Steam is celebrating Halloween with it customary holiday sale, this time themed around spooks and scares and... wait, Sleeping Dogs, Brothers? What are you guys doing here?
Well, whether you want to get your Halloween scares, or a crime epic, or a touching allegory about family and loss, it looks like the Steam Halloween sale is on the case. But with such an eclectic selection, it helps to have some guidance. Here are all our favorite games from this sale.
Condemned: Criminal Origins
Jeremy: Condemned is a neat midway point along the graph that charts the deterioration of Monolith’s soul, from No One Lives Forever to FEAR 2. That means it’s still got enough soul to muster at least a couple of verses of Papa’s Got A Brand New Bag, and it’s still worth a play for the price of one and a half McFlurrys. It was an early Xbox 360 thing that you played on a projector with your mates to scare the willies out of each other, because it was pretty scary. Its junkie enemies out-spliced BioShock’s splicers, roaring out of their dank squatholes and hurling themselves at you. The only thing to do was respond in kind - Condemned was about pulling the pipes from the walls and caving a man’s head in before he did yours. Between that and an avatar with a proclivity for lying on your behalf, I can believe this Origins still makes for a compellingly unsettling ride.
Fallout: New Vegas: Ultimate Edition
Jeremy: In April 2009 I checked the Obsidian Entertainment site, as I did most days, and gasped. Bethesda were letting Black Isle’s refugees return to the wry post-apocalyptic land they’d created in the ‘90s, and droplets of gratitude were falling out of my eyes. Fast forward four years, and it’s something you can buy for the price of a 1970s pint, download a comprehensive fan patch for, and play for 300 hours - just like the games it grew from. There’s something quite special about that.
Atom Zombie Smasher
Jeremy: Forget Brad Pitt and his bloodless, clambering baboon-dead - this is the only time World War Z has been properly adapted to a new medium. In AZS, there’s no time for empathy or evacuations - the zombies have already won. Instead, you play the callous bastard who calls in the airstrikes. In every mission you’ll pick a segment of fictional South American city Nuevos Aires, and stuff as many civilians into helicopters as you can. You can’t save them all from the purple pixels that flood into the map - probably not even half - and so you’ll block off roads from your top-down perspective, bombing innocents to keep them from becoming enemies. It’s the distance that gets you, in the end; the people-as-pixels, and the cheery ‘60s surfer soundtrack. AZS teaches cold utilitarianism - and it teaches you to hate that it’s right.
Penumbra Collector Pack
Jeremy: Penumbra is what the Amnesia guys did to warm up - the story of a man exploring a spooky underground complex with a torch beneath the tundra. The important bits were already in place: the acute sense of helplessness, and the desire to be absolutely anywhere else that denotes really great horror. The production values required a little kind blindness, and the environmental storytelling was a tad more conventional - all scattered diary entries from the recently deceased. But there’s a chance you’ll like that about it. Plus! It’ll probably run on your laptop.
Tim: Ooh gosh this brings back some memories. Ghost Master is a lovely little, mostly forgotten ghost management sim, in which you have to direct ghosts to haunt houses. Each location has a bunch of humans with specific fears that need to be manipulated: think of the game as you haunting a load of Sims. It’s cute and silly and there’s nothing quite like it on PC, and it’s on-sale for next-to-nothing. I’d love for a few of you to take a punt.
Orcs Must Die
Tim: The original Orcs Must Die became a quiet obsession for me. It’s third person tower defense - you play a wizard who’s a little bit of a dick, laying down traps for the inevitable waves of Orcs and Trolls and unidentified flying things. What makes it is the animation and art: the Orcs jog to their destination with such dumb, loveable humour that you can’t help but giggle. The franchise pack gives you both Orcs Must Die 1 and 2 and the DLC, but to be honest, I think you should just go for the Orcs Must Die: Game of the Year Edition - which is just the original game. I soured a bit on Orcs Must Die 2 because it was so heavily weighted towards co-op play. And I have no friends.
Tim: Limbo’s the very affecting story of a little boy lost in the woods. It’s a 2D puzzle platform game - with the emphasis on the puzzles. I’m not sure the platforming mechanics stand up to too much scrutiny, but the atmosphere (it uses black and white, handdrawn art) make up for it. Actually a bit creepy, and perfect for a Halloween night in.
Jeremy: It’s not that good. Good, but not Super Meat Boy good. Not World of Goo good. What it does deserve credit for is letting its themes loom large, dangling their spindly legs above your head while you’re trying to solve its puzzles. And for not outstaying its welcome. There are only so many cardboard boxes I can stand to rearrange before it starts to feel like work.
Matt: Don’t play it with anyone from Social Services around. You’d probably horrify them with the number of ways you can kill a small child. Impaled on a spider leg and snapped shut in a bear trap are the least gruesome ways to die...
Tim: I think Alan Wake’s one of the weirdest and loveable games I’ve played. I don’t think a game has come quite as close to simulating the quiet fear that a walk through darkened woods inspires. It’s ostensibly a third person horror adventure in the mould of Silent Hill or Resident Evil, but it’s way more inventive and technically accomplished than you’d give it credit for. For one: light is your major weapon. You use your torch to burn away at baddies until their guard drops. Flare guns act like rocket launchers, and safe zones are found under street lights. It’s profoundly beautiful: it did the rounds as a tech demo for Intel’s Core 2 Duo processors until Microsoft signed it up as a 360 timed exclusive. It also works well for playing in bite sized chunks. It’s structured more like a TV series, with each episode lasting around an hour, and it invites you to walk away after finishing a section. Really great. Just don’t bother with the American Nightmare DLC. It’s a mess.
Plants vs Zombies
Jeremy: I played through ace American Civil War mech-a-thon Ironclad Tactics recently. It’s the successor to head-overheating puzzle game SpaceChem, but only ever made me think of Plants vs Zombies. I think that’s testament to the tactical depth PopCap managed to smuggle into a game about waylaying cadavers with butternut squash.
Tim: I unfairly dismissed Killing Floor the first time I saw it. It looks and feels like a knock off of Left 4 Dead, if drawn by heavy metal album cover artists. But playing it a bit more, I’ve come to really admire it. I like that it doesn’t funnel you in a straight line - the arenas are more a little bit more freeform. I like the pacing too: it presents zombies in waves, and in between you’ll stock up at the shop with weapons, ammo and armour. The Bundle looks like a pretty good deal: Killing Floor has had a ludicrous number of DLC packs released.
The Typing of the Dead: Overkill
Tim: I reviewed this over here, and I like it. Long story short: “Type Unicorn to fight zombies. 7/10.” It’s probably a bit overpriced for what is a ludicrous novelty, but hey!
Jeremy: House of the Dead: Overkill felt like a game that pushed the limits of AI - in that it left you open-mouthed, asking, “Is it self-aware?”. I can only imagine that effect is exacerbated in a version that asks you to write ‘ample buxom’ to kill a ghoul.
Gotham City Imposters
Tim: I haven’t played this, but want to highlight it’s probably the closest videogames will ever get to Halloween. It’s all about dressing up as a costumed hero. I give you, fat Batman.
The F.E.A.R. Collection
Rob: F.E.A.R. is one of the best tactical shooters ever made... and then they stopped making them like this. The very first FEAR was a stripped-down PC horror-shooter, and even at the time the level design made even less sense than the absurd story. To this day, I don’t know why the main villain was eating people in the opening cutscene, except that someone over at Monolith REALLY liked the start of Resident Evil.
But none of that mattered because FEAR was about fast-paced PC shooter controls and the incredibly dynamic, kinetic action they allowed. We’re used to running around waist-high cover at this point, strafing in and out to simulate tactical play, but FEAR used things like leaning and sliding into cover to brilliant effect, bolstered by uncannily clever tactical AI. The first game is still well-worth revisiting, and I have a soft spot for the third as well. But taken as a whole, the FEAR collection is founded on a brilliant first game, while the rest becomes a cautionary tale about what happened to mid-tier shooter development during the rise of this console generation.
The Darkness II
Matt: Comic books are big right now, and save the Batman Arkham games, there’s not a decent comic book game in sight. Ah, but there is! It’s called The Darkness, and on PC you can only get the second game because the first has been banished to the dimension of the slowly fading Xbox 360/PS3. But that’s OK, the second game is well worth a punt if you’ve a spare fiver floating and you’ll be barely lost at all. Drawn in a wonderful cel-shaded art style to truly evoke its source, The Darkness II is a brutal, hilariously violent romp through supernatural mafia territory.
The core idea behind The Darkness is that player character Jackie has command of a demonic force that manifests as toothy, grinning tentacles protruding over his shoulders. With these you can grab men and tear them clean in half (horizontally or lengthways, the choice is yours!), whilst still shooting wildly with dual hand guns. It’s totally dumb and over in a heartbeat, but there’s utter glee in its gory spectacle. The narrative itself is as bonkers as the mechanics, to the point that I question if it’s just plain stupid or genius in disguise. And for any fans of the comic series, there’s a great handful of nods to David Wohl’s original work and an ending that recalls those ‘after credit’ sequences from Marvel’s film output.