Winter sale deals for PC gamers

Important:

ALL SALES DISCUSSED BELOW HAVE NOW ENDED.
Prices listed below will no longer be correct.

Check back in June/July for my picks from 2022’s summer sales.

It’s the most wonderful time of the year! No, not Christmas or Hannukah – it’s time for some of the biggest sales in PC gaming! Steam, Origin, GOG, and Epic Games all have major sales right now, and there are some steep discounts and great deals to be found.

PC gaming can be incredibly expensive to get started with, especially with sky-high prices for graphics cards and other components at the moment (thanks, crypto-miners). But huge sales like these go a long way to making up for the high cost of entry in my opinion! Steam sales have rightly acquired near-legendary status among gamers, and consoles really can’t compete with the steep discounts on offer.

So this time, for the third year in a row, I’m going to pick out a few of the best deals and discounts – and maybe give you a few ideas for games to play over the holidays and into 2022!

Deal #1:
Star Trek: Voyager – Elite Force
GOG, 19% discount, £6.79

Elite Force is one of the rare Star Trek video games that broke through to players outside of the existing Star Trek fandom. For a time shortly after its release in the year 2000, the game was a must-play in the budding multiplayer first-person shooter space on PC. It was the first FPS that I played at a LAN party shortly after the turn of the millennium, and I had a blast with Elite Force.

The game has a solid campaign, too, with players taking on the role of an ensign aboard the USS Voyager. Elite Force brought back most of the cast of Star Trek: Voyager to voice their characters, further adding to the sense of immersion. And the campaign’s story is very Star Trek-y, as the USS Voyager is sucked into a void in space. GOG also has discounts on a few other Star Trek games, so check out the likes of Away Team and Hidden Evil too!

Deal #2:
Red Dead Redemption II
Epic Games/Steam, 50% discount, £27.49

After more than 100 hours across three months, I finally beat Red Dead Redemption II just a few days ago. The game is both beautiful and incredibly bleak, with an emotional story that will leave you jumping for joy and wallowing in melancholy. Stay tuned for a full write-up in the near future, because I’ve got a lot more to say about this one!

Rockstar Games took their open-world format and applied it to the late 19th Century, crafting a visually gorgeous rendition of the American Midwest and South in that era. Players take on the role of Arthur Morgan – an outlaw who rides with the Van Der Linde gang. Expect the usual chaos and mayhem as Arther robs banks and gets into shootouts, but be prepared for emotional gut-punches too. Red Dead Redemption II is a long game, but if you get stuck into it you won’t want to stop playing when it’s over.

Deal #3:
Kena: Bridge of Spirits
Epic Games, 25% discount, £23.99

Kena: Bridge of Spirits is almost certainly my favourite game of 2021. The adorable adventure game plays like a wonderful homage to older 3D titles while simultaneously making full use of decades’ worth of graphical improvements to look absolutely stunning. Kena: Bridge of Spirits was already competitively-priced, so to be able to snap it up at a discount feels like a real bargain!

One thing I admire about Kena: Bridge of Spirits is that it doesn’t hold your hand. You’re given all of the gameplay tools to navigate an area and then left to do so – there are no arrows pointing where to go nor a barrage of pop-up tips. It also features the Rot: adorable little critters who help Kena on her journey to the Mountan Shrine. You can read my full review of Kena: Bridge of Spirits by clicking or tapping here.

Deal #4:
Cyberpunk 2077
GOG/Epic Games/Steam, 50% discount, £24.99

I haven’t found many nice things to say about Cyberpunk 2077, the game which ended up being a crushing disappointment to many players who jumped aboard an out-of-control hype train. Even today, a year on from one of the worst game launches of recent times, it’s still not in a particularly good state – and as I’ve said more than once, the actual game hiding underneath the bugs and glitches could be described at best as being “above-average.”

But Cyberpunk 2077 has an interesting story, and when it works there’s no denying its dense cityscape is a sight to see. With a reasonable discount it feels like an acceptable buy, and with further patches to come in 2022, this could be a game worth picking up now with a view to playing in six months’ time once more development work has been done. Just remember to set appropriate expectations: Cyberpunk 2077 isn’t a genre-redefining experience that pushes the boundaries of what video games can be. On a good day, it’s an above-average role-playing shooter.

Deal #5:
Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order
Steam/Origin, 63% discount, £12.94

Jedi: Fallen Order is the single-player Star Wars game that fans had been asking for for almost a decade, and served as a great palate cleanser after the controversies around Battlefront II and even The Rise of Skywalker. A fantastic story-driven action-adventure, players take on the role of abandoned ex-Padawan Cal Kestis in the years between Revenge of the Sith and the Original Trilogy.

Jedi: Fallen Order has a unique and engaging story, one that really pulled me in and made me feel like I was living through my own Star Wars adventure with Cal and the friends he met during his journey. The game is tightly-focused on lightsaber combat and a handful of Force powers, allowing less choice than some titles but honing to perfection those elements it chooses to include. Origin also offers Jedi: Fallen Order as part of a bundle with Star Wars Squadrons and Battlefront II – which could be a good deal if you haven’t played any of those titles!

Deal #6:
Shenmue I & II
Steam, 75% discount, £6.24

Although the Shenmue saga’s third entry, which was funded primarily by fans, didn’t accomplish the goal of concluding the story, the first Shenmue in particular is one of the best games that I’ve ever played and I’ll happily recommend it to fans of single-player titles for as long as I live! Originally released on the Dreamcast, Shenmue and Shenmue II follow the story of martial artist Ryo Hazuki following the murder of his father. The quest takes Ryo from his native Japan to Hong Kong and beyond.

For younger gamers who’ve grown up with 3D environments, open worlds, and the like, it’s difficult to fully communicate how revolutionary Shenmue felt when I first played it in the year 2000. It was the first game I felt was truly cinematic, and that told a story that could’ve been from a novel or a series of films. Shenmue was the game that showed me what video games could be – and it will always be special to me for that reason. Oh, and the first game has some Christmassy elements, so it’s great to play at this time of year!

Deal #7:
Fall Guys
Steam, 50% discount, £7.99

The only online game I can honestly say I’ve enjoyed from the past few years, Fall Guys is an obstacle course battle royale; a cute cartoony version of the likes of Total Wipeout. It’s an absolute blast, and there really isn’t anything quite like it on the market. Despite a recent buyout by Epic Games, Fall Guys is currently only available on Steam and PlayStation – with Xbox and Nintendo Switch versions both suffering long delays.

Fall Guys’ reputation may have been tainted by a cheating problem that plagued matches early in its life, but that was fixed a long time ago. The addition of new rounds offering new challenges has kept the game fresh, and if you’re sick of the usual shooters and third-person action-adventure games, Fall Guys could be the breath of fresh air you’ve been looking for!

Deal #8:
The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind
Steam, 70% discount, £3.89

A few weeks ago, Skyrim hit its tenth anniversary, and next year Morrowind will celebrate its twentieth! With The Elder Scrolls VI still years away, it could be a great time to either get back into Morrowind or to pick up the game for the first time if you missed out when it was new. Morrowind is by far my favourite Elder Scrolls game, and I think even Skyrim players will be surprised at just how much there is to do.

Morrowind has more NPCs than Oblivion or Skyrim. It has more weapon types, more magic spells, more factions to join, and two expansive DLC packs that add even more to a base game already overstuffed with content. Its text-only interface may be offputting to some players, but if you can look past that limitation you’ll find what I consider to be one of the finest role-playing games ever created.

Deal #9:
Super Woden GP
Steam, 50% discount, £5.14

Super Woden GP is a very old-school racing game with an isometric perspective. It’s a lot of fun, a throwback to the days when racing video games seemed to be based on the games kids would play with toy cars! Super Woden GP includes over 70 real-world cars and a varied mix of tracks. There’s no first-person view, and this isn’t a simulation experience by any stretch. It’s just good old-fashioned racing fun.

There have been some great racing games this year. Forza Horizon 5 is just one example! But if you want something a little different, a game that has more of a classic feel, Super Woden GP is definitely a title I can recommend.

Deal #10:
Mafia: Definitive Edition
Steam, 50% discount, £17.49

Developers Hangar 13 could show Rockstar a thing or two about how to truly make a “definitive edition!” This remake of the first Mafia game from 2002 truly transformed the game and brought it fully into the modern day. When I first played Mafia on the original Xbox I thought I was getting “Grand Theft Auto III in the ’30s,” but that doesn’t do the game justice. It’s an amazing story-driven action game in its own right.

2021 has been a year of disappointing “remasters” that, for the most part, have ended up feeling like barebones reskins or just repackaged re-releases. But Mafia: Definitive Edition, which came out in September 2020, is in a completely different league. If you missed this game the first time around, or if you haven’t played it since the early 2000s, it’s absolutely worth a buy.

Deal #11:
Halo: The Master Chief Collection
Steam, 50% discount, £14.99

Since we’re talking about great remakes, Halo: The Master Chief Collection is another fantastic release. Comprising the first six games in the Halo series, all you’re missing is Halo 5 – and if you’re planning on playing Halo Infinite at some point soon, it’s definitely worth getting reacquainted with the long-running sci-fi shooter series.

The first couple of Halo games, which came out on the original Xbox, were certainly beginning to show their age in terms of visuals, so the overhaul was greatly appreciated! I have fond memories of playing Halo: Combat Evolved with friends – both co-operatively and competitively – so for me this one can be a bit of a nostalgia trip. For the price, getting six great first-person shooters feels like a steal, so this is an easy one to recommend.

Deal #12:
Control: Ultimate Edition
Steam, 70% discount, £10.49

I played through Control for the first time earlier this year, and I had a blast! It’s a spooky game in some ways, with the malevolent Hiss an ever-present and very unnerving adversary. Control has a very clever design, making creative use of what might otherwise be fairly bland office environments to tell a genuinely engaging and interesting supernatural story.

I found Control to be one of the most accessible games I’ve had the good fortune to play. With various modes and options to cater to players with differing abilities, Control went out of its way to be as open as possible. That’s something I feel more titles need to do as we move into the new console generation.

Deal #13:
Road 96
Steam, 20% discount, £13.56

Road 96 is a unique narrative experience that feels as if it was inspired by recent events! Taking place in a fictional country that resembles the American Southwest, players must make it to the border and escape from the authorities – undertaking a road trip and meeting dozens of interesting characters en route, each with their own stories to tell.

It’s a clever game with a great soundtrack and a neat premise, very heavy on story. Road 96 also has an artistic visual style that adds to the experience. If you’re in the market for something different, a single-player game that isn’t just about shooting, Road 96 might be the indie game for you!

Deal #14:
Banished
Steam, 66% discount, £5.09

Banished is a non-violent town-building game in which you have to carefully manage limited resources to keep the population healthy and happy. It’s almost deceptively simple but very tricky to master – even with all the hours I’ve logged it’s still a challenge!

I can’t get over the fact that Banished was made by one single person. Even if it had been made by a whole studio I’d still heap praise upon it, but the fact that this entire complex experience was put together by a single developer never fails to amaze me. There are some fun mods for Banished that the fan community has made in the years since its 2014 launch – some of which add whole new ways to play. For such a low price it’s an absolute steal!

Deal #15:
Jade Empire: Special Edition
Steam, 75% discount, £3.74

If you’re a fan of BioWare’s games, make sure that you didn’t miss out on Jade Empire! Released as an Xbox exclusive in 2005, Jade Empire is a role-playing game set in a world inspired by Chinese legends. It blends martial arts and magic in a truly fun and unique experience. Released in between Knights of the Old Republic and Mass Effect, I feel Jade Empire gets somewhat overshadowed – but it should be hailed alongside those games!

All of the trademark BioWare elements are here: well-written characters, a story with multiple endings, building up a group of characters and taking them on a journey. If you’ve played any other modern BioWare title the gameplay will feel familiar – but the story is well worth experiencing for yourself.

Bonus:
Epic Games Coupon
Epic Games, £10/$10

This one isn’t a game! But for the duration of the holiday sale, Epic Games are offering a coupon with a value of £10, $10, or the equivalent in your local currency to spend on games priced over £13.99 or equivalent. The coupon is valid even for titles which are on sale provided they’re priced above £13.99, so it can be a great way to stack up the discounts. For example, Cyberpunk 2077 would be £14.99 on Epic Games, or Red Dead Redemption II would be £17.49.

So that’s it!

We’ve picked out fifteen deals from the various PC digital shops and their big winter sales. There are a ton more games on offer at this time of year, so have a browse and maybe treat yourself to something new to play over the holidays! I know that’s what I’ll be doing!

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.

Why I’m wary of the Steam Deck

The newly-announced Steam Deck seems like a dream come true for a lot of gamers: a cross between the portable Nintendo Switch and a powerful gaming PC that can run modern titles. And on the surface it seems like a great idea; the Switch proved definitively that there’s a market for a handheld console that can play more than just Pokémon and Mario Kart. Lots of folks have enjoyed playing titles like The Witcher 3, Skyrim, and Doom on the go.

This marriage of a portable format with the power of a gaming PC seems like a match made in heaven then! Surely it’s just a matter of time until the reasonably-priced device becomes the next big thing in gaming, right?

Logo for the newly-announced Steam Deck.

Well let’s slow down for a minute and think about this. Firstly it’s worth pointing out that no reviewer has yet got their hands on the Steam Deck, so its claim to being a powerful handheld that can run most of the games in Steam’s library is untested, as is its screen and other hardware. But secondly, the most important reason why I’m wary of the Steam Deck is Valve’s poor track record when it comes to hardware.

Remember the Steam Controller? Valve’s big foray into the controller market aimed to create a device that could play not only games designed for a gamepad, but also games designed to be played with mouse and keyboard. The controller lasted a scant four years before Valve discontinued it following poor sales.

The Steam Controller is one of many Valve hardware products that have been unceremoniously discontinued.

The Steam Controller was originally created alongside the Steam Machine – a lineup of prebuilt gaming PCs co-created by Valve. These computers didn’t even last as long as the controller – being discontinued within three years.

There’s also been the Steam Link – a device which was designed to allow players to stream their Steam games to another device (like a television or mobile phone). That lasted a scant three years before being discontinued. Valve has also struggled to make a success of the HTC Vive – a virtual reality setup that it purchased – and its own Valve Index VR device.

The Steam Link has also been discontinued.

Then there’s SteamOS. This was Valve’s attempt to create a Linux-based operating system – and is the OS which will come preinstalled with the Steam Deck. But SteamOS hasn’t been widely adopted, and is only natively compatible with a handful of games – others can only be played via a Windows emulator which naturally impacts performance. SteamOS has been overlooked by practically everyone, and until the announcement of the Steam Deck I considered it dead and buried – the last version was released two years ago and it hasn’t been updated since.

Are you seeing a pattern yet? Valve has an appalling track record when it comes to hardware, and early adopters of practically all of the machines and devices the company has produced to date have been screwed over when Valve discontinued them and stopped providing support and updates. It’s possible that the Steam Deck will be different; an exception to the rule, so to speak. But I wouldn’t bet on that right now, and I would be very wary of picking up such a device until it’s definitively established itself as a viable platform.

Valve tried hard to make Steam Machines the “next big thing” only to dump them a few years later when it didn’t happen.

It’s not only Valve that has struggled to break into the video game hardware market. Who could forget the Google Stadia? Everyone, apparently, because Stadia is basically discontinued already, having lasted less than a year. This market is not easy to crack, and even a company like Google – with practically unlimited resources – has failed to make significant inroads.

The Steam Deck is trying to offer players a way to play higher-end PC games on a portable device. Stadia tried to offer players a way to play higher-end games without the need for an expensive PC or console. The comparison is significant, because practically nobody took up Google on that offer. Steam does have a large library of titles at its back – something Stadia definitely lacked – and though it may appeal to tech enthusiasts and other early adopters, most players already have a PC or console that can play those games. And most players interested in portable devices already have a Nintendo Switch.

The Steam Deck has a big competitor in the Nintendo Switch.

All of this overlooks a significant fact about portable PC gaming – the existence of gaming laptops! Players who want a portable PC capable of playing their games already have that option via a gaming laptop. This further erodes the market that the Steam Deck is trying to appeal to.

I’m just not sure where the Steam Deck will fit in, and who it’s trying to appeal to aside from the aforementioned enthusiasts and early adopters. And my concern with that is that when it inevitably fails to achieve the kind of sales figures in its first year that Valve is hoping for, will they simply stop marketing it and then quietly kill it off, as they’ve done on many occasions in the past? A company’s track record is well worth paying attention to before sinking your money into their latest project. Some companies doggedly support their products for years, even when things don’t seem to be going well. Valve is categorically not that kind of company.

Promotional image of the Steam Deck.

First-gen tech products are often janky, with issues that later revisions and newer models fix later on. The Steam Deck may fall into that category, though as mentioned there are still no units in reviewers’ hands to check that either way. But as a general rule, second- or third-generation iterations of a product tend to be better all-round experiences, with problems and issues encountered in early models being fixed. That’s also a concern when it comes to the Steam Deck.

Despite all of this, I can understand why people are hyped for the Steam Deck. It looks like a beefier, more powerful Nintendo Switch. And after the disappointment some fans felt at Nintendo not launching a “Switch Pro,” perhaps they’re looking at this machine as an alternative way to play games in a handheld format. The Steam Deck is a device with potential, and if some folks see it as a more affordable way into gaming than buying or building a full PC, I’m on board with that. I definitely want as many folks as possible to be able to access gaming as a hobby. But for your £349/$399 (the Steam Deck’s RRP) you could buy a PlayStation 5 (the discless version). Or you could get an Xbox Series S with enough money left over for a full year of Game Pass. Or, of course, a Nintendo Switch – a console which is already well-established and has a huge library of games, many of which are exclusive to the system.

As you can see, I’m sceptical of the Steam Deck. There are reasons to look at it with excitement, and it represents a potential new type of PC that may become more popular in future. But for a number of reasons – not least of which is Valve’s awful track record when it comes to hardware – I shan’t be picking one up on this occasion. If the device survives and thrives, it’s possible I’d consider it in future. But I have no desire to get burned by Valve as so many early adopters have been in the past.

The Steam Deck will launch in select markets in December 2021. The Steam Deck, Steam, and other properties and products mentioned above are the copyright of Valve. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Some great Steam Summer Sale deals for PC gamers!

Important: The Steam Summer Sale has now ended. Prices listed below will no longer be accurate. Check back in December for my next Steam Winter Sale list.

It’s that time of year again! For the next fortnight, PC gaming powerhouse Steam is running its annual summer sale, meaning there are some pretty great deals to be had for PC gamers. For the last few major Steam sales I’ve put together a list of a few titles that I think look like excellent value while they’re discounted, and this time is no different!

As I always say, events like the Steam Summer Sale go a long way to making PC gaming good value for money when compared to consoles. PC gaming can be pricey to get started with – especially at the moment thanks to major component shortages – but sales like this go a long way to making up for it, and over the lifespan of a PC or a single console generation, it’s quite possible to see how a PC player is able to save money compared to a console gamer!

The creation of Xbox Game Pass works counter to that, of course! And if you’re new to gaming and want to get started with a library of titles for relatively little money up front, a Game Pass subscription with either a pre-owned Xbox One or an Xbox Series S is honestly hard to beat.

But we’re not here for Game Pass on this occasion! Let’s take a look at twenty games currently on offer in the Steam Summer Sale.

Important: All prices and discounts were correct in the UK at time of writing. Prices and discounts may vary by region and are subject to change at any time. The Steam Summer Sale runs from today (24.06.2021) for two weeks (08.07.2021) after which prices listed below will no longer be accurate.

Number 1: Jade Empire: Special Edition
75% discount, £3.74

If you’ve been playing Mass Effect: Legendary Edition and are craving another BioWare roleplaying game, you could do a lot worse than the overlooked Jade Empire. Released as an Xbox exclusive in 2005, the Chinese-inspired title made its way to Steam a few years ago. Most gamers are aware of the likes of Knights of the Old Republic and Mass Effect, but Jade Empire never quite made it to the same level.

Its graphics are certainly less shiny than modern titles, but if you can look beyond that you’ll find solid gameplay that’s easily comparable to other BioWare titles.

Number 2: Fall Guys
40% discount, £9.59

I’m not sure how long Fall Guys will remain available on Steam following a buyout by Epic Games, so if you want to get this fun obstacle course-battle royale title, now might be a good time. Fall Guys had a moment last summer before an issue with cheating and the rise of Among Us saw it slip progressively further down the rankings. But developers Mediatonic have continued to work on the game, fixing the cheating problem and releasing a number of free updates.

In mid-2021 Fall Guys is in a much better place. With Switch and Xbox releases still hopefully coming soon, the game is set for a second bite of the cherry and may see renewed interest from players. Cross-play is now enabled between PC and PlayStation at least, so getting into a game is easier than ever.

Number 3: Evil Genius 2
25% discount, £25.64

I took a look at Evil Genius 2 when it was first released earlier in the year, and it’s a lot of fun! If you’ve ever wanted to live out your Bond villain/Dr Evil fantasies, this is about as close as you can get while staying on the right side of the law! Building a secret base for your evil empire while also managing the casino used as a “front” is challenging, but if you get hooked it’s easy to sink hours into Evil Genius 2.

I’d happily recommend Evil Genius 2 to any strategy enthusiast or fan of spy thrillers. The cute, cartoony aesthetic adds to the experience as well.

Number 4: Snowrunner
20% discount, £20.79

The sequel to Mudrunner, Snowrunner is all about driving big vehicles – trucks, four-wheel drives, etc. – through difficult terrain. There really isn’t anything quite like it, and it’s a different kind of driving challenge when compared to titles like American Truck Simulator, but with a similar focus on the simulation aspect of driving.

I think Snowrunner would be absolutely cracking to play with a proper sim setup – wheel, pedals, and gearstick. But even just using a control pad it’s a lot of fun.

Number 5: Control: Ultimate Edition
60% discount, £13.99

I think I picked up Control in the last Steam sale, and just recently got around to playing through it. Control is weird, and I mean that as a compliment! I think the best way to describe it would be a psychological thriller mixed with an action game. There aren’t many true horror aspects, but there’s a lot of Lovecraftian weirdness that gives many parts of the game a creepy vibe.

Players take control of Jesse as she explores the Federal Bureau of Control – a mysterious government organisation headquartered in a very unique building! I had fun with Control, but I would caveat that I did encounter some issues with performance – poor frame-rate in particular.

Number 6: Banished
66% discount, £5.09

A mainstay of my gaming lists, Banished is an amazing city-builder. Not only must you construct buildings, but you’re also in charge of managing the citizens of your town. Ensuring that they have enough food, medicine, firewood, and other supplies is deceptively tricky, and this is a game that’s hard to master.

Banished was made by a single person. I say that every time I bring up the game, because I find it astonishing. Even if Banished had been produced by a whole studio I’d have enjoyed it, but knowing it was all programmed by a single person completely blows my mind.

Number 7: Saint’s Row 2
75% discount, £2.49

Saint’s Row 2 to me represents the pinnacle of the series, before this Grand Theft Auto-clone completely veered into the outlandish and wacky storylines that would dominate its third and especially fourth entries. If you’re bored of Grand Theft Auto V, and with a sixth entry in the series nowhere to be found, for less than the price of a coffee you could play through a game that’s as close as you can get to that experience.

Comparisons to other games aside, Saint’s Row 2 offers a ton of player customisation, even having different voices for the player character. The open world is fun to mess around in, and though the story is hardly unique it’s more than deep enough to be an enjoyable way to waste a couple of dozen hours.

Number 8: Pac-Man (Arcade Game Series)
50% discount, £1.39

Can you even call yourself “a gamer” if you don’t own at least one copy of 1980 arcade classic Pac-Man? This is one of the best-known video games of all time, and it’s quite literally a piece of gaming history. There have been many versions released over the last forty years, including some that take the basic Pac-Man concept and really mix it up. This version stays true to the 1980 original.

Gamers of a certain age have a fondness for Pac-Man, but there are a lot of younger players who’ve never tried their hand at the original. For anyone in that situation, I’d recommend giving it a shot. You’ll be experiencing a piece of video game history in the process!

Number 9: Yooka-Laylee
80% discount, £6.99

Yooka-Laylee was criticised upon release… for being a 3D platformer in the style of classics of the genre like Banjo-Kazooie. I genuinely do not understand what people were talking about if they meant that as a negative point. Yooka-Laylee was literally designed from the ground up as a spiritual successor to Banjo-Kazooie and those types of games!

Maybe it isn’t the world’s greatest ever 3D platformer, but it’s solid, cute, and a lot of fun, and if you liked those games in their heyday on the Nintendo 64, give it a shot. If you know what you’re getting into and you aren’t asking for a life-changing experience – as some critics seemed to be – you’ll have a whale of a time.

Number 10: Death Stranding
60% discount, £21.99

From famed Metal Gear creator Hideo Kojima, Death Stranding is a game that a lot of people didn’t know what to make of when it originally launched on PlayStation 4. Is it an action game? A horror game? A walking simulator? Death Stranding is a mixture of different genres and different styles of gameplay. There’s a lot of walking and exploration, and in some respects it’s a slower game as a result.

I’d tentatively put Death Stranding in a category alongside titles like Beyond: Two Souls and others by Quantic Dream. It’s interactive, and there’s a story to follow. And there is third-person action gameplay. But it’s very hard to pin it down and say what it actually is. The visuals are gorgeous, though!

Number 11: Lego City Undercover
75% discount, £6.24

Originally released as a Wii U exclusive, Lego City Undercover eventually made its way to PC. Unlike other Lego games, which adapt an existing entertainment product, it’s an original story featuring a police officer on the hunt for a vicious criminal. Weirdly for a Lego game there are some Grand Theft Auto-esque open world elements, and the story is surprisingly fun.

Lego games have always had a sense of humour, and while you won’t find anything extreme or offensive – this is a kids’ game, after all – it’s still got some real laugh-out-loud moments. I had fun with it when I was one of seven lucky people who owned a Wii U, and developer Traveller’s Tales did a good job adapting the game for PC.

Number 12: Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order
60% discount, £13.99

I had a lot of fun playing through Jedi: Fallen Order last summer. After the disappointment of The Rise of Skywalker I needed something to rehabilitate the Star Wars brand, and Jedi: Fallen Order delivered. As I wrote at the time, I genuinely felt like I was having my own adventure in a galaxy far, far away.

The game has a strong story with great characters and succeeded at getting me truly invested in what happened to protagonist Cal Kestis and the friends he made over the course of his journey. Coupled with great visuals and fun lightsaber-swinging gameplay, Jedi: Fallen Order was a great time all around. Not only that, but it proved once again that linear, single-player games are still viable as a concept for big publishers.

Number 13: Hades
30% discount, £13.64

Hades isn’t my usual kind of game. But having heard nothing but praise for the indie title I decided to give it a shot, and I can see why people are raving about it! Hades is a difficult rogue-like dungeon-crawler, one that gives players a degree of choice over how to set up their character before proceeding through the randomly-generated levels and tackling monsters inspired by Ancient Greek legends.

It’s a game where failure and defeat are inevitable, yet not one that punishes failing. Though dying in a game never feels great, Hades has found a way to take the sting out of defeat. It’s strangely compelling, and I found myself continuing to play long after the point where I’d have put other games down.

Number 14: Serious Sam 4
50% discount, £15.49

I played the first Serious Sam back in the early 2000s, and I found it to be an incredibly funny send-up of the first-person shooter genre at the time. Though I’m yet to play the latest instalment, which spent years in development hell before being released late last year, everything I’ve heard so far is good and I can’t wait to jump in and give it a go.

Serious Sam 4 feels like a blast of nostalgia; a throwback to when games were less about story and more about shooting as many monsters as humanly possible.

Number 15: Age of Empires II: Definitive Edition
33% discount, £10.04

In early 2020 I really got stuck into Age of Empires II, replaying one of my most-played games of the early 2000s. Microsoft put a lot of work into Definitive Edition, bringing in a new graphics engine and continuing to add to and adjust the game even now, more than eighteen months after its launch. It really is the ultimate way to play Age of Empires II.

Age of Empires II is a real-time strategy game with a medieval setting, and Definitive Edition has introduced new gameplay modes, new factions, and a bustling online multiplayer scene for when you’re done practicing against the AI. It’s a time-sink, and it’s easy to lose dozens of hours here!

Number 16: No Man’s Sky
50% discount, £19.99

No Man’s Sky will forever be defined by the criticism it received at launch for failing to live up to the lofty expectations developer Hello Games set. And that’s absolutely fair enough; the “release now, fix later” business model deserves all of the hate it gets. But in the five years since, No Man’s Sky has received a number of free updates and expansions, and has grown to be the game that was promised.

A rare success story for a game that deserved all of the criticism it got, it’s actually easy to recommend the game in its current state. It’s the space exploration and adventure game that folks thought they were signing up for five years ago. It’s a shame things went down the way that they did; had No Man’s Sky been released today, it would be celebrated.

Number 17: Far Cry 5
85% discount, £7.49

Stepping away from tropical islands and murderous dictators, Far Cry 5 saw the first-person open world series head to the United States. The game is undeniably politically charged, looking at political extremism in the American heartland, but it retains that Far Cry over-the-top action and is fun to play through.

If you can’t wait for Far Cry 6, which is due for release in October, it could be worth re-playing Far Cry 5 – or playing it for the first time if you missed out when it was new.

Number 18: Forza Horizon 4
50% discount, £27.49

If you don’t have Game Pass, Forza Horizon 4 is still good value at half price. I signed up for Game Pass specifically to play this game, and it’s been well worth it! It’s a really fun, semi-arcade racer set in an open world based on my native Britain, and there are a ton of different cars and different ways to race. I’m 100% there for all of it!

The Forza Horizon series is a half-step between arcade racers and “serious” racing sims, and if you want a game that’s designed to play just as well with a control pad as a racing wheel, this could be it.

Number 19: Terminator: Resistance
40% discount, £20.99

Terminator: Resistance flew under the radar when it launched in 2019, and a lot of folks missed out on this fun first-person shooter. Set in the world of the Terminator franchise, Resistance succeeds where several recent films failed and actually told a fun, engaging story. It’s not exactly a full-blown “AAA” game, but it’s plenty of fun nevertheless.

If you missed this one a couple of years ago, give it a shot. Any fan of the Terminator franchise ought to at least try it, and if you like first-person shooters with a slight horror vibe, you’ll have a great time.

Number 20: The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind
75% discount, £3.24

For me, Morrowind still represents the high-water mark of the entire Elder Scrolls series. It has more to do than Oblivion or Skyrim at practically every level: more NPCs to engage with, more factions to join, more quests, more types of magic, and even more weapon types to master. Some people are put off by its lack of voice acting and text-based interface, but to me that just adds to the experience.

Morrowind is outstanding. It’s one of the best and deepest role-playing experiences ever made, and with a few select graphical mods it looks visually stunning almost twenty years on from its original release. If you haven’t played it yet, but you loved Skyrim, you’re missing out! With The Elder Scrolls VI still years away, why not step back and play – or replay – Morrowind while you wait?

So that’s it!

If you were to buy all of the titles on the list above, you’d have spent £250.30, which I reckon is pretty good going for twenty games! I tried to get a nice mix of new and older titles, as well as perhaps one or two less well-known games that you might want to try for the first time. In addition to sales like this one offering pretty significant savings, another of the advantages of PC gaming is that the end of a console generation no longer means leaving games behind. Sure, consoles offer a degree of backwards compatibility, but for my money you can’t beat having everything in one place like you can on a PC.

So all that’s left to say is I hope you found this interesting, and perhaps found a game or two to consider picking up! There’s two weeks to get your purchases in before the sale ends, but if you miss out or you can’t participate on this occasion don’t despair! There will almost certainly be a Holiday Sale in the days leading up to Christmas, and I’ll be sure to cover that here on the website too.

All titles listed above are the copyright of their respective developer, publisher, and/or studio. 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.

Evil Genius 2 – first impressions

This is somewhat of a rarity for me – writing up my first impressions of a brand-new game while it’s still brand-new! Evil Genius 2 – or to give it its full title, Evil Genius 2: World Domination – was released for PC only yesterday. It’s the sequel to Evil Genius, a game from 2004 that I don’t recall playing at the time, but the fun concept and aesthetic appealed to me enough to give this sequel a shot.

Evil Genius 2 is a base-builder, but that hardly sums it up. You take on the role of the titular “evil genius” – a supervillain of the kind you’d expect to see in a James Bond film, and the base you build is their lair. Perhaps Dr Evil from the Austin Powers film saga is a more appropriate comparison, given the game’s sense of humour! With a casino as a “front,” the objective is to make money, run evil schemes, and build a “doomsday device,” all the while avoiding detection and capture by the forces of good.

The game’s title screen.

If you’ve ever played a tycoon game – the likes of Theme Hospital, Rollercoaster Tycoon, etc. – then the style of gameplay will be familiar to you. Evil Genius 2 confronts you with a lot of different screens showing every aspect of your evil empire, and you have the ability to micromanage practically all of it.

Hiring, training, and firing of your evil minions – and even executing them if they displease you – is one aspect of the game. Minions can be trained to perform different tasks, both in the casino and behind the scenes, with a number of different specialisations. Guards can man guard posts and act as security, and valets can work in the casino greeting (and scamming) tourists, to give two examples.

A worker minion (left) and a casino employee minion (right).

But minions also need to be looked after – at least in a basic way! They have needs, such as food, rest, and relaxation time, and you’ll need to balance your evil lair to make sure that minions aren’t overworked.

There are a number of different rooms that can be constructed – by digging them into your mountain lair, naturally. Every evil genius needs an office, of course, and then a vault to store their ill-gotten gold. There are rooms to train minions, house them, generate power for the facility, and many more besides.

A staff room for minions.

Building is not entirely straightforward. Like other tycoon games, rooms are built on a grid. However, in order to simulate being underground, not every tile is able to be built on, and there are some which are inaccessible – at least in the beginning. This can make building rooms a tad frustrating, as can the camera control. If you don’t get the room perfect and need to edit it before it’s built, it can take a few camera rotations and clicks to remove unwanted sections and get the room laid out the way you want.

I also found doors to be a tad frustrating. In short, doors can only be placed in an area four tiles wide, and need an additional two tiles of rock/dirt on either side. Not every room needs a door, some can simply be built directly off another room or corridor, but this requirement was odd and unexpected. Doors can be important for security reasons, especially in rooms like a vault!

This feels like it’s more than $40,000 worth of gold – at least at today’s prices!

As with any new tycoon game, it will take a while to fully get the hang of the way all of the different in-game screens, stats, and systems work. Evil Genius 2 throws a lot of different aspects at you all at once, and players who aren’t used to this kind of experience might feel overwhelmed. This issue is exacerbated by the lack of a tutorial. The game simply drops you into gameplay right from the title screen.

There are three game types available, the first of which is a “quick start” that drops you into an already-open casino. The second mode is a standard game, and this offers three levels of difficulty, as well as a custom difficulty selector allowing players to choose from a variety of difficulty options. This customisation is great, and is something I wish more games would offer. For example, it’s possible to tone down the threat from the forces of good to focus more on managing the lair, or to reduce the cost of different types of in-game events like evil schemes or scientific research. All of which is great!

The custom difficulty options screen.

The final game type is a sandbox mode, allowing players to build their perfect evil lair without limitations. As is often the case in games like Evil Genius 2, this is a great place to get started! Learning more about the way the game works and what some of the requirements are while not under pressure is a much more enjoyable experience – at least for me!

In the couple of hours I’ve spent with Evil Genius 2 so far, I didn’t see any bugs, glitches, or other issues, though there are two very minor points of note. Firstly, booting up the game prompted a warning message, telling me that my graphics drivers were out-of-date. This isn’t the case (I checked to make sure) so I’m not sure what caused this warning to occur. Regardless, the game plays fine once you get into it and doesn’t suffer from any graphical issues, low frame-rates, or anything of the sort. On my 4K display it looks fantastic.

The warning pop-up.

Secondly, on a 4K display (my monitor has a resolution of 3840 x 2160 pixels) the initial pop-up when the game launches is very small. The desktop icon is likewise a low resolution; both are clearly designed for screens no larger than 1080p even though the game itself supports 4K. This isn’t something you have to contend with very much, but it’s worth pointing it out. In 2021, games shouldn’t have these silly issues as 4K has become commonplace on PC.

The art style is cute and cartoonish, a step away from the realism a lot of modern titles go for. I like games that are visually different, and tycoon games like Evil Genius 2 do well with this kind of exaggerated style. If you’ve played Two Point Hospital I think you’d agree that the art style – bright colours, cartoonish characters, and bold, silly items and décor – is clearly drawing inspiration from a similar place.

I like the game’s visual style (minions pictured).

Evil Genius 2 has a pleasant soundtrack to compliment its visual style, and while I wouldn’t say I was blown away and need to rush out and buy a copy, it’s just fine. It works well in combination with the rest of the game. Sound effects are the same – they work very well with the overall cartoony style.

The voices for a couple of the game’s characters are interesting! Actors Brian Blessed, best known for his role in Flash Gordon and for being a mainstay on British television, and Samantha Bond, known for her role as Moneypenny in four of the James Bond 007 films (GoldenEye through to Die Another Day) star as two of the game’s evil villains (i.e. playable main characters). That was unexpected, and I had to double-check to make sure I’d got that right!

Samantha Bond (pictured in the 1999 James Bond film The World Is Not Enough) lent her voice to Evil Genius 2.

I like Evil Genius 2, but more than that I want to like it. I remember tycoon games from the mid-1990s like Theme Park and Theme Hospital with incredible fondness, and this is a great attempt to recreate that older style of gameplay. Some modern tycoon games can go overboard with the stats and micromanagement options, making just learning the basics of how to play feel like a chore and a full-time job. Evil Genius 2 seems to have avoided that pitfall and struck the right balance between recreating that older style of game, but bringing it into the 2020s.

With a 10% discount at time of writing, Evil Genius 2 will set you back £32 (or $36 US). That’s not cheap, but it’s also not catastrophically expensive either. However, there is a “season pass” available to purchase for an additional £23 (or $25). Judging by the size of the DLC screen, there’s room for a lot of potential future updates and/or expansions, so watch this space. I would suggest that expansions could add new lairs – there are only three in the base game right now – or new playable villains, as there are currently four. I don’t think that these feel like extreme limitations, as part of the fun of a game like Evil Genius 2 is going back and replaying levels, completely redesigning your base.

Emma, one of four playable evil geniuses in the game.

In short, there’s a lot of potential replayability even with the four characters and three levels currently available. The existence of a season pass, though, seems to suggest there won’t be significant free expansions or updates, and I would assume that if you want to take advantage of new content as and when it’s available you’ll need to either buy the season pass or buy the individual expansions. This makes Evil Genius 2 basically a full-price game at £54 (or $61 US).

Evil Genius 2 started strongly, and I think it’s going to be a lot of fun. Over the next few weeks I’m sure to spend a lot more time with it, and if I have anything more to say perhaps I’ll write more about it at that time. For now, suffice to say I’m having fun with it. Living out my evil genius fantasy is a lot easier in video game form than it is in real life!

Evil Genius 2: World Domination is out now for Windows PCs and is available to purchase on Steam. Evil Genius 2: World Domination was developed and published by Rebellion Developments. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

All Fall Guys rounds re-ranked!

Back in August, when Fall Guys was the party hit of the summer, I put all of the rounds (i.e. levels) into a ranked list. Since then, a number of new rounds have been added to the game as part of the Season 2 and Season 3 updates. In addition, most rounds now have at least one variant, with alterations to obstacles to keep players on their toes.

I’m hopeful that Fall Guys will have a strong future. With releases planned for Xbox and Switch this summer, and a fourth season coming between now and then, developers Mediatonic are still working hard. But as we noted last time, player numbers have dropped significantly – by as much as 95% on PC – in a little over half a year, so new owners Epic Games have their work cut out to revitalise Fall Guys in 2021.

Fall Guys is coming to Nintendo Switch this summer.

There are presently 38 rounds in the game, and we’ll look at each of them in turn from worst to best. Some rounds have been greatly improved since I last ranked them, whereas others are now overshadowed by newer rounds that are better! So there will certainly be some changes when compared to my previous list.

Before we go any further, a note about team rounds. In order to avoid being too repetitive, let’s get this out of the way first: success or failure in team rounds is inherently dependent on who you’re teamed up with. Lopsided or unbalanced teams (i.e. 5 against 7) have largely been eliminated from the game via updates – which is great news – but if you’re teamed up with people who aren’t great at the round, who aren’t paying attention, who drop out, etc. it’s going to be much harder to qualify. That’s just the nature of team rounds in a game like Fall Guys, and while it can be incredibly frustrating, it’s also something that can’t be avoided. The reverse can also be true – you can play atrociously only to end up qualifying thanks to being on a strong team. So rather than repeat myself with every single team round, I thought I’d just make this clear at the beginning!

Without any further caveats, let’s jump and dive headfirst into the list.

Number 38: Snowy Scrap (Team)

I appreciate what Snowy Scrap was trying to do, and how the developers clearly hoped to create a round that bypassed some of the issues with Rock N Roll – another round which tasks teams of players to push a large ball. The problem with Snowy Scrap is that the physics engine in use in Fall Guys, as well as the deliberately clumsy characters, are not well-suited to a game which requires precision. In Rock N Roll, the large goal at the end doesn’t require this, but in Snowy Scrap the snowballs need to be aimed at small patches of snow on the ground. The clunky balls are difficult to control so delicately, and it’s just a very difficult round as a result.

Number 37: Door Dash (Race)

Last time I ranked Door Dash as the worst round in the game… and nothing has been done to address any of its issues in the patches and updates since. Its combination of being fast-paced yet random means that a single unavoidable mistake – because which doors are real and which are fake is completely random and unknowable – can often mean failure to qualify. It’s a round where, if luck is on your side, you’ll breeze through. If not, however, you’re in trouble. A lot of the rounds in Fall Guys require at least a modicum of skill; Door Dash doesn’t. If you can run and jump, you can play this round just as well as the best players in the world.

Number 36: Fruit Chute (Race)

There’s nothing wrong with the premise of Fruit Chute, which sees players run on a treadmill while obstacles are being fired at them. But it’s an incredibly unforgiving round, and in most cases a single collision can be enough to knock you right out of contention. It’s also a round where not much has been changed, and the variant which added mallets (to sling players forward up the track) doesn’t really seem to help, as landing awkwardly can still mean qualification is out of reach. A fun round, for sure, but horribly unforgiving.

Number 35: Royal Fumble (Finale)

Royal Fumble has slipped way down my list compared to last time for one simple reason: it hardly ever shows up any more. It’s hard to say anything about a round that seems to have dropped off the face of the earth, and I almost took it entirely out of contention. The premise is fine – whoever is in possession of the one single tail when the timer runs out wins the crown – but if, for whatever reason, it’s no longer being used very often, then it can’t be ranked any higher on the list.

Number 34: Tip Toe (Race)

Another round that hasn’t seen any improvement since last time, Tip Toe is another that can be very unforgiving and random. It’s impossible to tell which tiles are fake and which are real without jumping on them, and if you’re unlucky enough to fall near the end, by the time you’ve respawned the round can be over. Because Tip Toe shows up later (usually it’s at least the third round) players are cautious, wanting to qualify for the finale, so it can drag out if no one is willing to try stepping on the next tile. The addition of a mallet in one variant does basically nothing, because even if you jumped perfectly and got hit by it, chances are you’d still land on a tile that will fall away.

Number 33: See Saw (Race)

See Saw sees perhaps the biggest fall from grace since I wrote my first list. Back then I said that it was “a ton of fun, and deceptively tricky.” And that’s true – See Saw can be fun, but one thing I’ve come to realise is just how unfair it is. Players who spawn in at the front of the pack have a far bigger advantage than I realised, and it’s often the case in See Saw that two or three players manage to qualify way before everyone else simply because they had a straight shot to the finish line. However, See Saw is usually a forgiving round, meaning a fall or two doesn’t usually knock you right out of contention. I still like it and have fun with it, but the unfairness is definitely noteworthy!

Number 32: Jump Showdown (Finale)

Jump Showdown is – I think – the finale where I’ve won the most crowns! But it’s quite random when compared to all of the other finales, and it’s possible to lose simply because of where you spawned in at the beginning. When a couple of platforms have fallen away, you can end up in the wrong place simply by chance, and thus I stand by what I said last time: that’s poor for a finale.

Number 31: Rock N Roll (Team)

Rock N Roll usually sees all three teams make identical progress pushing their giant ball through a short obstacle course, and that’s the part of the round that could really use some attention and improvement. Once the balls drop it’s a short run to the goal at the bottom, and this round invariably descends into which team can hold up the others better. I also feel that there’s a disadvantage to being in the middle lane, simply because you have players from both sides who could jump in the way and hold you up. It’s preferable to Snowy Scrap, though!

Number 30: Jinxed (Team)

I hadn’t played many rounds of Jinxed when I ranked it last time, but it seems to come up more often now. It’s okay, and the level is well-designed. It’s a very fast-paced round, better suited to larger teams, but because of the way it starts – with one “jinxed” player per team – it can get lopsided fast if one of the jinxed players isn’t paying attention (or just isn’t very good!) It’s okay, though, and we’re getting into the part of the list where none of the rounds are all that bad, just overshadowed by some that are better!

Number 29: Perfect Match (Logic)

I ranked Perfect Match much higher up the list last time. I enjoy it a lot, and in a game that can be very hectic it’s a refreshingly different offering. However, it’s also a round that invariably ends up eliminating practically nobody. I don’t want to attach the label “too easy,” but it’s hard to know what else to say about a round where 30 out of 31 players qualify. A variant has been added that randomly shoots obstacles at the course, and that helps a little, but right now Perfect Match is an outlier. If it remains the case that it doesn’t eliminate many players, including it is going to end up feeling like a waste of time when it appears. That’s a shame, because in theory I like Perfect Match – it just doesn’t work so well at the moment.

Number 28:Pegwin Pursuit (Team)

The robo-penguins that you have to catch in this game are cute, and the concept is fun. You’ve probably figured out by now that I’m not wild about a lot of the team rounds, and in a way I’d like to see a solo variant of this round as I think that could be fun. If there were, for example, five fewer penguins than players (10 penguins in a 15-player round, and so on) maybe that would work. It’s fine, though, and worked well during the winter-themed Season 3.

Number 27: Team Tail Tag (Team)

Team Tail Tag has one of the best-designed levels, and it’s one that could work well for a whole range of different games. It has ramps, conveyors, slippery slime ramps, mallets… lots of different “terrains” and obstacles. It’s also the only round where I’ve seen four teams instead of two or three! The tail tag concept is fun, and pretty easy to get to grips with. A fun middle-of-the-road round that I don’t really have anything else to say about.

Number 26: Tail Tag (Hunt)

As I said in my previous list, the non-team version of Tail Tag works ever-so-slightly better, in my opinion, because victory or defeat is in your own hands. The map is perhaps slightly less fun, though it has spawned at least one variant with large fans that does mix things up a little. Tail Tag is the one round where what you do at the beginning does not matter in the slightest; it’s won or lost in the last few seconds. That keeps it exciting all the way along, and I appreciate that about it. It’s also on a fixed timer so there’s no waiting around!

Number 25: Hex-A-Gone (Finale)

Hex-A-Gone is fine. It’s a solid finale that does what it says it’s going to do! I’ve seen some players who seem to have very elaborate Hex-A-Gone tactics, including dropping way down to the final layer to make holes in the hopes that other players will fall straight through! I like that it’s a round that inspires some degree of tactical thinking; you can’t just run around and hope for the best.

Number 24: Fall Ball (Team)

I mentioned above that the physics of Fall Guys makes controlling large balls difficult, and while that was frustrating in Snowy Scrap it’s a big part of the fun of Fall Ball. Even after playing many times, I’m still crap at it. But it’s fun, and it’s a change of pace when compared to a lot of the other team rounds. It actually requires a degree of teamwork to qualify – just running around only considering yourself can leave your goal exposed or leave teammates without support, so it’s another round that can be played tactically.

Number 23: Hoarders (Team)

Hoarders is a pretty hectic round, and another that requires players to control large balls. Luckily in this case the objective is just to keep as many as possible in an entire third of the map, which is much easier than scoring a goal or rolling in a specific area! As with Tail Tag, who’s winning at the start doesn’t matter; there are only a few balls so it’s possible to pull off a recovery even at the last second. In that sense it’s a round that never lets up.

Number 21 (tie): Egg Scramble & Egg Siege (Team)

I’m putting these two together because for all intents and purposes they’re the same round. The level design is slightly different – with Egg Siege adding a medieval theme and drawbridges, as well as deeper “nests,” but the changes aren’t substantial enough to make the rounds play any differently from one another. I like both, and the addition of golden eggs alongside regular eggs adds an extra dimension to the rounds. They’re fun and often fast-paced – the only time either are less fun would be when there are only a few players per team. One round I played only had four players on each team, and I think that’s too few!

Number 20: Hoopsie Daisy (Team)

I think we’ve come to my favourite team round! I just love the jumping and diving, and the hoops are just large enough to make a good target without being too big or making it too easy. The addition of golden hoops, and mixing up some of the obstacles on the map, gives Hoopsie Daisy an additional dimension, and I always smile when it crops up. Unless your team falls way behind and stays there, it’s usually competitive right up to the last second, too.

Number 19: Jump Club (Survival)

I prefer Jump Club to its finale cousin for the simple reason that it’s less random. It’s still possible to screw up and fail to qualify, but usually that’s because of a self-inflicted mistake, and not because of the way the round was designed. Otherwise it’s a pretty simple concept – jump over the spinning beam without getting caught by the larger one above it. Hang on long enough while other players get knocked into the slime and you qualify! It’s a round that usually doesn’t drag on too long, either because a lot of players get caught out, or because the beams speed up!

Number 18: Roll Out (Survival)

If there were only the original version of Roll Out it would surely rank lower down the list. That’s because, as I noted last time, that version of Roll Out can take a long time to play out because most people have got the hang of it! But there are two new variants that completely mix it up. In one, two of the five rotating cylinders are gone, meaning there are more players packed into a smaller space. In the other, fruit obstacles are fired at random, knocking players down. These new variants massively improve the round.

Number 17: Wall Guys (Race)

Among the racing rounds, there really isn’t anything quite like Wall Guys. In a way it’s partly a game of logic, trying to piece together the best route across the platforms to scale the walls. But it’s also a round that requires good jumping, diving, and aiming reflexes. A second variant adds in giant fans, which certainly mixes things up. It’s not an easy round by any means, and sometimes positioning a platform in just the right place can mean someone else jumps on it first – but that’s part of the game!

Number 16: Freezy Peak (Race)

Freezy Peak is a fun obstacle course with several sections offering a variety of challenges. The hardest part (at least for me) is getting the timing right to jump across the fans, using the updraft to cross a gap. It’s not easy, but it’s a cleverly-designed round and I appreciate that it offers a lot of variety. It could easily be repurposed to become a finale, with the first person reaching the summit winning a crown!

Number 15: Hoopsie Legends (Hunt)

Hoopsie Legends is the solo variant of Hoopsie Daisy, and it’s great fun. The challenge doesn’t only lie in jumping through the hoops, but also in getting to them ahead of other players, and in moving platforms to just the right place. The map itself is perhaps a little bland, with only the central drawbridge area offering any variety. My only real point of criticism, though, is that in a round where the objective is to score six points, having a few golden hoops that are worth five points each can make it quick and easy for some players to reach the target. It might be better if these were only worth two points.

Number 14: Thin Ice (Finale)

Thin Ice is a slightly better variant of Hex-A-Gone, and that’s really all there is to say. After standing on the hexagon-shaped ice tiles for a couple of seconds, they crack and disappear, dropping players down to the next layer of ice. It’s possible to do well at Thin Ice by taking it slow and focusing on one section of the level. When it gets down to the final layer and a lot of holes, well that’s when it gets hectic! It’s also the finale where I’ve seen the most players – 18 on one occasion, and 15-16 several times.

Number 13: Snowball Survival (Survival)

This is a fun round, and a well-designed level. Two giant snowballs roll across the bowl-shaped map at random, sometimes bouncing off one another. There are patches of ice that crack and fall away, and patches of solid ground. Getting hit by a snowball sends players flying in all directions, and the challenge is in jumping out of the way in time! It’s also a round that can, on occasion, eliminate a large number of players.

Number 12: Fall Mountain (Finale)

Fall Mountain makes for a great finale because it’s fast-paced. It’s a race to the top – while giant balls are being shot down the mountain at you – and whoever makes it and grabs the crown wins. Victory or defeat is entirely in your own hands – quick reflexes are needed to avoid the balls and swinging mallets, and to jump at the right moment to grab the crown. Though it’s kind of basic as far as obstacle courses go, it’s great fun.

Number 11: Slime Climb (Race)

I’m still awful at Slime Climb! More often than not I wind up eliminated through a mistimed jump or by getting knocked over by one of the many different types of obstacle! But as a pure obstacle course it has everything: rolling balls, swinging mallets, slippery slopes, pushing platforms… the lot. And a few different variants have been added, changing up some of the obstacles to keep players on their toes. In terms of the way the level is designed it has to be one of the best in the game – even though I absolutely suck at it.

Number 10: The Whirlygig (Race)

I like what The Whirlygig has to offer, and the fact that a couple of different variants have sprung up keeps it fresh and interesting. I’ve pretty much nailed my tactics for this round, and even on my worst days I can still expect to make it to the finish line! The rotating fans offer a different kind of obstacle, and getting the timing right to avoid getting hit is the key.

Number 9: Gate Crash (Race)

I’m not doing individual awards, but if I were, Gate Crash would win “most improved!” Last time I said that it was too unforgiving, but maybe I’ve just got better at it since then. Regardless, the addition of moving obstacles seems to have helped, and Gate Crash has one of the best final stretches of any round – with a slippery slope leading to a jump. Getting that right requires a bit of skill and the right timing, something that can be tricky!

Number 8: Dizzy Heights

Dizzy Heights now has several different variants to spice things up, including one where its signature spinning platforms have been removed in the middle section! These variants keep it fresh and interesting, as you’re never sure which version will be selected. It’s a fun round, and one which can be difficult, especially toward the end. Those three rotating discs spinning in opposite directions – with balls being shot at you – are difficult to navigate!

Number 7: Big Fans (Race)

I utterly detested Big Fans the first few times I played it! That was because I couldn’t get the timing right to successfully jump between the spinning platforms! But the more I’ve continued to play it I’ve come to appreciate what it has to offer, and while there really isn’t much variety – except on the variant that introduces spinning beams – it’s nevertheless a fantastic, cleverly-designed round that’s incredibly tricky to get to grips with.

Number 6: Roll Off (Finale)

Roll Off is what Roll Out should have been! Where the original version of Roll Out can take a long time to eliminate players, Roll Off speeds up, and the rising slime leaves less and less solid ground available. It’s a truly fun take on Roll Out, massively improving on that round’s gameplay. I just wish, in a way, that it wasn’t a finale so that it would crop up more often!

Number 5: Ski Fall (Race)

The concept of Ski Fall is just fantastic. Jumping and diving through small target rings while slipping down an icy slope makes for a deceptively challenging round, and it’s easy to mistime a jump or bounce off an obstacle and completely mess up! However, it’s also forgiving enough that a mistake or two won’t knock you out of contention altogether most of the time, which is great. Tricky but great fun is how I’d describe Ski Fall.

Number 4: Hit Parade (Race)

Last time, Hit Parade was my winner. It’s slipped down a few places this time, and if I’m being really honest the reason why is that I’ve played it so many times. There are some great variations that have been introduced that have kept Hit Parade fresh, and I still feel that, when considering pure obstacle courses, it beats out many other rounds – especially those which only consist of one type of obstacle! And it’s still great fun, don’t get me wrong… but a couple of newcomers have arrived to topple its crown.

Number 3: Block Party (Survival)

I still absolutely adore Block Party. This timed round sees players standing on a short platform having to run out of the way of walls that come racing toward them. There are some beams to jump over, too. It’s a tricky round that keeps you engaged until the very last second, and it gets progressively difficult as the timer ticks toward zero. My only criticism would be to say that, of all the rounds in the game, Block Party is perhaps the easiest in theory to mix up with new variants, as changing which beams and blocks come and at what time shouldn’t be too difficult. Yet there aren’t many variants that I’ve seen – perhaps two or three.

Number 2: Knight Fever (Race)

So now we come to the top two, and just missing out on the top spot is Knight Fever. This amazing obstacle course has so much going on that I hardly know where to start. There are platforms with holes in, cylindrical platforms with fast-moving spikes that knock you off, crushing cylinders and blocks, and drawbridges. There are several variants, too, which introduce see-saws, fans, and change the timings of the drawbridges. There’s just so much going on that Knight Fever is a wild ride from start to finish, and always keeps me on my toes!

Number 1: Tundra Run (Race)

My number one pick this time is Tundra Run. It was a close call between this and Knight Fever, because both are excellent, varied obstacle courses. But as I thought about it some more, Tundra Run has to take the top spot. As above, it offers a range of different obstacles and terrains, with the icy sections being slippery and difficult to navigate. But it’s so much fun, and incredibly hectic. There’s so much variety that each section feels almost like a new level, and it’s not easy to make it to the finish line!

So that’s it! We’ve put all of the rounds into a list again… one that will be out-of-date as soon as Season 4 rolls around!

I took a break from Fall Guys over the holidays, but after picking it up again last month I’ve been having a whale of a time. I often say that, when it comes to video games, I prefer something with a good story that I can play alone. Fall Guys has reminded me that enjoyable gameplay matters too, and that there’s still value in something unique, silly, and fun. There aren’t that many games like Fall Guys where I sit down to play simply for the enjoyment of playing – not because I’m chasing achievements or following a story.

I’m keeping my fingers crossed for Season 4 being fun with its futuristic theme, as well as for successful launches on Xbox and in particular on the Switch later in the year. Fall Guys deserves to have a great future with many more updates and more content to come – and I’m still hopeful that it can, despite the significant drop in player numbers since launch.

If you haven’t tried Fall Guys yet… well I guess this list won’t have made a lot of sense! But the game is available on Steam and on PlayStation 4, and as mentioned, Xbox and Switch releases are coming. It was suggested – or at least hinted at – that it may go free-to-play in future, so watch this space. But if you ask me, it’s a steal at £15.

I won’t immediately re-rank the rounds when Season 4 arrives, but stay tuned for more Fall Guys-related articles and posts, especially if we get any significant news regarding the game’s future. Perhaps I’ll see you out there, pushing you out of the way to grab a crown!

Fall Guys is out now on PC and PlayStation 4. Fall Guys is the copyright of Mediatonic, Devolver Digital, and Epic Games. This list 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.

Steam is going to have to address its Epic Games Store problem

Steam is the biggest digital shop in the PC gaming world. Many PC players – myself included – have built up Steam libraries over a number of years that are irreplaceable. But Steam is not the invincible juggernaut it once was. Not only is the growth of Microsoft’s Game Pass subscription service something that has the potential to be a major disruption, the Epic Games Store has been aggressively elbowing its way onto Steam’s turf.

I had an Epic Games account until recently. However, when their crappy customer support caused me a problem that should have been easily resolved and cost me money, I vowed not to shop with them again. But that’s not always easy, because the way Epic has been competing with Steam has been to buy up the rights to as many games as it can, making them exclusives or timed exclusives to the Epic Games Store. Players like myself who only use Steam thus can’t access the titles – and Epic hopes that will bring more players into its marketplace.

The Epic Games Store is proving to be a major competitor to Steam.

To be fair to Epic, despite this policy being anti-consumer it has worked. And again, to be fair to Epic, asking PC players to install a second launcher for games isn’t a huge request. The Epic Games Launcher isn’t particularly cumbersome and works as intended. It’s a minor annoyance, but one players are willing to put up with to play the games that they want to. I may have my own reasons for disliking Epic Games considering they cost me money, but most players – even those who were initially opposed to Epic’s policy of buying up exclusive rights – have softened their tone and signed up. After all, for those titles it’s the only way to play if you’re a PC gamer.

Watch Dogs Legion and the remaster of Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 & 2 are two of the latest titles to be snapped up by Epic, and at this point the exclusivity problem is beginning to bite. Watch Dogs Legion looks moderately interesting, but I was definitely excited to play the remaster of a skating game I remember with fondness from the Dreamcast era. Alas, the only way to do so is to subscribe to Epic.

The upcoming game Watch Dogs Legion isn’t coming to Steam.

For Steam, this is a growing problem. One or two titles here and there can be written off. Shenmue III may have generated a lot of controversy amongst its Kickstarter backers, but since hardly anyone bought the title the actual loss to Steam is negligible. Watch Dogs Legion, however, is a pretty big release – the kind the games industry refers to as “AAA” or “triple-A.” Its loss to Steam is going to be significant, with revenue easily into the hundreds of thousands of dollars simply disappearing.

One way or another, Steam is going to have to get a handle on this. Their recent partnership with Electronic Arts has brought some popular titles – like the FIFA series – to Steam, but that’s a distraction rather than addressing the problem. Steam has never faced such stiff competition; the platform had the PC gaming realm almost all to itself for a long time. I’m not sure that, at a basic level, they even know how to deal with a problem like competition from Epic Games.

Steam will need to tackle Epic Games somehow.

Epic Games has been throwing its wallet around to nab as many exclusives as possible. Not only has it worked for them, but that practice shows no signs of slowing down. If anything, we’re likely to see more games go Epic-exclusive, not fewer. In addition, the backlash games could expect to receive online for announcing a deal with Epic gets smaller and smaller every time. In the cases of Watch Dogs Legion and Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 & 2, I don’t recall seeing any criticism at all – no one even mentioned it. It wasn’t until I looked up the titles for myself that I learned they’re Epic exclusives, so from a developer or publisher’s perspective, there’s a lot to be gained and almost nothing to lose by signing on with Epic Games. Why wouldn’t they do it?

Competition in a marketplace is usually a positive thing. It forces all participants to be better in order to remain competitive – at least, that’s the theory. It doesn’t always work, and there are times where competing companies have done some pretty crappy and shady things in order to get a leg-up on their adversaries. But broadly speaking, competition can force companies to do better and to ditch bad practices. Epic Games should be a wake-up call for Steam. After years where they’ve had an effective monopoly, there’s finally some real competition. They need to step up, because Epic won’t give up and go away. Not when they’ve found a model that works, and one that’s becoming more palatable to players by the day.

Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 & 2 (the 2020 remastered version) is another Epic exclusive.

Even though I’m still stinging from Epic’s refusal to help me a few weeks ago, I have to admit it’s probably only a matter of time before I give in and sign up for an account again. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 & 2 almost pushed me into doing so; it’s only anger at this point that’s keeping me from jumping back in. As a single person, it’s easy to feel like any such protest against a large company is meaningless. Epic doesn’t care in the slightest that I don’t have an account. They already have the money I spent on the few titles I owned, and any lost revenue from me – especially given that I’m not someone who buys games every day of the week – is negligible to a huge company like that. Regardless, I continue my one-person protest simply out of spite!

Steam has a real problem on its hands. And they need to start looking for creative solutions. The more Epic Games’ presence in the PC gaming realm grows, the harder they will be to dislodge. Steam can no longer afford to wait it out – Epic is clearly not going away. Fighting fire with fire is one option; Steam could use its considerable resources to buy up exclusive rights for a lot of upcoming titles, beating Epic at their own game. Or they could undercut Epic on every shared title, even if that means selling some games at a loss. The point is they have options, but right now they seem to think they can coast. Steam seems to think that their position as the current number-one in the PC gaming space is unassailable, and that they can ignore Epic’s presence altogether. That is simply not viable.

The Epic Games Store homepage.

This article may have been prompted by a couple of recent games, but there are dozens of big Epic Games Store exclusives. Here’s a short list of some of the big ones that Epic has successfully kept away from Steam:

Anno 1800, Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, The Division 2, Ghost Recon: Breakpoint, Hitman 3, Industries of Titan, Magic: The Gathering Arena, Maneater, Rocket League (free-to-play version), The Outer Worlds, Saints Row The Third Remastered, Shenmue III, The Settlers, SnowRunner, Super Meat Boy Forever, Tetris Effect, Total War Saga: Troy, Twin Mirror, and The Wolf Among Us 2.

That’s by no means an exhaustive list; there are many more titles that Epic has snapped up. In some cases the games are available elsewhere, such as on Uplay or Game Pass, but Epic has still been willing to open its wallet purely to stop the title also being released on Steam. And Steam quite happily lets them do it, offering no protest and no rebuttal.

Something’s got to change over at Steam, because if they don’t get a handle on this – and soon – their days as the number-one PC gaming shop will be over.

All titles mentioned above are the copyright of their respective studio, developer, and/or publisher. Watch Dogs Legion promo art courtesy of the press kit on IGDB. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Fall Guys – First impressions

I’m not usually an online multiplayer guy, and Fall Guys – also known as Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout – is the kind of massively-multiplayer game that I’d ordinarily overlook. The last online games that I played with strangers were Mario Kart 8 and Rocket League, and it’s been a while since I played those. But after hearing great things about its fun, silly gameplay I decided to take a look for myself, and for £16 on Steam it wasn’t a huge risk despite Fall Guys being a new title.

To be up front, Fall Guys currently has some issues with its server capacity; this is something that’s being worked on. High demand for the game seems to have caught developer Mediatonic and publisher Devolver Digital a little wrong-footed, but I’m confident that, with the game reviewing well and being popular, those problems will be fixed before too long. It is, however, understandably frustrating to get disconnected or to have to wait a long time to join a game. But part of the fun of Fall Guys is that its levels are very short – a couple of minutes or so at a time – so it’s easy enough to jump back in, and losing or getting disconnected doesn’t end up causing a huge amount of lost progress. If you’re on the fence about buying the game, though, it’s worth being aware of this server problem. It may be prudent to wait a couple of weeks to see how quickly it can be fixed if you’re really worried about it.

A couple of server error messages.

The first time I tried to play Fall Guys after installing it, I was hit with this server problem. Despite waiting almost half an hour I wasn’t able to join a game. It was only when I came back to try again several hours later that I was actually able to successfully play. Although the server problems made for a poor first impression, Fall Guys is a ton of fun!

The game is a cross between a competitive “battle royale” and television game shows like It’s A Knockout and Total Wipeout. For some reason, it also reminds me of late-90s kids’ show 50/50. Fall Guys’ levels are designed to look like they’re taken from such shows, deliberately using the aesthetic of soft foam rubber obstacles. In fact, many of the levels are designed like obstacle courses! An indoor children’s play area would be another good comparison when considering the look of the levels.

One of the levels, showing off the “soft foam rubber” look.

The other side of Fall Guys’ aesthetic is the incredibly cute character design. It’s hard to say exactly what these little guys look like – personally I feel like they’re somewhere between Oompa-Loompas and marshmallows – but they’re absolutely adorable. There are customisation options, some of which can be unlocked simply by playing enough rounds of the game. Other character customisation options are, however, paid for with in-game microtransactions. Because Fall Guys has a very child-friendly atmosphere, it’s worth making sure your parental controls are up-to-date if you plan to get the game for your little ones to play. Obviously I’d prefer a game that had no microtransactions at all, but this is the realm of online multiplayer – and these days, in-game monetisation comes with the territory. If Fall Guys were charging more than its £16 asking price I’d be annoyed at their inclusion, but considering that there are some cosmetic items that can be acquired in-game, and taking into account the relatively low up front cost, I think the microtransactions are okay. They’re easily avoided for those who don’t want to participate.

Microtransactions.

So Fall Guys is a battle royale/game show? How the heck does that work? Glad you asked! 60 players compete in a variety of events, including races, challenges, and some team events, to be the last one standing. Though it’s possible to play the game in such a way as to sabotage someone else’s chances of progressing, for the most part – at least in the early rounds – it’s easier to focus on one’s own character or team. Navigating the obstacles – like see-saws, spinning platforms, and windmills – to win a race or to make it to the next stage is great fun. And the team challenges borrow from the likes of Rocket League – there’s even a football-themed one!

I’m not great at games in general, let alone competitive multiplayer titles. Yet despite my limitations, I had a lot fun. I was able to progress to the latter rounds on several occasions, and the times where I lost in round one or two it usually only took a few seconds to load up a new game and try again. Fall Guys isn’t something you can be great at on your first attempt, even if you’re a regular online gamer. However, with each round lasting only a couple of minutes or so, losing doesn’t feel so bad.

Losing at Fall Guys is no big deal. Just try again!

Each round whittles down the number of players until only a few remain. The first round is supposed to begin with 60 players (though I’ve seen anywhere from 49-60 in practice), and of those, perhaps 40 will qualify for the second round. The game continues in this way until it reaches a final round, with the survivor crowned champion. Though I haven’t won (yet?) I’d reckon playing a full session from the preliminary round to the finale is only going to take maybe quarter of an hour at most. And as I keep saying, any time you’re eliminated, getting into a new game doesn’t take all that long.

There’s a “roadmap” of updates planned for Fall Guys, promising more content, more cosmetic items, and new levels. Though I’m generally sceptical of this kind of business model, the current version of the game has a lot to offer and doesn’t feel like it’s missing anything major. If you play for a while you do start to see the same levels repeat – there are 24 levels at time of writing, including three “final rounds” – but again, each one only takes a couple of minutes, and they’re chosen at random. If you discover a burning hatred for a specific one, I guess it might be annoying to keep encountering it, but Fall Guys is the type of game where even something like that doesn’t have to be a big deal.

An example of a character in the game.

It’s been a while since I played through a game that’s as apologetically fun as Fall Guys. There’s no story, there’s no background or explanation given for why these weird little characters are taking part in a game show, and there doesn’t need to be. It’s just simple, casual, pick-up-and-play fun. I had a smile on my face practically the whole time, and making it to the end of a challenging level when it looked like I wasn’t going to manage in time has been legitimately thrilling.

A lot of care and effort has gone into crafting what could be one of the sleeper hits of 2020. Though the server issue is definitely frustrating, it’s something that will hopefully be resolved in the coming days, and aside from that I encountered no bugs or glitches during my time playing. I’m looking forward to jumping back in!

A race begins!

So this has been my initial first impression of the game after spending a couple of hours with it today. I may write another piece in the coming weeks if I find that I have more to say after spending longer with Fall Guys. But for now, what I’d say to anyone on the fence is that Fall Guys is great fun, and the kind of game that practically anyone could pick up easily. The server issues are a problem, but when I got into the game on my second attempt I didn’t experience too many disconnections and was able to load up a new game every time without having to wait too long. However, it may be worth checking back in a few days or a couple of weeks to see if that’s still an issue if you’re concerned. For £16, though, I can’t really fault the game for the way it plays. If you’re a subscriber to PlayStation Plus, you’ll get Fall Guys for free this month – and if you’re in that category you have no excuse for not trying it out immediately!

Fall Guys is available now for PC and PlayStation 4. Fall Guys is the copyright of Mediatonic and Devolver Digital. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Some great Steam Summer Sale deals for PC gamers

Update: The Steam Summer Sale has now ended. All prices listed below will no longer be accurate. Check back in December for a rundown of some of the best Holiday Sale deals.

It’s that wonderful time of year again! No, not Christmas – though we are halfway there, as yesterday marked half-Christmas – it’s Steam Summer Sale time, which means there are going to be some spectacular deals for PC gamers. Sales like these make PC as a platform much more competitive compared to consoles. It’s true that there are sales on console games too, and of course console games on disc are much more easily traded in and resold, but no sale on other platforms can match the sheer number of deals available on PC.

Some titles can be reduced by as much as 90% – and from time to time there are full games available for free too. Even though getting started with a gaming PC – especially a higher-end one – can be more expensive than a console, these sales go a long way to making up for it.

Let’s do some quick maths! If a games console costs £400, and on average each game costs £40 (newer games will cost £55, older ones might be reduced so let’s average it out at £40) then by the time you’ve bought ten games you’ve spent £800 in total. But you could buy a decent gaming PC for £700, and with the deals available in sales you could easily pick up ten games – or more – with your leftover cash. And your investment will only get better over time. A console player with a library of 50 games will have spent £2,000 on games alone at an average cost of £40 each. A Steam library with 50 titles almost certainly won’t cost you anywhere close to that!

Okay, enough maths. Let’s get into the list!

These are titles I personally like and would recommend; this is not a comprehensive list of everything on sale. Some titles may have been mentioned on my previous PC gaming sale list in December (but don’t read that one, it’s out of date now and the prices will be wrong). The list is in no particular order.

Spoiler Warning: I’ve tried not to include major spoilers for any of these games, but minor spoilers may still be present.

All prices are correct in the UK at time of publication. Prices and discounts may vary by location and are subject to change. The Steam Summer Sale ends on the 9th of July at 6pm UK time.

Number 1: Max Payne (65% off, £2.09)

Max Payne, which was a game I first played on the original Xbox circa 2001-02, is a phenomenal game. Bringing The Matrix’s “bullet time” to video gaming for the first time, its third-person shooter gameplay was unique and innovative. Even though the features which I was blown away by at the time have been reused many times since, at its core Max Payne is still an engrossing crime/noir story that’s absolutely worth experiencing.

The blend of gameplay with graphic novel-style cutscenes adds to the dark, true-crime feel of Max Payne’s world.

Number 2: Vampyr (70% off, £13.49)

A game set in the midst of a pandemic seems particularly timely at the moment! Vampyr uses the 1918-19 Spanish flu as its backdrop, focusing on a doctor in a great rendition of early-20th Century London. Praise was heaped on Vampyr for its soundtrack and the main thrust of its gameplay.

The team behind the amazing Life is Strange put the title together, and Vampyr gives players a lot of choice about how to proceed through the game.

Number 3: Assassin’s Creed Origins (80% off, £9.99) & Assassin’s Creed Odyssey (67% off, £16.49)

The Assassin’s Creed franchise, which kicked off in 2007, almost burnt itself out by the mid-2010s. Publisher Ubisoft pushed for more and more titles to be released – more than one a year at one point, and the result was that the quality dropped and the franchise almost died. Origins rebooted Assassin’s Creed and introduced a number of customisation options and roleplaying game elements, something Odyssey refined a couple of years later. The result was two of the best games in the whole series.

Both games have a free “Discovery Tour” DLC, which is a non-violent walk through some of the real-world history of the games’ ancient Egypt and ancient Greece settings.

Number 4: Doom (2016) (70% off, £4.49) & Doom Eternal (50% off, £24.99)

Considering Doom Eternal only released three months ago, and is arguably a contender for game of the year, its 50% discount is huge! In 2016, Doom rebooted the long-running franchise, returning the series to its action roots and away from the horror vibe of Doom 3. This worked phenomenally well, and Doom Eternal honed that formula still further.

Both games also have great soundtracks that perfectly fit the tone and setting. Above all, Doom and Doom Eternal are just good solid fun.

Number 5: Terraria (50% off, £3.49)

Terraria is 2D Minecraft. That’s basically its selling point, yet the game is so much more than that. Earlier this year, Terraria received what was billed as its final update, as the team behind it are moving onto other projects. In the nine years since it was released it’s been updated a number of times, bringing new elements to the game. There are some great boss battles which are difficult and require a lot of strategy and skill. And it’s a great game to play with a friend.

I had a lot of fun playing Terraria in co-op, and though it’s designed to play great as a single-player title, that was where I had the most fun.

Number 6: Sid Meier’s Civilization VI (75% off, £12.49)

I’ve sunk countless hours into Civilization VI since its 2016 launch, and this digital board game has never been dull. While I’m not wild about its business model, as there are now a large number of DLC packs, the base game is still really enjoyable for fans of turn-based strategy.

I picked Civilization VI as one of my top ten games of the last decade, and for good reason!

Number 7: Shenmue I & II (75% off, £6.24)

I’ll probably be recommending the first two Shenmue games to everyone I meet for as long as I live! The first entry in the series was the first game I played that really showed me what gaming as a medium was truly capable of. Telling a slow-burning story of revenge that would be at home as a big-budget series or film, Shenmue created a genuinely realistic world, pioneering the “open-world” concept before anyone else. It was unlike anything I’d ever played before, and its story holds up today.

Some aspects of these games haven’t aged well, particularly the controls used for fighting. But if you get lost in the story, as I did, you won’t care.

Number 8: Plague Inc: Evolved (60% off, £4.79)

I first played Plague Inc. on iOS, and it’s rare that a mobile game like this can be successfully ported to PC. There are a few examples, of course, but it’s an uncommon success story. Plague Inc: Evolved is very similar in terms of gameplay to the original mobile title: you play as a disease trying to wipe out humanity. Timely, I know. The graphics got a boost and there are a wider variety of options in the current PC version.

Plague Inc. was on my tongue-in-cheek list of inappropriate things to watch and play while self-isolating a few weeks ago.

Number 9: No Man’s Sky (50% off, £19.99)

No Man’s Sky is an interesting title. Widely criticised on its 2016 release for failing to deliver on a number of promised gameplay elements, in the years since Hello Games have put in a lot of hard graft to rehabilitate its image. In 2020, after a number of free updates and patches, No Man’s Sky finally delivers on those initial promises, and I had a lot of fun with its sci-fi setting and exploration gameplay.

Some people have been put off ever buying No Man’s Sky because of the controversy. If you feel strongly about it that’s absolutely fair enough – but you will be missing out on a fun experience.

Number 10: Ori and the Blind Forest (75% off, £3.74) & Ori and the Will of the Wisps (20% off, £19.99)

I’ve been partway through an article on these two amazing games for a while, but I keep getting sidetracked. Hopefully I’ll finish it before too long! Both Ori and the Blind Forest and Ori and the Will of the Wisps are beautiful games – both visually and in terms of their stories. The games both 2D platformers in that niche genre often referred to as “metroidvania”.

Both titles are considered masterpieces, and I honestly can’t recommend them highly enough.

Number 11: Jade Empire: Special Edition (75% off, £3.74)

Bioware is better-known today for games like Mass Effect and Anthem, but in 2005 they released Jade Empire, a role-playing game set in a fictional world based on ancient China. Hot off the heels of their success with Knights of the Old Republic, the game uses a very similar format as players build up a party of characters and go off on an adventure. I had a great time with Jade Empire back on the original Xbox – where it was a console exclusive – and recently replayed it on PC.

I’ve long considered Jade Empire an underrated gem, and if you like Bioware’s older titles from the 2000s, you’ll definitely have a great time here.

Number 12: Grand Theft Auto V (50% off, £12.49)

Grand Theft Auto V is a juggernaut – having premiered on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, it’s set to be ported once again to the Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5. Not many games have such longevity, and the amazing thing is that in the seven years since its release, it’s hardly ever dropped out of sales charts across all platforms. The reason for this success is of course its multiplayer mode, but there’s a great single-player campaign too. If you’ve somehow avoided it until now, it could be a great time to pick it up!

The familiar open-world Grand Theft Auto gameplay is still present, but the open world of Los Santos feels like a genuinely lived-in city. There are also some great voice acting performances from the trio of main characters.

Number 13: The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind (70% off, £3.89) & The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion (70% off, £3.89)

I remember reading about Morrowind in a gaming magazine (remember those?) in 2002. I thought it sounded absolutely fantastic, and when I picked it up for the original Xbox I wasn’t disappointed. Morrowind is such a full game – even now, almost two decades on, there are quests I’ve never completed and factions I’ve never joined. Oblivion is a half-step between Morrowind and Skyrim, and while it’s been a while since I played it – and I’ve only played it once – it was definitely a fun experience at the time.

Oblivion also features Sir Patrick Stewart in a voice role, and though his character isn’t present through the whole game, having his voice definitely adds to the experience!

Number 14: The Deus Ex Collection (88% off, £7.79)

2003’s Deus Ex Invisible War was my first foray into the series. I went back and played the first game in this first-person action/adventure series afterwards, as I fell in love with its dystopian future setting. Human Revolution came in 2011 and dragged me right back into that world, and Mankind Divided – which is a direct sequel to Human Revolution – rounds out this bundle of four games.

Even if you skip the older titles, definitely give the two most recent ones a try. They’re great first-person stealth/action games, and there’s a surprising amount of customisation.

Number 15: Murdered: Soul Suspect (90% off, £1.59)

I like games with a novel or interesting premise, and Murdered: Soul Suspect definitely has that to offer! A police detective is murdered – don’t worry, that isn’t a spoiler, it’s practically the first thing that happens in the game! The twist is that this is the playable character, who returns as a ghost to solve his own murder! As a mystery game, once you’ve solved the case there isn’t much replayability, but for this price it’s definitely worth one go around.

Murdered: Soul Suspect is underrated, at least in my opinion. It isn’t particularly long, which is one reason why it may have underperformed when it was released in 2014.

Number 16: Planet Coaster (75% off, £7.49)

I loved games like Rollercoaster Tycoon and Theme Park back in the day. After a number of years where the theme park management sim didn’t really receive any new titles to speak of, Planet Coaster reinvigorated the genre. There are a wealth of options for your theme park – which can be almost overwhelming at first – resulting in a game with limitless customisation potential.

Even without any of the game’s DLC packs, there’s still a heck of a lot to have fun with here.

Number 17: Mirror’s Edge (90% off, £1.79)

Mirror’s Edge is one of those titles that has been heavily discounted for several years now. I don’t really understand why – it’s a great-looking game that plays really well, and its parkour-based running and jumping gameplay is uncommon if not wholly unique. From that point of view, I bet it’s something you won’t have experienced before – reason enough to pick it up for less than the price of a pint!

EA’s recent deal with Valve to bring their games back to Steam means the sequel, Mirror’s Edge Catalyst, is also available.

Number 18: Titanfall 2 (67% off, £8.24)

Big caveat here: I haven’t played Titanfall 2 yet. However, it’s widely regarded as a phenomenal game, but was released in a very competitive window for first-person shooters, with EA pitting it against two big annual releases from Battlefield and Call of Duty. As a result it underperformed in the sales department. Titanfall 2 is another game which benefits from EA’s recent move to bring their back catalogue to Steam.

This is a game I’ve had on my wishlist for a while, and I was pleased to be able to pick it up at the discounted price!

Number 19: Sonic Mania (66% off, £5.09)

Originally a fan project, Sonic Mania is a beautiful old-school 2D Sonic game that you would think had been lifted straight from the Sega Mega Drive! The story behind the game’s development is sweet – a group of dedicated fans put together a rough cut which they showed off to Sega, who snapped it up and commissioned them to expand and polish it for the mass market.

Sonic Mania is a labour of love by genuine fans of the series. Too few games nowadays can say that.

Number 20: Garfield Kart: Furious Racing (60% off, £5.19)

I love funny, silly racing games like Garfield Kart or Meow Motors. If you don’t have a Nintendo Switch but are missing being able to play Mario Kart, this could be a fun alternative! It’s a comparable experience to Nintendo’s kart-racer: a fun, arcade racing game that’s easy to get started with.

Additionally, if you’re a fan of the Garfield comic strop (I was only dimly aware of it) you’ll find many familiar faces.

Number 21: Total War: Medieval II (75% off, £4.99)

The first game in the Total War series I played was its first entry, Shogun: Total War. The follow-up to that game was Medieval: Total War, and I wouldn’t like to guess how many hours I lost playing that game in the early/mid-2000s! Medieval II updates the game using a more modern engine, and brings a lot to the table. A title that mixes grand strategy with real-time battles is, for many strategy fans, the best of both worlds.

While a lot of people will recommend the Total War: Warhammer games, I think the franchise works best with real history, and the medieval period is just perfect for this kind of game.

Number 22: Banished (66% off, £5.09)

I’ve talked about this great city-builder a few times here on the website. It’s absolutely fantastic, and the fact that this complicated game was developed by just one individual is still shocking to me! Banished is in that sweet spot when it comes to open-ended games: easy to pick up but hard to master.

The game starts with a small number of settlers, and players must build up a town, gathering and storing enough resources for everyone. Getting the right balance is what the game is all about!

Number 23: Red Faction (75% off, £1.24)

2001’s Red Faction pioneered destructible environments in games. Using rockets and other explosives, it was possible to blow holes in walls or floors, create foxholes and craters, and generally use the levels themselves to gain the upper hand. I didn’t own the game at the time, but a friend did and we spent hours in multiplayer trying to outsmart each other with traps and hidey-holes! If you can think of any modern game that allows for such environmental mayhem, chances are it owes a lot to the trail blazed by Red Faction.

For me, this one’s on the list as a nostalgia trip and a bit of a guilty pleasure. But Red Faction does have a fun campaign, and if you can look past the outdated visuals I think you’ll have a fun time.

Number 24: Fallout 4: Game of the Year Edition (70% off, £11.99)

My first experience with the Fallout franchise was 2008’s Fallout 3. Fallout 4 is more of the same, as Bethesda brought development back in-house after outsourcing Fallout: New Vegas. There are a range of ways to play and plenty of customisation options, and the base-building element which was new to Fallout 4 is a ton of fun and could be a whole game by itself. It’s kind of a post-apocalyptic version of the house-building seen in The Sims!

The Game of the Year edition includes both main DLC packs, each of which expand the story and provide new areas to explore.

Number 25: Portal 2 (80% off, £1.43)

There really isn’t anything quite like the Portal series on the market. A mix of puzzle game, 3D platformer, and first-person action game, Portal 2 builds on its predecessor and gives players a truly unique experience that can be difficult to put into words. There’s a horror element to the game too – nothing scary, but definitely unsettling, especially if you pay attention to the dialogue!

Setting aside the “can’t count to three” jokes, it would be great if Valve could revisit this series one day. It’s been almost ten years since Portal 2 was released, and while it still holds up today, I’d love to see a new game using this formula.

So that’s it. Some great deals in the Steam Summer Sale.

If you were to buy every single entry on this list, it would cost you £228.20 – for 33 games (including the Deus Ex bundle). That averages out at £6.92 per game or thereabouts. Considering some of the titles were only released in the last few months, I think that represents outstanding value. To reiterate what I said at the beginning, these sales give PC an edge over consoles, despite consoles being cheaper initially. Something to consider as we await the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X, eh?

I hope this was interesting and informative, and may have given you some inspiration for titles to take a look at as we enter the summer season. At a time where some form of lockdown or quarantine is still in place in a lot of areas around the world, having something to do to kill time is more important than ever. Gaming can be great for that.

All of the games on this list are available for purchase on Steam at time of writing (26th June 2020). Prices were correct at time of writing. The Steam Summer Sale ends on the 9th of July 2020. Prices may vary by region and are subject to change at any time. All of the games on this list are the copyright of their respective studio, developer, and/or publisher. All 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.

Physical game shops in a digital world

This post was inspired by an article I read a little while ago which detailed some of the financial issues facing GameStop. Here in the UK we don’t have the chain GameStop, at least not in a big way. But many of the same issues apply to shops here in the UK – as indeed they apply to those around the world.

When I was younger – and much more into video gaming – there were a number of different gaming shops on the high street. Even in the relatively small towns near where I grew up, there could be two or even three such outlets. The ones I remember most prominently are of course Game – the biggest, and the only one still around as far as I know – Electronics Boutique, Virgin Games, and Gamestation. Shops like Woolworths, HMV, Dixons, and Virgin Megastores also had prominent video games sections – so it could be worth shopping around for the best deals!

There were three pretty great things about this from my point of view as a kid/teenager looking to get SNES, Nintendo 64, Dreamcast, and finally Xbox games. Those were the consoles I had in my youth, by the way. The first awesome thing was that I could choose what to spend my hard-earned(!) pocket money on for myself. If I wanted a newer, more expensive title I’d have to save up for it, perhaps even forgoing trips to the cinema or other social activities, or simply wait longer. Or I could try my luck on a cheaper title – and then end up bringing it back a week or two later to trade it in, which was the second benefit of the abundance of specialist gaming shops. Finally, I could try to get games that weren’t suitable for someone my age!

A Nintendo 64 with some games. I had one in the late 1990s.
Picture credit: Andrea Vail on Flickr.

The concern I have as shops like Game here in the UK, and Gamestop in the US and elsewhere, continue their decline is that for children and young people in particular – as well as people on a lower or fixed income, as I am myself – the relationship they have with gaming as a hobby is going to become more difficult.

Video gaming as a medium is increasingly digital. More and more transactions are taking place in online storefronts, with titles being downloaded with no need for a disc or cartridge. Increasingly, games require large patches or updates after release, so even buying a disc can still mean an internet connection is required. And often – especially in the PC gaming space – buying a “physical copy” just means you receive a box with a download code in it. Why bother at that point, right?

For young people, the transformative years between the ages of, say, nine or ten and thirteen or fourteen are where a lot of important skills are learned and honed. Money management is one of them. For someone too young to have their own bank account or debit card, how are they supposed to learn the value of saving up, of pocket money, etc. when the only way to buy a game – if that’s their hobby – is to get mum and dad to do it with their credit card? Not understanding the value of money leads to some kids ending up spending insane amounts of money on in-game microtransactions – they simply lack any concept of money as to them it’s simply numbers on a screen. And yes of course there are still plenty of things in the real world for young people to spend money on, but for someone in the position I was in at that time of my life, where gaming is their primary hobby, there are fewer such opportunities and I think it will have an impact.

The lack of trade-in opportunities will also change the way people on a lower income – including young people but also folks with disabilities like myself – engage with gaming. A game ceases to be an asset – something with resale value – if you only own it digitally and can’t transfer that ownership to someone else. It means people will need to be much more careful when making purchases – because a game is now a permanent fixture in a Steam library or on a console hard-drive.

All this is to say that I’m confident that businesses like GameStop and Game will not survive the decade. And unfortunately, many people will be the worse for their demise, even if they don’t realise it yet.

Physical shops of all kinds find it very difficult to compete in a world where the likes of Amazon exist, able to delivery anything to your door within 24 hours. The high street in the UK has been in trouble for some time, and many smaller towns – again, like those in the area where I live – have high streets which are full of charity shops, betting shops, takeaways, and not much else any more. As more and more commerce goes online, high street shops find it hard to compete. If that’s the case for physical items, a product like a video game which can be entirely digital is even more susceptible to the world of ecommerce.

From the point of view of game publishers it makes a lot of sense. They need to spend less and less money on discs, boxes, printed labels, and shipping, and they no longer need to split the cost of a game with whatever shop it was sold in as well as the platform it’s being played on. Console manufacturers can take a bigger cut of game sales as they each now have their own, exclusive, digital shop. And increasingly we’ve seen publishers like Ubisoft, Epic Games, Electronic Arts, and of course Valve running their own digital shops for PC gamers. Valve, who once made such titles as Half Life and the Left 4 Dead series, are now essentially a company who run a digital shop. They do have a couple of multiplayer-only games, but the vast majority of their income nowadays comes from Steam, the biggest digital shop on PC.

As the current generation of consoles winds down, there had been speculation that next-gen consoles – currently slated for release later this year – may not even have disc drives any more, and that all games would be fully digital. It does look as though Microsoft at least has pulled back from that, offering at least one model of the poorly-named Xbox Series X with a disc drive. There was a certain amount of annoyance from gamers at the prospect of all-digital consoles, but compared with the backlash Microsoft received in 2013 with its always-online Xbox One it was much more muted. This upcoming console generation looks certain to be the last where physical game discs are commonplace.

Not that there will be anywhere left to buy them in another seven or eight years, at least not in person. A few years ago, post-release patches or fixes for games were uncommon, often reserved for fixing major bugs or for delivering major updates and expansion packs. But nowadays, almost every game seems to launch with a major patch on day one, with multiple patches and on-the-fly fixes rolled out for weeks or months after release. Thus, buying a game on a disc, even if it’s a single-player title, does not mean there’s no need for downloading. Indeed, for the last few years in the run up to Christmas there’s been advice even in mainstream news outlets telling parents to quietly set up a new console or game and download all its updates so that their kids aren’t stuck waiting for hours on Christmas morning before they can play with their new games. In this environment, where downloading patches and updates is a necessity in any online title and something that will improve even fully single-player experiences, there’s even less incentive to buy a game on disc.

A closed Game shop in the UK.

Gamers themselves are becoming increasingly comfortable with buying games digitally, because despite some of the drawbacks mentioned above, there are some distinct advantages. Firstly, there’s no need to go anywhere. Instead of waiting in a queue in some shop at midnight or at 7 o’clock in the morning to pick up the game the moment it’s available, you can set your PC or console to download it the second it’s officially launched. Secondly, even with a slow internet connection like mine, games are downloaded in a matter of hours or overnight – a day at the most. There’s simply less effort required.

Epic Games was criticised when its PC storefront went live for being rather barebones and lacking in features, as was Google Stadia when that launched last year, but generally speaking most digital shops are good. They’re well-designed and laid out, it’s easy to both find a specific title and browse a wide array of titles, and they often have features like wishlists to save titles for later, as well as customisation options for a player’s profile.

One of the biggest factors has to be sales. Steam sales have become legendary in the industry, with the two biggest ones in the summer and around the holidays getting a lot of attention. Many PC games, even those only a few weeks out from their release, can be picked up at a significant discount – and many older titles can be 90% off or more. Some shops even offer free titles – Epic Games and EA’s Origin both have done this in the past. While PC gaming may be more expensive up front than buying a console, these kind of sales can make it a worthwhile investment.

There are also services like Xbox GamePass – Microsoft’s subscription service that aims to be the “Netflix of games”. All of those titles are digitally downloaded, with no need to visit a shop, and they’re all available for a monthly subscription fee instead of needing to buy them individually. While it remains to be seen just how popular this kind of subscription model will be with a wider audience, it’s already built up a substantial userbase. If someone asked me what the cheapest way to get into current-gen gaming is, an Xbox One S or preowned Xbox One and a subscription to GamePass is genuinely hard to beat for the sheer number of titles it provides.

Mobile phones, often derided by self-proclaimed “hardcore” gamers, are a legitimate gaming platform in themselves right now. Many iOS and Android games can be just as imaginative and interesting as games on other platforms – and they are all bought via Apple’s App Store or Google’s Play Store. The fastest-growing gaming market over the last few years has been on smartphones, and that market is wholly digital and always has been, further pushing people to accept digital distribution when it comes to games.

So where does all of this leave shops like Game and GameStop? Unfortunately the answer is that they’re on a path to bankruptcy and closure – it’s just a case of how long they can string it out. Some shops in larger cities may be saved by converting to selling gaming merchandise like action figures and t-shirts, but in smaller towns there simply won’t be a big enough audience to make that model sustainable, and many outlets will close.

For some people who may have been interested to work a job tangentially related to their favourite hobby, it’s going to be a shame that those opportunities won’t exist in future. And for current employees of these chains, it will be difficult to have to look for a new job in what is not an easy job market. However, if I knew anyone working for one of these companies, my advice would be “get out now.” By taking the initiative and looking for another line of work before the proverbial shit hits the fan, they would be in a much better position.

There are still some investors who can’t see the writing on the wall. And they may be able to be convinced to pump money into struggling chains to keep them afloat, but eventually I’m afraid the end will come. Some shops will continue to trade in retro games, but as the games industry continues its rush to make all of its new titles digital-only, there just isn’t a place on the high street for these shops any more. There will be consequences, and we may see some brands do better than others as a result. But there is only one direction of travel, and the destination is locked in. Just like video rental giant Blockbuster lost out to Netflix and on-demand streaming, game shops are set to all but disappear as we enter a fully-digital age for the industry.

This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.