Category: Puzzle

Christmas Steam Games 2018: QuickRecs

Our sacred holiday tradition continues! I got so many this year that we get to divide this into recs and pans. Most of these are puzzle games; I suppose those are the ones that go for cheap.

Inside: Hollow Knight, Recursed, Ittle Dew 2, The Dweller, Zasa: An AI Story, NO THING, Quell, Qbik, Reveal the Deep.

I also got Hue, which Act already reviewed. It is wonderful and I second her recommendation.

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Christmas Steam Games (2019)

Another year, another crop. I put this off for a while because I was hoping to be able to rejigger a few games that had trouble playing on my computer, but no such luck. You’ll have to wait for reviews of FezMages of Mystralia, and The Talos Principle when (if) I upgrade my hardware.

Inside: Hexcells, Her Story, Momodora: Reverie Under the Moonlight, Gravitas, Disoriented, OVIVO.

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Hacknet

Hacknet is a game I picked up on Steam for cheap. Its premise is that it’s a “hacking simulator”: A prominent hacker has been murdered, and his deadman switch contacts you and gives you a copy of his hacking software. You’re told to investigate the truth behind his murder and the project he was working on. Sounds like a cool cyberpunk romp!

…But unfortunately, only a small part of the game is about that. Most of the campaign requires slowly building up rapport with various hacker groups, which takes the bog-standard form of accepting utterly trite and banal contracts like hacking someone’s video game account to give them more points or modifying a resume. Even for the potentially more interesting ones, you never get any greater context for who’s sending them or why, because you’re just a mercenary and anonymity is sacred.

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The Talos Principle

The Talos Principle is a first-person puzzler. You play as a robot who awakens to the voice of someone claiming to be your creator, who tasks you with completing puzzles. He promises you eternal life for your service, but orders you not to ascend the tower at the center of the world.

As a puzzle game, I thought this was quite good. I was initially worried it would become repetitive, but the difficulty curve is excellently paced, with new mechanics doled out at just the right speed to get you used to each. The gameplay is incredibly intuitive, with many levels functioning as tutorials for new mechanics simply through their design and allowing you to poke everything at your leisure. There’s little in the way of explicit tutorial text, but you don’t need it; you learn how the world works by investigating it. I’d even say the game had a bit of a Metroidvania feel in the sense that certain puzzles teach you tricks and tactics that help make others much easier.

I also appreciated a fix for something that bothered me about Portal: held objects will snap to switches and boxes when you place them, so you don’t run into the problem of failing the puzzle because you placed a block a few pixels off-center from the pressure plate and the unnecessarily complicated physics engine took that as an excuse to go crazy. Similarly, the game highlights which areas are reachable by jump, so you don’t have to wonder about that either.

My only complaint is that I felt the addition of actual hazards were unnecessarily frustrating, especially when some puzzles can be quite long and require a lot of finnicky setup (especially the star puzzles that require configuring multiple puzzle areas at once). I think it would have been nicer if dying didn’t force you to reset the entire area, especially when the entire conceit is that you’re in a simulation where death is meaningless.

Also, the star puzzles that required you to use clever manipulation of your tools and environment were good, but the ones that were just “You need to find this switch that’s hidden around a corner behind a tree and in total darkness” were just infuriating. Pixel hunts are not puzzles.

As for the plot, my reaction can be pretty much summed up by this SMBC comic:

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Games For Racial Justice and Equality (Part 1)

So, itch.io ran a bundle to fundraise for Black Lives Matter, offering over a thousand games for only $5. As a fundraiser, I found the ethos… questionable (“Give us money so we can do actual activism while you play video games”), but it was a good deal, so I got it.

A good chunk of the items included aren’t actual games; they are either assets or tabletop RPGs. There are still a ton, though. Here are my thoughts on the games I’ve gotten through in the first half of the year:

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Games for Racial Justice and Equality (Part 2)

Continuing where we left off. A much weaker showing this time, with a lot of games I couldn’t even finish.

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The Witness

I’ve wanted to check out this game ever since it was billed to me as a “Metroidvania of knowledge”. It’s a first-person puzzler where you explore a mysterious island covered in computer terminals with puzzles to solve. You can access nearly the entire island from the start, but some areas build on puzzle rules taught in other areas, so you need to learn and understand new mechanics in order to progress.

It left me with very mixed feelings.

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Yahtzee Croshaw’s Dev Diary

In 2019, Yahtzee Croshaw (the game reviewer who does Zero Punctuation) challenged himself to make 12 games in 12 months and document his progress every fortnight. As someone interested in game design myself, I checked them out and I recommend you do too. They’re all short, free, and incredibly varied.

In this post I’ll give my own ranking, and short thoughts on each one.

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FEZ

FEZ is a game I got years ago, but was unable to play until now because it used a really specific graphics renderer that wasn’t supported by my crappy hardware. Now that I finally have a proper graphics card, I decided to try it out.

The premise of FEZ is that it’s a puzzle platformer where you move in 2D but can rotate the environment in 3D. This allows you to use perspective tricks like bridging platforms that are far apart at one angle but close together at another.

Unfortunately, this is not the actual gameplay of FEZ.

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Supraland

Supraland is a game I’ve been eyeing for a while, and only recently got the hardware for. (It’s one of those “all games must be computer-meltingly photorealistic” affairs.) It is billed as a “First-Person Metroidvania”, like Metroid Prime, and has a cutely weird premise of taking place in a child’s extremely elaborate sandbox, with every character and object being a toy of some kind.

I liked it a lot more than Metroid Prime, chiefly because it had a mouse-based control scheme that meant basic actions weren’t like pulling teeth. I found it fun overall, but also a bit shallow, with not enough complexity to really carry the full game.

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Quantum Conundrum

This is a Portal clone, but, unlike Gravitas, not a good one. It’s a physics puzzler where you must navigate a mad scientist’s lab while a sardonic narrator comments on your every action, all clear elements of Portal. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to understand what made those elements so effective in Portal, and completely fumbles the execution.

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