If you game on the PC, it’s not hard to get a massive collection built up for very little money if you’re not particular about what makes it in there. Steam sales will aggressively discount games. Humble Bundle can get you a curated collection for very cheap, and if you get their Choice option they will shove 60-some DRM free games right in your face. If you’re on Amazon Prime, they will give you 5 games a month through Twitch. The Epic Games Store drops at least 2 free games on you a week. So yeah, my PC backlog has become unmanageable, really. Hell, this month’s Humble Choice has two games I’ve specifically had my eye on for a long while, and I can get those and 8 others for well less than the MSRP for each, and I’ve been refraining because I don’t want my Steam list to grow anymore until I’ve actually played a bunch more of the games on it. When I was a cub owning a game was a big deal. You thoroughly explored that game, you came to know it better than your own reflection, you mastered it as much as a gawky little kid that sucks at everything can master anything. Nowadays, at least as far as the PC goes, it seems the various game makers and distributors want you to have a library rather than having explored every little thing; I don’t think many expect you to actually play all the games they’re throwing at you.
But that’s not how I roll. I like to play all my stuff. And lately, I’ve been motivated to do so. I’m still keeping up with that focused run-through of playing all my games that I’ve done all my years, although yeah, I’m needing to adjust my expectations to deal with all these random-butt games that I’ve built up over recent years on my PC library. And apparently, how I deal with that is I just change the rules so that I’m not expecting myself to give a full playthrough to any game I didn’t directly play through and we go from there.
So, in any case, lately, in addition to the games I’d normally be playing, I’ve also been trying out many of the random games I’ve been picking up through other means. So here’s some quick judgements on some of the games I’ve been playing lately that I don’t think I’m going to end up doing a full post about. Some of these I’ve given a full playthrough, some have just been a quick try, but either way, I’ve got words to put on them, so here you are. I’ve been starting at the top of my various collections, so if you’re wondering why so many of them have titles that would pop up near the top alphabetically, well, there you go.
A Normal Lost Phone
This is a quick little experience, kind of has an interesting idea. Essentially, you find someone’s unlocked phone, and rather than turning it into anyone, you start snooping to try and figure out whose it is. Turns out, judging from recent messages on there, the guy unexpectedly disappeared. So you have to read his texts and emails and break into his apps and dating profiles and other stuff to try and figure out what’s going on. I like its approach to puzzles, they hit the right spot to me where I was never stuck and constantly able to figure the challenges pretty quickly, but they still took enough mental work that I felt rather accomplished in doing so. I ended up rather hating the game, though, because it’s rather preachy. Yes, being trans is a difficult thing fraught with a great deal of challenges and bigotry that I’m sure I do not understand because my knowing personal exposure to trans people has been rather limited, but an unnuanced black and white strawman-filled take on the subject that wants to hammer you on the head with the “feel the plight of trans people” hammer over and over is going to irritate me to no end even as I agree with the central thing it’s trying to push. And it’s preachy in a way that’s just going to galvanize the base, make the people that already agree with it feel better for agreeing with it, without actually adding more to the subject matter or approach anyone on the fringe. There were a couple of times I missed out on puzzle clues because I got tired of wading through walls of text on how horrible the strawmen were that I just stopped looking at the things that point in a direction. Also, I take issue with the ending, the same way I did with Gone Home’s. Spoiler: dude just ghosted his family because they’re homophobic. At least he’s got more reason that Gone Home’s couple, but either way, ghosting your family for anything but avoiding actual danger is a sick, horrible thing to do to them. Yes, I would say that’s worse than the homophobia. Treating it like a romanticised ideal bothers me a lot.
I’ve heard this described as underwater Journey. I haven’t played Journey, so I can’t really speak to that, but if you have, hey, maybe that means something to you.
So, you may call this a walking simulator, except there’s very little walking in it. Usually you’re swimming. You’re a diver exploring the underwater wildlife of an area, and sometimes exhibiting the strange power to create sea life where once it was missing. You explore underwater ruins, solve a few ‘find the switch/drone/item’ puzzles to open doors, and go through a bit of a minimalist story that’s surprisingly well-presented for having no dialogue and only one real character. Overall, it’s really just a relaxing, chill experience, one that does bring you some tension but otherwise has a rather meditative quality to it.
Yeah, it comes first alphabetically, but I don’t have much to say about it and I didn’t want to lead with this so it goes down here. You manage a small team of space station wreck survivors as they head into an escape pod, trying to keep them alive and have them find or develop new items to increase their odds of survival until sheer random chance inevitably kills everybody and then you wonder what the hell that was all about and uninstall the game. Not recommended.
You know, this has an interesting concept, I’ll give it that. Half the time, it’s an action platform where you have a team of characters solving puzzles and collecting resources until you get to the end, where it becomes a tower defense game and you use those resources to build traps and turrets and whatnot. It’s got a color-based sort of resistance/weakness system that adds a bit of tactical depth to the game play, where each weapon or trap has a color associated to it and enemies only take full damage when hit with the same color. It can add some action to the tower defense sections, where you may need to move your characters on the fly or shift up your trap positions to accommodate new waves of enemies of different or multiple colors. I had a lot of fun with it for a few hours, although the lack of real variation of gameplay ended up wearing down on me in the end, so I just kind of petered there, but I enjoyed it up until that point.
Aer: Memories of Old
We could copy most everything I said about Abzu here, replace references to water with references to air, and call it a day. It wouldn’t be perfectly accurate, but close enough. It’s another environmental narrative work, more emphasis on exploring ruins and figuring out puzzles than most. The big unique thing about this game is that it takes place on a series of floating islands, the remains of a ruined world, and you’re unique in that you can transform into an Eagle at any time. Flying has a great sense of energy to it, and just moving around feels really good once you get used to it. The game felt like it was just a little too long for the amount of content it had to it, and it rather unfortunately just cut out at the climax, not giving you any resolution to the plot and the main conflict it had been building up. You often see remnants of people who lived there before, find their diaries and recordings, and meet with spirits that lead you towards a great confrontation with the Big Mega Evil, but the game only takes you up until you meet with that evil, and doesn’t show a bit of how things end up with the world afterwards. Kind of a sour not on the whole thing.
A Humble Original, as far as I can tell their trove is the only place to get this. It’s definitely not the same game as the After Hours available on Steam. Humble has made clear that with their Originals publishing, they’re more interested in picking up creative and experimental projects than in high-quality works, which is an approach I can respect. Other publishers can give you the things that’ll be fun or thoughtful or well-delivered, Humble wants to give you something new an interesting.
Afterhours is an FMV game, put together as a student project. It has few areas of interactivity there, and the ones it has largely don’t seem to make an impact on the overall direction. It reminds me a lot of my time putting together film festivals. To be perfectly frank, it’s pretty typical of most of the arthouse student films I’ve seen, for whatever reason it seems so many students walk out of it with a particular approach to what their films should be that makes them rather inpenetrable to the masses. It’s about borderline personality disorder and abuse, and I know that because there’s a disclaimer at the front saying the game/short film is about that, rather than because the content actually makes a coherent statement that it’s what it’s about. This does feel like a very personal work, and I have no doubt that the woman behind it feels a lot of pain from her condition and her past, and she wants to SHOW it to you and BRING you into it and MAKE IT PART OF YOU and all the other things that over enthusiastic art teachers would tell them to do that kind of gets people lost in their own art. Afterhours feels really messy, like its got something it’s desperately trying to show you and that same desperation causes it to lose its point.
And now I’m ranting and being negative more than what’s essentially a student film deserves, but one more reminiscence here. The first film festival I was ever part of the planning committee of, our festival director had submitted some films of her own, and was in charge of planning the schedule for the blocks. In our short film block, our second to last film was basically a film festival’s dream. An amazing, touching and incredibly well-produced short film that featured recognizable, Oscar Winner talent and was made by a local director who was available in person for a Q & A afterwards. That film gave me chills, and it would have been the perfect conclusion to that block of our festival. Instead, our director gave her own short film the finale part of that block, which was a floofy little piece that just had sad people walk by each other on the road, say why they were sad, and leave. It ruined the emotional energy the the amazing film had left. And Afterhours reminds me of that. It wants you to feel the emotion that it’s trying to drive into you so hard, but it doesn’t have the nuance to it to actually get you there.
Age of Wonders III
Frankly, if I had more time, I would be so into this game. You can see its influences clearly, it’s basically Heroes of Might and Magic with a few 4X features as seen in Civilization. But honestly, Heroes of Might and Magic used to be a really great series, and I’ve got so many good memories of playing Heroes III with my sister that this game is bringing back, and this game places a great feeling into my heart. At least as far as I played, Age of Wonders III is a really slow paced strategy game, so you have to be ready to be in for the long haul with it. I ended up engaging in a 10 hour streak on one level I set up, building up a strategy with a combination of mobile and replacable units and a strongly established ground force that kept slowly pushing my front forward and taking over my enemy’s territory, but by the front I was putting up and the size of my empire I had challenges keeping my territory defended, which ended up leading to a slow battle of attrition between me an my CPU opponents that I was slowly, but surely winning. I’m not a big strategy gamer, but I rather enjoyed the depth with which I was having to operate here. Given the amount of games I have and the limited time I have to play them, I did walk away from this one, but it wasn’t an easy decision to do so.
Screw this game. Quality-wise, it may not be bad. It’s a bit of a pastiche to the pre-3D Grand Theft Auto games, and I was actually gearing to get into it. Had some performance problems, though, it was constantly stopping to load every few seconds, and when I went to adjust my graphics settings, it just totally crashed. So I started it up again, and things seemed to be going fine, until I attempted to jump my car over a donut shop, screwed it up, and the game decided to take that opportunity to ATTEMPT TO MURDER MY COMPUTER! I have never had a computer crash as hard as it did then. It even locked me out of my power button, I had to remove my laptop’s battery to get it to stop screaming in pain at me, and it took me a while of work to get my constant companion working again. And yes, before you ask, the way the crash progressed it was clearly stemming from the game’s programming, not just the hardware stress from running it. My laptop’s been able to run plenty of other current gen games just fine, yet this one is a killer. 7/10 overall.
I wonder if they made this game just because they liked the name. It’s like Pikmin, but really boring. I didn’t really pay much past the first couple of levels, so that’s absolutely not a fair assessment of the total project. I just wasn’t engaged, didn’t see any signs of something engaging on the horizon, so I stopped. If you actually play it beyond that, tell me how it is.
This game is stylish as hell. If I used points seriously, it’d get a few more just for the way it handles its visuals, sound, and level transitions. I’ve heard this described as Hotline Harambe, which is a pretty apt description. You are a gorilla, captured for whatever reason. You break out, and then everyone within a two mile radius decides that you have to be killed at all costs. You move fast, kill fast, die fast, restart fast, this is a game with a really high tempo. I’ve said several times before that procedural generating your levels is cruise control for having a really unengaging set design. Ape Out has the best procedural generation I’ve ever seen. It’s still what ultimately ended my engagement with the game, but it’s still great to see a work that made a good attempt at proving me wrong in that regard. The levels and gameplay are simple and fast enough, and you repeat it often enough, that if any game was made for procedural generation, it’d be this one, and it works better here than anywhere else I’ve ever seen.
I’m not quite sure how I feel about this game, to be honest. It’s a puzzler, where you have to set up machines in sequence so they automatically produce whatever recipes are being ordered, within a few space and resource constraints. It can be a good mindboggler, trying to figure out how to get this all working. I’m not a fan of how long it takes to set up and program your pieces, though. If you get an idea of how to work things out, it takes a fair bit of time to granularly get things working, and then a bit more time to see if it actually works right, then even more if you need to make any changes. Even small changes seem to take longer than I have the patience for. I might enjoy this more if the process of getting everything going was a bit more streamlined.
And you know, that’s all for today. We might do this again. So many games to play, so little time.
I actually did get a chance to sample Aer: Memories of Old once. I had no idea what I was doing or where to go. I guess one could call it a “flying simulator”, though it was much more interactive than most examples of its genre. Sounds like the ending wan’t worth the trouble, though.
I also kind of get a Mother 3 vibe from how you describe the ending, which is to say, needlessly obtuse for no real reason.
Yeah, that’s a decent comparison. Aer really takes it to the next level, though. You get a bunch of people telling you what’s supposed to happen when you encounter the big bad, although it’s by no means certain it’s going to go down the way they say. So you go to the big bad’s lair, absorb something that’s supposed to be harmful to him, he appears, he can’t physically touch you, you reach out to each other, fade to credits. It doesn’t even have enough content there to be that obtuse, it just cuts out before anything actually happens.
This is my fear when it comes to these free or very cheap games: that they’ll end with a pointless, stupid “twist” that just pisses me off. Or they’ll turn out to be preachy like A Normal Lost Phone. Games with messages like that seem to be pretty common in places like itch.io. It’s a shame, because I’m sure a few of them at least must be good, but how am I supposed to tell from looking at the description?
Lots of them are good! But yeah, it takes time sorting through them to find the good ones, especially given that so many of these you’ve never even heard of before. I actually quite enjoy that, it’s kind of like a birthday, albeit one that takes a fair commitment to open up all your presents.
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