Greetings, fellow cheapsters. Welcome to Version 9.0 of this column, where the world's biggest repository of games, dwarfing every other system ever made put together, is ruthlessly exposed and its secrets revealed. This time out enjoy the claustrophobic horror of a white sphere, secret agents shooting the hell out of each other, a pretentious adventure, grand space strategy and, finally, you can experience the perilous life of a platform.
Let's deal with the sphere first. For a game that just uses lines and white space, Activate the Three Artefacts and then Leave does a remarkably good job of making you feel trapped in a gigantic sphere. You go in thinking it should be easy, just find three objects, then them on and then head back the way you came. Simple.
Within seconds, you're hopelessly lost and feeling helpless, endlessly venturing into the next identical tunnel. Even if you find all three objects, the escape will most likely elude you unless you happen to change upon it. As a conceptual game, because clearly there's very little to actually experience here, it works very well. A case of brilliantly using something very lo-fi to create a unique experience.
From the tight confines of a white sphere to the empty expanses of blackness. Transcendence is a space trading, exploration and combat game that plays a like a mix of Asteroids and Elite. Each star system you visit is randomly generated, providing plenty of replay value should the simple style appeal.
Press the forward or backwards arrows to fire thrusters, using momentum to slide past enemies and deliver a volley of laser fire or missiles. Turn using the left and right arrow keys and fire the thrusters again to slow yourself down and move in a different direction. Simple, classic stuff and is still as easy to learn, difficult to master as it ever was.
Trading, conversation and exploration of the many, many locations in the game is done in a pseudo-text adventure style, which means it'll turn off those with a love of flashy visuals and the patience to read paragraphs of text. While this is no serious obstacle, it and the relatively boring feel of the inky blackness of space does raise questions about how long the majority will persevere, no matter how much there is to explore.
Of course, shitloads of stuff doesn't mean much if they're all relatively similar essence. Perhaps the best way to think of it is Mount and Blade in space. Loads of stuff to do, you just have to use your imagination a bit to get the most out of it.
Coming back down to earth now, Paper Venture isn't, as you might think, a tedious tycoon game about creating and running your own paper mill. No, it's a platform game draw on a scrap of lined paper. You have to guide the tin hat-wearing hero across the level to the exit door. The only thing is, you don't actually control him. You control the platform he needs to walk on.
The mouse pointer turns into a rectangular block and a quick left-click starts your charge walking. He'll only stop if he hits something, in which case he'll just turn around and continue that way. You can levitate the block to guide your charge over vicious saws and other obstacles, while also trying to get him to go the right way by forcing him to hit walls.
It's like Lemmings, just with only one guy to worry about. In fact, it's been such a long time since this particular scribbler enjoyed (or, rather, was frustrated incessantly by) a game of Lemmings, it was great to get back to this style of puzzling. The latter levels are naturally more fiddly and can be frustrating, but generally the difficulty level is well judged. Careful not to jerk the mouse about too quickly though. Accidentally flick your charge into the ceiling and he'll disintegrate. Nobody wants that.
It's been talked about elsewhere, so it was important to at least try out ...But That was Yesterday. After nearly throwing up all over my keyboard (for two reasons), it falls to me to be the note of caution taped onto the hype machine.
It's one of those 'artsy' games that are 'challenging our perceptions of what games can be'. That's fine, experimentalism is great, but teenage-level pretentiousness isn't. The premise of BTWY is how moving forward is important, so your character loses important people or things to him as he goes through the game, but he has to keep going. Fair enough.
It's a simple message dressed up in ludicrously pretentious stylings and ultra-minimalist gameplay. There's all sorts of ideas running through, like only learning to run or jump when someone teaches you, that sort of thing, but it's simplistic and if anyone tells you it teaches you more about yourself or any of that cobblers, headbutt them.
There's very little to learn from this, other than boredom, frankly. Most of the various different 'stages' go on too long, especially the hideous, hideous swing bit. Surely there's no better way of annoying your player, other than by pretending to be cleverer than them, than almost making them throw up due to motion sickness? It's a horrendous part of the game that is meant to symbolise carefree love, but actually makes you look away from the screen for fear of losing your lunch over the keys.
Like so many 'clever' indie games before it, it thinks that an admittedly lovely art style and pseudo-intellectual musings will make us forget that the actual game element is balls. Attempt characterisation, attempt to involve us with the protagonist. Just going guy loses girl, feels sad isn't going to cut it for this writer, sorry.
Finally then, it's something that remembers what games are primarily meant to be about: fun. GoldenEye: Source is the total conversion of Half-Life 2 that turns it into a multiplayer game of the hit N64 classic, without the need to spend a load of money on the new Wii version.
It's a little fiddly and the character moves a little too quickly for this writer's liking, but don't let that stop you enjoying it, as it's too good to miss. Especially if you don't want to shell out for the 2011 console version.
It's been in production for ages and is currently in its fourth beta incarnation, amazingly, but it keeps getting and looking better. Maps are constantly being tweaked, the gameplay is as you would expect it to be, with loads of your favourite scenarios, characters and everything that made the original great.
Problems still lie with the lack of people playing (like any mod) or servers located in the UK (US readers shouldn't have a problem), so lag ruins games sometimes. More than four people can play on a dedicated server (having so many on a locally hosted game isn't recommended) and it can get a bit crazy on the smaller maps if you do go for the big numbers option.
The best bit? It has the blood screen effect when you die. Excellent.