June is here, and June means Steam Summer Sale! In addition to the sale Steam has also hosted a ton of demos for upcoming games. My list this month is lengthier than usual, but it’s made up of a lot of these demos and games that I wasn’t sure would work on my PC or not. In between the coming attractions I sampled and the curiosities that I checked in on, I spent a decent chunk of time obsessing over a couple of really great titles. Here’s my list;
(I kinda didn't doodle this month...it's been a rough one)
Saints Row 2 is an absolute classic, and until recently it didn’t want to run on my PC. I don’t know what happened between the time when I bought it and this month but I’m not complaining. I didn’t spend too much time playing Saints Row this month, but it doesn’t take long at all to appreciate just how open-ended character creation is here and how much was removed in future entries. It didn’t take long at all to be reminded that Saints Row used to make you work for everything. Saints Row 4 isn’t a bad game, but giving you superpowers and super weapons so early just wasn’t as satisfying to me as prying a shotgun and every individual shell from the bodies of your enemies.
I like knowing that I started with nothing and thinking back on what little I had after I’ve spent thousands of dollars to turn my burned-out apartment into a stylish Pimp-Pad. I also really like how the side quests give you some context before you even start them with a short intro cinematic. Fight Club and Septic Avenger are fun, but it’s nice to know why your character is getting involved outside of the actual reason, ie: this is a video game and doing these activities will give you permanent buffs. I love my sandbox games, especially the ones that let me dress up like an idiot and suplex old women, and Saints Row 2 is just grounded enough that when something wacky does happen it seems that much more absurd. It’s a game that I always like to go back to rather than binge.
(Saints Row 2, paint with poo, run around nude, steal cars too)
Warhammer 40K isn’t a franchise I wasn’t too familiar with until recently. Years ago I played some Space Marines and had some fun with it, but this past month I got really into Mechanicus. It took me a while before I actually got it though, and I started over after several botched missions in a row. I’m really not used to turn-based strategy games, having only played Final Fantasy tactics and XCom: Enemy Unknown before this. I did some reading, learned about the importance of cognition, and tried again. My current campaign is going far more smoothly than my previous one, but I don’t feel overpowered quite yet.
The setup goes a little something like this; you command squads of Tech Priests in missions that see you exploring and gathering resources from a Nekron-inhabited world. After each mission, the Nekron on the world below reach a greater overall level of having been awakened, and I assume there’s a final boss either at or right before 100%. In my current playthrough I’ve beaten 2 bosses so far and I’m at about 40% awakening, but I’m not sure how close I am to the endgame. Missions are given to you by one of about five higher-ups who have their own priorities. Most of the missions play the same though; you’ve shown a map of the tomb your squad has been sent to and you’ll need to reach the rooms with gold exclamation points to trigger an instance. There are rooms along the way with glyphs which might give you health, currency, initiative or take away those things. There are also rooms with events where you’ll need to choose one of three actions which can either reward or hinder you.
Every time you move from a room into a new room, a counter increases. The higher it gets, the more bonuses the Nekrons you eventually fight will have, from more troops to faster regeneration. At the end of the level, whether you win or lose, that counter will be applied to the global awakened percentage, so you’re always dealing with a ticking clock. No matter what, it’s going to go up by 3% for every mission, even if it’s possible to end a mission in less time than that, so it’s usually worth it to explore a tomb, if only a bit. When you get into combat, your Tech Priests will be your most important units. You start with 2, but can unlock more as mission rewards, and if they’re all killed in a fight that’s a failure state. Secondary units, most of whom you unlock as mission rewards, can be killed without any real consequences.
Combat is fairly simple; you equip weapons and items to your Tech Priests and those weapons cost a certain amount of cognition to use. All attacks hit, unless you have an ability or piece of equipment that gives you a chance to dodge, or a shield that absorbs damage. Cognition is a finite resource that can be taken from specific points on a map or drawn from enemies if you have the right equipment, and my inability to manage it at first is part of why my first campaign went so poorly. I was overrun, and overwhelmed, fairly easily, but once I was more familiar with the systems things began to run more smoothly. Mechanicus left a really good impression on me, so much so that I’m feeling curious about 40K in general. It’s a really refreshing feeling after seeing so many familiar franchises languish, and I’ve actually picked up a couple of other 40K games soon after this one that I’ll be looking at soon.
(In the grim dark future, there is only zombie-robots who wear tattered human skin)
I think my favorite game on the Sega Genesis was Road Rash 2, a fast-paced racing game where crossing the finish line is almost as important as surviving or avoiding arrest. Road Redemption is a modern take on the formula, but with more emphasis on combat. Like in Road Rash you race against several other cyclists, but unlike that old game there’s a central narrative other than trying to travel from point A to B faster than a bunch of other weekend-riders. The main plot revolves around you rolling through post-apocalyptic America hunting down a notorious, high-value bounty. On your way there are missions that ask you to either attack a specific number of other riders, attack a specific rider, or just race to the finish line faster than everyone else.
There’s not a lot of variance in mission structure, but it’s more than I expected and it spices up gameplay nicely. You can choose to play as different riders who have different strengths, earn EXP or money more or less quickly, or are restricted to specific weapon types. You unlock more riders and bikes the longer you play, specifically by beating the main game for riders or unlocking bikes in the upgrade menu using EXP. Road Redemption does the rouge-lite thing: if you die during a mission you have to start again from the very beginning (though you can unlock different starting points later in the game), and all of the money and experience you earn in-game can be applied to your profile. The buffs range from doing more damage, collecting more money, unlocking new bikes, or starting with upgraded weapons. It’s a really simple and potentially quick game loop, but it rewards you fairly often and beating a large biker with a shovel is always satisfying.
(Basically, the core gameplay is beating people with lead pipes)
I played through SOMA a year or so ago when it was a PSN freebie, and I played through it a second time this past month. Part of why I wanted to play SOMA again was to refresh myself before writing about it for my decade project, but another reason I wanted to get into it again was to try out the safe mode this time around. The monsters are still around, and they can still act threatening, but there’s no death in safe mode. In a way it helped me to focus a bit more on the narrative and setting. It was also nice to be able to get a really good look at the monster designs. Even without the threat of a failure state, SOMA was effective at creating a tense atmosphere and crafting a fantastic story that questions the players perception of self and being. SOMA is currently on sale through Steam, and I will always recommend playing it.
Dark Souls III is a really good time! I started it up last month and played it casually this month, not really going for any level of completion but just enjoying the setting and trying to not die. I spent a lot of time trying to grind for titanite shards, obviously confused and thinking I was playing Dark Souls 2, so when I finally did decide to fight Vordt I knocked it out within about a minute. A part of me wants to try fighting Dancer early, but some form of PTSD is keeping me from going through with it. I’m embarrassed to admit it but I’m currently stuck fighting the Crystal Sage. I’ve opened up the way to the Abyss Watcher so I’m not hopelessly stuck, but I’ve definitely hit a roadblock. I’m not in a hurry to get through Dark Souls III, I know it’s a great game, so I’m going to keep taking it slow.
Last year I was really looking forward to trying the Skatebird demo, but unfortunately it was a really rough alpha build. This year, Skatebird was once again featured during Steam’s Summer Games Festival. Unfortunately, it’s still a very rough alpha. It wasn’t as broken as it had been a year ago, but it’s still really rough. The physics seem to have been refined, but there doesn’t seem to be any weight to your skater. You play as a bird skateboarding on a table, just like in the last demo, but this time the table has been expanded somewhat. There are plenty of rails to grind on, ramps to jump off of, and physics objects to awkwardly roll over or through. I still really like the concept of Skatebird but judging by how the game plays now compared to how it did a year ago, I’m not expecting this to be ready until 2025.
My Beautiful Paper Smile certainly is disturbing! I put this on my wishlist a couple of months ago because the papercraft, hand-drawn aesthetic really interested me. You play as a small child in some kind of compound with a lot of other children. Everyone there, the children and those who watch over them, are wearing smiles which they may never, ever remove. Every day you go through trials, and every night you’re locked in your room where a mysterious voice whispers to you of escape and the world outside. In the demo you play through a brief dream sequence, followed by a usual day in the facility. You’re sent into a dark corridor where you need to find a key and make it out alive.
If you make it through this trial, you’re given a chance to escape the facility entirely after a short story beat. I wasn’t able to make it out, and I chose to stop playing for two reasons. This being a puzzle game with an emphasis on narrative, I don’t want to spoil too much for myself. The other reason I stopped playing is because I was caught by a thing more than once and the atmosphere was getting to me. My Beautiful Paper Smile is the kind of game where even the darkness can kill you, so while I’m looking forward to playing the full game I wasn’t able to finish the demo.
(You must NEVER REMOVE YOUR SMILE)
Ultra Strangeness is a disturbing and unique-looking crossover between point-and-click adventure and Tool music video. The presentation uses clay models to represent the player and NPCs with abstract, floating...structures acting as the setting. Nothing about what you do is really grotesque, and there isn’t any body horror involved, but something about how everything is animated and interacts with each other seems bizarre in a way that I can’t quite put my finger on. I would have liked to have spent more time coming to grips with Ultra Strangeness, but the amount of content in the demo only lasted me about 6 minutes. I can’t wait for this one to launch if only to see just how weird it’ll turn out in the end.
(It's like if the Sober music video was dayglow...)
Trepang2 reminds me a lot of F.E.A.R, the old first person horror-shooter where you play as a Kung-Fu master who can slow down time. In Trepang2 you play as a Gun-Fu master who can slow down time, and who sometimes experiences disturbing hallucinations. I wish I could say more about who you are, where you are, and what’s going on, but unfortunately the text on the random documents I found while wandering around the level were incredibly difficult for me to read. Besides all I really wanted to do when I wasn’t in a gunfight was find my way to the next one. Gunplay in Trepang2 has a lot of impact to it: the bullet decals that slam into walls look slightly different from one another, a lot of the set-dressing in each room can be destroyed or shot to pieces, enemy soldiers can lose limbs, and all of the guns have a high-impact sound in addition to their literal impact on the scenery.
If the guns in Hellbound sound like someone clipped a baseball card onto a bike spoke, than the guns in Trepang2 sound like a body-builder and their buddies slamming the doors of their H3 Hummers. There weren’t any instances where I was able to sneak up on a single guard in Trepang2, they’re all in squads and while it’s possible to take out one or maybe 2 quietly, the soldiers communicate to each other during combat and coordinate their attacks against you. If you break line-of-sight from enemies you can hide in the shadows, and you have other powers that help you in combat. There’s an invisibility power that I didn’t find very useful, and there’s bullet-time which I used fairly often to dodge bullets and line up shotgun-headshots. I’ve heard whispers about this game recently, and after playing the demo I can see that what I heard were actually the rumbles of a rolling hype-train.
(This is why I kept typing it out as Trepang2)
Backbone might sound familiar to you so stop me if you’ve heard this one before: You play as a detective who’s been asked to find a missing Otter in a city populated by anthropomorphic animal people. The private detective you’re playing as is a raccoon, and in my case he wasn’t much of a people-person. Part of what you need to do in the demo involves getting into a nightclub and getting information, and it seems like there are multiple ways of achieving this goal.
In my case, I threatened a punk to tell the bouncer that I’m a cool dude. Unfortunately, the first person I spoke to inside of the place was the owner who didn’t take kindly to my questions and had me thrown out. Once I was able to get my fuzzy detective back into the club the mystery deepened and I’m ready to see how the rest of the mystery unfolds once the full game launches. Mechanically most of my progress was done through dialog, but there were some stealth segments and a couple of item collection puzzles. I’m looking forward to the full release, and since this is a narrative driven game my horrible memory will work in my favor for once.
Hellbound is really promising, but it has a ways to go before it really hits its potential. It plays a lot like the original Doom if it was a 3D arena shooter, or Serious Sam if it was scaled back. There are some enemies who attacked at range, but I noticed a lot more who would just charge at me. I mentioned it earlier while writing about how great Trepang2 was, specifically I alluded to the sound design of Hellbound being less than great. The music isn’t terrible but the loop is incredibly rough and after a while I just turned the music off so I could listen to my own music.
The weapons don’t offer too much in the way of satisfying feedback either. You can punch enemies if you’d like, and there’s a club, but it’s much safer to attack with guns. The rifle you collect first is effective, but it’s not particularly punchy. The shotgun is highly effective and it sounds satisfyingly punchy. The chaingun you can find though is just pathetic: I swear you can fire the starting rifle faster by rapidly clicking the left mouse button and when it fires it sounds less intimidating than popping bubble wrap. What you see onscreen is a different story though as the chaingun is fairly effective, especially against groups. The Hellbound demo wasn’t bad at all, it just needs some retooling in terms of sound design...unless of course the levels in the full game turn out to be terrible I guess.
(I forgot just how fat the player-character is...)
Protocorgi is essentially Gradius except you’re playing as an adorable little Corgi. I don’t know what I was expecting when I downloaded this demo but it wasn’t a side-scrolling shooter. I said it in the first sentence and I’ll say it again; Protocorgi reminds me of Gradius but when I died in Protocorgi I wasn’t left neutered in the middle of the level. Speed and maneuverability seem to be constantly high, and so many enemies drop power-ups that I was back to a decent power level fairly quickly after death. This is pretty good, but it’s not a type of game that I like to play too often in general.
FIghtcrab is a 3D, one-on-one fighting game wherein you play as a crab and must fight against other crustaceans. Before anything else you’re given a tutorial that runs through how you move, attack, defend, and what you ultimately need to do. Moving the mouse moves your claws rather than you, and depending on how you position your claws you’ll be able to attack, grab, or defend. The levels where you fight are fairly wide battle arenas with a lot of objects you can interact with and use as weapons. The overall goal isn’t to deplete a lifebar though, but rather to flip your opponent onto their back and keep them there for 3 seconds. What I wasn’t expecting was character progression. You can give your crab a tougher carapace, a starting weapon (like a gun, I’m serious, they gave a lobster a gun, God save us all), faster movement speed, etc. It’s a pretty funny premise, and the fighting is fairly fun, but even after playing the demo I’m not sure if I’m going to be picking this up on day one.
Ghostrunner has a lot of hype surrounding it and I’m absolutely feeling it. The demo asks you to do one simple thing: get to a terminal to release someone from prison. The first few sections set up that you may be disoriented, and need to get used to moving and using your abilities. Ghostrunner sounds pretty cyberpunk, and it only takes a few seconds of running around the chrome alleyways of a megacity to realize that this is very cyberpunk. Using bullet time, and a katana, to deflect bullets is a little over-the-top for the genre but I had a lot of fun doing it.
You don’t have any ranged attacks yourself, but you can slow down time briefly. You move incredibly fast, you have a grappling hook, and you can run along walls. The tutorial area is fairly linear, but once you get through those corridors the rest of the demo seems fairly open-ended. I’ve been hearing some really good things about Ghostrunner, and I really enjoyed the demo. It took a bit to get used to the speed, but messing up or dying doesn’t keep you out of the game for very long. I hope the full game launches sooner rather than later, I’m feeling the hype.
(I want to make a joke here, but I'm not familiar enough with Genji or Hanzo to do so)
My opinion on Death Stranding is already set, but this past month I reinstalled it to check into a thing or two. First thing’s first, it took 3 hours to install this onto my PS4, but the similarly dense Assassins Creed Unity only took an hour to install onto my PC despite being roughly the same file size. This is a PS4 gripe more than a game-specific gripe I know, but I still wanted to complain about this.
All I wanted to do was see if the color of the grenades would change color based on Norman Reedus’ level of hydration, but it didn’t seem like it. To do this I had to exit and re-enter Norm’s apartment in Central Knot City a couple of times but I was interrupted by cutscenes. I skipped them, but it just reinforced why I don’t like this game. I love the concept of travelling a deserted landscape, but Death Stranding keeps interrupting the mood with a plot I don’t like, characters I don’t care about, and ghost attacks that don’t harm me in any way, shape or, form.
Last month I played through the second chapter of King’s Quest, this month I played the third chapter, and boy was it different! The second chapter was all about King Graham trying to keep the citizenry of Daventry and his trusty steed from dying. In the third chapter, King Graham gets himself trapped in a tower with a trio of Princesses and no means of escape. Usually I’ll be the first person to say mean things about a forced romantic subplot in a story, but the whole of chapter 3 is built around that.
The Princesses you meet in the tower have interesting personalities, though I feel like I was pushed more towards one than the other. The puzzles in this chapter weren’t as demanding as the ones from the previous chapter, and that was a huge relief to me. I like how certain characters from the first chapter were brought up again, and the foreshadowing for the next chapter or two has me excited to keep playing. Since the main draw of King’s Quest is its narrative though, I don’t think I’ll say too much more about it. It’s a simple enough story, but it’s well told and well acted.
Assassin's Creed Unity has a reputation, but after several years, a Steam sale, and a lengthy review by Whitelight I chose to give this one a chance. At first I just wanted to make sure Unity would work at all, and even though it didn’t like my SSD it ran perfectly well once I put it onto my main drive. I haven’t played an Assassins Creed since I regularly used my Wii U, and at the time I played about a half-hour of Black Flag before quitting because I hated the opening. I loved the original and second Creed games though, and I was ready to give the franchise another chance this month.
I’ve kept up with the series well enough to know that the future-plot/bridging narrative has changed quite a bit since the days of Desmond and I like how the new future plot just says, “You the player are the future character. You are literally in the game, controlling Arno and helping the Assassins defeat the Templars and the evil Abstergo”. It’s a nice way to promote inclusivity in the narrative, kind of like how ‘You’ are an official character in Blue’s Clues, and I don't see how anybody could possibly have been offended by this. You, whoever you may be, start the game in the 12th Century for a tutorial mission, then flash forward to 18th Century France to play as Arno. There’s another quick tutorial that leads to Arno finding his father dead, another flash forward showing that Arno has grown into a loveable rogue, and the moment after establishing a love interest Arno is found next to a corpse and accused of murder. You’re sent to prison, told you have what it takes to join the Assassin’s order when Arno lets slip that he can see the special graffito, and once the French Revolution kicks off 2 years into his sentence is able to escape.
I’m still really early in Unity, I’ve found the Cafe which acts as a hub, I’ve only just figured out how to buy and upgrade new equipment, and I’m on the verge of starting Sequence 3 memories. I don’t plan on doing any of the multiplayer content, but I’m really interested in the plot. Freerunning is just as satisfying as I remember it being back when I played the first two games, but I don’t remember those games letting me parkour up or down depending on which button I’m holding. Random events are fairly engaging, but nothing special, and I’m annoyed by how quickly I was able to find the microtransaction page. Unity having 4 currencies to spend on Arno is utterly annoying, but not so annoying that I’m planning on spending anything on microtransactions.
(I'm not touching the multiplayer, but my hood is purple)
Horizon: Zero Dawn is a game that I enjoy while I’m playing it, but which I don’t play too often because of the platform it’s on. I’m happy that it’s coming to PC, and what made me play it this month at all is the fact that I could play this while sitting on my bed, while I was waiting for my desk chair to be delivered to me. I didn’t spend a lot of time playing Horizon this month though. I’ve explored a bit of the early area and made really short work of the Sawtooth because it didn’t know to avoid my fire-traps. FIghting the Sawtooth could have been better, but it was pretty easy to dodge and even to hide from. I went directly from this encounter to the Mother’s Heart.
I’m curious about what the trial is going to be once I get to the point. The celebration that’s going on when Aloy enters the town was visually interesting, even though it’s easy to stop and watch the different villagers awkwardly transition between different movements. One of the things that I most liked about Mother’s Heart though was the introduction of a couple of people from the town of Meridian. It’s nice to see that there are other civilizations in the world, and even though you only meet 2 people from Meridian, they’re different enough to make me really curious to see more of the world. Not enough that I played too much more Horizon after this, but enough to make me realize that the world is more diverse than I originally gave the game credit for.
Good news everybody, 2020 is halfway over! The bad news is that we're well and truly into Summer, the worst of all of the seasons. I'm looking forward to new game releases, and Steam's summer sale is running until the 9th, but those are just a couple of positive points in a time of year that I would rather just sleep through. Since that's not an option though, I really need to try finishing off King's Quest for my Decade Project. Assassin's Creed Unity is pulling me in too, but that was just one of 14 games that I've bought during the Steam Sale...so far...and that's not counting my backlog. Thank Goodness there aren't any current games out there that appeal to me! Well other than Shantae, Streets of Rage 4, and Persona 4.