Orcs Must Die – Steam Curator

Many games try to blend tower defense and shooter combat. Orcs Must Die succeeds in a way that many others do not. It manages to make tower type and placement, and your ability to land headshots and manage special abilities feel important, powerful, and necessary to your success or failure. It’s a game that understands tension curves; there will be waves that are sure things and waves that you swear you wouldn’t have survived if you’d been prioritizing targets with your special abilities.

Everyday Shooter – Steam Curator

A dual stick shooter plus rhythm game. As with games such as Rez, your actions in the world (shooting, killing enemies, etc.) are reflected in the music the game is producing. Each level is a different song, with different sound effects, different enemy behaviours and different multiplier/chaining mechanisms. There’s a lot to explore and learn in a very familiar space. It’s also a good example of a game recognising and embracing the player as the author of the experience.

 

Tropico 4 – Steam Curator

Tropico is a mix of Civilization, Dungeon Keeper, and Sim City. You are the dictator of an island nation and you control pretty much everything. Like Civ, its strength is a large collection of interconnected systems and mechanics with various, valid methods of achieving the goals it puts before you. You will balance world politics – for example, do we support the nuclear research in Iran? It will lose points with the USA/EU, but it will get us favour with Russia and Asia. Your gut may say condemn it but your thriving pineapple export business with China and Japan says you REALLY want them to continue buying pineapples from you. It’s a game that offers many short term, long term choices, and dilemmas are plentiful.

 

It makes everything about politics and business feel slimy, sleazy, and corrupt. It’s a game that will make the most green, environmentally conscious person scream “Ugh, stupid environmentalists, what now?” It makes gameplay out of breaking election promises.

 

And finally, it’s one of the few games where you can look up in the middle of a session and be startled that hours have passed, its dark now and you haven’t had lunch yet, let alone dinner.

 

Bully – Steam Curator

Arguably Rockstar’s best game, with a stellar (original) soundtrack. It’s GTA if all the characters were children, and it was set in a private boarding school. The gangs are the different cliques: nerds, jocks, preps, greasers, staff. In a weird way, it has more social and political intrigue than GTA because everyone understands highschool. Despite everything being a caricature, the lowered stakes make it much easier to fall completely into this world.

 

Determining the location of a rival’s date, hiding in a nearby tree top, ruining the romantic mood with surprise water balloon attack and slinking away without them knowing it was you.

On the way home outrunning a truancy officer on your bike via dirt road and sneaking back into your dorm.

It’s the high school/college life you probably never had but secretly wish you did.

 

It’s not without it’s flaws; the controls, checkpoints, saving, and some of its minigames may make you never want to go to that class or get detention again. But that in itself is another amazing thing, creating the same emotions and thought processes in the player as the main character; “I don’t want to go to class, it takes forever and it’s boring.”

 

Receiver – Steam Curator

Most FPS’s make the act of using a gun very simple: point and shoot. They don’t implement the physical mechanics that would be required for a gun to work, because why would they? Their focus is positioning, timing and tactics against AI or human foes. Receiver flips this – the AI is very simple, and what you need to do is very simple, but using your weapon is complicated and that makes it special.

You will have to learn how to use the gun, and what steps are required to make it work. This will take time and experimentation. You will learn though and you will feel accomplished. You will no longer have to look at the help text for what actions are available to you. You will be able to tell if the gun is ready to use or not by inspecting it, not by UI elements. Once you have learned these things, you will walk calmly and confidently into rooms with robot enemies and soon you will hear a click, instead of a bang, and run away. It’s an amazing feeling, one you won’t find in many games, where you’re not skilled enough to reload your weapon under pressure. It evokes a feeling similar to Rock Band or Guitar Hero, in that you reach a point where you are no longer thinking about how to hit red, you just are. You will be physically exerting effort for each step of the complex process but you will not be mindful of your actions. You will be in flow.

Uplink – Steam Curator

This game is a game about hacking, that makes you genuinely feel like you are hacking, even though the mechanisms involved are almost certainly nothing like actual hacking.

 

Thanks to tight scoping, focussed design, and very cleverly constructed UI, you will work your way through this game in a state of near-constant tension.  It is essentially a roguelike, so one false move and you’ll probably have to start over again.  You learn many things along the way, but you still have to execute your plans well in order to succeed.

 

Introversion have gone on to make other similarly great games, like Darwinia, DEFCON, and the (currently in Early Access) Prison Architect.  This is one of their earliest titles, and it still holds up very well.

Crusader Kings II – Steam Curator

This game is a feudal murder/intrigue/dynasty simulator.  This game takes quite a long time to figure out.  This game will reward you a thousand-fold if you stick with it.

 

If you’re the kind of person who enjoys games that operate around the collision of multiple systems to create interesting and unexpected outcomes, you need to play this game.  If you like games that can surprise you with curve-balls you never saw coming, and you can laugh and have a blast when your cunning plan falls apart at the most inopportune moment, you need to play this game.  If you like the idea of Dwarf Fortress but want something a little more accessible, you need to play this game.

 

If you enjoy Let’s Play videos and want to see what happens when this game gets its hooks into people, check this out:  http://youtu.be/zG0V39iAGE8

 

You can watch all 17 hours if you want.  That’s what this game does to you, if it clicks.  All the major DLC expansions are also recommended.

 

Miasmata – Steam Curator

This game was made by two people.  TWO.  It’s a first person game without the shooting; you awaken on an island, and you’re sick.

 

Through exploration, foraging, and analysis, you must find a cure for your illness.  The game doesn’t give you any of the usual superhuman skills you are used to.  You cannot sprint endlessly and leap to great heights.  Sliding down a slope can lead to falling, which can lead to death.  Your map does not automagically update; triangulation relative to known landmarks is necessary.

 

The island is mysterious, and its environments are diverse and interesting.  And yes, the game doesn’t have AAA polish, but it was made by two people.  Quite remarkable.

This War Of Mine – Steam Curator

This game places you in control of three people who are caught in a war-torn urban environment, where you must do whatever is necessary to survive.

 

The presentation is side-on 2.5D, and while the game operates in real-time (much like a traditional RTS) the limitation of only three “units” means that each of them can (and are) given a much more individual treatment.  They will become hungry, tired, sick, and depressed.  The actions that you set for them are utterly mundane, and utterly compelling.

 

How do you eke out an existence in a setting where finding a tin of food can mean the difference between your group having enough strength to build barricades or not?  And if raiders come to your dwelling in the night, and those barricades are not up, you may lose everything.  Everything.

 

You will build your own narratives for these characters as you progress through the game, and it’s amazing.  Play this.

Unity Of Command – Steam Curator

This game is set in the still under-represented Eastern Front of World War II, and its core mechanic is brilliantly based around lines of supply, rather than clicking on things until they run out of hitpoints.

 

The core game is set in the 1942/43 Stalingrad campaign, and each map of the scenario is an intricate (but ultimately comprehensible) puzzle in which you need to figure out how to maintain your own lines of supply, while cutting off the enemy’s.  As in the real war, units that are cut off from their supply lose their effectiveness, so the game is about cleverly taking advantage of this mechanic.

 

It also has a very attractive visual style for a hex-based, turn-based game.  The game is a pleasure to look at, and all the information you need is easy to spot, and easy to read.  It is a great example of how to design an abstraction of real-world systems into something fun, engaging, and playable.  And it will challenge you.