Cult of the Fiver | October 2013

If you shop right, you can pick up a lot of games for around the $5 mark. But what games should you pick up, and which should you avoid? Cult of the Fiver attempts to answer this question and help you sort the good from the mediocre.

Vessel

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Vessel is an indie, 2D platformer and physics puzzle game with a distinct steampunk vibe. An inventor’s semi-sentient creation, the “Fluro” has gone haywire and is causing havoc in several industrial settings. Armed with a fluid-shooting backpack and a supply of Fluro seeds, he must get to the bottom of the incidents and complete his Fluro research.

Vessel is worth your $5 because… indie 2D platform puzzlers may be a dime a dozen, but this game really stands out as being highly polished. The puzzles feel tricky at times without being cheap or overly frustrating. You don’t have to solve every puzzle in order to continue. As the level design is non-linear, if you get stuck you can try something different. The art aesthetic in the game is charming and really well done. The game’s length is not too short and not to long as well.

But don’t pay full price for Vessel, since… it has its issues. Some of the puzzles are a bit obtuse. There are some keyboard control issues at times – I’d suggest playing with a controller if you can. The upgrades you can get don’t really seem like they make that much of a difference. The issues are minor, though, and the game is overall very good.

The $5 Deal: Check Steam during big sales, as indie games tend to take a plunge into $5 territory.

Spec Ops: The Line

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Spec Ops: The Line is a third person squad-and-cover-based military shoo… hey, wait, where are you going? Yes, I know this been done to death, but Spec Ops breaks the mold through more intelligent partner AI and a real emphasis on story without sacrificing the gameplay. A US army mission to assist a stricken Middle Eastern city has gone wrong, and three special forces soldiers are sent in to find out what happened.

Spec Ops: The Line is worth your $5 because… it manages to take a serious look at the “military shooter” and come away with an interesting story to tell. Even if you just run through it on easy to experience the character arcs, the game is worth playing. Your AI partners have their own personalities, and they don’t just execute your orders without question. There are many interesting sequences where you can use the environment to your advantage.

But don’t pay full price for Spec Ops: The Line, since… at it’s core, it’s still a shooter. Sometimes your partners are dumber than a box of rocks, and will ignore enemies charging your team. Much of the plot is rehashed from Heart of Darkness, and there are multiple nods to this throughout the story.

The $5 Deal: It is frequently discounted on Steam, but you can also grab it at Amazon – keep an eye out for a discounted Amazon bundle called “Desert to Sea” which also contains Bioshock 1 & 2.

Reus

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Reus is a simplified, 2D take on the real time strategy genre. You are in control of four giants that can shape the world by adding natural features, and you must take care to provide food and other resources for the nomadic human tribes who have chosen to settle there. As the humans evolve, so do your giants, and the powers they can use. But be careful not to let them grow too fast, or they may rebel against your giants and embark upon world-conquering war.

Reus is worth your $5 because… there are a lot of novel ideas here, and overall the idea of a simplified RTS game is quite compelling. It’s fun to control the giants, and the only resource you have to keep track of is time. There are a plethora of achievements to unlock, and each one powers you up for future playthroughs.

But don’t pay full price for Reus, since… this game could really use a UI and help system overhaul. Each “source” your giants can plant has unique characteristics, and these vary depending on what type of ground it is planted on. They all have “synergies” with other sources that improve them further. After adding “aspects” to your sources, you can upgrade them, which changes the things they produce and their “synergies.” In short, there’s way too much micromanagement and memorization of various attributes here. The learning curve could be easily offset with some better online help.

The $5 Deal: Steam was selling it for $5 during the last summer sale, so chances are it will make a similar appearance in future sales.

Retro City Rampage

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Retro City Rampage is a throwback to the early days of GTA, before GTA3 – back when it was a 2D top-down arcade action shooter. As “The Player,” rise from a low-level thug in some evil genius’ army of indistinguishable minion clones to an unstoppable criminal force. Along the way, you’ll find more classic game parodies and 80’s jokes than you can shake a Bifferang at.

Retro City Rampage is worth your $5 because… like the GTA games it clones, there’s a ton to be done and a lot of rampaging to be had. The driving elements are fun without being annoying. The shooting brings the original GTA formula into the dual stick shooter era. There are a lot of missions and within the missions there are lots of different gameplay styles.

But don’t pay full price for Retro City Rampage, since… some of it is just punishingly difficult. There are a few sequences that are controller-throwingly difficult and borderline unfair. Parts of the game get a little one-note after a while, and more than a few of the jokes fail to land.

The $5 Deal: The developer runs sales occasionally through his Humble-powered website or you can pick it up on Steam next time there’s a sale.

The Walking Dead

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Telltale Games strikes again with another episodic adventure game based on a popular IP. This time around they’ve picked up Robert Kirkman’s Walking Dead comic series, and turned it into a character study of post-apocalyptic proportions. Oh, and there are zombies. Did I forget to mention the zombies?

The Walking Dead is worth your $5 because… it is storytelling like no other game I’ve ever played. This game grabbed me and had me right where it wanted me the entire time I was playing it, which is a near-impossible feat given the number of games I’ve played previously. The game just keeps sticking you in situations where there is no right answer and forcing you to make a choice between gruesome outcomes.

But don’t pay full price for The Walking Dead, since… the “game” aspect of it is somewhat lacking – you won’t get stuck long on puzzles or action sequences here. Much of the time, although the choices are presented as life or death, there’s not that much that you actually have control over. It can also be very stressful – you’re not going to have nightmares about the zombies, but you might about some of the harrowing situations the game puts you in. That said, if you have the stomach for it, this is a must-play at any price.

The $5 Deal: Amazon puts this one on sale pretty frequently, (in fact, right as I’m writing this it’s $6). Of course, so does Steam.

Scribblenauts: Unlimited

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The Scribblenauts series has a seemingly simple premise that belies its complexity. Young Maxwell has a magic notebook that allows him to summon anything he wants just by writing the name of it. With this tool he will try to solve puzzles and help people in order to save his sister, who is being slowly turned to stone as punishment for their combined selfishness.

Scribblenauts: Unlimited is worth your $5 because… of the entertainment value of coming up with absurd or crazy solutions to people’s problems. The game’s parser recognizes so many different combinations of words that it’s nearly impossible to see all the things it is capable of creating. I played this game with my eldest who is expanding his vocabulary, and presenting him with the situations and asking him to come up with crazy solutions was a lot of fun.

But don’t pay full price for Scribblenauts: Unlimited, since… Puzzle wise, it bounces around between trivial and overly picky. Sometimes I got tired of just plowing through the simple puzzles, and other times I was frustrated at having to look up the solution when I was sure I knew what they wanted me to summon. There’s not a lot of reason to play around with the impressive word selection, since the game is so aggressively “simple task” focused.

The $5 Deal: During Steam Sales, watch this one. I actually found it cheaper on Amazon by a considerable margin last winter sale.

Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon

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After making Far Cry 3, the team behind the game at Ubisoft took the engine and the art assets and decided to go absolutely insane with it. What came out the other end was a send-up of 80’s futuristic action movies that was released as a standalone expansion to Far Cry 3.

Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon is worth your $5 because… There are neon dinosaurs and you can ride one. There’s a button for giving your enemies the finger. There’s a sniper rifle that shoots exploding rockets. You can rip your enemies hearts out and use them to sic giant neon dinosaurs on your enemies. The whole thing is dripping with 80’s action B-movie machismo and video game satire silliness. If you aren’t throwing your wallet at your monitor right now I feel bad for you.

But don’t pay full price for Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon, since… I can’t think of a reason why you wouldn’t buy this game. I guess if you played and hated Far Cry 3 you might not like it. But you’d be missing out…

The $5 Deal: Watch for Far Cry 3 price cuts during major Steam sales – typically related games are also on mega-sale. Check the Blood Dragon page on Steam during FC3 sales to get the best price. Last summer sale, it was down to about $6.

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