Best of the Fiver | Winter 2013

The winter game sales are now upon us! Now is the time we cultists dream of, when we can snap up deals from every corner of the internet. Let us reflect on these past months of cheap game reviews, and I shall declare my top 5 (obviously…) must-buys!

Remember Thy Teachings

Whenever there’s a Steam Sale on, there’s a certain urgency to loading up on good deals. If you haven’t already reviewed my top five tricks for Steam sales – now is a good time to brush up, so that you don’t regret any unnecessary damage to your wallet.

New to the Cult?

If you missed out on my previous reports, now’s a good time to catch up. Click here to jump to the Cult of the Fiver archives!

Number 5: Vessel

Featured in: October


Why it got the nod:

There are two genres of “puzzle” game that are prone to frustrating me. One is the “physics puzzler” where the environment is often your enemy. The second is the “god game” that gives you only indirect control of the avatar(s) you must manipulate in order to reach your goal.

Vessel is both of these in one game, but it is executed so well that it is rarely frustrating. The physics of the environment are relatively simple, and the environment is laid out in such a way that it gives you clues about how to manipulate it.

Likewise, the Fluros who assist in your puzzle solving follow simple rules that are relatively easy to understand. They’re not perfect, but they’re also not trying to do more than the game is capable, or more than is comprehensible to the average player.

Get it: Steam | Humble

Number 4: Dungeons of Dredmor

Featured in: November

Cult of the Fiver - Dungeons of Dredmor

Why it got the nod:

Roguelikes have been around almost as long as computer gaming itself. Most feature long and storied histories, extraordinarily steep learning curves, and archaic interfaces. Dungeons of Dredmor is a bit of a “genre reboot” that bucks these traditions in many ways.

First, it never takes itself seriously. The game mocks itself and the player at every turn. It can be relentlessly difficult, although it’s also possible to make it a light and consequence-free dungeon romp. It’s packed to the gills with stuff to do and see, but never really overwhelms you with interfaces and options. There aren’t any “hard” lines between classes, and the game actively encourages experimentation.

It’s an accessible roguelike that’s charming and interesting from start to finish, and that’s no small feat.

The only weak point is that it tends to be a bit on the buggy side, which is somewhat unfortunate.

Get it: Steam

Number 3: Strike Suit Zero

Featured in: December

Cult of the Fiver: Strike Suit Zero

Why it got the nod:

Space combat flight sims are few and far between. Some games aim for more of a “flight sim” vibe, others focus on being more of a business sim. It’s a tricky genre to get right – the vastness of space and the three dimensional thinking required to really create a positive experience aren’t easy.

Strike Suit Zero masters the action side of the equation, throwing you repeatedly into combat situations where you are outnumbered but not outgunned. The various craft you can pilot feel powerful, especially the Strike Suit itself. The game remains challenging without being frustrating throughout.

If you’ve missed the space flight sim genre, Strike Suit Zero is an excellent modern example of this type of game done correctly. Throw down $5, grab a controller, and get to blowing up fighters and neutering capital ships.

Get it: Amazon w/Steam DRM | Steam

Number 2: FTL

Featured in: September

Cult of the Fiver - Faster Than Light

Why it got the nod:

FTL is technically another example of a modern roguelike, although FTL strips the genre to its studs and completely remodels it. Gone is the fantasy setting in favor of sci-fi. The single lone adventurer is replaced by a single lone ship. Scrap for upgrades replaces gold and phat lewt.

The more things change, though, the more they stay the same. FTL is super challenging, even on Easy. It never really feels completely unfair, though. The constant pressure to keep moving and stay ahead of your enemies, coupled with the randomness of the encounters you face, keeps the tension high.

Watching your ship and your crew evolve and grow from being constantly on the run to striking back at the heart of the rebel fleet is supremely rewarding. While I didn’t get as attached to my crew as I did to my X-COM soldiers from Enemy Unknown, I still did feel terrible when they bit it.

Get it: Steam | Amazon w/Steam DRM | Humble

Number 1: Rogue Legacy

Featured in: December

Cult of the Fiver: Rogue Legacy

Why it got the nod:

It’s been a good year for roguelikes, what can I say? Each one of the three that made my top 5 list has reinvented the genre in some different and unique way. Rogue Legacy turns the genre on its head by taking all of your worst failures and turning them into experiences you can learn and grow from.

The side-scrolling action RPG combat and exploration bring back fond memories of golden era GBA, DS, and Playstation Castlevania games, which Konami seems happy to have forgotten about. At the outset, your character is a weak little thing that can barely survive a couple of rooms. Before you know it, though, you’re curb stomping bosses and flying through the castle like you own the place.

Roguelikes are famous for their borderline frustrating level of difficulty. Rogue Legacy manages to balance the difficulty with the opportunity for advancement in such a way that evaporates much of the frustration. While you can explore and loot as much as you want, you really can’t get stronger until you die. Death is even sometimes a welcome relief from the current expedition, in some cases.

By placing the ability to upgrade yourself past the game over screen, there’s always an impetus to continue, to play just one more life and see where this next one takes you.

Get it: Steam | Amazon w/Steam DRM | Humble