Here’s what we played during the Steam Game Festival – Part 2

Dracolich – Friday, June 26, 2020 4:36 PM
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The ratio of indie versus AAA games has seemingly shifted in the past few years, at least judging by the recently-held Steam Game Festival. However, a numerical advantage in itself – no matter how much gamers longing for an indie renaissance desire it – is hardly a guarantee that the majority of the games we end up getting will offer more than a regurgitation of the easily marketable formulas so prevalent in the industry. With that said, our staff set out to fish out some of the more promising titles from the crowd – below are my brief impressions of all the games I’ve personally tried, from best to worst.

Lucky finds

Terror, insanity and a heavy dose of the surreal; i.e. everything I love — In Sound Mind

In Sound Mind
As a fan of the horror and psychological thriller genres, I feel compelled to begin my list with In Sound Mind. In it, you take a deep dive into your own mind, as well as that of various other patients, through the memories (or rather, notes) of a psychologist. The game creates an excellent blend of the real, the remembered and the surreal, while its gameplay offers a varied palette of stealth, puzzle-solving and exploration. With its memorable visuals and convincing narrative, In Sound Mind is shaping up to be a uniquely excellent title that could very well become a genuine masterpiece in its genre – the only downside is that we’ll have to wait until 2021 to play the full version.

Action, cyberware, slo-mo, stealth, gore — Ghostrunner, Trepang2

Ghostrunner, with its mysterious and action-packed storyline, high-octane pacing and well-executed cyberpunk aesthetic, looks like it could be the game that the grossly underwhelming Shadow Warrior 2 failed to become. Its atmosphere, narrative, and soundtrack (which complements the game perfectly) were all very much to my liking, and albeit the trial version generally takes no longer than 10-15 minutes to complete, its limited time frame somehow still offers a more satisfying and representative view of the game than even some of the lengthier demos out there.

Those who enjoyed the first two installments of the F.E.A.R. franchise back in the day will no doubt want to take a look at Trepang2, Trepang Studios’ upcoming gun-fu shooter. The game exhibits all the necessary elements of a solid, adrenaline-pumping FPS: bullet time, stealth, melee attacks and last but not least, an entire army of soldiers out for blood – your blood. Based on the demo alone, the game seems rich in exciting action scenes and non-stop shootouts; one can only hope that the storyline and the currently somewhat bare-bones environmental design, along with all the action, will be enough to help create a satisfying final product.

An engaging journey with an intriguing plot — The Hand of Merlin

The Hand of Merlin
The Hand of Merlin is a narrative-focused RPG/adventure game with a novel approach: imitating the style of choose your own adventure books, it presents a different story with each new playthrough while utilizing a turn-based tactical view for enemy encounters. The game also features a unique growth system that lets you level up and improve your characters with Renown Points (RP) earned throughout the adventure. The Hand of Merlin’s primary appeal lies in its sheer replayability, as well as its presentation, which harkens back to the golden era of tabletop RPG modules. I was a little saddened by the lack of voice acting, though, as I feel a talented narrator would go a long way in improving the game’s overall atmosphere.

Strategy in moderation — The Riftbreaker, Stronghold: Warlords

The Riftbreaker
It’s rare for a survival RTS to truly grab me, but this is exactly what happened with The Riftbreaker. As I kept playing, I found myself completely immersed in the game’s world – populated by aliens and filled with dangers and exciting possibilities – and had a total blast mining futuristic sources of energy, setting up automated defense systems to beat back enemy invasions, and commanding a giant robot that wields a fearsome energy sword. I’ll be looking forward to the full version with much interest – based on what I’ve experienced so far in terms of gameplay and storytelling, The Riftbreaker could potentially become a game that’s accessible even to people who would otherwise steer clear of this genre.

The demo for Stronghold: Warlords seemed similarly promising, and although series veterans tend to claim that it adds nothing particularly new to the franchise, it definitely felt like a notable step forward in terms of graphical fidelity and animation quality.

Lukewarm waters

Expectations vs. reality — Desperados 3, Hazel Sky, Earth From Another Sun

Desperados III
Desperados 3, after multiple delays, was finally released and felt more like a remake of the original game based on the demo level (1.05) that I played. After the clunky, bug-ridden mess that was Desperados 2, it made perfect sense for the sequel to instead return the series to its confident roots – however, it remains to be seen whether or not this new installment, with its characters and storyline that feel partially identical to the first game’s, will be able to offer players genuinely new experiences.

Hazel Sky
Hazel Sky’s trailer made it seem like a fun little adventure, but after playing the demo, I can say that it’s anything but that: the protagonist, who looks like a character straight out of Fortnite, spends his time running around performing menial tasks in order to fix his flying hunk of junk with a stapler and get to the neighboring island in pursuit of his uncle.

Earth From Another Sun
Earth From Another Sun is a classic alien shooter sporting all the unfortunate characteristics of modern game design, including damage numbers (after all, we need to make the player feel better about themselves and their big numbers, right?), repetitive, samey-looking monsters and uninspired levels where your progression translates to bigger, better guns and tougher enemies. The main character, Mr. Happy, fights through various levels to reach a powerful boss monster, which I assume serves as the climax of the storyline’s “pursuing happiness” theme. All in all, I found it difficult to determine if the game was intended to be taken seriously, or if it’s merely a parody of the genre itself.

Recompile, a puzzle/shooter hybrid where you’re an error in the system, was an interesting take on the usual platformer formula, while Exo One’s demo allowed me to traverse the surface of an exoplanet with a visual style that felt kind of like a psychedelic trip.

Bland flavors

Things to avoid — Relicta

While I generally tried to pick out demos based on my own personal criteria, at times I found that a promising first impression could very easily lead to bitter disappointment.
One such disappointment was Relicta, a game that attempts to bore players with tedious box puzzles that soon become crushingly repetitive, and tells a story where the female members of the Patel family (a mother and her daughter) are the sole guardians of the fate of the Earth… and probably the entire universe as well. And during all this, they still have time to gleefully put the white male member of the family on hold on their space-phones (as a way to get back at him) so as not to be interrupted during their idle chit-chatting. If you’re a fan of puzzle games, don’t bother with this one; for starters, there are a myriad more interesting titles out there, and besides, a narrative with this kind of social commentary – where there’s a swear word in almost every other sentence – has no business being attached to a puzzle game. Or any game, for that matter.

I’d recommend that the developers (and puzzle enthusiasts in general) check out a 2014 game called The Talos Principle instead, both for thought-provoking and comparison purposes. Thankfully, the demo ended after exactly an hour of play time, thus sparing me from having to listen to any more of its frankly distasteful dialogue scenes.

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