Steam Summer Sale 2016 Recommendations

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.


Story Driven


Dropsy – 60% off, $3.99

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 – 33% off, $13.39

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 – 50% off, $9.99

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 – 50% off, $12.49

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.



game dev tycoon

Game Dev Tycoon – 33% off, $6.69

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.

cities skylines

Cities: Skylines + DLC – 60% off, $11.99, Snowfall DLC 25% off, $9.74, After Dark DLC 50%, $7.49

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.

cook serve delicious

Cook, Serve, Delicious! – 75% off, $2.49

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.



long dark

The Long Dark – 66% off, $6.79

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.


Sheltered – 50% off, $7.49

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.



mini metro

Mini Metro – 30% off, $6.99

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.


Party Hard – 75% off, $3.22

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!

Warcraft (2016, dir. Duncan Jones)


Few video game properties come to the table with a such a dense lore and mythos as Warcraft. I never really played the original real-time strategy Warcraft games, but I did put about two years worth of time into World of Warcraft, even grinding two characters to the level cap of 90 at the time. During those two years of play, what I enjoyed most was the exploration aspect. Every time my character entered a new zone it was exciting to see what monsters lay in wait, what treasures there were to find, and it was always great to spend time seeing all the beautiful design put into the world. The film Warcraft was announced ten years ago but has languished in development until the last couple years. After a decade of development, what did we end up with?

Warcraft, directed by Duncan Jones, tells the stories of the war between the human and the orcs of Azeroth. As a result of a demonic plague, the orcs construct a portal that brings them to the world of Azeroth. Souls are needed to open the portal again and bring the orcs who stayed behind. The humans immediately want to drive the orcs back and thus the war begins. The cast is filled with many confusingly similar bearded men and some beautiful animated motion capture orcs. Also, Paula Patton is a half-orc with some very distracting tusk prosthetic.

Warcraft is an utter mess of a film. This rests entirely on the screenplay which failed in something that should have been easy. The IP has thousands of years of established lore and they picked a very meaty chunk of that history. The only work the screenplay had to do was character development and it completely fails. Instead, the film is constantly jumping from location to location never allowing us to really get to know or care about the characters. The dialogue is also painfully cliched. As a knight is leaving a curious mage behind in a mystical library he turns around to utter, “And while I’m gone…try not to touch anything” followed by the mage causing a minor accident. None of the dialogue differentiates the characters or gives you a sense of who they are.

The look of Warcraft also always been exaggerated and cartoonish. This does not translate well into live action. The entire look of the Alliance armor and much of the architecture is cringeworthy. The orcs look wonderful, though. The cgi used for the other side of the film’s war is exceptional and the facial expression that comes through is quite an achievement. The orcs are also far and away the most interesting part of the film and we do not spend enough time with them. It’s essentially a 60/40 split in my opinion between humans and orcs.

For viewers unfamiliar with the world of these games, I can only imagine what a confusing, mind boggling film this must be. I have a passing familiarity with many of the characters and bits of history so I was able to feel my way through events in the film, but even I had moments of confusion about who was who. There’s an emphasis put on the importance of Durotan’s newborn orc son which will play strangely to newcomers. Easter eggs abound for the fans, which is no surprise, but when the core of your narrative is near impenetrable to people who have never played the game you have problems. Sadly, if the acting had been more over the top, a la the Dungeons & Dragons film, Warcraft might be a fun “bad” movie, but everyone is so dull and uninteresting. And worst, it’s almost as hard to tell the litany of bearded white men apart as it is the orcs.

Duncan Jones is not a bad director. His debut feature, Moon, is one of the best independent films of the last decade. His mainstream follow up was Source Code, not a terrible film but fairly forgettable. He is thankfully returning to his roots with Mute, which he calls a follow up to Moon. What he presents us with in Warcraft is very confounding. The only conclusion a viewer could come to is that Jones struggled to bring his own stamp to the film, and it was inevitably overtaken by studio notes and the marketing department. What we’re left with is a film that so desperately wants to be the start of a new franchise but doesn’t have a hook to bring in the audience you need to do that. The film is doing amazingly well in China so there may actually be more. Let’s hope they put character first and use those individual, interesting personalities to help us care about the lore, not the other way round.

Game Review – Heavy Rain

Heavy Rain (2010, Quantic Dream, PS3 only)

In 1999, I was very excited about the release of Shenmue on the Dreamcast console. The conceit behind that game was you were in a completely open world where you could interact with everything. That had me very interested, while the game’s action mechanic didn’t seem as appealing. For instance, if you were in a footchase with someone, buttons would flash on screen and you would have a couple seconds to press the corresponding one on your controller. At the time, I found that style of play a little stressful and not very fun. Heavy Rain doesn’t have the freedom and openness, but makes that initially frustrating game play riveting.

In an unnamed metropolitan city, we find ourselves in the shoes of architect Ethan Mars, a family man with a beautiful wife and two sons. His happy life turns to tragedy when his eldest, Jason is hit by a car and put in a coma. Ethan’s marriage falls apart and he ends up sharing custody of his younger son, Shaun. A second horrific tragedy strikes when Shaun disappears and appears to be the victim of the Origami Killer, a criminal plaguing the city. You will simultaneously play as Madison Paige; a journalist who befriends Ethan, Norman Jayden; an FBI agent using experimental VR tech to investigate the Origami Killer, and Scott Shelby; an ex-cop turned crusading P.I. out to avenge the victims of the Origami Killer. The game is divided into alternating chapters as these characters pursue their individual paths, while occasionally crossing over.

What stands out most about Heavy Rain over traditional video games, is that you can’t die in a way that ends the game. Instead, characters can be wounded and make mistakes that branch the story in different directions. Near the end of the game the possibility of death becomes a major reality, but up until then you constantly feel progression even if you aren’t making headway in the case. For example, Shelby and his partner visit a local repair shop where things go bad. Before they can leave you (as Shelby) have to wipe your prints from everything you touched in the store. If you fail to wipe down everything the story branches into you being brought in for questioning. This type of game play comes across as a more complex version of a Choose Your Own Adventure.

There are other types of play moments that involve a limited amount of time. Fights with characters consist of a button flashing on the screen, which you must hit within seconds or you miss a block or the chance to throw a punch of your own. Occasionally you end up in a grapple with a foe which requires you to quickly tap a button to break through. Other moments involve the physically movement of the controller to emulate a character’s on screen action. There’s also certain challenges that involve your hands contorting unnaturally on the controller as your avatar on screen must contort to escape being bound or restrained.

Heavy Rain manages to deliver an interactive cinematic story that will pull you deep into the drama. From the excitement of footchases and fights, to the shocking reveal of the Origami Killer’s identity I was completely absorbed.