Quick Hits: Steam Sale 2011, Week 2

Another week has passed. I played a bunch more games for achievements. While all my achievement attempts were successful last week, this week there were two failures. Nonetheless, I played a lot of games, some old and some new, and learned a lot.

Atom Zombie Smasher
A delightful little game that I bought and played a fair bit around the summer sale. Quirky and varied. The achievement was for playing a mini-game, rather than the campaign, which is a bit of a shame. The mini-game was fine, but a bit too action-y for my taste. Campaign mode has a great feeling of progression and risk and reward. Leveling units and trying to make the most out of getting a bad draw (bait, mines and tnt, for example) and trying to beat back the horde on the campaign map. It’s an excellent way to blow a couple of hours.

I’ll have a separate post just about Bastion in the coming days. For now, I’ll just say that it’s a fantastic, charming, generous game. It’s an amazing feat, especially for such a small team. The quality per development resources ratio is off the charts.

Rock of Ages
Conceptually interesting. A neat attempt at making symmetrical versus tower defense game. Unfortunately, as the Joystiq review noted, it’s got a serious mechanical flaw: it’s extremely difficult to build defenses that will damage the boulder enough to make it take anything except exactly three runs to break through the opposing door. Hence it becomes a race to complete those three runs, which makes the game much more action than strategy. Maybe the versus mode is better? On the other hand, I do enjoy quirky style, and that’s something Rock of Ages has in spades.

Anomaly Warzone Earth
The surprise hit of this batch of games. I thought the gameplay would feel thin – reverse tower-defense pretty just means ordinary tower defense with a different frame of reference, and less complicated decisions about placement. But for some reason, I found it quite satisfying. It does help that the game looks really good.

Team Fortress 2
I was going to get this one legitimately, but I’ve been busy, so instead I just put on a podcast, created my own server, turned off the respawn timer, and suicided repeatedly until it popped. It’s a shame, really. For my money, Team Fortress 2 is still the best multiplayer shooter out there, and I was looking forward to having the excuse to crack it out again.

Revenge of the Titans
Conceptually, I like the idea of a tower defense game where the monsters aren’t confined to the path, but will dynamically re-route based on my buildings. In execution, it’s hard. Really hard. Especially the level for the achievement, which is based on the presumption that the player understands all the tools in the game’s quite large toolbox. So I ended up wussing out and downloading a save file. A little buggy too – I’d keep switching out of the ap when it was full-screened just by clicking somewhere, and mouse-scrolling wouldn’t work. Also, if the levels are going to be as big as the holiday one, a mini-map or a way to zoom out would be appreciated. I also really dislike the Plants vs Zombies style currency drops, where I have to be on the lookout for drops to click on, rather than focusing on how effective my towers are. Still, I like the idea of the game, so maybe I’ll come back to it again some day.

Dungeon Defenders
Very frustrating. I don’t care for the decision to make the achievement require experienced players. I care even less for the connection issues that ruined the experience once I got a group together to play. I do like the aesthetic of the game – the cel shading is quite pleasing, and it helps separate the game from all the other Warcraft look-alikes. I think there’s a lot to like about the core design of the game, too. I’ll come back to it some day, probably in co-op with H. It’s just a shame about the technical issues.

Also, and this is a comment about the game generally, not the winter level, I feel like they really should have thought more about how the game plays solo, because it’s just not well-paced. The levels are too big, the characters are too slow at the start, there are too many places for enemies to come from, and so there’s a whole lot of set-up time at the start, especially if you want to place towers using more than one class. Even just using one class, the starting mana reserves are so low that you have to scavenge around for more each time you want to place a tower. Even something small like giving a speed boost to characters during the set-up phase would have helped, though there’s still so much ground to cover once the monsters start coming that if something goes wrong in single-player, there’s not a lot of hope for recovery.

Space Pirates and Zombies
Another fun little game that I hope to come back to. It seems to lack the randomness of something like Space Rangers, but it’s got a solid, simple gameplay base, with a strong feeling of progression. I agree with Tom Chick that it would have been a more exciting choice not have the zombies be a surprise rather than putting them right up there in the title. Even so, I had a lot of fun getting the achievement, and found myself perfectly willing to overlook the low production values. Definitely one I’ll go back to in the future.

Left 4 Dead 2
One of those games I’ll freely acknowledge the quality of but that never clicked with me. I suppose it makes for a nice co-op experience, but I just never got into versus, which seems to be what most people want to play. Oh well. I put on some bots and the achievement was quick and painless.

My love for SpaceChem is well-documented. I’ll take any excuse to go back and play more of it. I just wish they’d release some more levels on Research Net.

Puzzle Agent 2
While clearly inferior to the Professor Layton games, I still enjoyed the first Puzzle Agent. Getting the achievement took no time at all, and I look forward to playing the rest of the game with H at some point.

Super Meat Boy
Apparently making the harder of the two achievements be the one that counts for the present was a mistake. Nonetheless, even my brief time with the game taught me that this is not a game for me. While there are some walls I will bang my head against, this is not one of them. And the game’s humour just doesn’t click with me.

One that it was nice to go back to. The platforming can be a little fiddly, but at the same time, it’s nice that the physics are all there to allow experimentation, rather than there just being one “right” way to do something. Another one that I’ll hopefully get to go back and try out with H in co-op.

At first I had a lot of trouble with the achievement. But once I got into a groove, I remembered just how much fun this game can be. I even went out and got the Cthulu-themed expansion pack. Plus, apparently, they patched in saving at checkpoints. It’s really nice to see those crazy Swedes supporting their game so well, despite the rough launch.

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