Cult of the Fiver | August 2013

If you shop right, $5 buys a lot of game. 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.

Thomas Was Alone

Cult of the Fiver - Thomas Was Alone

Thomas is some sort of AI, represented by a rectangle in a 2D world. For some reason, he needs to get through a semi-hostile environment and into a similarly shaped hole via some light platforming. He’s joined in his puzzle/platforming adventure by other solid-colored rectangular shapes that all have different physics properties. Physics! Platforming! Graphics! Indie!

Thomas Was Alone is worth your $5 because… of it’s charming “dialog” delivered by simple voice over. There’s shades of Portal 2 Wheatley here, and the writing is clever and endearing. The puzzles themselves are fairly casual on the whole. There’s not a lot of emphasis on precision or speed.

But don’t pay full price for Thomas Was Alone, since… it’s not a terribly long, challenging, or fresh game. You can probably blow through it in a few hours, easily, and there’s little to no replay value. Some of the puzzles are merely tedious rather than clever. Organizing your shapes only to realize that you can’t move on without backtracking significantly is a real pain.

The $5 Deal:

Quick Tips

  • Often you’ll need to stack or make stairs out of some of your better jumpers in order to get the weaker jumpers where they’ll need to go.
  • One of the shapes falls upwards instead of downwards. It’s possible to suspend another shape in midair with a bit of trickery.
  • Keep on the lookout for switches, since you’ll almost always need to hit all of them in order to proceed.

The $5 Deal: We grabbed it on Steam during the Summer Sale.

Sleeping Dogs

Cult of the Fiver - Sleeping Dogs

Officer Wei Shen is going deep undercover with the Sun On Yee, a powerful Hong Kong Triad gang. He’s got history with some of the members, and is torn between his job and his cover as he works to take down the gang from within. Of course, since this is an open world “GTA-esque” game, mostly he’s going to be killing thugs and “accidentally” running pedestrians over.

Sleeping Dogs is worth your $5 because… there’s a lot of game here. The Batman-style hand-to-hand combat is fun, although guns are kind of few and far between for a game of this type. The plot is interesting, although it’s lacking in tension a lot of the time. The old ultraviolence is turned up to 11, so get ready for some brutal kill animations and wave after wave of stupid idiots to headshot.

But don’t pay full price for Sleeping Dogs, since… the camera’s so wonky it’s got oompa loompas working for it. Once you’ve locked on during hand-to-hand combat, the camera can’t be moved with the right analog stick. This means it often gets stuck on things or limits your ability to see and react to incoming attacks. There’s also a frequent disconnect with the realistic tone the game seems to want to have, and the open world “anything goes” mentality of this type of game. For instance, I get docked at the end of a mission for hitting a streetlight, but if I murder a dozen cops, that’s no big deal.

The $5 Deal: We grabbed it on Steam during the Summer Sale.

Quick Tips

  • You’ve got three experience bars – Police, Triad, and Face. You can raise Police and Face experience a number of ways, but Triad experience can only be gained via the main plot missions. The good news is you can go back to play old missions to get more Triad experience if you need to. Certain outfits boost your Triad experience, so go looking for new clothes occasionally to max it out. By the end of the game you will probably just barely max out your Triad experience.
  • Having lots of Face experience has many benefits. At the top rank, you will get 40% off all clothing and vehicle purchases. Since you’re going to need to buy some expensive cars to race with, it pays to wait on some of the most expensive ones until you’ve maxed this out. Again, certain accessories can boost your Face experience gain, so it pays to shop around.
  • The fastest way to make money is to call Tran on your phone and deliver cars for him. It’s relatively easy, and the payouts are good. A distant second is returning armored cars to the garage. Evading the police can sometimes make this more trouble than it is worth, although the payout can be large.
  • Going on “dates” with your “girlfriends” (to put it nicely…) will reveal collectibles on your mini map and on the world map. You have to toggle them on in order to see them on the world map, though.

Antichamber

Cult of the Fiver - Antichamber

Antichamber doesn’t have a plot, per se. You’re trapped in a very unusual labyrinth where the normal rules of physics and your notions of space don’t quite apply. It’s very M. C. Escher meets Portal. Your only goal is to find the exit.

Antichamber is worth your $5 because… it is a very clever and unique game. Some of the puzzles are mind bending or require thinking outside the box (in some cases, literally). There’s a bevy of different puzzles to discover and attempt, and most are self contained and can be solved in just a few minutes, assuming you can unlock their secrets that fast. The game lets you “fast travel” and reset puzzles quickly, which makes failure and frustration less likely.

But don’t pay full price for Antichamber, since… there’s a lot of obtuse things to learn at first, and then the game starts to get a bit repetitive. Once you start finding the tools that allow you to move blocks, many puzzles boil down to just manipulating the blocks in some specific way. It’s rare to have a “physics bending” puzzle that also relies on the block guns. The physics puzzles at times are super hard, and other times boil down to recognizing a pattern you’ve seen before.

The $5 Deal: We grabbed it on Steam during the Summer Sale.

Quick Tips

  • In order to escape, you’re going to need to track down three “guns” that allow you to manipulate colored blocks. Any time you see one of these, make it a priority to figure out how to get it.
  • Many puzzles will clue you in to what gun you need by having their blocks be the same color as the gun required.
  • Pay attention to the hints that the game gives you on the walls. Sometimes they’ll even tell you when you’ve solved a puzzle, even if it doesn’t look solved.
  • Also pay close attention to your surroundings. The game has several recurring images that will help you solve particular puzzles once you figure out how to interpret them.
  • The timer in the first room is completely bogus. Don’t let it stress you out or convince you that the game is that short. It’s just there to screw with your head. Seriously, let it run out and nothing at all happens.

Gunpoint

Cult of the Fiver - Gunpoint

A private detective is drawn into a web of conspiracy and intrigue after the head of a major corporation is assassinated and he’s the prime suspect. With his uncanny jumping abilities and a knack for rewiring electronics, he’s going to crack the case and clear his name. EBongo wrote a longer review which you can find here.

Gunpoint is worth your $5 because… it’s a logic puzzle disguised as a 2D side-scrolling shooter. Guards will take you out in record time with a single hit, so this is a stealth game that is primarily concerned with non-lethal and indirect takedowns. You can wire their alarms to open doors for you, or wire motion detectors to zap your enemies, or just jump on them and pound away until your fists are tired. The writing is also clever, and the graphics are simple but fit the mood perfectly.

But don’t pay full price for Gunpoint, since… it’s a bit on the short side. Actually, I don’t really have a problem with the $10 asking price when it’s off sale. You’ll get your money’s worth, and encouraging this developer would be a very good thing. There’s also a level editor, so new levels are either in your imagination, waiting to be written, or other people’s levels are just a download away.

The $5 Deal: We grabbed it on Steam during the Summer Sale.

Quick Tips

  • Don’t sweat failure too much. There are frequent autosaves that will let you restore your progress quickly after a failed attempt.
  • All of the electronic devices can have one trigger, and one action to take when they’re activated. For instance, if you want a switch to turn on a light and open a door, wire the switch to the light, and the light to the door. It’s a bit counterintuitive at first, but you’ll quickly get the hang of it.
  • Don’t forget to spend your cash and upgrade points between missions. It does you no good to leave it sitting around, and the more gear you’ve got, the easier missions are likely to be.

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