Quick Hits: Steam Sale 2011, Week 1

The thing I like most about the semi-annual Steam Sales isn’t the deals. It isn’t the giveaways and prizes. It’s that the holiday achievements give me an excuse to try some of the indie games I’ve bought and haven’t gotten to yet. And it’s an excuse to pull some old favourites that I thought I was done with down from the shelf for another go around. In that spirit, here’s what I’ve played in the first few days of the sale, and what I’ve thought about them.

AI War
The Achievement was for losing 30,000 ships in a single game. This is no small task. There’s a few save-games floating around, but I’m just the right kind of stubborn what I wanted to learn how to play the game, and then get the achievement legitimately. According to Steam, this took me 13 hours. The majority of this was in my learning game, where I learned that I had set the game speed too slow and the fleet size too small to realistically get the achievement. The rest was spent playing a proper game at AI level 4 (out of 10, which was too low for a challenging game), and then, when I was close to winning, cranking up the game to top speed and rallying a continuous drizzle of low-tier ships into enemy space until the achievement popped.

And what did I think of the game itself? I couldn’t stop comparing it to Sins of a Solar Empire. There are a lot of things I like more in Sins: the graphics, the fact that travel between systems takes time, the tech tree, the topology of the randomly generated maps, the sense of scale and space around a planet. But AI War has its advantages as well. It was very easy after a little while to assemble and manage fleets, as well as to set up static defenses (though I had a hard time gauging how much static defense I needed at a given location). I love the asymmetry between the two sides. I was playing solo, but I imagine it will be great as a co-op game.

Defense Grid
An old favourite. I always appreciate an excuse to go back and play more Defense Grid. The achievement was easy and painless.

Sword & Soldiers
An achievement that forced me to try out the multiplayer, but was still easy to get in a random match. This is a great idea. I lost my match, in part because I couldn’t remember how to build towers, but it was good, quick fun all the same. Perhaps something I’ll try out more of in the future.

Orcs Must Die
This seems like a great, quick, pick-up-and-play game. It seems to be missing the loot-lust and customizability of Iron Brigade, née Trenched (also missing: co-op). The action didn’t feel great – in particular, the game doesn’t give great feedback about when you’re taking damage – but the tower-defense aspect was satisfying. I’ll come back to it at some point.

The achievement came so quickly that I didn’t have to learn how to play, but even so, there’s this twinge of feeling when my nuke hit a populated area (and Santa), of shock and sadness. It’s because of, rather than in spite of, the sparse graphical style.

Frozen Synapse
Another achievement that I got quickly and without learning the game. But what I did see I liked a lot. Even a cursory glance showed that there were a variety of tactical options available, and I already like the turn-based/real-time hybrid system that the game uses when it was used in Flotilla.

Before I loved Brütal Legend, I loved Psychonauts. I’ve played the opening levels of Psychonauts so many times that I could easily breeze through the opening levels. I was actually surprised I didn’t have a save-game already on my PC. Still as charming and clever as ever, and the gameplay and graphics have held up ok too.

I’m no connoisseur of side-scrolling shooters, but this seems like a good one to me. Another game that I’ll probably come back to and finish after the sale, and maybe even try to find people to play co-op with.

And Yet It Moves
The only game of this set that I didn’t enjoy on some level. Unappealing audio and graphics. Gameplay is simultaneously unintuitive and shallow. Because the character’s momentum vector doesn’t rotate when you rotate the world, there’s no way to recover from a mistake, leading to lots of deaths. Also, I seem to remember the Wii version having analog rotation and a momentum indicator that pops up while rotating, both of which are absent from the Steam version. These would both improve the game a little, but not enough to actually make it good.

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