It’s that time of year, when wallets groan, your cursor hovers over the purchase button inevitably pushing it, and your game library grows in leaps and bounds. This year, with buying a new house and having other expenses I need to save towards, I will be abstaining from the Steam Summer Sale. I also have a library of 200+ games that I haven’t devoted enough my attention to so I have plenty to keep me entertained. I decided that I would still participate, but in the form of recommending some games I have enjoyed in the last year if you are looking for something fun. Now, my tastes don’t lie in the first person shooter or heavy action genres so I think you’ll find some nice off the beaten path things in my list.
You may hate clowns, but it’s near impossible to hate Dropsy. He is such a loving and sad figure. Dropsy is an old school point and click adventure featuring the titular clown who just wants to help people and give out hugs. He walks through a city and a desert searching for those who need a hand. He’s often misunderstood by those he crosses paths with but that doesn’t hold him back. The music in this game is unlike anything I’ve heard in another video game and if Monkey Island and Maniac Mansion were some of your favorites back in the day, Dropsy will scratch that specific itch.
Firewatch is what some people in video games call a walking simulator. There is no action, or combat, the game consists mostly of walking around Yellowstone National Park and answering your walkie talkie. But inside this game is a very affecting emotional story, a thrilling mystery, and some of the most beautiful stylized visuals. I often don’t complete video games, I play for a bit and then come up against a difficulty or get bored. This game I finished in four days. If you let it, it will pull you into its world and let you get lost in exploration.
Oxenfree is an adventure game that focuses on Alex, a teenage girl, traveling with friends for a night of partying on the beach of a nearby island. Things get weird as soon as they arrive and a story of the supernatural unfolds. Oxenfree has a cute style but goes to some really deep places. Alex’s relationships are explored through a unique dialogue system where three possible responses appear as word bubbles above her head, and you have the option to play as a mute if you choose. The ending of the game is heavily influenced by your choices in how you treat your fellow party goers and this is yet another game where exploration is encouraged.
Kentucky Route Zero (KRZ) is incomplete. This episodic adventure has released three of its five parts and there is some understandable dissatisfaction on Steam. I would argue that complete or not, what does exist of KRZ is a masterpiece. The tones and moods evoked in the first moments of the game are unlike anything I’ve experienced in a game. A truck driver named Conway stops at a gas station on his way to deliver items from his wife’s antique shop. He’s given advice to seek out the Zero, a highway route that will get him where he needs to go quicker. Instead, Conway’s path crosses with a series of eclectic and fascinating characters. The music and the visuals of this game will truly take you to another world. I am crossing my fingers we will see this story completed, but even if only these three episodes are all we get it is still an accomplishment in the video game as a poetic expression.
There’s something about business simulation games. I remember playing some wonderfully crude movie studio games in my youth and there’s a satisfying feel you get from trying to figure out how to produce something that gets a perfect score. In Game Dev, you play the solitary member of a video game company starting in your garage in the 1980s. The game is both a simulation and a journey through the history of video game consoles. In the beginning you will be churning out small, simple games but when you get to the end game you could be manufacturing your own consoles, developing MMOs, and producing AAA quality games with a multi-person staff of developers. I’ve logged 64 hours in the game so there is something that keeps pulling me back.
SimCity is one of the greatest time sinks ever invented and while that franchise has been tarnished with its recent EA release, Cities: Skylines picks up the mantle and produces what is the best city builder I have ever played. The complexity of Skylines’ options is balanced with the interface’s ease of use. Smart design choices were made: Electrical poles create an aura of energy so no need to create a massive row of power lines. Traffic is still an issue, as in the old SimCity games, but Skylines gives the user a lot of creative freedom in how they want to design their system of roads and highways. Mass transit is also much easier to use with subways and bus lines being able to be dropped in without a ton of effort. The DLCs have brought a day/night cycle which changes how people and businesses operate after hours, different climates and weather, as well as adding to the options of the core game. If you have even the slightest interest in city builders this is a must buy.
You’ve probably played one of the many speed based food flash games online. They might have you serving up burgers or sliding drinks down the bar. Cook, Serve, Delicious! takes those simplistic games and adds many layers of depth and challenge to them. Added on to the core game are challenges and a new Battle Kitchen multiplayer mode (think Iron Chef). As you grow your restaurant, your menu can expand. The faster and more accurate you serve up dishes the better your tips. There’s also an element of time as certain dishes work better at certain times of day (Coffee, Eggs, and Bacon are better morning dishes). There is truly no game like this with as much depth.
Survival is a slow, arduous process. The Long Dark simulates the struggle it can be to keep moving in the face of survival in the brutal cold of the Canadian wilderness. Your plane crashes after electromagnetic interference and from the first moments you need to be on the mood for shelter and food. Wolves and bears prowl the forest and if you are crafty enough you can snare a rabbit or lucky enough find a hunting rifle and take down a deer. You’ll come across abandoned homes and cars, spending time looting for that piece of food you need to make it through the night. There’s a decent crafting system that starts as simple as patching clothes but works up to skinning the animals of the forest and curing their skins to make warmer, more protective clothing. Multiple locations make up the game that will require lots of exploration to discover the connection points. The game is in Early Access at the moment, with a Story mode still in development. As it stands, The Long Dark is already a wonderful, immersive sandbox to play in.
The world has ended, but your family of four as made it to a bunker. Now you have to begin piecing together a life after the disaster. Sheltered plays in real time so making decisions carries a significant weight. One wrong choice can create a ripple effect that stays with you for the rest of the game. Family members can suit up and head out into the wasteland to search for supplies and may encounter threats. Improvements can be made to the shelter, but big ones require a lot of resource gathering in the outside world. Strangers may show up knocking on your shelter door and it’s up to you to decide if you left them in or out. The art style may be simple but the tense scenarios you are presented with can elicit deep emotional responses. This game is one of the best apocalypse survival games I’ve ever played.
Incredibly simple in appearance but extraordinarily complex. Mini Metro has you design subway routes between stations. It’s all primary colors and simple shapes. Riders are represented as squares, circles, and triangles at the start of the game and they need to be delivered to station that match their shape. You only have a limited number of lines you run, but you can always erase a line and re-route it. As you pass through weeks, new shapes are added and you’re presented with three upgrades to choose from. Do get a new line or add a car to an existing line? Should you purchase the ability to create a tunnel under the river? Everything is incredibly abstracted but makes lots of sense. There are even challenges based around famous major cities where you’re presented with a map that shows the major waterways you’ll need to have lines cross. A game that can work well as a form of relaxation or an intense strategy challenge.
Those damn neighbors won’t turn down their music. What are you to do? Well, in Party Hard you don a mask, grab a knife, and become an 1980s style slasher. With some of the catchiest music I’ve ever heard in a game, Party Hard lets you discover the most creative, brutal ways to dispatch with these obnoxious douchebags. Each party or event is one single screen and, like Where’s Waldo spread, is full of tons of details with many of them being ways to take out the partygoers. Don’t get seen or someone will run to the closest phone and alert the police. If you are fast and clever you’ll find a place to hide and dodge the law. With each new party things get harder, more eyes watching. And around it all is the story of a police detective trying to track down the mysterious killer and getting closer. Recently a level editor has been added which lets users create and share even more challenges once the core 19 levels are completed.
Have Steam games you think are must owns? Leave a comment below and share your picks!