Gaming 2009: PC

Steam hit a new stride this year, causing me to open my wallet thirty-six separate times. I don’t want to count how many games that translates into for just this year – but the total game count on my Steam account is now at a sickening 195 titles. I didn’t start on Steam until late in 2007, so that means I’m averaging a disturbing 1.6 games a week.

Nothing can illustrate what causes this than the current front page of the Steam store. Right now, there’s a midweek sale for Psychonauts – a well received game from 2005, that I do not currently own – for $2. I am trying to write this post and *not* take the 30 seconds it would take to purchase it.

Steam has leveraged, on a slightly broader scale, what has made the iPhone app market so dynamic and prone to impulse purchasing – the ability to quickly drop prices, sometimes up to 90%. When you shave an award winning game down to $2, price conscious gamers will react strongly.

Most of my purchases this year were either games from past years or multiplatform titles, so much of my PC playing has already been covered. There were a few standout titles that haven’t quite shown up anywhere else, as well as some awful ports, so let’s make notes below:

## High Points & Surprises

I frequently have limitations on my gaming capacity, so finding a game that can run nearly anywhere and remain fun whether I’m playing for 5 minutes or 5 hours has always been something I’ve tried to find, often without much luck. This year, I stumbled onto Altitude, which may actually be that Holy Grail. Airplane based with multiple game types, nearly entirely over the network, with a perk and challenge system not unlike most FPS games – and it’s a Java app, so I can play in OS X or Windows or in a web browser. All my stats and unlocks are kept on the central servers, so my profile follows me around. I’ve spent way too much time in the last two months playing BALL mode, which is like a chaotic game of soccer. There’s a three hour demo available, and should you try it through this link you’ll automatically show up on my friends list. It’s worth a try.

While I am not at all a fan of Impulse, I closed my eyes held my breath when Demigod went on sale, and found that the game hit the spot I was looking for between an RTS and a sort of top down adventure game. It’s a weird mix, but it’s fun – I just wish I didn’t have to run Impulse to play it.

For those who identified with the Diablo addiction mentioned in my Borderlands mention, but would rather play a game that’s actually more like Diablo than an FPS, Torchlight is the de facto choice for Best Diablo Game That Isn’t Named Diablo. I’m not entirely sure how this shipped without multiplayer, but it’s not priced as a full retail title, so you’ll certainly get an appropriate level of enjoyment out of it.

Popcap’s Plants vs. Zombies is a lovely casual defense game with a lot of charm. I’m eagerly awaiting the iPhone version, along with most of the free world.

Even if the game was crap, I would be giving AaaaaAAaaaAAAaaAAAAaAAAAA!!! – A Reckless Disregard for Gravity some acknowledgement for the best named game of the year. Luckily, the game – a sort of base jumping arcade game – is good in its own right.

## Low Points & Disappointments

Last year, I praised Saints Row 2 to the high heavens. This year, I managed to find the PC version on the cheap – and then I realized it was so cheap. Even with a high powered computer, it drops frames all over the place, and it will probably never get a patch to fix it. With Red Faction: Guerilla running so well on the PC, a port this sloppy is inexcusable.

While we’re on crappy ports: Popcap and Square combined forces to create what could have been a game to destroy the world. Popcap’s addicting puzzles crossed with Square’s over the top production values could’ve been the end of many gamers’ lives. But Gyromancer didn’t quite come off properly, and worse, the launch version would not run if you weren’t on a 4:3 aspect ratio – which many people are not. There’s a workaround, but not catching this in QA means I can’t in good faith recommend the game.

Lastly, I wish the Zeno Clash team had spent as much time on varying the gameplay (more than just “this is a slightly different kind of fight”) and the throwaway plot that they did on the brilliant art direction.