Tag Archives: steam

Games of 2012: The Rest

Here’s a shocker: despite there only being 26 games in my blog post series, I played more than 26 games this year. A number of these games didn’t warrant a full blown post, but I did want to at least recommend them or give them their due. So here’s a big list of 30 games that didn’t make the list that might be worth a look (or a pass) – in three sentences or less per game.

Analogue: A Hate Story (Steam): A well-written interactive fiction game that has you digging through an abandoned space ship’s computer to figure out what happened to it. A lot to dig into, and the interactions with the AIs are well scripted. Originally on the list for this year, but left off because other games took its spot.

Chip Chain (iOS): A pretty recent title that sort of plays like a match-three game, but with some unique mechanics I hadn’t seen before. Good style and polish on it, although just slightly hampered by some IAP pushing. Worth a look for iOS gamers in need of a puzzle game fix.

Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (Steam/PSN/XBLA): I’ve always felt I should’ve gotten into Counter-Strike, and this is the first one that felt accessible enough that I could. Plays really fast, runs well – perhaps this can finally bump CS 1.6 off the throne. Need to spend more time with this.

Defender’s Quest: Valley of the Forgotten (Steam): Puts some deep RPG elements on top of tower defense games, and tries to put a story on top of it as well. Tower defense lovers should give this a look.

Double Dragon: Neon (PSN/XBLA): I wanted to hate this game for coining the phrase “bro-op”, but it overcame that. Really amazing soundtrack by Jake Kaufman that serves as both an homage to the original series and to 80’s pop.

Dyad (PSN): Trippy as hell tube racer/shooter/puzzler/something. One of those games that just seems to fit on PSN. Really hard to describe, obviously.

FIFA Street (PS3/360): When I played soccer as a kid, I loved indoor, so a game that focuses on the smaller version of the game seemed like a great idea. But of course the execution was flawed and I forgot about it after two weeks. Left off the list because I already had enough soccer games and enough counter-example games.

Football Manager 2013 (Steam): It’s the first year for FM where they’ve actually tried to make the game more accessible to newcomers, and that’s a big deal – those looking for a robust sports sim should get in the door now. I should be happy I haven’t lost my soul to this game yet.

Gasketball (iOS): Good physics puzzler that has you making trick shots with a basketball. Frustrating at times given the game’s unforgiving nature, but nailing a shot feels really good.

Gotham City Impostors (Steam/PSN/XBLA): Got slogged in the press, but I actually liked what this was trying to do. Team based shooters have gotten pretty same-y, and GCI at least tried to change up the formula. It’s free to play now on the PC, so it can’t hurt to try.

Hell Yeah! (Steam/PSN/XBLA): A really bizarre Sega release that feels like they were trying just a little too hard to channel Disgaea into a platformer. Still, it’s not bad at what it does, and the humor isn’t unbearable. I like seeing Sega take a chance on a new franchise rather than rehashing Sonic again.

Iron Brigade (Steam/XBLA): Doublefine’s take on the Tower Defense genre, with a fun cross of early 20th century war and sci-fi trappings. Probably a ton of fun in co-op, but I barely spent any time with it beyond the tutorial levels (mostly for lack of friends with the game).

Karateka (iOS/PSN/XBLA): I adored Jordan Mechner’s original game, and I’m so glad to see it back on modern platforms. Feels right on iOS, although I haven’t tried the console versions. Just came out on December 19th, so it was a little too late-breaking to make it into the list.

Knights of Pen & Paper (iOS): This has become my renewed addiction over the past week: a mobile RPG that works in short bursts. The concept, which is that you’re a group of people playing a tabletop RPG, gives it a good sense of humor and place missing from a lot of RPGs. Had my addiction came weeks earlier, it would’ve been a lock for a post.

Legend of Grimrock (Steam): I am so glad someone finally did a modern take on Dungeon Master. I missed crawling around chunky grid-based dungeons. Cheap during the Steam sale this week, so if you have nostalgia for dungeon crawling 80’s style, get on it now.

Little Inferno (Steam/WiiWare): I burned through this (hur hur) in one afternoon, and while I loved what it was trying to do, I didn’t really like how it did it. Not quite enough of a game to warrant the $10 asking price.

Lost Cities (iOS): From the same team that did Carcasonne comes a great port of a modern card game. As fully featured and well polished as one can want in a card game. Exemplary stuff for other iOS developers.

Mark of the Ninja (Steam/XBLA): Got a ton of love from XBLA enthusiasts, and I have not gotten enough time with the Steam version. Definitely seems to have the stealth gameplay down cold, though.

Orcs Must Die! 2 (Steam): Loved the first one, and the second seems like a good refinement on the formula. Half over-the-person shooter, half tower defense. Also, co-op!

Puzzle Craft (iOS): Draw-to-match tile puzzle mixed with town building and upgrading? Would have been pure digital crack were it not for performance problems and bugs. Should be safe now, though.

Retro City Rampage (Steam/PSN): Suffers from “references overpower the gameplay” syndrome – too many jokes, not enough original ideas. Wanted to like this but ended up just feeling let down. May give it another shot since the PSN/Vita version was recently free.

Sleeping Dogs (Steam/PS3/360): Impressed by Squeenix’s take on the GTA formula. World seems pretty nicely realized, enough so that I’m looking forward to getting back to it. If you’re waiting on pins and needles for GTAV, give this a look.

Sound Shapes (PSN): Such a cute, smart, well built platformer. Great art, great music. Just felt way too short in exchange for a level editor – community can’t replace solid game design.

Spaceteam (iOS): Absolutely love the concept: all your networked iOS devices show controls and instructions, which need to be shouted so someone else can fidget with the dial to avoid your ship exploding. Always a big fan of interactive group games. My only issue: I haven’t played this with anyone yet.

Spec Ops: The Line (Steam/PS3/360): I’ve been told there’s an amazing twist and writing waiting beneath the surface of this. But the couple of hours I spent with it just felt like a really janky third-person shooter. Will return to it in the future.

SSX (PS3/360): I need to stop getting my hopes up for SSX games, as EA has broken my heart more times than they’ve won it over. The endless array of equipment and stats tinkering here lost me. A shame, because the snowboarding itself was pretty fun in the right circumstances.

Tokyo Jungle (PSN): Again, a quirky title that feels like you would only find it on PSN. I enjoyed running around the abandoned streets of Tokyo as a pomeranian – until I was attacked by a rhino. Lovers of quirky titles should not pass this up.

The Walking Dead (Steam/XBLA/PSN/iOS): Has won so many damned end of the year awards, I felt like re-iterating that I hadn’t had a chance to play it yet. Have just dipped my toe into chapter 1, and I can tell there’s quality here. Probably a safe bet if you like point-and-click adventure games.

XCOM: Enemy Unknown (Steam): If there’s any game I regret not spending more time with, it’s XCOM. Loved the demo, but the ongoing issues with my Windows install took me away from it and I desperately want to play it again. Expect to see me logging series time on this on Steam the minute I can install Boot Camp again.

Zookeeper Battle (iOS): Competitive Match 3, with cute blocky Japanese style. Gets surprisingly tense when you can’t make matches or when you wait to see how the rounds resolve. Online live play only, but it’s free, so give it a try.

Games of 2012: Hotline Miami

I’ve spent a lot of time in 2012 playing games, but not a lot of time writing about them. As I did last year, I’d like to tell some stories or share some thoughts about the ones that meant the most to me this year. I’ll be posting one a day until Christmas. See all Games of 2012 posts.

Everyone Dies.  No Exceptions.

It seems perverse to put [Hotline Miami](http://hotlinemiami.com/) so high on my list this year given the all-too-recent events of Newtown, CT. Had this been released by a major publisher or available in stores for home consoles, it would’ve incited a media frenzy, networks falling over each other to blame it for the tragedy. It could have easily replaced “Mortal Kombat” as the game to name drop when trying to source the evil in the hearts of those who would commit atrocities.

Improbably, Dennaton’s opus of neon and violence and Amiga-style graphics and blood and pounding electronica and dismemberment has escaped that scrutiny. For now, at least.

The game’s structure is rhythmic: there’s a message on your answering machine, a mysterious voice speaking in code about a location that needs your attention. You head down the stairs and into your DeLorean, and roll up to the location, which is always swarming with armed thugs. You pull on an animal mask of your choice, and head inside. Everyone dies. You leave, head to another location to receive what might be your payment, and then wake up for another day, and another message. Repeat.

Hotline Miami

It’s the “everyone dies” part that requires the most of your attention. Hotline Miami is all about the high-energy, high-tension rampage that you must execute to complete a level. With an improvised array of weapons, you’ll dance between lying in wait to take down a solo goon to busting into a room with guns blazing. Those conditioned on modern FPS games – soak up 20 bullets, hide behind cover until you’re back to full health – will be frustrated by an NES-style “one hit and you’re dead” health system. The button you may end up hitting the most is not the “fire” button but the “Restart” button, as though you’re playing Trials. It’s been called a “violence puzzle” – less about the aiming of your guns and more about managing ammo, avoiding sight lines, and keeping quiet.

The style drives the experience home. The ultra-violence is tapered somewhat by the garish 8-bit graphics, but gruesome close-range assaults make it clear what body parts are going where. There’s a [fantastically assembled soundtrack](https://soundcloud.com/devolverdigital/sets/hotline-miami-official), pounding and driving through the levels, that easily takes my favorite soundtrack of the year honors. And there’s small details – the way the camera swings the world just a little off-kilter, the shadows passing as you drive the car – that raises it just a notch higher.

You Don't Look Well, Sir

And then there’s the ultimate question: why *are* you killing all these people, and who is that voice on the answering machine? The game delivers the story in small drips of ephemera, like newspaper clippings or audio from a television, but it’s not long before things go off the rails and you’re questioning if any of what you’re seeing is real. Is it a fever dream? Is it a geo-political plot? Is it a [meditation on violence in video games](http://www.gamasutra.com/blogs/RamiIsmail/20121029/180408/Why_Hotline_Miami_is_an_important_game.php)?

I do subscribe to the idea that Hotline Miami is a meta-commentary about violence in games. When I consider my most lasting memory of the time I spent with the game, it is not any particular murder it asked me to commit. It’s not the bizarre conversations I had with what seems like the in-game representation of my psyche, or the corpses that randomly appeared in the video store. Instead, it’s that frequently moment right as the last man falls lifeless to the floor in a level, and the music fades into a cycling low hum and static. The adrenaline running through you and the accomplishment you feel for finally toppling the levels fades to emptiness. You step back through the level, revisiting everything you’ve done – all the blood spilled on the floor and the walls – and you are left to consider it all. And as your world and sanity fall apart in the game, it doesn’t always feel good.

That’s why I fear the day that Hotline Miami finally triggers a media shitstorm. For all of the violence and murder and carnage you’re instructed to commit, it provides a strong (albeit not easily deciphered) message about violence, mental health, and the power of suggestion. In a strange way, it’s reminiscent of A Clockwork Orange – and like the reaction to both Burgess’ book and Kubrick’s movie, I worry that the lessons could be missed entirely.

Hotline Miami is [available for Windows](http://store.steampowered.com/app/219150/). An OS X version is allegedly coming in the future.

Games of 2012: FTL: Faster Than Light

I’ve spent a lot of time in 2012 playing games, but not a lot of time writing about them. As I did last year, I’d like to tell some stories or share some thoughts about the ones that meant the most to me this year. I’ll be posting one a day until Christmas. See all Games of 2012 posts.

FTL: Faster Than Light

It’s hard to think of a bigger source of both hope and anguish for the gaming community this year than Kickstarter. The success of some high-profile crowdsourcing campaigns brought on a massive flood of projects, many of them with lofty aspirations and promises that seemed too good to be true.

I’ve been told by a few friends that I have a “Kickstarter problem”, as I’ve now backed 34 projects. 19 of these have been for video games. FTL: Faster Than Light was the fourth game I backed, and the first one to actually ship. (None of the three I backed before it have shipped yet.) With just one play, the game reenforced my faith in the power of the funding model. If even a handful of games this enjoyable could come out thanks to Kickstarter or IndieGogo, it’s worth the risk.

I have never had a great relationship with space games. I have tried time and time again, but whether it’s a dogfighter ala Wing Commander or 4X games like Masters of Orion, there’s something about them that makes a game clicking with me much more difficult.

FTL avoids falling into that trap because it’s not rooted to the way space games normally flow. The pitch from the developers told me it was going to be different:

FTL is a spaceship simulation roguelike-like. Its aim is to recreate the atmosphere of running a spaceship exploring the galaxy (like Firefly/Star Trek/BSG etc.) In any given episode of those classic shows, the captain is always yelling “Reroute power to shields!” or giving commands to the engineer now that their Warp Core is on fire. We wanted that experience, as opposed to the “dog fighting in space” that most videogames focus on. We wanted a game where we had to manage the crew, fix the engines, reroute power to shields, target the enemy life support, and then figure out how to repel the boarders that just transported over!

The roguelike elements are (as is the case with most roguelikes) both fun and frustrating. There’s a variety of randomness in the systems you explore, but there’s nothing worse than wandering into a battle that wipes out a carefully upgraded ship you’ve spent hours with.

The combat is fulfilling in ways that dogfighting is not. It’s tactical rather than reactive, less about looping circles behind ships and more about running your crew around to boost and repair the systems you need to win the fight. A wide array of upgrades and components mean you can customize the tactics to your taste. Maybe you want to use energy weapons to spare yourself having to stock missiles, or load up on drones, or use a teleporter to beam your crew over to the enemy ship and take it down from the inside. The flexibility helps convey that feeling that you’re commanding the ship.

There’s also pressure driving you forward, which is rare in space games. You’re being chased by rebels across the map, which keeps pushing you forward. While you get some time to explore, sticking around for too long will lead to your inevitable death. There’s no market system to pump your resources with buying low and selling high – you have to acquire money and parts largely through combat or interactions with other ships.

It really is a wonderful and unique experience, and one that provides a shining example for what Kickstarter can do for the gaming industry. Of course, out of the remaining 18 projects, 14 still haven’t shipped – so it’s a little discouraging to have so many projects sending me constant text updates but not having games in hand. Hopefully by this time next year, I’ll have more examples than just FTL.

FTL is available for OS X and Windows.

Games of 2012: Cargo Commander

I’ve spent a lot of time in 2012 playing games, but not a lot of time writing about them. As I did last year, I’d like to tell some stories or share some thoughts about the ones that meant the most to me this year. I’ll be posting one a day until Christmas. See all Games of 2012 posts.

You, in space, alone. A solitary life of drilling through space junk welcomes you in Cargo Commander, a quirky little indie game that popped onto my radar this year.

It’s rough around the edges – some graphical aliasing, some launch bugs on OS X, some obtuse gameplay mechanics. But there’s also a lot to like about it – a creeping dread storyline, generous randomization to keep you on your toes, and a great anticipation of cracking open a giant new space container and seeing just what’s awaiting you inside (and if it’s deadly, floating away in an act of defiance). It feels faintly like a roguelike, but with the perma-death eased up a bit and gradually earned upgrades helping you along.

The game is full of lovely small touches. Perhaps the greatest silly little joy is a helpful mention on one of the game screens to press the F key if you need to relieve some stress.

What does the stress relief key do? Causes your hapless character to shout some variation of “FUCK YOU” to the vast emptiness of space around him. It sounds juvenile, but after escaping a series of collapsing containers with only a sliver of health, you’d be hard pressed to want to hit any other key.

Cargo Commander is available on Steam for Mac and PC. My experiences were with the Mac version.


Valve, October 19th, 1999:

Given the realities of the Mac gaming market, our Mac customers were always going to be mad at us. They were always going to be second-class customers where we couldn’t invest to the same degree in the Mac version as we did elsewhere. I don’t want to be in that business. I would much rather we just eat the money we’ve spent so far than take money from Mac customers and short-change them.

Valve, May 12th, 2010:

Whether you’re a Mac or a PC, Steam has the games you want to play and a global community of gamers to play with.

What a difference a decade can make.

For those of you taking the plunge tomorrow for the first time, I am more than happy to take questions and help you make heads or tails of a fantastic (yet sometimes intimidating) gaming platform. Just visit my Steam Community and add me as a friend after you get it installed. (I would do a longer post, but there’s still a lot about the launch that we won’t know until tomorrow.)

Hope to see you there.

Steam OS X Release Coming?

Yesterday, Valve unveiled the first major overhaul to Steam‘s UI since the service launched. It’s gorgeous, even as a beta.

Within the release notes was a note of particular joy to me:

> Now using a WebKit based rendering engine for the client and in-game overlay web browsing components (replacing Internet Explorer)

As people have been digging around through the data files for the new version, they’ve noticed OS X window graphics, OS X menu files, dock icons, and strings about platform availability.

Moving to a cross-platform web rendering engine certainly doesn’t hurt this argument, either.

While a Steam port to OS X (or Linux) doesn’t mean that every game on the service becomes available to OS X gamers, it could mean that those games that are already cross-platform (Popcap’s stuff, some of EA’s recent titles, and plenty of indie games among others) would be.

I look forward to finding out what this all means.

(via Brad Shoemaker)

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:

Continue reading Gaming 2009: PC

Steam Holiday Sale 2009 Recommendations

Photo by Damon D'Amato

Once a year, Valve drops the bomb that is the Steam Holiday Sale.

Traditionally, it doesn’t start until after Christmas, but with increased competition in the digital download arena, they decided to throw the switch early this year.
With so much on sale, it may be difficult to reconcile the reviews with what’s on sale. Never fear – I’ve taken a stroll through my Steam account and bring you this set of recommendations. This isn’t meant to replace my inevitable “Games of 2009” post, but a lot of the games here will be there.

Some caveats/notes before I start:

1. Prices may change at any time during the sale, which runs through January 3rd. There are some daily specials on the front page, so do take a look there. As I write this, Grand Theft Auto 4 is $7.50, which is nearly a no-brainer – but this guide is largely limited to the regular sale prices.

2. Recommendations are largely based on game quality/enjoyment, but consideration has also been given to how much of a discount each title is at. 2009 titles are certainly favored as well. This isn’t to neglect some good older titles that are only mildly on sale – there’s only so much I can focus on. For a true quantitative look at how much love I’ve given each game, check my Steam Community games page. (This is also a fantastic way to become disgusted with me very quickly.)

3. Steam does require Windows, so if you’re OS X only, this may be the time to put the effort in to a Boot Camp install or some virtualization. Remember that buying things for a Steam account keeps them in your account for perpetuity, so pre-loading an account for your inevitable Windows gaming future isn’t a waste of money.

## The Games

AaaaaAAaaaAAAaaAAAAaAAAAA!!! – A Reckless Disregard for Gravity ($10 -> $7.50) – besides being the Best Named Game Of 2009, it’s also a slyly addictive base jumping game. You’ll curse and scream and pray that you don’t break every bone in your body as you bounce off of buildings and try to nail the landing.

Altitude ($10 -> $7.50) – this has been my obsession over the last week. Easy drop-in/drop-out network dogfighting, with classes (like TF2!) and perks (like COD!) and a vibrant community. Added bonus: buy this, create your account, and it’s portable to any platform, including OS X and the web version.

Batman: Arkham Asylum ($50 -> $33.50) – the best superhero game in years. Everyone remains shocked that a mostly unknown studio turned out something this beautiful. Haunting, full of things to explore, and possibly the best 3D Metroidvania title I’ve ever played. (Of course, if you can drop another $20, you can get every Eidos game on Steam including Batman.)

Borderlands ($50 -> $33.50) – the best role playing/first person hybrid since Deus Ex, perhaps. Certainly with four player co-op, it’s hard to argue. If you have a bunch of friends, buy the four pack to knock the price to ~$25 a copy.

Braid ($10 -> $2.50) – lavished with so much artsy praise, Jonathan Blow’s puzzle-platformer is hard to have not at least seen once, even if it was in Soulja Boy’s video review. Not much replay value, but that first run-through doesn’t disappoint.

GRID ($30 -> $15) – I’ve never gotten into the DIRT series, because I’m not particularly interested in off-road racing. GRID keeps you on the pavement, looks gorgeous, and handles fantastically, even if you’re not using a racing wheel.

Indigo Prophecy ($10 -> $3.40) – are you all a-quiver over Heavy Rain? Try Quantic Dream’s well regarded (although bizarrely scripted) predecessor. The opening scene in the diner alone is worth $4 of entertainment, so the value proposition is high. (Also, the only game I’ve ever played with a mental health bar where if you are too socially inept, your status goes to “SUICIDAL”. Really.)

King’s Bounty Gold Edition ($45 -> $30) – I haven’t played Armored Princess yet, but I really enjoyed The Legend as a fairly open strategy RPG. Somewhere between a character driven RPG and a turn based war game.

King’s Quest Collection ($20 -> $5) – I cut my gaming teeth as a kid on Sierra’s stuff. I still associate the smell of invisible ink with failure, because inevitably I had to turn to hint books. Here, you can get all seven classic adventure games for less than a buck a game. WELCOME TO MY HUMBLE ABODE. (Space Quest Collection is also $5, if you’re more the Roger Wilco type.)

Left 4 Dead 2 ($50 -> $37.50) – there was a lot of debate whether this really qualifies as a sequel, and not just an add-on pack. Having clocked about 17 hours on it – it’s a sequel. And it’s really good.

Outrun 2006: Coast 2 Coast ($10 -> $2.50) – okay, the network play is completely busted at this point, as Sega pulled down the servers ages ago. Still – it’s Outrun. And it’s as fun as you remember.

Plants vs. Zombies ($10 -> $7.50) – I was incredulous when I heard Popcap was making a zombie game. I was even more incredulous when it included adorable cartoon plants. Still, it works. Who am I to doubt Popcap? Best tower defense game this year.

Red Faction Guerrilla ($40 -> $20) – Volition really nailed the potential joy of a sandbox game where you are focused on destroying buildings. After the hell that was the Saint’s Row 2 PC version, I was hesitant, but this is solid.

Street Fighter IV ($40 -> $30) – yeah yeah yeah, Super Street Fighter IV will be out sometime next year. But you can play this one *now*, and it’s still the gold standard for fighters this year.

Torchlight ($20 -> $10) – a very competent Diablo clone. No multiplayer, but a solid experience with some nice touches.

Trackmania United Forever Star Edition ($40 -> $20) – Nadeo’s long-running casual racing series may be one of the biggest secrets to US gamers, especially since it hasn’t gotten any significant love on consoles. With addictive gameplay, simple controls, and a mammoth community providing content for it, it’s a good pickup for anyone who likes arcade racing.

Trine ($20 -> $8) – very pretty but hard to describe. Is it a action game? Sure. Fantasy environments? Check. Robust physics puzzles? Indeed. Definitely worth the $8.

The Witcher: Enhanced Edition Director’s Cut ($40 -> $13.60) – before everyone started going crazy over Dragon Age, everyone was nuts for The Witcher. It’s a deep, lengthy RPG that is sure to suck up lots of your time.

World Of Goo ($20 -> $5) – this game has had so much praise heaped upon it that I nearly didn’t list it as some sort of anti-hype backlash. But it really is a wonderful little puzzler, and should not be ignored in the off chance you don’t already have it.

## Budget-Minded Recommendations

Keeping in mind that people may want to budget themselves, here are some general recommendations for how to flex standard currency denominations. (Be aware that I cannot read your mind about what you might already own.)

$10 isn’t much to work with at all, but it will get you Outrun 2006, World of Goo, and Braid. Nothing terribly deep, but consistent thrills all around.

$20 says “I’m willing to give up a pizza for entertainment”. I can admire that. Between Trine and Torchlight, you’re looking at about 20-30 hours of gaming.

$50 says “I’m ready to commit to this whole PC gaming thing”. The perfect $50 four pack is AaaaaAAaaaAAAaaAAAAaAAAAA!!!, Altitude, The Witcher, and Red Faction Guerilla. Alternately, grab the Eidos Collector Pack and get two excellent games, a handful of very good games, and assorted other detritus.

Gaming 2008: Game Of The Year

Left 4 Dead: the game that forced me to buy a headset, to acquire screen capturing software, and to lease a dedicated server.

Yes, I said *forced*. I didn’t really have a choice in the matter.

The gaming world has made it clear how important it is to do online multiplayer right, but very few games spend the time to work out co-op play properly. It’s often bolted on after, with the main campaign not being designed to accommodate multiple players on given missions.

But Left 4 Dead exists solely as a co-operative experience. Sure, there are bots that can fill in should you not have enough human players, but you cannot (usually) survive in this game on your own. Teamwork is not optional, it’s mandatory.

And every time you run the levels, you’re running a different experience. The weapons, the enemies, and every crucial health pack and bottle of pills (peels!) change every time you play. It’s all generated dynamically – as is the music, and the dialog.

But the sweetest twist to L4D is Versus mode. No longer are you just a survivor, trying to escape the zombie hordes – now you get to spend half your game as the zombie horde, attacking the survivors on the other team.

There is no sweeter revenge than to lure away the guy who killed you the round before and pounce them as a Hunter, swiping away furiously while they scream for help. There’s no better team catharsis than running a perfect set piece.

Left 4 Dead is the most social FPS game I’ve had the opportunity to play. Sure, there’s shit talk and rage quitting, but there’s also a sense of camaraderie. I would say 80-90% of the games I’ve played have been downright pleasant – even when my team gets destroyed.

Valve really hit the right combination with L4D, and it’s a game I see myself coming back to for years to come.

(Special thanks to Josh Gluck for inadvertently being my model for all of the screenshots.)