Monday, 31 July 2017

The Automatician (Video Game Review)

Often a visual theme can only carry a game so far. It's enough to catch your attention, or even to build an atmosphere to keep you invested as you gradually delve into the mechanics, and The Automatician is no exception in this regard. However, what makes it stand out is how DreamPunks takes the semi-stitchpunk Victorian look as far as it can possibly go, working it into everything from the lore to the basic mechanics. It becomes far more than merely a skin layered over a few tried and true mechanics, and gives the The Automatician infinitely more personality than much of its competition.

Wednesday, 26 July 2017

Darkest Dungeon: The Crimson Court (Video Game Review)

Adding vampires to any setting opens up new doors. From secret societies to new abilities and afflictions, it grants the developer a chance to really experiment with a few new ideas, and add a new layer to their game. Darkest Dungeon's already grim and gloomy world adds to this with this latest DLC - the Crimson Court - with the chance for your heroes to become a desperate bloodsucker themselves.

Monday, 24 July 2017

Telltale Games - The Beauty of Meaningfully Meaningless Choices

It's always amazing to think how so many internationally successful gaming franchises seem to embrace their flaws. While we often praise publishers and creators for pushing to overcome their failings, in the case of others it is all too often ignored. With Call of Duty you have the most irritating of modern war cliches and bullet-hose mechanics, with Bioware it's how they handle relationships, and with Telltale it is always how little your choices seem to matter. 

In Telltale's case it's hardly a new criticism, in fact it's a very old one by this point, and something people picked up on quickly following A Wolf Among Us. Yet, just how massive a failing is this really? Furthermore, if it is a flaw which undermines their greatest selling-point - shaping and influencing the story - why do people keep coming back en mass, hungering for more? To fully explore the best and worst of this, you need to look beyond simply the endings to how the story as a whole shapes up, and what the developers account for in their creations. In fact, you need to look into how many similar games handle their choices on the whole.

Rather than a single straight line or even a basic road map, the story of any choice driven game often resembles a drawing of an onion. Yes, that sounds stupid, but just wait to see where I am going with this. You always have exactly the same starting point, the same general set of consequences, events and an inciting incident to kick things off. From there it branches out, following one of a variety of lines as the plot broadens. Point leads to point, choice leads to counter choice until you have an infinitely broader series of options to navigate and sort your way through. However, after a while, it begins to close those down one by one, shutting them off or leaving them at a certain point in the game, until you are left with one of a variety of relatively similar endings.

Almost anyone who brings up this sort of "narrowing of the finale" will always cite Mass Effect 3 these days, but you had similar situations well before that. Knights of the Old Republic, for example, had plenty of decisions and choices which led up to its ending. Yet, the ending itself and the events which governed how the entire finale would play out, were ultimately shaped in only the last two or three hours of gameplay. From the moment you crashed down upon Rakata Prime (or Lehon if you prefer) to the Star Forge itself, almost every core decision ultimately shaped the finale more than anything you had done up to that point. It was where you were given the choice to kill almost everyone in your party, where you could choose to rejoin the Dark Side, or even to stay with the Light and end the Star Forge's threat.

So, what was the point of everything leading up to then? If each individual story, each action for better or worse would only come up once and was never mentioned again, what was the point in doing them? 

The point, ultimately, depended upon two things. Ignoring the fact that they often did carry over to the finale in very small ways - even if it was just a character talk and reflection upon past events - it was a chance to see more of the world. By following through with those quests, stories or even options as a whole, you learned more about the figures involved, the lore and were given the option to try something fun. In Summoner II, for example, many of your decisions as Queen ultimately offered little benefit to the overall story and did nothing to change the finale. Yet, it was always well worth continuing to play through them because of what each segment might offer, because of how the individual quest stories might branch out and because you could alter their end by acting in a different way.

The other, and much more critical, point was how they impacted upon the player. Not the story, not the finale nor even the basic stats of the character you played, but the person sitting with a controller in their hand. To actually offer a Telltale example for a moment, think of Bigby's interactions with the Huntsman in A Wolf Among Us for a moment. Ultimately, while he is a suspect, he ends up having little to nothing to do with the actual crimes taking place. What you do with him alters nothing in terms of how the story concludes, with a threat removed and the world seemingly changing for the better. Yet, your interactions will ultimately decide whether or nor the two characters opt to bury the hatchet and move on, or end up still being foes thanks to Bigby's methods. Equally, you have opportunities to help or harm others which only factor in on individual episodes, such as revealing the truth to Flycatcher or even killing someone who has repeatedly threatened your life.

Each of these moments does help you to shape the story, as it reflects upon Bigby's character. Do you want him to be a Dirty Harry style cop who barges into funerals and beats up suspects? Are you playing someone who would go easy on a child in an interrogation due to their age? It helps to offer far more roleplaying opportunities and smaller alterations to the story and - in some cases - and even reflects upon what sort of person the player is when pressed for time. It might not ultimately reshape much of the overall narrative until the very end, but it will reshape what sort of character you are playing in that world and how certain relationships play out. Plus, even without this aspect, a great deal of desperation or a tense atmosphere can also be drawn from such moments. After all, while it hardly helped to rework the entire tale, the decision to remove Lee's arm due to a possible zombie infection still remains a narrative high point in that story.

If you want an example of how this sort of "Character is what you are in the dark," moments which worked brilliantly in other games, you need only look into the Witcher series. Witcher 2 similarly branched off, granting players the opportunity to decide how certain events played out based upon their alliances, morality and personal decisions; yet it would always end with the same overall results on a large scale. Witcher 3 was the same only it was infinitely more divided and broken up, with its individual tales and stories offering little to no impact upon when and how you finally overcome the Wild Hunt. Freeing a deserter from being consumed by Drowners ultimately to learn he went on to slaughter refugees en mass will change nothing. Yet, it's delivered well enough to make the player feel like hell.

Because of this, the idea of having a series of following a set series of events with a few personal alterations does not seem to be a problem. Instead, it seems to be how Telltale have chosen to approach them of late, especially with their more serious outings.

Because of the desire to ramp things up and ultimately increase the overall scale of the events in question, there seems to be a push to focus more upon building towards the end. There's this idea that the episodes are only leading towards a conclusion until, rather than enjoying the story on an episode-by-episode basis, you're focusing much more upon how things ultimately play out. Unfortunately, this exposes more flaws in their narrative and opens the way for more questionable moments in how the developer executes its stories.

Perhaps the single greatest example of this is A Game of Thrones.This was a game which featured a multitude of engaging and entertaining individual moments, but kept reminding players of a big impending final battle. Much more was done to link events together because of this until you were just left questioning what was the point. 

For example, while playing as Mira Forrester (someone in King's Landing), you are given the opportunity to betray the trust of others in order to help your family. Yet, each and every one of these ultimately falls flat and even remaining in the good graces of your immediate employer results in no benefit for you. You can treat others with kindness, help those you want or abandon everything in the name of your future, only to still be utterly screwed over in the end. This would not be so bad if her every action did not link into this immediate focus upon helping her family above all else, and characters did not keep coming back to her. You can treat a Coal Boy like absolute hell the entire way through - even leave him to die - but he will keep coming back to assist you for seemingly no reason. These moments only serve to repeatedly undermine the smaller relationship moments and decisions which strengthened previous games, and they're rife throughout the experience. In fact, it's even worse in many cases.

One of the big story elements present is the fact that there is a traitor among your band of heroes in that game, one giving vital information to your immediate enemies. With your House under threat of extinction and severely undermanned, this is a grave crime and you are constantly left questioning who it is. Well, the result turns out to be the one high ranking person you did not make Castellan - effectively your right hand - out of jealousy. This would be bad enough as it's something not based upon personal decision but just one single choice, and seems to ignore their histories and individual quirks. However, it becomes utterly ludicrous as events become increasingly worse and utterly nonsensical if you do not make the choices Telltale expected you might.

As a personal example - I ended up choosing to make Duncan (a successful politician and administrator) my Castellan over Royland (a veteran commander and skilled knight) specifically because he would often offer alternatives. I wanted someone who would offset my character's more direct and confrontational approach rather than side with it, and to get the best of both worlds. As such, when the time came and Royland was revealed as traitor, he had no reason to do so. I had been agreeing with him almost the entire way through, so the only thing he could bring up as a failing in his big rant about how I was failing the house was to cite not bringing some guards to a meeting. The story is unfortunately rife with these sorts of moments, which shatters the illusion and exposes the railroad tracks of Telltale's narrative at many key points.

Even counting this, you then bump into the problem of the overall final episode. Specifically, that after you have done everything up to that point to build an army and save the House, falls flat. No matter what you do, events play out in almost exactly the same way, until the final few cutscenes are almost identical, merely with a few characters switched around. The changes did not reflect upon your choices or truly alter the outcome in any way, but instead simply rearranges a few decisions on what leads up to that moment. Each proves to be sadly quite superficial, and there's ultimately no possible way to actually alter the events in any meaningful way. This could have worked if handled properly, perhaps as a tragic ending. Yet by repeatedly foreshadowing this event heavily in past episodes and then robbing the player of all choice, it proves to ultimately be extremely unsatisfying. A point which is only made worse when you take into account heavy sequel baiting and a lack of actual closure.

Now, many of you might argue the same of other Telltale games, but this largely isn't true. The vast majority of them still gave you a solid choice or three in terms of how you wanted it all to end, often to the point where you could have several variations on the same finale. Not, as the case was here, just a few secondary events leading up to it. For example, Tales from the Borderlands offered a multitude of various major decisions which shifted how the end was presented, up to the point where you can murder several thousand people in order to get at the villain. A Wolf Among Us (just to cite it again) offered several endings depending upon how you dealt with the villain, altering how you are viewed by the populace you protect. Even The Walking Dead, especially Season 2, granted a few very distinct choices which shifted the context of the finale and just how bleak the story's end truly was. In most of these you were granted a level of control and decision making, but that seems to have been forgotten of late.

With the announcement of A Wolf Among Us 2, a new The Walking Dead and a follow-up to their Batman series, Telltale is sticking with keeping as many series running as they can. Yet, they seriously need to sit back and reevaluate just what made their stories so effective in the first place. Without doing that, it honestly seems as if we will end up with a perfect "how this all went wrong" when comparing the originals and later releases.

Friday, 14 July 2017

So, Where's All The Content?

Well, it's not here.

First off, to those reading, you have my utmost apologies of late for the lack of new articles in any form. Life has been busy and has certainly taken a turn for the worse of late in many regards, robbing me of much of my free time. To cut a long story short, the reason for the previous announcement was due to a very unfortunate turn which led to the death of a member of this family. While I do not wish to discuss further details besides that, I will simply say that the lengthy journey to their location and the funeral arrangements have taken priority here.

I just wanted to say thank you for your previous comments, and to reassure people that this blog is still going. It's just that a ten hour round trip several times a week - and a day job which has constantly left me physically and mentally burned out due to a very abrupt spike in workload - has left me little free time to properly play out any games of the new Warhammer 40,000 rules. I will try to have something up soon, but that is very dependent upon how quickly things turn back towards normality here.

Tuesday, 4 July 2017

Disappearing For A Few Days

I will keep this brief: There has been a major family emergency, I will not be posting for some time. I do not know when I will be back, this could take a few days to a couple of weeks.

I am sorry for further delays, we will see what happens.

Monday, 3 July 2017

Doctor Who: The Doctor Falls (Episode Review)

The Moffat era has seen extreme highs and lows from start to finish. Rarely finding any middle ground, it all too often either succeeded with flying colours or proved to be the kind of disaster that nearly killed the show back when Colin Baker was involved. It was always a massive question just how it would end, but the good news is that The Doctor Falls is one of the best tales we have seen in a long time. In fact, it's probably the single best finale we have seen since The Big Bang. Not because it tried to do everything, but because, for once, the writing team tried to keep things simple for a chance

The Cybermen are on the move throughout the ship, rapidly converting everything on their deck and preparing to move up through the ship one area at a time. With the Master having revealed his hand at last, the Doctor awakes bound to a chair with only a terrifying vision of a city gone mad before him. Yet, the Doctor is not done yet. Even as he lies defeated, his companions having abandoned him or become the very thing he fights, he readies himself for the worst. For if this is to be his fall, he will make certain that everyone and everything horrifying on board this ship goes down with him...

The Good

For starters, let's just focus upon the fact that this is simple. Really, for a long time now we have seen a bizarre addiction to complexity harm the stories over and over again, to the point where it was actively harming the show. While Moffat's ability to weave insane time-travel paradoxes and fairy tale-esque fantasies was always a major strength, it seemed at times he was doing it purely for the sake of being complex. There was no meaning to it, no greater idea, and sometimes it even hurt the story by opening up gaping plot holes in what was supposed to be a smart script.

Where is this going? Well, The Doctor Falls is smart, but it's smart in the right way. It opens up elements like Bill being resistant to the Cyber-conversion and writes in a few extremely clever ties to past stories in order to justify certain turns. It then opts to also execute this as much through the camera as the script itself, while also devoting time to just about every companion involved. Even when it does open up possible plot holes, the fact it's not trying to force itself to be intelligent (No, sorry, INTELLIGENT!!!!) means that you can put some concepts down to what came before. It's earned that good will, and they make basic logical sense in some regards. 

Take the actual setting of this episode itself - a farming deck a couple of levels above the city the Cybermen are being produced in. There are people there who have forgotten that they are even on a spaceship, but the setting itself and the time dilation (where possibly several generations have passed since the ship arrived) and perhaps even a few twisted facts might help them to gradually forget that. Plus, even their basic presence could be put down to the expedition which was mentioned in the first part, where a group was sent up to find somewhere else and never came back. Only, in this case, it was because they couldn't return rather than a massed slaughter. Yes, some of this involves joining the dots, but at least it's not much of a stretch to join the two together,

Breaking away from the story not screwing itself over though, this is a situation where it manages to be fast paced but very satisfying. The episode spends just enough time on the lower decks to give you some insight into how bad things are, before it moves elsewhere. It never over-exposes anything, never forcibly pushes an idea too far, but it always leaves just enough to be satisfying. Barring one or two exceptions admittedly, but we will get to those later on. This definitely helps given that this was set up and promoted as a finale months in advance, giving the Doctor a moment to revel in one last, truly final moment to reflect upon who he is. This is executed in a brilliant speech to the Master(s) where he finally tries to make his old rival understand just why he does what he does, and convince them to remain. Combined with Bill getting a decent level of closure and Nardole getting a chance to quietly snark in the background while showing off his skills, it's a nice ending to a TARDIS crew who really deserved better stories than what they got.

The actual action here is fairly damn good for a BBC budget, with the director (Rachel Talalay) pulling off more than a few smart tricks to disguise the limited numbers of the army involved. We see massed troop formations, basic reactions and a few great money shots, after which the action itself is either tightly cut or limited to enclosed environments to hide their limited numbers. Honestly, this is the sort of thing which should be shown to most film students on how to execute a big scale action piece on a very limited budget. It makes the finale all the more satisfying as, even when it's clear that there.s only a relatively small number of foes surrounding the Doctor, it's delivered brilliantly enough to help you forget about that.

The Cybermen themselves, and the subject of conversion followed by adaptation is core the the story. In fact, their ability to rapidly adapt and upgrade is what ultimately makes things worse and better for all involved, as the situation still spirals out of the Master's hands despite his best efforts. He forgets just how crude their technology is in every regard at  first, before promptly underestimating their sheer diligence and capacity to rework anything they have on hand into a new weapon. This allows fans to see a multitude of different generations of Cybermen fighting alongside one another for the first time - with several having been reworked to be a more familiar battle armoured design - and it's a nice touch to be sure.

Oh, and there's the use of Bill and Ted time travel theories at one point. It's small moment, but it's enough of a fun little time-loop to just let the episode get away with it.

So, what went wrong then?

The Bad

Despite the Bill and Ted moment, there is still some bizarrely stupid decisions at points in regards to time travel and the effect of time dilation. This is most evident when it comes to the elevators themselves and the Doctor tries to justify the fact they can't just race to the very top, but you end up with so many questions that it becomes difficult to justify some of his actions. The same goes for the use of two incarnations of the same character meeting up, as it tries to make sense of a few things and make proper use of what they have on hand, but there are just a lot of questions left by the end.

Another big problem is with the Master himself, as he really doesn't do much here. At all. John Simm is hardly bad as he's veering much closer to the traditional Master over his usual demented self, and his chemistry with Michelle Gomez is one of the big highlights of the story. Equally, the subversion of your usual expectations when it comes to her twist is brilliantly fitting of the character. The problem is that, between him setting up the Doctor's death and then leaving, he doesn't do much. He makes a few spiteful lines, has a few conversations, and even twists the knife purely for the fun of it, but that's it. It honestly seems he showed up for a ratings boost and not much else, as you could remove him from this half of the story and it would have very little impact. Missy herself is equally mistreated as her entire intended storyline is abruptly ditched at the last moment, and then just forgotten about. The moment itself is actually fine, but when you look at all that was leading up to it, there should have been a lot more to do with her rather than just burning a few narrative bridges.

A much bigger failing of the story is often how the script seems to forget some very basic things, both long term and brief concepts that it has set up. Cybermen are supposed to be emotionally blunted, and yet this story shows them using rage to fire their main weapons. The actual presence of the prototype patients seemed to be something largely conserved to a few locations, yet all of a sudden we have masses of them up and about, wondering the upper decks as well, acting as drones. Then, you have it ditching a few story elements which seem to be forgotten in the conclusion. Take the janitor upstairs. Take a look into the comments section of the last review, and you will find a few very good points on the problem with the character. Personally, I was holding out hope that this was going to be a big twist - That the janitor was a minion working with the master or something of the sort. Instead, he's just forgotten by the end and that's that.

In an act of perfect irony, just as the script itself seems to focus upon characters forgetting they're on a ship, you then have the writer promptly doing the same. The Doctor ends up inflicting such a massive level of damage it could well break the entire thing in half, but it seems to be completely forgotten in the conclusion. Then, to top this off, nothing is done to actually save it. Even with millions left on board and a perfectly functional Cyberman producing factory left on the lower decks, it's still left on the verge of destruction with the Cybermen ready to recover at a moment. The ending ignores this in favour of trying to make everything happy.

The Verdict

This is something of a switch off your brain and enjoy it story, but it's not nearly as dumb as others we have seen. You have great action, acting, character moments and some fantastic directorial choices to help keep things fun, and the Doctor's actual "death" - or what will lead to it - is very fitting of this incarnation of the character. So, on the whole, despite everything that has happened this series will end on a high note thankfully. At least until we get to the Christmas special, because damn that could be very fun or very stupid depending upon how it's handled.

This will be it for Doctor Who for a while. As it sort of tends to take over the blog while it's on, we'll be moving back towards a few of our more typical articles for the time being, and hopfully finishing off a few long-running ones. Perhaps actually getting to the rules on a few Games Workshop books for once.

Sunday, 2 July 2017

Steam Summer Sale: 25 Excellent Indie Titles For Under £2.00

If you even glanced at the title, you know exactly what this is about. So, in lieu of an extensive intro, let's get down to business and and answer the obvious question first: With only a few days to go until the Steam Summer Sale ends, why is this only being published now?

The answer: Paychecks.

The Summer Sale itself is a chance to splurge when it comes to spending, emptying most of your wallet on a lot of fun titles and jumping on something which has been on your wish list for an age. Often these are the much more expensive games, the big AAA titles, which have been out for a year or two. With others, it could be for a multitude of titles you have had your eye on for an age, but never bothered to pick up until now. As this new month begins, most of you will have already been paid and started on your spending spree. Well, this list is intended to supplement those purchases. 

These are all those cheap and very, very cheerful hidden gems listed on Steam, the sort of  wonderfully innovative indie titles which were either overshadowed by bigger games but have been lost to time; the kind you'll have some fun with after finishing a newly purchased Witcher 3 or blitzing your way through the Saints Row series. And one or two are admittedly well known, but just very good value for money at the moment.

Finally, for those wondering, we won't be repeating our options from the last Sale related article. Each and every one listed there is well worth your hard earned cash, and I still stand by every word spent praising them, but not all of them fit into this narrow price range. 

So, with that done and no more delays, let's get into a few of these games and why you might want to look into them.

The mere mention of a mobile port on Steam is already enough to make most gamers flinch and immediately sun it. However, Draw Slasher is one of the relative few which manages to stick to the same basic mechanics, but remains engaging. In short, this is an infinitely more arcady Fruit Ninja, only rather than flying melons and the like, you're facing wave upon wave of foes. Zombies, nightmares, nightmare burning zombies, and a few stranger things all show up to keep things busy, and while it scrolls along by itself, there's always a few odd surprises to keep things interesting.

While the actual mechanic itself is one which was originally intended for a touch screen, there remains a surprising level of engagement by just using your mouse. It's simple, fun and very cathartic as you reduce wave upon wave of foes to flying severed limbs - The sort of thing which has always made Dynasty Warriors such a joy to play.

While some would pin this one down as being too similar to the example above, the differences are obvious from the moment you start to play it. Both see you facing off against waves of foes, and both see you using basic interactions to overcome obstacles. However, whereas Draw Slasher focuses upon clicking and dragging, One Finger Death Punch takes the simplicity even further. You click left and right to attack basic enemies, and that's it.

This boils the act of beating down on its foes to the bare essentials, but the sheer thrill factor of it all keeps you hooked. Designed in a manner akin to the old Xiao Xiao series, you flip, punch, throw and smash your way through enemy after enemy, picking up weapons as you go and occasionally bumping into bosses. The fact that each level always throws in some new factor - including gimmick levels such as archery battles and lightsaber duels - helps to offer far more variety than its apparent simplicity would suggest.

Described as "blending roguelike, turn-based, star map strategy, and real-time space battles", Battlevoid: Harbinger is a game which tries to do a bit of everything. Surprisingly, it gets away with it. Your task here is to take command of one of a small handful of vessels, sending them from point to point across the map, as you try to reach your destination without being shot up too often. In a manner akin to The Last Federation, this means you have the option to engage battles partially in real time, but with the opportunity to pause them every few seconds for tactical maneuvers. With up to two allies at your sides you have the option to control a few additional elements of a small flotilla as well, offering some tactical variety to each level.

Most of the time you will find yourself powering along until you get blown up, resisting and fighting your way through system after system, building up EXP for your next run. Naturally this unlocks more free goods, and while grindy it sidesteps the sort of RNG frustration which drove some fans away from FTL. Just don't expect much of a story though, as it's literally a blurb at the start.

Living up to its title, The Aquatic Adventure of the Last Human sees you playing as the last human travelling beneath the waves in one final adventure. Focusing upon a Metroidvania style experience with a heavy emphasis upon exploration, and utterly demented bosses. Oh, you can be certain all of them will be water based in some way, but you can bump into everything from a gigantic seahorse to a squadron of sharks wielding spiked wrecking balls on their bodies. No single one is the same, and the moment you start to rely on old tricks is the moment you die.

There's a surreal sort of beauty to the game's pixel art style which is obviously aged. This is no Owlboy nor does it offer the kind of detailed and hyper-defined environments big name SNES titles focus upon, but the rough beauty and atmosphere it builds is enough to let yourself become immersed in this world

This is the first of a couple of "walking simulators" on this list which manage to actually be engaging. Yes, they do exist. In this case, you're not so much walking as falling, as Euclidean promises a "geometric horror" show with Lovecraft style environments. This is somewhat gimmicky and lacks the kind of engagement most would want, but the sheer spectacle and the fun the developer obviously had with the idea shined through. 

Plus, for the truly brave, it has VR as well. Have fun.

With a Battlestar Galactic style plot minus the killer robots, Last Horizon works to have you flying through space trying to find a new home. This is almost as minimal as you can get with this sort of concept, and the mechanics match that albeit with a survival angle. While exploration is encouraged, you will need to manage oxygen levels, fuel and several other factors in order to keep going. Where you end up and how you manage to keep going is also largely up to you.

There are a few other elements which helps to keep things interesting on your way to a new colony. You can't just make a bee-line there, as you need to grab more resources on the way, certain components it needs, and even some odd surprises. Survivors from your race to help re-populate it, remnants left behind by your people and other things can all be found on the most unlikely of worlds. Give it a shot if you're after a rogue-light style experience without any shooting.

Blow up everything you run into. I mean, everything, from airships to mechanized attack robots to stranger things, as you race your way to the end. This is the kind of shoot 'em up which veers within inches of becoming a bullet hell without ever quite managing to force a player into Touhou style nightmare situations.

The big selling point here is the sheer level of violence and the fact someone managed to cram such an insane amount of content into such a basic game. You have more than seventy weapons to work with, well over two hundred enemies to combat and more than forty levels to fight your way through. If you're after sheer unrelenting digital carnage and all the gun that brings, definitely give this one a look.

And now we go from a shoot 'em up to a true bullet hell game, and quite a beautiful one at that. Sine Mora ramps up the difficulty from the last listed game, until you're forced to race about and survive seemingly impossible odds. Rapid reaction times are needed to survive wave upon wave of sheer firepower, and to even just make it through the level alive.

Make no mistake this veers into Dark Souls levels of unfairness at times, and the bosses themselves feature more than a few unavoidable attacks. This would be harmful enough, but it can cost you both precious time and firepower as much as just your life, and even then there's a few surprising traps to be found in the levels themselves. Give it a look if you're up for a real challenge, as you'll definitely get one, but just be warned that this one will push you to your limits.

An oddity to be sure, Seraph is a game where replay value isn't simply encouraged, it's a core game mechanic. You see, while the story might keep you hooked and the aesthetics of the environment is fantastic, it deliberately scales its difficulty above yours over time. There's no way to stop this, as you will always hit that brick wall, and be forced to restart. With all your previous firepower, weapons and upgrades intact.

The challenge isn't so much to outdo everything. Instead, it's to see how far you can get before being forced to start over, and then to enjoy reducing the bosses who gave you so much difficulty previously to a fine red mist. It also helps that the actual mechanics are very solid, offering up a Metroidvania design with plenty of level and hidden lore documents, but with auto-aim present and a number of timed rooms to grab goodies from. Oh, and you also fight a wide assortment of demons, which is always fun.

This is another of the walking simulators mentioned, but the sheer atmosphere and style of the piece is what helps it to ultimately stand out. Following a global epidemic, you are left to make a long journey through the ruins in order to try and find salvation. Abandoned towns, tunnels and forests all show up, each with the kind of bleak beauty which few games manage to truly capture.

You are also given the opportunity to actually interact with the environment in a few ways, from a variety of environmental puzzles to brief bits of lore. Better yet, you're also not entirely alone at points, as you will bump into the odd survivor or straggler to add a bit of flavour to the setting, and keep you on edge during some of the more horrific moments. If you're a fan of Metro 2033's atmosphere or the ruins found in Last of Us, then give it a look.

Well, there was going to be at least one puzzle platformer on this list, but BOOR more than earns its place here. In a beautiful if very surreal world, you play as a creature with the ability to duplicate and multiply itself to overcome obstacles, both to jump platforms and overcome time based triggers.

The actual game itself is bright, colourful and oddly cheerful in its depiction, but this is used to a Tim Burton effect. As in there is something infinitely disturbing lurking below the surface, and while the story itself is minimal and offers few extra answers, the presentation of things is some of the best seen since Limbo. This game offers you a long and surprisingly dark journey, but it always manages to make it entertaining despite this.

Story rich and mechanically light, The Temporal Invasion is one of those games which follows Her Story. You're left with the opportunity to perform an extensive investigation into an odd event, branching out and gradually picking apart the mystery of a seemingly impossible situation. You will not be left looking around buildings or hunting down people, so much as searching though filing reports and old documents, making notes and trying to uncover the next clue.

This is an old-school approach to this sort of thing, but it's definitely a welcome addition to any gaming library. When some of the most innovative and exciting additions to investigation over the past few years have unfortunately amounted to leading you from one hint directly to the next, something which challenges you to do better is a nice change to be sure.

This is combat at its most ludicrous, where you have two groups of very English individuals left yelling at one another. The one who delviers the insults with the most sting in them is ultimately the victor, but unlike Monkey Island this isn't simply a case of getting the right response. Instead, you need to string together the right combo of terms, insults and jabs to inflict the most damage.

The actual damage meters themselves are surprisingly varied, as you have everything from direct damage to their ego to elements which build up over time. A few typical fighting game concepts such as an all-out-assault also emerge in here as well, where you can forgo your defenses in order to hurt your opponent, or pull off a string of attacks which build towards a much bigger blow. This is one which is admittedly best played with friends, but that's true of most games where you're in one-on-one combat, no matter which form it takes.

One of the more bizarre options on this list, Tavernier is a mish-mash of two very unexpected genres, where you have interactive fiction crossed with tavern management. The trick here focuses upon your customers and how you keep them coming back, from getting the right foods to upgrading the right items, decorations and larder. Some are more difficult to get than others, some will draw in certain specific customers. However, the game element of the story stems from the customers themselves and how you interact with them. Certain stories will emerge depending upon how you behave or respond to them, branching out and offering different events.

Naturally, there is a dark secret to this specific town and it can affect your play-through in a few ways. Who you speak to and how they respond can land you in some rather nasty situations, while others could be turned towards your side. While short, this series of options and range of customers permits you to come back again and again to experiment with things.

A revamped version of an old browser-based game, this one relies upon you seeing some of its old charm and the ideas which were original back then. You guide a party of heroes through procedurally generated dungeons to combat bigger and bigger monsters, building up your skill tree and gathering more loot. That's about it really, and it's a solidly delivered concept on the whole, if one which is a bit dated by today's standards.

Another shoot 'em up on this list, Sky Force sees you switching from side-scrolling engagements to flying towards the top of the screen. This naturally broadens the arena and leaves you facing more ground based foes, and the game takes full advantage of this. Many areas almost turn into timing puzzles as you dodge laser turrets and missile barrages, while the enemies themselves scale quickly with your firepower.

The addition of a co-op mode opens up new choices and opportunities, naturally. Plus while the weapons are not nearly so numerous as other options found on Steam, their unique nature and upgradable options makes them relentlessly fun to use. Take a look if you're after more mindless violence.

While sadly better known for their debacle surrounding Broken Age, Double Fine is still capable of delivering the goods with games like this. A fantastic blend of XCOM style conflicts with a fantasy backdrop and legacy mechanics, you guide heroes across an age. Rather than simply upgrading them one by one, you instead alter and change them via their genealogies and what bloodlines they are tied to. Naturally this makes any death hit all the harder, but that's the point, it's supposed to hurt!

The more complex events and ideas which show up are also an edge which this game has over other clones, and it knows it. What seems like a simple engagement at first soon branches out, and the monsters themselves become as weird as they are powerful. Well worth a look if you don't mind the frustration factor these games are legendary for.

Set in the ancient days of the 17th century, you're one of the colonists attempting to create a new home in what will eventually become Virginia. However, upon your arrival you find everyone dead. As a result, what follows becomes equal parts a murder mystery and combat simulator, as you seek to silence the threat which slaughtered your people. With a surprisingly strong atmosphere and very pleasing graphics, this is one of the best looking choices on this list. Better yet, it doesn't simply force you to approach problems in one single way, with steal always as viable as out and out murderous rampages against the supernatural foes.

The system is typical of most of these games, were you run into an environment, fix a few things and move on. However, the good comes with the bad in this classic approach as it offers plenty of secret areas, hidden trophies and a few odd concepts which might change your mind about the game's events.

A rare example of a modern day point-and click adventure title done right, Memoria shifts focus between two protagonists as it pushes puzzle after puzzle in your way. What you will immediately note though is that this has a stunningly brilliant artistic direction and the sort of darkness usually reserved only for a Brothers Grimm tale, with an exceptionally strong story to back it up.

Without spoiling too much, this follows the George R R Martin school of fantasy tropes, where the game is more interested with twisting them over truly using them. This definitely works to its advantage though, and the high concept fantasy elements remain a strong point from start to finish.

It's always difficult to get a perfect over-the-top FPS, as it can easily burn itself out early on. So, when Wrack's big selling point is relentless fighting and blowing away enemies as fast as possible. However, this one pulls it off thanks to its sheer style and open nature. You have guns, bigger guns, laser guns and explosive guns, and plenty of rooms to blow things up in, and it's also very modifiable with support open to any modders. Basic? Perhaps, but there's no denying the entertainment value you can get from slaughtering your way to the end.

Another airborne assault outing, Luftrausers is a game which relies less upon you holding down a button and firing away, and more precision. Your greatest advantage is the ability to switch your engine off and on, diving and dodging around the clouds as you hurtle through the air. While unwieldy at first, you soon learn that this can allow you to drop from the heavens at a moment's notice to dodge enemy fire, flip over and unleash hell as they try to follow you.

Naturally there are more than a few surprises to be found for anyone seeking an easy win. Battleships prowl the seas below, the skies are filled with enemy planes and the difficulty keeps ramping up the longer you last. However, while you're never supposed to "win" it is rarely unfair, and there's a great deal of fun to be had waging last stand after last stand against the unstoppable legions of your foes.

And the best game on this list with a bad name goes too...

In all seriousness, this one proves to be remarkably entertaining despite it seemingly gimmicky nature. Your job is to defend the various underwater miners as they trawl about seeking new resources, fighting your way through enemies and sticking to a few classic Defender style elements. Yet, the visuals prove to be hilarious, the music is fantastic, and you can see that this is an arcadey and supremely (intentionally) stupid game which just aims to have fun. As such, it gets away with it without any major failings worthy of note. If that sounds back-handed it's really not supposed to be, as it honestly manages to strike the perfect balance between simplicity and engaging sheer fun.

A lightweight RPG with plenty of Monty Python style humour throughout, Driftmoon is reliant upon its charm to succeed. While it sticks to more than a few RPG elements in terms of combat, story segments and leveling, it is designed to last only a scant ten hours or so before closing out. To some this might be a turn off, but to anyone tired of sinking a solid fifty hours into a game, it can be a nice breath of fresh air.

The game also pushes to have you explore as much of the setting as possible despite its short length. You will often run into vast areas, and the world itself is surprisingly massive for what is obviously a budget title. As such, there is never a sense that you are being limited to one area in your journey at any point.

The only RPG maker game on this list (to make up for the three which took up the previous article's slots, awesome as they were), To The Moon is an oddity. It doesn't get into the typical tropes, mechanics or combat of these games, but instead it opts to have you go on a very personal journey. Your task is to fulfill the wishes of a dying man, giving him one last happy thought to depart with. Saying anything more would sadly spoil the game, so I will simply suggest you look at the user responses on Steam itself, and say it's one of the essential purchases on this list.

Made by Arcen Games, AI War was one of their first indications of just how insanely creative some of their stuff could become. You start with humanity defeated by a powerful AI force, regulated to one planet and limited in its influence. So, from there, your task is to rebuild your fleets, gather allies, group forces and slowly expand your influence until you can overcome a supremely powerful enemy.

The trick here is to only irritate the AI so much. If it thinks you're a real threat it can and will crush you very easily, but to progress forwards you will always need to fight it. So, limiting your interactions, engagements and carefully picking your fights is essential in the end. With many problematic outcomes and a wealth of DLC options for this one, you would be hard pressed to find an option with more replay value on here.

So, those are this year's budget brilliance listings. There were more to be sure, but we'll need to save a few for 2018, and look to broaden our genres a bit in the years to come. Until then, I hope this proved to be helpful to you, and if you have any suggestions feel free to leave them in the comments.