The Steamroll: Dynamite Mad Alien Offspring
Interested in all those cheap games released on Steam, but don’t want to spend $5-10 on everything they release? Need someone to wade through the mess, toss out the trash, and reveal the gems? That’s why this column’s here.
Welcome, ladies and gents, to the Steamroll.
What is the Steamroll?
The Steamroll is a collection of first impressions on every game released on Steam for $10 or less this week. I snatch up every cheap game, play through it for at least an hour, and reveal what falls flat and what’s worth your money in time for you to buy it before the release week discount ends.
So, how do you determine what to play?
In the Steamroll, I write about every game released on Steam for $10 or less this week that isn’t a discounted older commercial game. (For example, the rereleases of Thief & Thief 2 on Steam for $10 each? I won’t cover those; there’s plenty of old reviews of them to dig up.)
Why so many games for this week?
Because I fell behind in the queue. What can I say? Occasionally graduations, real life, and website transitions happen. On the plus side, you get impressions of 11 games, instead of just the 1 released last week! So sit back and enjoy this first entry into the Steamroll:
Games Played for this Entry:
Time Marines vs Dinosaurs: who doesn’t want that matchup? Unfortunately, my interest in this game almost didn’t survive the learning curve. Not because it’s complicated- it’s essentially the “survive waves of enemies” gameplay of Gears of War’s Horde mode with a prehistoric setting- but because it doesn’t explain anything.
Once you’re in-game, several questions come up: What do those letters on my screen mean? (They mark different bases you need to defend.) How do I get a better gun? (Green terminals in the Armory.) How do I refill health & ammo? (Yellow terminals anywhere.) The game doesn’t mention any of these, except in a separate manual. You step outside seeking answers, you get a pack of raptors bearing down on you. Or worse yet, 2 T-rexes looking for lunch. (The server browser doesn’t list which Wave each match is on, so it’s easy for you to enter an endgame wave with just a pistol.)
So, after several false starts (and game quits after waiting 10 minutes for a wave to end), I began to piece together the details. I needed to travel to a 2nd building to buy weapons and a 3rd building to buy vehicles. There’s also generators that heal you and need to be kept alive. (Why are dinos attacking generators anyway?) I ran around, tried to kill some T-rexes, got snatched up by pterodactyls a few times, bought some guns only to immediately die & lose them, and… well, by that time I was getting bored. There were only 3 types of dinosaurs, no explanation of the different weapons & vehicles, and barely any communication with my teammates.
Then after an hour of learning the game, I got in a new server with a good team on the first wave. Suddenly we were cooperating, taking down T-rexes and entire packs of raptors, roaming the map defending different bases. Something finally clicked, and I could see where coop shooter fans would get their $10 worth out of this game.
This game has decent graphics, good music, and an interesting premise. It’s a pity the lack of in-game documentation made it hard to learn the nuances of the game. (The manual isn’t much more help, either. Protip: Click F to bring up an overlay that marks the different stations.) This could eventually be interesting, but it needs some more content, polish, and tutorials first.
Keep Playing? Maybe in a Few Patches.
From the creators of Machinarium comes another quirky adventure game heavy on hand-drawn cutout sprites, except in a more organic setting this time. It’s strange, it’s charming, and it’s bloody frustrating to pick back up again after you’ve put it down for a while.
Where Machinarium was content to confine a puzzle and its solution to just one screen, many of Botanicula’s puzzles involve bringing an item from one screen to another. Sometimes you need to collect multiple items, like 15 chickens or 12 leaves, to proceed. These are scattered over 1-2 dozen screens. It’s tough enough to keep track of what you’ve finished & what you haven’t when you’re playing it all in one setting; it’s even tougher when you’ve put it down for 3 days. It’s times like this I wish it had an in-game hint book like Machinarium did.
It’s a pity. The art style and miscellaneous animations are great fun, the music and sound is weird and surreal, and the whole game has this whimsical nature. I was really digging it until the collection puzzles brought it grinding to a halt.
Keep Playing? Maybe later, once I have a eureka moment about that one bloody puzzle. I should’ve just played it in one run before I forgot what I was doing.
Bombs & stealth normally don’t go well together, but when you can set off the bombs from a distance, they’re a handy distraction. That’s the key lesson from Dynamite Jack, where you play an escaped slave trying to avoid guards and work his way to the surface with nothing but a flashlight and an unlimited supply of remote-controlled bombs.
You need a flashlight to see in the tunnels, but if the guards see your flashlight they kill you. The guards use flashlights too; stay out of their light or they’ll shoot you. As for the bombs, you need to plant and detonate them to open passages (and kill guards), but the explosion attracts every guard in the area so you can’t stick around long. The game tosses a few twists your way, like Scientists that patrol well-lit labs or Mutants that hunt you relentlessly but fear light, but the majority of the gameplay is you, the guards, and plenty of bombs.
It’s an interesting puzzle stealth game that didn’t quite snag me due to how slow and methodical it is. Most stages last anywhere from 5-10 minutes, and many of them involved planting a bomb, blowing it up, hiding until all the guards leave, rinse and repeat. It wasn’t until the later stages, where areas are swarming with guards and you begin using bombs to distract the guards away from you, rather than to just open up tunnels, that the game began to get interesting. It still didn’t quite grab me, though.
I’m sure there’s some puzzle fans that’ll love this game, but it’s just not for me.
Keep Playing? Doubtful.
A decent Quake-like shooter torpedoed by a dead online community. I would talk about the strange neon red/blue art style, or the constantly-switching mutators that provide the variety in a match, but it’s a moot point since there appears to be a half-dozen people playing online, tops. (And they were playing an instagib match which removed all other weapons and mutators, stripping out the most interesting parts of Nexuiz.)
The weird server population counts didn’t help matters. Servers said they had 6 players, but were completely empty when I joined. This occured over and over again until I threw up my hands in frustration and played bot matches to fill up the hour. It doesn’t matter how good an online shooter is if you can’t find anyone to play with online.
Keep Playing? No. Dead in the water.
What is it about claymation that lends itself to surreal, disturbing games? This game got weird within minutes, disturbing within a half-hour, and dark without actually showing anything that would bump it to a Teen rating. By the end of my playthrough, the game involved killer machines, pregnancy nightmares, bedroom spying, and child abuse, and this was before I experienced my neighbors’ dreams.
Nolan McBride has a full review of the first 3 episodes of The Dream Machine posted, but here’s my first impressions: the graphics are well-made (literally) and unique, the music is haunting, none of the puzzles were particularly frustrating or required tips, and the story got so strange & weird I want to know what happens next. What more could you ask from an adventure puzzler? My only gripe with the game is that the Chapters are extremely short; Chapters 1 & 2 only took 40 minutes each, and although I hope the next 3 chapters are longer, I would be surprised if they take over 2 hours each to complete. If you’re looking for quantity, this might not be a good deal. If you’re looking for a good-quality adventure puzzler, snatch this up ASAP and wait for the next installments with baited breath.
Keep Playing? YES. NOW.
Now this is my type of puzzler. You play Mama Thing, who has lost all of her Baby Things after Some Bear scared them. Your goal in each level is to get yourself and your babies to the exit in one piece. Oh, and your main way of transporting them is to hurl them bodily across the screen.
Here’s the gist: you can pick them up and carry them, but when you’re carrying them you can’t fit through short passages or jump as high, so instead you fling them at a safe patch of ground and pick them up later. That’s the only mechanic, but the game runs wild with it. There’s buttons to toss offspring at, enemies you can stun by hitting them with babies (if they touch the babies normally, though, the babies die; go figure), and ramps you can angle them off of.
Unlike Dynamite Jack, the levels are short (less than a minute to solve most of them), and the retro look is really appealing to me. (Disclaimer: Retro looks appealing to me in general.) I was hooked the whole time I was playing, and I’m tempted to play for just a few more minutes to see how many more stages I can beat. A great spend at $5.
Keep Playing? Yes.
I wish I knew why I liked this game more than I expected. Maybe I’m giving it some slack because it’s the first Diner Dash-style game I’ve played. Maybe I enjoy the horror theme and how it makes certain mechanics easier to understand. (Of course vampires and werewolves don’t like sitting next to each other!) Or maybe it’s the weird plot about 2 waiters trying to save their town by feeding monsters imitation brain-berries while fending off a monster hunter that just wants to kill them. Regardless, something about this game intrigues me.
Your goal is to feed all of the monsters waiting in line by setting them at tables, taking orders, receiving tips, and cleaning their tables off for the next group in line. There’s monsters that get angrier faster, monsters that don’t like sitting next to each other, rechargeable spells you can use to keep monsters happy or change their form, and the occasional brawl you need to break up. The more tips you earn, the higher your rating and the more items you can buy before tomorrow night’s crowd arrive.
So far, the levels have been pretty easy, and it feels like a pleasant way to pass the time rather than a genuinely challenging game. (I haven’t had a group get angry enough to leave queue yet.) I definitely see ways it could get complex & challenging in a hurry, though, and I want to keep playing to see what they’ll toss at me next. I think it’s worth my time, I just don’t think it’s worth the price they’re asking for it.
Keep Playing? Probably.
Fallout graphics and X-Com theme as a real-time shooter sums this export up pretty well. Your soldier runs around overrun cities, besieged military bases, and blood-strewn fields, slaughtering hordes of invading monsters with a variety of weapons. There’s some RPG elements with you putting points into different stats as you level up and buying tools, weapons, & ammo with cash you earn from killing aliens, but most of the gameplay is aim, shoot, strafe.
The graphics stand out the most; I haven’t seen this type of washed-out, isometric 2D sprites since Fallout 1 & 2. It fits the game well. Unfortunately, nothing else about the game (aside from some glaring translation mistakes) really stands out. You kill hordes and hordes of aliens that mindlessly follow you, relying on sheer numbers to pin you down and kill you. Although the weapons provide accuracy ratings and damage numbers, it’s extremely tough to tell which weapons are more effective than others in the field. Enemies don’t flinch or react to shots until they die, and the sprays of blood indicating you are hitting something are extremely tough to see. This really sticks out when the game starts sending giant armored aliens at you that take hundreds of bullets to kill. Are you using the wrong weapon against them? Did you buy/upgrade the wrong stuff and are now horribly screwed? Or are they just That Tough to Kill? It’s hard to tell, and that led me to put the game down and move on. The game wasn’t entertaining enough to put up with that.
Well, except for the vehicle driving sequence. Really, there’s just something satisfying about running over the aliens in front of you while unloading a gatling gun on the aliens behind you. Let’s see you do that in a first-person game!
Keep Playing? Nah, I’ve had my fill.
Ugh, this game emphasizes everything I hate about Tower Defense games. No plot! Boring generic enemies! Stages that last way too long! Constant Fast Forwarding!
I should’ve known I was in trouble when the first stage consisted of an empty, open field and this goal: “Survive 100 Waves!” I only had 4 types of turrets: Machine Guns, Missiles, Slow Goo, and Tesla Coils. I eventually made a rudimentary maze out of them, upgraded as many as possible, and turned on Fast Forward.
“Oh, look, more infantry. Now more helicopters… oh, one got through, put another missile turret it. Upgrade, upgrade, upgrade, upgrade, *yawn*, upgrade, upgrade… oh look, another enemy unit, tougher than the others. Geez, how many more waves do I have?” By the time I finally won that first stage, I was relieved. It also took an hour to finish. But I had finally managed to unlock the 2nd stage! Maybe this would be more interesting…
Second stage: Wide open room, except with 2 entrances and 2 exits this time. Same 4 types of turrets. Goal: “Survive 100 Waves!”
“Screw this.” I shut it off immediately.
Keep Playing? Not a chance.
I played the tabletop version of Ticket to Ride with my brother’s gaming group a year ago, so I came to this version knowing how to play it already. Not only is it a faithful, beautiful adaptation of the tabletop version, but it’s easy to find & organize games of it online.
Your goal in Ticket to Ride is to earn the most points by laying tracks, completing routes, and having the longest continuous track in the game. To lay tracks, you need enough cards of the same color as the track, but you can’t draw cards and lay track during the same turn. Wait too long to lay a track and your opponents might beat you to it, preventing you from completing a route. If things aren’t working out, or you’re doing well and want to secure your lead, you can also choose more routes to complete, but be careful: any routes you don’t complete are subtracted from your total score.
The interface works magnificently; I rarely wondered how to perform a certain action, there was a thorough in-game tutorial and manual, and biggest nitpick I have about the interface is that it was tough to tell when it was your turn if you walked away from the computer for a few moments. The gameplay is, well… it plays just like the board game, and isn’t that the point of converting a board game to a video game?
The biggest potential stumbling block was the multiplayer, and it worked better than most indie multiplayer games I tried. It took 10 minutes to set up a 5-player game, but at least there were other people playing. My connection didn’t drop, nothing weird happened, and we managed to finish a full game in about 40 minutes. There’s even a way to search the current players for a familiar face and see how other players rate their behavior!
This is a solid port of a great board game, and a good investment for board game fans in general.
Keep Playing? If the board-gaming urge strikes me.
A simple, yet solid, arcade racer revolving around doing tricks for boost and gathering shortcut tokens to open up alternate routes to catch up on your competitors. The graphics are colorful, the controls handle well enough, and there’s enough course variations that I haven’t run the same layout twice. It also has a gentle learning curve, with new tricks and vehicles unlocking as you progress. My main gripes with the game are that there’s occasionally too much motion blur and Online Play is disabled (not sure if they’ll ever include it), but there’s still enough single-player levels here for 4-5 hours of play. Not bad for a $10 racer.
Keep Playing? Maybe if I enjoyed racers more. This is a tad too basic for me to pay more attention to.
So, out of all of those, which game do you still want to play the most?
I’ll probably finish Episode 3 of The Dream Machine quick, and then work on finishing Offspring Fling.
Will you ever post full reviews of these games?
Perhaps, if the game interests me enough to finish it and I don’t fall behind on other projects.
You didn’t play the entire game! You missed this great/horrible part of it!
That’s the risk of only doing first impressions. If I missed an important part of the game you think should factor into buying decisions for it, mention it in the Comments thread. Fill in the blanks, spread the word. Ah, the wonders of the Internet!
That’s it for now. Check back this weekend for the next installment of the Steamroll; who knows what’ll pop up?