Cult of the Fiver | December 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.

Brutal Legend

Brutal Legend is Jack Black and Double Fine's love letter to heavy metal music. Like all Double Fine games, it's packed with silly humor and dripping with charm. The game itself is part third-person brawler, part open world sandbox, and part real time strategy. Jack Black plays Eddie Riggs, and under-appreciated roadie who ends up transported to an alternate dimension where heavy metal music holds the power to change the world. However, he's got to battle the forces of hair metal, emo music, and demonic dirges in order to free the people from pretenders to the throne. Brutal Legend came out on consoles in 2009, but made the jump to PC in 2013.

Brutal Legend is worth your $5 because... it's a Double Fine game, and as any True Gamer knows, they put out quality products. Jack Black is in fine form, and there's plenty of other voice talent from heavy metal legends like Ozzy Osbourne. The world itself is fully realized, with heavy metal tropes on full display. The plot is a bit short, but interesting and fun.

But don't pay full price for Brutal Legend, since... it's a Double Fine game, which as any True Gamer knows, means that it's full of messy, half finished content. There aren't many real-time strategy games designed for consoles, mainly because they are very hard to manage using a controller. Brutal Legend tries its best, but ultimately falls far short. The strategy elements tend to be very shallow and more frustrating than challenging. The third-person brawler elements are neat, but aren't really given their time to shine for the most part. There's also a bunch of open world stuff, but there's no compass or minimap. Compounding the navigation woes is a lack of fast travel option. If you just focus on the main storyline and ignore most of the sidequests (there isn't much utility in completing them, honestly), you'll probably clear Brutal Legend in just a few hours.

The $5 Deal: Grab it over on Steam when it hits 75% off. I'd also suggest checking in with bundles on Steam or Amazon, as often Double Fine stuff gets bundled up for tremendous discounts. The Humble Store often features sale prices on this title as well.

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Strike Suit Zero

Strike Suit Zero is an indie space combat sim, similar to games like Wing Commander, Descent: Freespace, and Freelancer. In addition to flying your standard fighter, interceptor, and bomber craft, what makes Strike Suit Zero special is the addition of the titular Strike Suit. The Strike Suit can change from "pursuit mode" (aka, a standard fighter craft-looking thing) to "strike mode" where it becomes almost Mobile Suit-esque. In this mode, you can spend the flux energy you earn from destroying things to unleash devastating attacks, but you lose most of the craft's mobility.

Strike Suit Zero is worth your $5 because... it's a solid entry in a mostly dead genre. I haven't played a space combat sim this good since Freespace 2, which is one of my all-time favorite games. The Strike Suit is fun to fly, and it really feels like it changes the dynamics of space combat within the game's universe. There are 13 or so missions to fly, and each is a 15-20 minute experience if you play it flawlessly. There are unlocks, badges, and two endings to get, so there's replay value as well.

But don't pay full price for Strike Suit Zero, since... it has a few rough edges. It's not super long, although you will probably get a good 8-10 hours out of the campaign mode. The overall plot is a bit predictable, and there's not a lot of room for character development. Although sometimes it feels like there's a lot of objective and prop reuse, it never really feels like it's repeating itself too much. I can't really say too much bad about it, as I did really enjoy it from start to finish.

The $5 Deal: Steam runs the occasional discount on this one. It gets down to around $5 for the base game, and usually around $10 or less for the complete package, including DLC and some spin-off titles.

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Sid Meier's Ace Patrol

Sid Meier's Ace Pa... you know what, I'm just going to call this "Ace Patrol." Ace Patrol is a turn based hex strategy game set in World War I, where you lead a team of fighter aces tasked with completing wartime objectives. Some levels have you defending bases or observation balloons, while others have you taking the fight to the enemy. Your movement is limited not only by how maneuverable your plane is, but also by how skilled your pilot is.

Sid Meier's Ace Patrol is worth your $5 because... it's a simplified strategy game from the strategy game masters at Firaxis. For those of you who already recognize the name-slash-company, think of it like X-COM by way of Civilization: Revolution. You invest in your pilots, but are constantly forced to risk them in order to get ahead. It's not too tough to pick up, but mastering it takes time. It's been simplified for a simpler audience on a simpler device, though.

But don't pay full price for Sid Meier's Ace Patrol, since... it's essentially a free-to-play tablet game ported to PC. (The microtransactions were dumped, thankfully!) The graphical fidelity is terrible. It really feels like the overall UI could use some polish.

The $5 Deal: It's always $5 on Steam. When discounted, you can plan to pay around a dollar. There's also a sequel/expansion called Pacific Skies that you can pick up for a low price if you so desire.

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Incredipede is an indie physics puzzler featuring a weird organism that is an eye with a variable number of legs. These legs can be jointed, and muscles applied to each joint. On each level, the creature's shape changes, and it has to overcome environmental obstacles and collect goodies on the way. It's a bit like World of Goo crossed with QWOP.

Incredipede is worth your $5 because... it's got an interesting premise that is executed well. The art is also very pretty.

But don't pay full price for Incredipede, since... much like other physics puzzlers, there's a lot of trial and error. The physics make it difficult to reproduce a particular movement, and the single muscle controls mean that you're going to be flailing about a lot. I found myself really trying to mash the button, which usually means to me that the controls are unintuitive or just not precise enough. The collectibles appear optional at first, but there are gates that require you to have some high number of them before you can proceed. I stopped playing in the second world, where the game wanted me to start burning off my creature's legs in order to get ahead.

The $5 Deal: It's normally $10 on Steam, so wait around for a 50% off sale or better. GoG also stocks this title, if you prefer DRM-free instead of Steam.

Serious Sam HD

Serious Sam is a "classic" first person shooter in the mold of the original Doom and Quake games. You're tasked with navigating a level full of robotic alien demon enemies to get to the exit. You've got all the classic weapons on display - shotguns, machine guns, rocket launchers, grenade launchers, energy weapons, and so forth. Can you survive the onslaught and save the universe from the evil... bad things?

Serious Sam HD is worth your $5 because... it brings back the old days of first person shooters - before games like Half Life and Halo changed the course of the genre to be more story-driven and less difficult. It's just your shooter skills versus hordes of nasty things that want to chew your innards.

But don't pay full price for Serious Sam HD, since... it's seriously difficult. Punishingly so. I've got a lot of "classic FPS" hours under my belt and I struggle with this game on normal difficulty. Almost every time the game seems to be throwing you a bone, it immediately punishes you for taking it. Beyond the core gameplay, there's just not much on offer here.

The $5 Deal: There are several different Serious Sam games out there - the HD remakes of the first two games are called "Serious Sam HD: The First Encounter" and "Serious Sam HD: The Second Encounter." Then there's Serious Sam 2, which is apparently different. Serious Sam 3: Before First Encounter is actually a prequel. Are you confused yet? From what I understand, they're all pretty similar, so pick up one on the cheap and see if you like it before taking the full-package-plunge.

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Rogue Legacy

Rogue Legacy takes the random dungeons and high level of difficulty from the roguelike genre and mixes it up with Castlevania-esque sidescrolling gameplay. A unique death-based progression system has you playing as the descendant of your previous adventurer every time you die on your quest. Random descendant traits and classes mean that every journey into the randomized castle is doubly random.

Rogue Legacy is worth your $5 because... it's a very unique and addictive formula. Death is cheap, but failure begets progress as you expand your family's stats, equipment, and available classes. The difficulty ramps up somewhat gently, as enemies become increasingly dangerous as you explore deeper, but they tend to follow patterns you'll recognize from their weaker counterparts. It gets the penalties and rewards right - most roguelike games have a steep learning curve, with many cheap deaths wiping your progress but teaching you a valuable lesson. Rogue Legacy makes this journey to education fun rather than frustrating.

But don't pay full price for Rogue Legacy, since... well, no, pay full price if you want. $10 is even a bargain. This is a solid game with few issues. There are some moments in the early going where you can't seem to get enough money in a single run to make progress, but then you'll have a run where everything goes really well and you come back with a massive haul.

The $5 Deal: Normally it goes for $15, but Steam often has it for cheaper during flash sales. The Humble Store has been featuring discounts on it frequently of late as well.

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