After years in development hell, will the Halo series deliver?

Plans for a television series based on the Halo video game franchise have been kicked around for well over a decade at this point. One incarnation of the project, which languished in development hell for much of that time, even included famed director Steven Spielberg, and appeared to have a decent budget set by franchise owner Microsoft. That version of Halo never made it to screen, and despite some still images and a web miniseries in 2012, Halo remains firmly a video game franchise.

But according to Paramount+ – which is also the home of Star Trek – all that will change in 2022. As part of the advertising campaign for Paramount+ earlier this year, it was announced that the Halo series, which was originally planned to debut on American television network Showtime, will join the streaming service’s lineup. With a lot of sci-fi already on Paramount+ this seems like a good fit – at least in theory. However, after so long in development, and with production clearly suffering from some setbacks, can Halo live up to the hype that fans of the series have? And perhaps more importantly, will Halo be successful at bringing in a wider audience of viewers who are less familiar with the games?

Halo is based on an acclaimed video game series.

On the first point, production on Halo has not gone smoothly. The series was picked up for a ten-episode order, after years in pre-production, over three years ago. Filming began in 2019 in Canada, and while the pandemic has been a disruptive factor, it doesn’t seem to be the only factor in why Halo is still being worked on today. There have been behind-the-scenes changes including major script rewrites and a mid-production switch to a new showrunner, and while neither of those things necessarily spell disaster for Halo, they are hardly encouraging signs.

Sometimes when a series makes these kinds of changes, what results is better than the original version would’ve been. And we have to hope that will be the case with Halo! Still, talk of reshoots, script revisions, and so on doesn’t exactly inspire confidence, and while I’m hopeful that the series will eventually present a fun and exciting story, at least some of the information coming out of the project is ringing alarm bells.

Teaser image for Halo.

As to Halo’s broader appeal, that’s still an open question. The Halo video games are best-sellers on Xbox consoles, but until last year, when Halo: The Master Chief Collection was ported to PC, that was the only place to play the main series. Though the franchise is well-known to gamers even on other platforms, a lot of folks simply don’t have much experience with Halo, and might not be as interested in the series as a result. That being said, having any kind of pre-built following is generally a net positive for any new film or television series, as at least Paramount+ can be sure that some Halo fans will show up to give the series a try!

Sci-fi is doing well at the moment, though, with shows like The Expanse, The Mandalorian, and the reinvigorated Star Trek franchise all bringing in viewers by the millions – so there’s hope that non-fans and those interested in sci-fi in a more general sense might be tempted to check out a new, high-budget sci-fi series. With a decent marketing push, I’m sure there’ll be some interest beyond Halo’s pre-existing audience.

Halo should be able to bring in a wider audience beyond fans of the video game series.

The story of the series remains unknown beyond a simple tease of its premise, and the question of whether it will be a direct adaptation of the first game – or any other title in the series – remains open. The casting of Natascha McElhone as Dr Halsey – the creator of the Spartan project in Halo: Reach – could imply that the show plans to revisit the events of Reach. This could be a prologue, as Reach was a prequel, or it could be a significant adaptation lasting a full season.

Unlike a lot of shooters, which prioritise action and gameplay over story, the Halo games always managed to strike a good mix and had single-player campaigns that were fun, engaging, and suitably long. I’ve always felt that the Halo series – at least, the first couple of games and Reach – were far better as single-player or co-op experiences than multiplayer ones – but then that could just be my general preference for single-player gaming showing through! Regardless, Halo clearly has a lot of story and material from the games that could be adapted, and I would suggest that there are several seasons’ worth of television if the show plans to follow the story of the mainline games.

Will the new series include parts of the storyline of Halo: Reach?

One thing that will be interesting is how Halo deals with the franchise’s two enemy factions – the Covenant and the Flood. Not because the factions will be difficult to adapt from game to screen from any story point of view, but because video games (or animation in general) are able to make use of far more “alien-looking” aliens. None of Halo’s aliens are humans with a forehead or nose prosthetic – like we see often in Star Trek! They’re different shapes and sizes, and practically all of them are very inhuman. Adapting grunts, brutes, hunters, and the Flood for the screen will be a challenge, particularly if the series doesn’t have a wildly-high CGI budget!

Special effects and CGI are improving all the time, and television shows today can easily be more visually impressive than even films from fifteen or twenty years ago, especially on the CGI front. But if we’re talking about animating several major characters, as well as enemy aliens that could be present in practically every episode… well that would eat up a CGI budget pretty quickly!

The Halo games have some very unusual-looking aliens (pictured: a Grunt)
Picture Credit: Halo Wiki

Though Halo never quite broke into the top tier of sci-fi franchises along with Star Trek, Star Wars, and the like, it’s still a richly detailed setting for any television show, film, or game to explore. The idea of humanity fighting a major war against a superior alien force has been done before in many different ways on screen – the Borg in Star Trek, the alien invasion in Falling Skies, and even aspects of the Marvel cinematic universe all put different spins on the same basic concept. Though Halo doesn’t do anything radically different, it will still be a chance for the franchise to put its own stamp on the “evil aliens” narrative.

Though I do have some concerns based on what I’ve heard about Halo’s rocky development and production, I’m cautiously optimistic for what the series could bring to the table. There’s a lot of lore and story to adapt, and even if the show doesn’t intend to be a direct adaptation of any of the stories seen in the Halo games, the universe that those games created is a potentially very interesting setting for the new show to play with. Hopefully, when it debuts on Paramount+ next year, we’ll be in for at the very least an interesting, engaging, and action-packed show.

A promotional screenshot for 2004’s Halo 2.

Adaptations of video games have generally been poorly-received, but the late 2010s seemed to see an explosion of video game spin-offs. There’s the Uncharted film, a television series based on The Last Of Us, a show based on the Fallout games, and even Minecraft: The Movie. Hopefully some or all of these will be better than the likes of Doom and Super Mario Bros. – though the latter film is one of those “so bad it’s actually good” titles that’s fun to watch for a laugh!

So Halo is in good company at the moment! I’m looking forward to it, and at the very least it’ll be interesting to see the various factions and settings brought out of the video game realm into wholly new territory. Whether it’ll be as enjoyable to watch Halo as it is to play the games… well that’s an open question. But I’m curious to find out.

Halo will be broadcast on Paramount+ in 2022 in the United States, Australia, and other countries and territories where the platform is available. Further international distribution has not yet been announced. The Halo franchise is the copyright of Microsoft and 343 Industries, and Halo (the series) is further the copyright of Amblin Television, Showtime, and ViacomCBS. Some screenshots used above courtesy of IGDB. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Ten non-Nintendo characters who (probably won’t) appear in Mario Kart 9!

A few days ago I had a lot of fun putting together a short list of (mostly) Nintendo characters who I think should appear in Mario Kart 9 – whenever that game may come! As a follow-up, I thought it could be interesting to consider a few characters from outside of Nintendo’s walled garden who could also join the fun. If you’d like to check out the original list, you can find it by clicking or tapping here.

Mario Kart 8 and later Mario Kart 8 Deluxe pushed the boat out as far as the roster of drivers is concerned, including characters from outside of the Super Mario series for the first time, including Link from The Legend of Zelda series, Isabelle from Animal Crossing, and two characters from the Splatoon games. However, it would be a first for the series to include non-Nintendo characters!

Isabelle, from the Animal Crossing series, is a driver in Mario Kart 8 Deluxe.

Although the Mario Kart games haven’t done so yet, Nintendo has proved itself willing to open up to other companies’ franchises and characters in recent years. We’ve seen Minecraft Steve, for example, as well as characters from the Castlevania, Persona, and Dragon Quest series appear in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate on the Switch, so I think that demonstrates a willingness on Nintendo’s part to think outside the box when it comes to characters in popular titles.

Whether it will happen, though, is completely unknown! And to reiterate what I always say: this is pure guesswork and a wishlist from a fan, nothing more. I’m not claiming to know for a fact that any characters listed below will appear in Mario Kart 9 – or even if such a game is currently in development. With the 30th anniversary of the Mario Kart series coming up in 2022 I think it’s possible that we might see a new game, but even that’s just a guess on my part!

With that out of the way, let’s jump into the list!

Number 1: Sonic the Hedgehog (Sega)

Sonic as he appears in Mario and Sonic at the Olympic Games: Tokyo 2020.

Of all the characters on this list, Sonic is arguably the most likely to crop up in Mario Kart 9. Not only is he a character in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, but there have been a number of Nintendo games over the last decade or more in which he’s been prominently featured. Mario and Sonic at the Olympic Games in 2007 marked his debut alongside Mario, and since then the duo have appeared together in five more Olympic-themed titles.

It would’ve seemed unthinkable in the ’90s for Mario and Sonic to appear together; they were the mascots of competing companies! It was only when Sega retired from manufacturing their own consoles shortly after the millennium that Sonic appearing on Nintendo hardware was even a possibility, but he’s since become a mainstay. He’d make for a fantastic character, and having already featured in his own kart racer, he definitely knows a thing or two about driving!

Number 2: Pac-Man (Bandai Namco)

A 3D rendering of Pac-Man from 1999’s Pac-Man World.

Another character who appeared in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, Pac-Man is a gaming icon from the medium’s early days. Originally an arcade game created in 1980, Pac-Man spawned a whole host of titles in a series that continues to this day. Though the games have no real story or plot, Pac-Man was arguably one of the first video game characters, and was, for a time, symbolic of the games industry as a whole. His simple design became iconic, and even today Pac-Man is instantly recognisable.

As with Sonic above, even a few years ago the idea of a collaboration between Nintendo and Pac-Man (short of licensing one of the games to their consoles) wouldn’t have seemed possible. But as companies continue to pool their resources and work together, it could make a lot of sense for both Nintendo and Bandai Namco (or should that be Bando Namcai?) to bring Pac-Man to Mario Kart 9.

Number 3: Fall Guy (Epic Games/Mediatonic)

Three Fall Guys seen in a recent Nintendo Direct.

If I’d been in charge of the development of cute obstacle course/battle royale title Fall Guys, I would have prioritised a Nintendo Switch release. Regardless, the title is finally going to be released on Nintendo’s console, months after it’s PC and PlayStation 4 debut. The Fall Guys themselves are adorable little jelly bean characters with a huge variety of costumes, and their cartoon aesthetic would fit perfectly with Nintendo’s long-running kart racing series.

The recent Epic Games buyout may complicate matters, but with Fall Guys coming to Switch I really feel it has a shot at being successful on that platform – especially if Mediatonic can get cross-platform play up and running. If the game is a hit, bringing a Fall Guy to Mario Kart 9 would be fantastic, and something Nintendo could absolutely consider doing. It would arguably benefit Fall Guys more, with the character’s inclusion serving almost as advertising, but that should just be an incentive for Epic Games to allow this crossover to go ahead!

Number 4: Master Chief (Microsoft)

The Master Chief in Halo: The Master Chief Collection concept art.

The inclusion of Minecraft Steve in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate shows that Microsoft is quite happy to work with Nintendo, and a number of their recent moves – like their partnership with EA – have opened up the possibility of further collaborations and crossovers with big games companies. With that in mind, could the Halo series’ iconic protagonist end up as a racer?

Halo games, as first-person shooters, are quite violent, so perhaps Nintendo would opt not to include such characters for the sake of keeping the game family-friendly. But Master Chief’s design isn’t aggressive or scary, and I think he could be made to fit. It would be a fun collaboration between two of modern gaming’s big powerhouses.

Number 5: Doom Guy (Bethesda/Microsoft)

Doom Eternal promotional artwork featuring the character known as Doom Guy.

Though visually similar in some respects to the Master Chief, Doom Guy has a surprising history with Nintendo. Not only was Doom 64 a Nintendo 64 exclusive in 1997, but last year saw a bizarre yet strangely wholesome internet-inspired team-up with Animal Crossing: New Horizons. In short, Doom Eternal shared a release date with New Horizons, and because of the polar opposite nature of the games, fans began ironically pairing up Doom Guy with Animal Crossing characters – notably Isabelle.

Nintendo could take advantage of the memes and jokes by bringing Doom Guy into Mario Kart 9. On the surface, maybe he isn’t a great fit for the series. But there’s nothing offensive about his character design, and if last year’s fan art showed us one thing, it’s that Doom Guy can be made to look adorable and cartoonified!

Number 6: Two Point Hospital Doctor or Nurse (Sega)

Two doctors and a nurse.

Two Point Hospital is a spiritual successor to 1997’s Theme Hospital, a classic of the “tycoon” genre. It was ported to the Nintendo Switch last year after releasing for PC in 2018, and has gone on to be a surprising success on the platform. As with many tycoon games there isn’t really one principal character to pick out, but a generic doctor and/or nurse could be a fun addition to Mario Kart 9.

One of the great things about Two Point Hospital is its cartoon aesthetic; a deliberate choice that mimics the title’s origins in tycoon games of the 1990s. That look just happens to be perfect for the Mario Kart series, which means a Two Point Hospital character would be a natural fit.

Number 7: A Palico (Capcom)

A Palico as seen in the trailer for Monster Hunter Rise.

I’ll let you in on a secret: the Monster Hunter series has never seemed like my thing. The latest title in the series, Monster Hunter Rise, is available for Nintendo Switch, but despite loving the visual style, the core gameplay of hunting and killing so-called “monsters” – which seem to be docile animals living their own lives not troubling anybody – holds absolutely no appeal to me!

Regardless, the latest title is a big hit on Switch, and Palicoes are cute little felines or cat-like characters that accompany the player character during the game. It seems like this kind of cute critter would be a perfect fit for Mario Kart 9 – even if I don’t personally care for the game they originate from!

Number 8: Zagreus (Supergiant Games)

Promotional art for Hades featuring Zagreus.

Hades has to be one of the best indie games I’ve played in recent years, and was recently featured in a Nintendo Direct presentation as the game is getting a full physical release (i.e. on a game cartridge) for Switch. It’s an absolute blast, and if you haven’t tried it I can’t recommend it enough – if you’re okay with a game in which you die over and over again!

Zagreus, son of Hades, is the game’s protagonist, adapted from the character present in Ancient Greek mythology. His anime-inspired style is… well let’s just say I’m not an anime fan. But as a character he’s interesting and fun to root for in Hades, and with some minor adaptations I’m sure he could fit in with the rest of the racers!

Number 9: Ori and Sein (Microsoft/Moon Studios)

Ori and Sein in Ori and the Blind Forest.

I’d almost forgotten that both Ori and the Blind Forest and Ori and the Will of the Wisps had been ported to the Nintendo Switch, but both games were a good fit for Nintendo’s platform and seem to have sold reasonably well. This entry is technically two characters, but they could be rolled into a single racer as Sein’s design might not lend itself to being an independent driver!

The Ori games are surprisingly sweet but also challenging in places, and Ori would certainly fit right in with the Mario Kart series from an aesthetic point of view. It would be great to see the Ori series, which already has a Switch presence, join up with Nintendo for an additional collaboration!

Number 10: Geralt of Rivia (CD Projekt Red)

Geralt as he appears on the box art of The Witcher 3.

Though I still haven’t played The Witcher 3 – or the prior two entries in the series, come to that – it’s held up as one of the best games of the last ten years, and protagonist Geralt of Rivia has since cropped up in a couple of unexpected places! Perhaps his next adventure could be joining Mario and friends for a go-kart race?

The Witcher 3 was one of the most ambitious titles to bring to the Nintendo Switch, considering the size and complexity of the game, but by all accounts it’s a solid port. A lot of folks have been enjoying taking Geralt with them to play on the go, and his recent appearance in Soul Calibur VI shows that CD Projekt Red are clearly amenable to collaborating with other companies. He would be a strange choice, perhaps, but a lot of fun nevertheless!

Bonus: Battle-Cars (Epic Games)

Promotional art for Rocket League showing two Battle-Cars.

One of the most surprising things in Mario Kart 8 was the inclusion of Mercedes-Benz car parts, as part of a deal Nintendo struck with the famous car manufacturer! We could absolutely consider other manufacturers or vehicles that would be cute to see in the next Mario Kart game, but for now I thought it could be fun if Nintendo could team up with one of the other top car games out there – Rocket League!

I’m atrocious at Rocket League and have been since the first time I played, but the game is a lot of fun. A buyout by Epic Games saw the title move to a free-to-play model, which has been good in some ways. There are a number of different vehicle styles, and any could be adapted to make a fun kart in Mario Kart 9. Perhaps three or four different styles would be enough so as not to overwhelm the title!

So that’s it. Ten characters – and one bonus set of vehicles – that Mario Kart 9 should – but most likely won’t – include!

Is a new Mario Kart title in the works?

If I’m right that Nintendo plans to do something next year to mark the series’ 30th anniversary, a new game would be top of the list. And in the spirit of celebration, bringing a whole roster of characters from across gaming to join one big Mario Kart party would be a great thing for Nintendo to do. Some characters that Nintendo has worked with in the past, like Sonic the Hedgehog, seem far more likely than others, but it would benefit practically every company involved in the games industry to allow Nintendo to license one or two of their characters. After all, it’s a fantastic advertisement for the game they’re originally from!

I’ve been a huge Mario Kart fan since I first sat down to play Super Mario Kart in 1993 or 1994, back when I owned a SNES. That title only had eight racers to choose from, and the series has come a long way since then – while managing to retain the fun. As games got better and I played the likes of Shenmue and Knights of the Old Republic I began to favour titles with a strong focus on story; there are few titles I considered fun for their gameplay alone. The Mario Kart series has always been one of them! Whatever happens next year, and whenever Mario Kart 9 may come, I hope Nintendo try to bring in some new and different faces.

Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is out now for Nintendo Switch, and is the copyright of Nintendo. All characters mentioned above are the copyright of their respective studio, developer, and/or publisher. Some screenshots and promo art courtesy of IGDB. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Some great Steam Holiday Sale deals for PC gamers

Important: The Steam Holiday Sale has now ended. Prices below will no longer be accurate.
Check back in June-July for the Summer Sale, and December for the next Winter/Holiday Sale deals.

Spoiler Warning: There are minor spoilers ahead for some of the games on this list.

The Steam Holiday Sale runs from today (22nd December) through to the 5th of January. Prices and discounts listed below are for the UK versions only and may vary by region. Prices and discounts were correct at time of writing but may be subject to change.

Steam treats PC gamers to big sales twice a year, in addition to the many smaller sales that seem to run almost all the time. As I’ve said before, these sales go a long way to making PC gaming competitive from a price standpoint, even though the initial expense of buying a gaming PC is higher than buying a console.

That’s especially the case in 2020, as the launch of new consoles has meant that getting a gaming PC of comparable spec has become pricey! However, if you do spend the money on a PlayStation 5-beater – or even if you don’t – there are some fantastic deals on great games this holiday season. Let’s look at a few.

Number 1: Halo: The Master Chief Collection (2019)
40% discount, £17.99

If you don’t already have Halo: The Master Chief Collection on Xbox or Game Pass, it’s well worth picking it up on Steam. The first six games in the Halo series – i.e. every title except for Halo 5 – are included in the package, and have been updated over the last few years to meet current-gen specifications.

Halo had, until last year, been exclusive to Xbox consoles, so many PC gamers haven’t had the opportunity to try out these great first-person shooters. There is an online multiplayer mode, but for me the enjoyment of the Halo series has always been its single-player campaigns. It could be a long wait for Halo Infinite, so why not replay the rest of the series in the meantime?

Number 2: Fall Guys (2020)
20% discount, £12.79

Though a 20% discount isn’t huge – and I was half-expecting something larger – for less than £13 Fall Guys is fantastic. It’s my second most-played game of the year, behind only Animal Crossing: New Horizons, and it’s a ton of fun. I logged back in for the first time in a few weeks to check out the most recent update, which has brought a lot of Christmas- and winter-themed costumes and events.

Fall Guys, if you’re totally unfamiliar, is an online “battle royale” game in which players run obstacle courses. The courses are based on classic television game shows like Total Wipeout and Gladiators, and it’s an absolute blast.

Number 3: Ryse: Son of Rome (2013)
70% discount, £2.39

Ryse: Son of Rome was one of the few Xbox One launch titles back in 2013, which was when I first played it. It was arguably not worth the £45-50 I paid for it back then, not least because it isn’t very long at around 6-7 hours, but it did a wonderful job of showing off what we could expect from what were then the next generation of consoles in terms of visuals. Ryse: Son of Rome’s graphics hold up remarkably well today, and the PC port of the game is decent.

It’s a single-player hack-and-slash game set in the Roman Empire, and for history buffs or fans of anything to do with Rome it’s well worth a play for less than the price of a pint!

Number 4: Hotshot Racing (2020)
50% discount, £7.99

I picked up Hotshot Racing when it was released in September, and even for its £16 original price I thought it was well worth it. This isn’t a hardcore racing sim that needs a racing wheel, it’s purely an arcade racer.

What first drew me to Hotshot Racing was its retro aesthetic which mimics titles from the mid-1990s. But there’s far more to this fun, fast-paced racer than just its visual style, and I’ve had a lot of fun with it.

Number 5: The Deus Ex Collection (2000-2016)
88% discount, £7.79

If you’re desperate to play Cyberpunk 2077 but have been put off by the bugs and the backlash (or if you just don’t have a good enough PC to run the game very well) then the Deus Ex series is an interesting alternative. The four games in the series are far more linear than the open-world Cyberpunk 2077, but many elements cross over between the two titles, such as first-person action, augmenting your human character, and a dystopian future setting.

The two most recent titles in the series – Human Revolution and Mankind Divided – made my list of ten games to play instead of Cyberpunk 2077 a couple of weeks ago.

Number 6: Plague Inc: Evolved (2016)
60% discount, £4.79

Depending on your sense of humour this could either be timely or incredibly offensive! Plague Inc: Evolved is an expanded port of a game that was originally released on Android and iOS in 2012 and sees players take on the role of a disease looking to wipe out humankind. In that sense it’s a unique experience as there’s nothing else quite like it on the market!

Plague Inc: Evolved is a lot of fun, and offers a number different ways to play as well as different upgrade paths for your chosen pathogen. Obviously the current pandemic makes it a somewhat controversial choice, but it is undeniably an entertaining little strategy game.

Number 7: Star Wars: Squadrons (2020)
40% discount, £20.99

Since I wrote up my first impressions of Star Wars: Squadrons back in October I’ve continued to play the game. It’s been an incredibly enjoyable experience, slipping into the role of a fighter pilot in a galaxy far, far away. I know some folks are put off by the “realistic simulator” style of play and the mandatory first-person viewpoint, but if you can look beyond those limitations and are willing to invest a few hours into learning the way it works, under the surface is a fun game.

I haven’t played much multiplayer; as you may know I’m not really an online multiplayer fan. But if you like that, and you want a different Star Wars experience to enjoy with friends, this could well be the game for you.

Number 8: Control (Ultimate Edition) (2020)
50% discount, £17.49

Big caveat here: I have yet to play Control for myself. It’s been on my radar for a while, though, and I may even write up my playthrough as part of my Let’s Play series here on the website. The game is a single-player action-adventure title with a strong narrative, focusing on Jesse as she has to figure out a supernatural event.

Control and publisher 505 Games have rightly received criticism for the way they handled the rollout of the Ultimate Edition – refusing players a free upgrade despite the game being only a few months old. If you can look past the controversy, however, Control has received great reviews and I’m excited to try it for myself.

Number 9: Skully (2020)
50% discount, £12.49

It’s unusual for me to spend so much money on an indie title, but Skully is an absolutely delightful 3D platformer in which you get to play as a disembodied skull. That premise alone sold it for me, and I was not disappointed when I sat down to play the game in the autumn. I have an article about Skully in the pipeline, but as with so many writing projects here on the website I haven’t bashed it into shape yet!

Despite the game’s protagonist being a literal skull, there’s more to it than just rolling around – though the physics used for the rolling sections is exquisite! Skully can take on different golem-style bodies, and even though a game based on a skull might seem spooky, there’s a magical fantasy theme rather than anything grotesque or horrifying. I thought it was great value when it was full price, but with a 50% discount it’s absolutely worth picking up this underrated gem.

Number 10: Steep (2016)
80% discount, £5.19

It’s winter! Or at least it is here in the northern hemisphere, so snow and winter sports are on our minds. Steep is a fun winter sports title that lets you ski and snowboard in a large open world, as well as take on the extreme sports of paragliding and wingsuit flying.

Steep has a few DLC options available – which are similarly discounted – but one which stands out is Road to the Olympics, which added in extras related to the 2018 Winter Olympic Games. Even without any DLC though, the base game is great fun. It’s one of those sports games which is easy to get started with but difficult to really master.

Number 11: Black Mesa (2020)
50% discount, £7.49

The non-existence of Half-Life 3 has become a meme at this point, and although the VR-only title Half-Life Alyx may have offered a glimmer of hope that the series isn’t entirely on ice, there’s been no announcement of future titles at this stage. What we did get in March this year, though, was Black Mesa, a fan-made remake of the original Half-Life from 1998.

As you’d expect from a remake, Black Mesa incorporates everything that players loved about the original, but updates the visuals to bring it in line with more recent first-person action titles. If you missed the original Half-Life in the late 1990s or just want to relive that experience, Black Mesa comes highly recommended!

Number 12: Red Dead Redemption 2 (2019)
33% discount, £36.84

Another title which needs the “I haven’t played it yet” caveat, Red Dead Redemption 2 is widely hailed as a masterpiece. The Wild West-themed action title comes from Rockstar, best known for the Grand Theft Auto series, and promises to transport players back in time to the latter days of the American frontier.

I’ve been waiting and waiting for Red Dead Redemption 2 to go on sale, and while a 33% discount isn’t huge it’s certainly more than generous enough to make this fun title worth a try. The main campaign alone is said to be over 40 hours, with many players spending 60+ hours in Rockstar’s American west setting. I’m genuinely interested to try it for myself, and if reviews from professional and amateur critics alike are to be believed, it’ll be a fun time.

Number 13: Pillars of Eternity Collection (2015-18)
70% discount, £24.06

Obsidian Entertainment developed these two fantastically detailed old-school role-playing games, and to see both titles plus their DLC so heavily discounted is great. There is literally days’ or even weeks’ worth of gameplay and story to get stuck into here, and again if you’re craving a role-playing game to play given the recent release of Cyberpunk 2077 these two games could be a worthwhile – if wholly different – alternative option.

It’s hard to say too much about either game without spoiling the narrative – which is, of course, the primary focus of such titles. But they’re amazing, in-depth experiences and if you get stuck in you’ll find yourself playing for hours on end.

Number 14: Resident Evil 2 (2019)
60% discount, £13.99

The remake of Resident Evil 2 won many awards in 2019, and was many folks’ choice for game of the year. The horror title debuted in 1998, but was rebuilt from the ground up for this version. There are mutant monsters, zombies, and jump-scares galore in this gory, visceral horror title, and it is not for the faint of heart!

After the disappointment many felt at Resident Evil 3′s cut content and short runtime earlier in the year, Resident Evil 2 seems even better by comparison. It’s possible to pick up both remakes for a little over £25, though, and for the heavily discounted price, Resident Evil 3 doesn’t feel quite so bad. It’s like I always say – length doesn’t matter, as long as a game is priced accordingly!

Number 15: Vampyr (2018)
75% discount, £8.74

Set during the 1918-19 Spanish flu pandemic, Vampyr is another game you might consider timely given the state of the world today! It’s got a unique premise as far as vampire titles go – the player character is a doctor, a newly-turned vampire who must balance his bloodlust with his Hippocratic oath in a hauntingly beautiful rendition of interwar London.

The pandemic can be a touchy subject, and it’s totally understandable for folks to want to skip Vampyr for now. But give it a chance and you’ll find an enjoyable title, one that blends reality and the supernatural within a truly interesting historical setting. Though arguably a little short, it’s the kind of narrative-heavy game where you feel your choices genuinely matter in the world you’re inhabiting.

Number 16: FIFA 21 (2020)
63% discount, £25.89

Ah, the annual FIFA series. Not to every gamer’s taste, I admit, but if you like football and support a team in any of the major divisions around the world, there’s no other football title that offers as much. I’m surprised to see FIFA 21 so heavily discounted so soon after its October release, because there’s nothing wrong with it at all.

That being said, modern FIFA games are iterative rather than transformative with each new release, and players who’ve picked up any title in the series in the last few years won’t see a huge difference or improvement with FIFA 21. Personally, it isn’t a series I buy every iteration of every year, and having waited three or four years since I last picked up the latest entry, there was enough going on in FIFA 21 for me to have an enjoyable time with its single-player mode.

Number 17: Disney Classic Games: Aladdin and The Lion King (2019)
60% discount, £9.51

With an original asking price of over £20, I felt that Aladdin and The Lion King was far too expensive for what it was when it was released last year. Despite Aladdin in particular being an outstanding platformer, I found it hard to justify the steep cost for two games which are now more than a quarter of a century old. With a reasonable discount, however, this two-game bundle feels more accessible and appropriately-priced.

I fondly remember both games from the SNES days, and though it’s the Sega Mega Drive/Genesis versions that were used for this collection, those nostalgic feelings are still present! If you’re in the market for a couple of cute but surprisingly difficult 2D platformers, Aladdin and The Lion King could be just what you need. It’s also well worth showing games like these to younger players, to let them experience a slice of gaming history.

Number 18: Kingdoms of Amalur: Re-Reckoning (2020)
40% discount, £20.99

Though I adore Kingdoms of Amalur, this version must come with a caveat: despite claiming to be a remaster, it’s really little more than an upscaled version of the original title. Very little has been changed, and players (like myself) who expected more of a remake were left underwhelmed. So if you already own the original Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, there’s basically no reason to get this version.

If you missed Kingdoms of Amalur when it was new, or never owned it on PC, however, it’s definitely worthwhile picking it up. What you’ll find is a fantasy role-playing game that combines some of the best elements of franchises like the Elder Scrolls and Dragon Age series into one exciting title. There’s a unique and interesting story at the core of the game, too, and if it hooks you in you won’t want to put Kingdoms of Amalur down until you’ve unravelled all of its mysteries!

Number 19: Jurassic World Evolution (2018)
90% discount, £3.49

Jurassic World Evolution is the dinosaur park builder that every fan of the Jurassic Park/World series has always wanted. A blend of the dinosaur-themed series with the likes of “tycoon” games such as Rollercoaster Tycoon, it’s a surprisingly detailed yet incredibly fun experience. And with such a heavy discount, there’s no excuse not to give it a try!

As someone who returned to the theme park-building genre after a long absence, it took me a while to get to grips with the plethora of options and massively expanded nature of titles like Planet Coaster and Jurassic World Evolution. Better technology means these games can offer a lot more – and that means that there is a learning curve! But stick with the tutorial and you’ll learn all you need to step into John Hammond’s shoes and run your own dino park!

Number 20: Star Trek: Bridge Crew (2017)
60% discount, £8.39

When it comes to gaming lists, it’s hard to find Star Trek titles to include! The franchise has not always been well-served in the gaming realm, unfortunately. Star Trek: Bridge Crew was originally designed as a VR-only title, but an update not long after its release allowed for non-VR play too. It’s best enjoyed with friends, as each of you can take on the role of a character on the bridge of a Starfleet vessel.

I wrote up my first impressions of Star Trek: Bridge Crew a few months ago when I picked it up, and suffice to say the VR-oriented controls take some getting used to. But if you’ve ever wanted to take command of a Federation starship and have your own Star Trek adventures, this is one of the only modern titles that allows you to get anywhere close to that experience. And as I often find myself saying, it wouldn’t be one of my lists without at least one Star Trek title!

So that’s it. Twenty recommendations from the Steam Holiday Sale. If you were to buy all of them I reckon you’d have spent £269.29. That doesn’t sound as impressive as some of my previous lists of Steam sales, but this time I tried to focus more on recent titles instead of going back to games of yesteryear! If you consider that it averages out to £13.47 per entry on this list (several of which are bundles) I think it’s pretty good considering we’re looking at mostly new titles! These sales give PC gaming an edge over consoles, and even as services like Game Pass begin to take off, there’s still a place for the Steam Holiday Sale!

Even though I’m not a huge fan of Epic Games these days, there’s a sale running over on the Epic Games Store too. In addition, Epic is giving out several free games this holiday season, and a £10/$10 voucher. Cyberpunk 2077 is available on the Epic Games Store, and even though it isn’t discounted right now, if you use your free voucher to buy it you can reduce the cost of 2020’s hottest mess!

So there’s some inspiration for you as you head over to Steam to check out the holiday sale. I hope this has been useful, and if your favourite title isn’t on sale this time, don’t panic! It might be included in the Steam Summer Sale next year!

Prices and discounts included in this article were correct in the UK at time of publication. The Steam Holiday Sale begins today (22nd December 2020) and runs until 6:00pm GMT on the 5th of January 2021. Prices and discounts are subject to change at any time, and may vary by region and currency.

All titles listed above are the copyright of their respective studio, developer, publisher, and/or corporation. Some promotional screenshots and artwork courtesy of press kits on IGDB. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Ten games to play instead of Cyberpunk 2077

Highly-anticipated (and almost certainly over-hyped) role-playing game Cyberpunk 2077 releases today. If, like me, you don’t really have £50/$60 to spend on a single game this close to Christmas – or you don’t have a PC or console capable of playing it – I thought it could be fun to go through a few alternatives.

I don’t hate Cyberpunk 2077. It’ll most likely be a decent game, and I’m sure I will eventually give it a shot. But there are many fun titles out there that offer comparable experiences – and most don’t cost as much! Here’s ten options for those of us who aren’t indulging in Cyberpunk 2077 on day one.

Number 1: Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic & Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II – The Sith Lords (2003; 2004)

Coming after The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones had left the franchise in a pretty disappointing place, Bioware’s Star Wars epic and its Obsidian-produced sequel were outstanding. At a time when I wasn’t enjoying Star Wars’ cinematic output, these games came along and did a lot to save its reputation. For around £15 (on Steam) you’ll be able to pick up both titles and enjoy two of the best stories in the entire franchise. The two games are significantly better than several of the Star Wars films, so if you’re even slightly interested in a galaxy far, far away but haven’t given either title a try yet, it could be a great time to do so.

Number 2: Deus Ex: Human Revolution & Deus Ex: Mankind Divided (2011; 2016)

When I think about many of the components of Cyberpunk 2077 that people are most excited about – such as the ability to augment your human character, first-person gunplay, and different ways to reach objectives and complete missions – I’m reminded a lot of the Deus Ex series, especially its most recent offerings. Though a far more linear experience, for a lot less money you could play through a couple of solid stealth/action games that offer at least some of the same features as Cyberpunk 2077. It’s even set in a dystopian future where corporations are in charge!

Number 3: The Witcher 3 (2015)

The Witcher 3 was CD Projekt Red’s last game before Cyberpunk 2077, and it’s widely hailed as a masterpiece. Though the two games are certainly different in terms of setting, point-of-view, and the like, if you’re like me and haven’t yet got around to playing one of the generation’s best role-playing games, this could be a great opportunity to do so. The Witcher 3′s huge success and positive reception is a big part of why Cyberpunk 2077 has seen such a massive hype bubble.

Number 4: Shenmue I & II (1999; 2001; re-released 2018)

Though its story disappointingly remains incomplete, if you’re looking for a game with a truly engrossing narrative Shenmue could be just what you need. These two ambitious titles were originally released for the Dreamcast, sadly sharing the fate of that console and being underappreciated. Both were re-released for PC in 2018 as a single bundle, and if you missed them when they were new it could be a great time to jump in. Shenmue pioneered the idea of an open world before anyone even knew what that meant, and was the first game I ever played that felt genuinely cinematic. I think I’ll be recommending these games to people for as long as I live!

Number 5: Doom & Doom Eternal (2016; 2020)

If Cyberpunk 2077′s big draw was its first-person shooting, Doom and Doom Eternal could be great substitutes. If you want to feel like a total badass, kicking butt and taking no prisoners (literally) then there’s no better choice. The rebooted Doom series ditched the horror vibe of Doom 3 and went back to its roots – shooting demons in the face by the absolute boatload. The two games both have fantastic soundtracks that perfectly suit the fast-paced, explosive gameplay. And Doom Eternal introduces a grappling hook. Need I say more?

Number 6: Grand Theft Auto V (2013)

Because of the ridiculous hype bubble that’s grown around Cyberpunk 2077, a lot of players are going to be disappointed when they realise it isn’t “Grand Theft Auto in the future.” So why not play the most recent entry in Rockstar’s crime saga instead? It’s a huge open world, there’s plenty to do, and if you want the experience of running amok causing havoc in a densely-packed city, this is about as close as you can get right now. There’s even a first-person mode (except on the Xbox 360/PlayStation 3.)

Number 7: Titanfall 2 (2018)

A fun, futuristic shooter with mechs. That’s what Titanfall 2 is, and this underappreciated gem was sadly released at a very competitive moment in the first-person shooter genre. That led to underwhelming sales, but if you’re willing to give it a shot you’ll find a truly exciting, action-packed experience. Part of the appeal of Cyberpunk 2077 is its first-person perspective, and while you won’t find as many customisation options or a branching story, what you’ll get with Titanfall 2 is some of the best gunplay ever put into a game with weapons that have a realistic kick.

Number 8: The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind (2002)

One of the best role-playing games every made, and the high-water mark of the Elder Scrolls series in my opinion, Morrowind is packed full of fun and interesting quests, random NPC encounters, and a diverse set of locations and environments across its open world. Eighteen years after it was released there are quests I’ve never completed and whole storylines I haven’t seen; it’s just too big to fit everything into a single playthrough. Despite being released a decade earlier, Morrowind has much more going on than Skyrim – more weapon types, more factions to join, and even more NPCs to interact with. You just have to look past its text-based interface, which can admittedly feel dated in 2020.

Number 9: Pillars of Eternity & Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire (2015; 2018)

Both Pillars of Eternity and its sequel have a decidedly old-school feel, thanks in part to their visual style and use of an isometric perspective. Each game takes 40+ hours to beat – longer if you play more side missions and take your time – so there’s a lot of role-playing to get stuck into. It’s hard to say much more without spoiling the experience, but if you’re looking for an in-depth role-playing experience with fun customisation and where your in-game choices truly impact the story, look no further.

Number 10: Halo: The Master Chief Collection (2014; 2019)

When I think about “futuristic first-person shooters,” one series springs to mind ahead of all the others: Halo. The Master Chief Collection brings together the first six titles in the series (or every game except Halo 5) for hours and hours of single-player or co-op gameplay. Cyberpunk 2077 doesn’t offer co-op! The exciting tale of humanity’s war against an alien alliance known as the Covenant is detailed in these games, and although the quality of the series has waned somewhat in recent years, even Halo at its worst is still light-years ahead of many other games.

So that’s it. Ten games you could play instead of Cyberpunk 2077 while you wait for the day-one bugs to be patched out and for the game to drop in price! Or because you aren’t interested in one of the biggest releases of the year.

If nothing else, this was an opportunity to talk about some fun games and highlight them in the run-up to Christmas. Remember that the Steam holiday sale is likely coming up in a matter of days; it could be worth waiting to see if any of your favourites will be on sale. I highly doubt Cyberpunk 2077 will see even a 5% discount so soon after its release, but you never know!

All titles listed above are the copyright of their respective studio, developer, and/or publisher. Some screenshots and promotional artwork courtesy of IGDB. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.