - equally good, if not better. Here, our mysterious heroine, thoroughly trained in the deadly arts of you-are-not-walking-out-of-here-alive, navigates through business interiors, pursuing her quest of vengeance. A single photograph makes up the whole narrative and leads us to the people responsible for killing the heroine’s father, but before we reach them (give them our name and tell them to prepare to die), we have to mow down hordes of armed enemies, and the only significant advantage we have is the ability… to stop time. The movement elements are that of a typical 2D platformer while the combat is 100% turn-based. This allows our ronin ninja assassin to carefully plan were and whom to strike. Slash this guy, throw a shuriken at that guy, maybe break the glass on which that other guy is standing - bet he can’t fly. The abundance of available options and the game’s amusing mechanics successfully convey the heroine’s prowess at dispatching living obstacles. The game was designed and developed by Tomasz Waclawek and published by Hotline Miami’s developer - Devolver Digital.
One of the biggest surprises that double as the player’s favorite events in GTA V are the heists – missions that need to be carefully planned beforehand and require peerless execution and luck during the risky final phase. Every well pulled-off heist could make for a decent B-grade Hollywood movie, but even the best ones have to give in when faced with the magnificent scam executed on global scale that The Masterplan – an indie gangster strategy game - has prepared for us within its main storyline. The game’s developer - Shark Punch, comprising of ex-members of the Finnish studio Rocket Pack - usually creates digital designs for Disney Interactive, but their independent market debut sure made a splash. The Masterplan is a game that borrows from several genres and combines oldschool RTS with puzzles and action. What is the player’s purpose? Assembling a team of ingenious, professional crooks and the equipment they need to set the said scam in motion and bring it to a satisfactory close. What’s got Nixon to do with it? See for yourselves.
Lethis: Path of Progress
Sometimes, what the game needs to win (and stay in) the hearts and minds of the players are not innovative mechanics or hundreds of millions of dollars pumped into visuals. Lethis: Path of Progress - the debut from the French developer Triskell Interactive – is one of the games that achieve it with skillful use of genre’s legacy. If you like city building games, like Zeus: Master of Olympus or Pharaoh, created by the now defunct Impressions Games, you will like Lethis. As a mayor of one of the growing cities in the Victorian Steampunk universe called Lethis, you will have to build and manage a city. Can you provide the resources and enough qualified staff to keep you production lines running and your science teams on the edge of technological progress while keeping good trade relationships with neighboring cities, your citizens free of class warfare, and the Emperor pleased? Oh, but the visuals are neat as well.
Infinifactory can be summarised as First Person Factory Sim. And that’s not your typical factory – it’s an alien factory from outer space. As you might have already guessed, the mighty overlords frown upon the slightest signs of creativity stemming from their sla… enduring employees – a worker’s job is to make the wares they produce exactly match the top-down regulated criteria. Your job as the player, on the other hand, is to make that happen as you move, push, rotate, combine, stamp and remove the components of said wares while thinking of all the H&S regulations you are forced to ignore as you try to make it alive to the end of your shift (not as easy as you think, mind you). Your contract covers 30 shifts, I mean missions, during which you will face many dilemmas and puzzles that will kick your brain into a higher gear. Should you like to terminate the contract with the aliens (as if they would allow it) you can unleash you creativity in the sandbox mode or the built-in level editor.
As far as title goes, Grey Goo makes you think of the indistinct arcade indie games like World of Goo and such, when in fact, it is an oldschool RTS with modern visuals. The game was made by Petroglyph, a seasoned developer known for Star Wars: Empire at War or Universe at War: Earth Assault and founded by people who made Command & Conquer. I believe there’s no need for further recommendations. In comparison to modern real time strategies, Grey Goo’s mechanics are quite simplified: the player focuses almost exclusively on base construction, resource gathering and assembling the right kind of army. Memorizing tons of hotkeys and micromanagement – these words are unknown in Grey Goo; what’s important is choosing a tactic that makes for the best fit in a given, general situation.
Hand of Fate
Platforms: PC, PS4, PS Vita
What do you get, when you combine an RPG, hack & slash mechanics, a card game and a dash of a board game? You get Hand of Fate – a very solid indie game in a fantasy setting. Defiant Development have bet everything on their debut title when they launched the Kickstarter project and the risk has paid off - big time - when it became clear that they won the love and trust of thousands of gamers. Makes you wonder about their luck in love, because the luck in cards is, without a doubt, on their side. Hand of Fate focuses around typical dungeon crawling adventure with monsters, treasures and cellars of stone. Our hero is represented by a pawn moving along a path of cards, each of which hides an element of the setting (i.e. an NPC, a new location, loot). It is up to the player to decide, what to do with them. Here’s the twist – when it comes to combat, the game adopts Batman: Arkham series inspired mechanics and changes into a refreshing beat’em-up sequence, just when you were slowly getting tired of glaring at tarot cards – brilliant.
What’s the common point between warring guinea pigs, a red-eyed captain sailing foggy seas on a grim looking ship, and some bluebloods from hell that are very fond of hot coffee? Two words: Sunless Sea. This somewhat surreal mix of roguelike and a tactical action RPG, brought to you by the indie developer Failbetter Games, managed to ensnare the hearts of gamers with the unique gothic atmosphere of its steampunk Victorian setting and dozens of hair-raising stories that just keep getting better. The game presents itself in a manner of a very well written text adventure that doesn’t skimp on details and originality – something that is bound to please fans of a good and elaborate read. To reach a new story-arc, first we need to sail to its location with our steamboat whose captain can be tailored to our vision at the beginning of the adventure. As we explore the endless sea, we need to tend to two things: our crew and salvage, including information, which can be turned into profit in our home port. Not everyone is bound to love this game, but, if given the chance, Sunless Sea may get you hooked for good.
Galactic Civilizations III
This May, Stardock Systems Inc. have pleased us with the third installment of Galactic Civilizations, a series that launched back in 2003 (in the nineties, actually, but almost no one remembers the series’ Macintosh based predecessor) and spawned several sequels and expansions since then. The third episode picks up after the 2008 Twilight of the Arnor expansion and introduces a ton of improvements, new races, factions, and technologies. The player is tasked with building his own galactic empire, be it by means of war (battling on hex based maps) or diplomacy and trade, in an oldschool, turn-based strategy manner. A breath of fresh air is brought to the game by the much more detail-oriented fleet assembly and elaborate resource management and diplomacy mechanics. Those of you, feeling alone in the vast expanses of space, can try the multiplayer mode, which was introduced here for the first time.
Platforms: PC, iOS, in development for: Android
If you’re getting a distinct sense of anguish while watching the latest gameplay footage of Rainbow Six: Siege, here’s something to ease the pain. The Rainbow Six franchise may have abandoned its tactical-stealth-based gameplay premise in favor of the more modern smoke and mirrors approach, but this doesn’t mean everybody else did. Here’s Door Kickers – a 2D tactical shooter and a commercial debut of the Romanian KillHouse Games, and boy, what way to begin their career. We observe the action from bird’s-eye (or is it drone’s-eye now?) view as we lead a SWAT team to neutralize any tango dumb enough not to put his weapons down immediately (which means most of them). Since your field of view is limited by default, when going through locations with a fine-toothed comb in search of hostiles, you need to take many factors into account and try to predict where exactly would you ambush yourself, if you were the tango. Using telescopic cameras to peek under the door, flashbanging rooms and engaging in firefights from behind surprisingly sturdy sofas - it’s all in a day’s work for a member of SWAT.
They say the nest is vast and infinite… and sometimes it hides things like this free, unfinished interactive project from Technocrat studios, discontinued after 3 out of 8 episodes were released. Now, thanks to the assistance of Wadjet Eye Games, the developers have eventually managed to complete the 2D cyberpunk point’n’click adventure game called Technobabylon. The game’s visuals have a distinctive oldschool feel, thanks to the pixel-art it employs (Ben Chandler - responsible for character and/or background art in the Blackwell series – is to be thanked for that). Although the gameplay is fairly standard – exploration, dialogues, picking up items and solving puzzles – the game boasts an intricate and critically acclaimed plot. Set in a dystopian city of the future, where people, ruled by a fully computerized Central, fall prey to the Trance – a drug, based on virtual reality. The point is: any fan of Blade Runner will feel at home in Technobabylon.
Crypt of the NecroDancer
Platforms: PC, in development for: PS4, PS Vita
It takes nothing more than a title to interest you in Crypt of the NecroDancer and that’s just the beginning since this oldschool dungeon crawler is actually a dance game brimming with combat and treasures. Do you see what the one-man developer Brace Yourself Games did here? No wonder the gamers loved this wacky setting. This game by Ryan Clark makes an extensive use of the pixel-art graphics and enriches it with charming character (and monster) designs. It’s almost a shame, we will have to turn them (monsters that is) into a bloody mess. Combat and exploration mechanics are the game’s most interesting forte: as a result of demonic curse, the main heroine’s heart beats in rhythm with the music and her every move must be executed in tempo with the melodies we hear (which are nicely composed, by the way). Does this sound like fun to you? If not, check your ears. This is how you make a simple but original idea into a marvelous interactive adventure.
Platforms: PC, in development for: PS4
After two installments of the Tarantino-inspired beat’em-up Shank, the superb Mark of the Ninja, and the popular but difficult Don’t Starve the Canadian developer Klei Entertainment has returned this May with a completely new project – the turn-based spy strategy game - Invisible, Inc. In all sincerity, the game is hardly newcomer friendly - even the genre veterans have to be prepared for some hard time – but this makes it that much sweeter every time you manage to beat the odds; that’s why we play such games, isn’t it? As members of the aforementioned company, we raid and infiltrate facilities belonging to various mega corporations to spy, steal edge technologies or data and come back in one piece in spite of the security systems from hell designed to permanently deal with any intruders. Every agent under our command has a unique specialization and his special abilities have a significant impact on the gameplay. In this game you can’t have too much help so do try to keep them safe, would you?
Platforms: PC, iOS
The FMV (full motion video) adventure games are almost nonexistent these days. Almost, as it seems, is enough for a gem like Her Story to find its way on the market. Imagine you’re a police detective. You sit in your messy (it is, and it reeks of cigarettes - it always does) office and wade through hours long VCR footage recorded during an interrogation of a woman suspected of murdering her husband. And before you ask “Who in his right mind would use a VCR these days?!” - the case is years old, dated sometime in the first half of the nineties. Hannah, the woman you are observing, is the only character per se, in the whole game and it is your job to judge, if she’s truly responsible for the disappearance of her husband. As you watch the recordings, you note your observations in a notebook (on a vintage PC equipped with a Windows 95 OS look-alike) and scour the video archives for new recordings with the help of a keyword based search engine (murder, husband, lover, and so on). That’s basically the whole game – simple yet innovative and surprisingly engaging. That would be a good moment to commend Viva Selfer - the actress casted as Hannah - and the game’s lead designer – Sam Barlow - known as the writer and designer of Silent Hill: Origins and Silent Hill: Shattered Memories.
Ori and the Blind Forest
Platforms: PC, Xbox One
You could think that Ubisoft has secured a monopoly for creating gorgeous in both visuals and gameplay 2D platformers (Rayman Legends, Valiant Hearts: The Great War or Child of Light - to name just a few). When suddenly, after four years of development, an indie developer Moon Game Studios come into the fray with their Ori and the Blind Forest – undisputedly the most beautiful game in this selection, and possibly the most beautiful game of this year. If you’re a fan of Disney or Ghibli works, you’re bound to be enthralled by the adventures of Ori in the dangerous and full of surprises Blind Forest. The game itself is a very challenging experience, which can give a really hard time to those not accustomed to arcade games. Furthermore, the game keeps the player thinking, for example, how to make use of the seemingly hostile environments to his advantage. Beautiful, difficult and stimulating – no wonder most of the reviewers gave the game excellent scores.
Pawlik | Gamepressure.com