Cult of the Fiver | September 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.

In addition to continuing coverage of all the deals from Steam recently, this edition of Cult of the Fiver is celebrating a bunch of wonderful games that I’ve played which can be found in Humble Indie Bundle #9, which is a killer, killer deal. If you miss this sale, shame on you! Unless you’ve played them all already, in which case, yay!

FTL: Faster than Light

Cult of the Fiver - Faster Than Light

FTL: Faster than Light was one of the earliest Kickstarter indie successes. It’s a randomized space sim with strong RPG elements. You are a lone ship on the run from a powerful armada constantly nipping at your heels. Can you make this perilous journey and deliver much needed intel about the rebel flagship, or will you end up in vaguely ship-shaped chunks drifting in deep space? (Spoiler alert: it’s usually the latter…)

FTL: Faster than Light is worth your $5 because… it’s challenging, but fun and manages to feel fair as it destroys you for the nth time. Your crew are little more than tiny sprites, but over time you come to value them. Since everything is randomized, and there are lots of interesting things to try out and achievements to shoot for, the replay value is enormous. There’s just not another game quite like this.

But don’t pay full price for FTL: Faster than Light, since… well, actually, pay whatever you want for it. It’s only $10 normally. Sometimes the randomness will yield an early death for your crew, but them’s the breaks in outer space.

The $5 Deal: It’s part of Humble Indie Bundle 9 (assuming you read this while it’s stil on). You can also pick it up on Steam, and Amazon has been featuring it of late.

Quick Tips

  • Of the ship’s systems, shields are a high priority. Having extra shields can mean the difference between coming away without a scratch and getting blown to bits.
  • Save your scrap during the first couple of systems, so that you can afford to buy new weapons. If your shields and weapons aren’t up to spec, your chances of survival are limited. A couple of burst lasers go a long way!
  • Try to have around 20 fuel in reserve, so that you can continue your trip even if you get unlucky and don’t find any for a while.
  • A mixed crew will allow you to get better results from many encounters.
  • The Teleporter subsystem is extremely powerful when paired with Mantis or Rock boarding crew. In combat encounters, if you kill the crew without destroying the ship, you will get better rewards.

Fez

Cult of the Fiver - Fez

Fez is a puzzle platformer about a weird looking being who realizes that his world isn’t as flat as he once assumed. With his newfound powers of rotation, he explores, collects, adventures, and solves tricky puzzles. Part Myst, part Mario, it’s another truly unique indie title.

Fez is worth your $5 because… it’s a really good game. Seriously, read my entire review to hear me heap praises on it. It manages to take a tired genre of 2D platforming, and leverage a simple mechanic to breathe new life into it. The puzzles are varied and often challenging. There’s a real feeling of discovery when you figure it out.

But don’t pay full price for Fez, since… well, again, maybe this one is still worth full price. Some of the puzzles are very obtuse, though, so expect to be stuck often.

The $5 Deal: This is another game that is part of Humble Indie Bundle 9 (again, assuming you read this while it’s stil on). You can also pick it up on Steam during a sale.

Quick Tips

  • Some of the puzzles require that you have a QR code reader. Most phones can read QR codes and decode them. The QR puzzles have alternate solutions, so don’t sweat it if you can’t solve them that way.
  • There are resources in-game for deciphering all of the game’s codes. But let’s be honest, you’re going to Google them ;)
  • Some of the puzzles can’t be solved until after you have “won” the game for the first time.
  • Rooms will turn gold on your map when you’ve found everything and solved everything there is to get there.

Mark of the Ninja

Cult of the Fiver - Mark of the Ninja

Mark of the Ninja is an action/stealth game by Klei Entertainment, who have a solid 2D, cel-shaded game pedigree with the Shank series. Your ninja clan is under attack, and the only way for it to survive is if you take the Mark – a tattoo that gives supernatural powers, but at the cost of slowly driving you insane. Will you succeed versus the threats arrayed against you, and at what cost to yourself? The only way to find out is to stab a lot of things.

Mark of the Ninja is worth your $5 because… this is another truly excellent game. It was probably my game of the year for 2012. Play it – you will not be disappointed. I gushed about it in my review and I still drool over it today. I bought it again for PC, so that should say something.

But don’t pay full price for Mark of the Ninja, since… it’s on sale often, I guess? I bought it at full price and have never regretted a penny. There is nothing bad I could possibly say about this game, except for I wish there was more of it.

The $5 Deal: Yet another deal available as part of Humble Indie Bundle 9 (again, assuming you read this while it’s stil on). You can also pick it up on Steam during a sale. Amazon has been bundling it with a collection of other indie titles, click here for that. On sale, it usually goes for less than $10, which is a total steal.

Quick Tips

  • Hisomu Terror Dart FTW. Once you get this, you can take on virtually anything.
  • Killing guards and stashing their bodies is worth the most points, so try to do this often if you’re going for score.
  • Most of your mistakes can be quickly undone by restoring your last checkpoint. The checkpoints are generous – you even get to keep any medals or other things you earned.

System Shock

Cult of the Fiver - System Shock 2

System Shock 2 looks like a first person shooter, but it’s really a first person RPG and survival horror game. Created by a team that would later go on to make Bioshock, it shares many systems with its spiritual successor. When a space voyage goes horribly wrong and is interrupted by a sinister alien threat, you are one of the very last survivors and must attempt to stop this threat before it grows powerful enough to threaten the entire galaxy.

System Shock 2 is worth your $5 because… it’s a classic of the genre and a watershed moment for gaming as a whole. It stands with giants like Deus Ex and Half Life 2 as FPS games that drove the genre beyond mere shooters. It’s well written, the twists and turns of the plot are sudden and jarring. The threats feel real. This game doesn’t pull punches when it comes to depth, there are myriad ways to play and a lot of stuff to do an explore. It’s also scary as hell.

But don’t pay full price for System Shock 2, since… it’s aged considerably since its release. There are packs that attempt to make it look a bit more modern, but it’s still a quite crusty game. Some of the systems are downright unfair or needlessly punishing. It’s also scary as hell.

The $5 Deal: This one’s not in HiB #9, but it’s featured in the concurrently running Humble Weekly Sale along with a number of other retro shooters. GoG has it as well, and often puts it on sale.

Quick Tips

  • Did I mention it’s scary as hell? It’s seriously scary as hell. Scary. As. Hell.
  • Conserve your ammo and resources whenever you can – it’s rare to find caches of resources, and the game can be particularly difficult.
  • Researching enemy bits can help you do additional damage to different enemy types.

Alan Wake

Cult of the Fiver - Alan Wake

Alan Wake is an older game that has a bit of a cult following. Alan is a writer, on vacation with his wife in beautiful Bright Falls. However, Alan quickly runs afoul of the Dark Presence, an evil force that seeks to turn his gift for writing against the world. Twists, turns, and cliffhangers await as Alan tries to sort reality from fiction in a place where fiction becomes reality.

Alan Wake is worth your $5 because… it’s very cleverly written. The whole thing is done in the style of a serial TV show, with “episodes” and recaps at the beginning of each. The underlying story has multiple twists and turns, and the characters are varied and interesting. You’ll want to keep playing to find out what happens.

But don’t pay full price for Alan Wake, since… the gameplay itself is a hot mess. I don’t know if it hasn’t aged well or if this is what they were going for, but either way it’s super frustrating. Oftentimes in combat you’ll be blindsided due to enemies spawning behind you. They can easily stunlock you, even when you’ve got power weapons available to make headway. Most of the tension in the game is short-lived, since the game actively telegraphs its next moves, and the enemies aren’t at all varied or scary. They shout non sequiturs like “OMEGA 3 FATTY ACIDS ARE GOOD FOR YOUR HEART” and so on. There’s some egregious product placement – Alan finds only Energizer-brand lithium batteries, has a Verizon phone (and frequently sees billboards for them), their car is a Ford with Microsoft Sync support, and so on.

For better or worse, almost all of these bad parts are gone in American Nightmare, which is far shorter but worlds better.

The $5 Deal: It was a Humble Weekly Sale, but it’s also cheap during sales on Steam, GoG, and even goes on sale frequently on Xbox Live.

Quick Tips

  • If you have the option, try to pick up the whole thing (including the 2 DLCs and American Nightmare) for less than $5. If you like it, you’ll probably want the other chapters, and if you don’t, hey, it was cheap!
  • If you just want to explore the story, definitely play on Easy. The combat is a chore, and this isn’t one I suggest going for all the achievements on.
  • If you must go for achievements, use a guide. There are hundreds of collectibles and trying to find them all in the foggy, blurry darkness of the forest areas is very, very frustrating. You’re going to have to play through at least twice.
  • When attacked, focus on the smaller, faster moving Taken. These guys will ruin your day fast if you try to focus on the heavy hitters first.
  • Abuse your inventory liberally. There are tons of moments in the game where your inventory is reset. Even playing on Hard, I found I almost always had maxed out batteries, and when my inventory reset I typically lost a lot of special weapon ammo that could have made my life easier had I used it earlier.

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