Three (indie) reasons to use Steam

Steam has transformed the industry. As the most comprehensive games digital distribution platform available, they’ve created a space for indie developers to flourish.

Recent years have seen some fantastic indie titles get the exposure they deserve, simply thanks to Valve and Steam. Here are three games that best portray the value of the mighty indie and give good reason for why big studio titles aren’t the only way forward.

Gemini Rue (Available through Steam or on the official site)

Gemini Rue came out officially in February 2011. After being launched at the 2010 Independent Games Festival it picked up a publisher and it’s been a rags to gaming riches tale since then. Developed almost entirely by one man – Joshua Nuernberger – the game is a throwback to Sierra and Lucasarts adventure games from the 90’s. If Blade Runner and Beneath a Steel Sky had a love child, it would be Gemini Rue.

A sci-fi/noir thriller set in a bleak future of multiple planets, secret centres for prisoners and rain – lots and lots of rain. You play as Azriel Odin, the gruffest man alive, who can’t seem to get wet. Searching for his lost brother, Azriel sets out to the planet of Barracus. Simultaneously you play as mysterious prisoner Delta-6 held on Centre 7 – a rehabilitation camp for prisoners – his mission: to escape… and I will say no more.

The storyline is Gemini Rue’s strength. It is a beautifully paced thriller told from multiple protagonists’ perspectives. After one hour as Azriel and the next as Delta-6 you can then alternate between the two protagonists as you wish for the game’s remaining 4-6 hours.

If Gemini Rue’s got one thing besides a sophisticated story and a surprise ending, it’s got atmosphere. The ambient sound and music helps Azriel’s isolation to become tangible in the dank streets of Barracus, littered with ‘juice’ junkies (the drug of choice in the future) and the funnily named mafia: the Boryokudan.

The game’s got grit, it’s got style, it’s got decent voice acting and only one really poor game mechanic – shooting. However these quick time sequences are so easy, so few and far between that they shouldn’t detract from the game’s fun-factor – the only blip in an otherwise excellent adventure.

All in all, this game is worth your time and your dollar – ten of them to be exact – because Gemini Rue is an interesting tale touching on faith, morality and identity presented in a clever and intriguing way. It may be a bit on the short side, and it is incredibly easy for anyone who’s played this genre before, but it will leave you stimulated and wanting more. All this from almost one developer – take that Big Studios.

Bastion (Available through Steam)

Probably better known than Gemini Rue, Bastion is an action role-playing game of the Zelda tradition. Instantly recognisable with its hand-painted backgrounds and Ving Rhames-esque narrator, Bastion looks and plays gorgeously.

You play as the ‘Kid’, a survivor of the ‘Calamity’ – basically the end of the world, but they missed a spot. Having broken up the world into many pieces, it is the Kid’s job to help build it back up again one step at a time, literally. As you move along, the levels the world builds itself around you – a visually striking example of level design and built-in gaming GPS. Starting from the central point of the Bastion where you can upgrade your weapons and manage your tonics (special powers) among other things, you then travel along ‘Skybridges’ to the actual levels where you can begin your quest rebuilding structures and taking names while at it.

The levels really come alive as you move through them. Bogs, marshes and even volcanoes construct around you, while an assortment of creatures attack you. The game’s weapons and enemies all feel unique and add something different making variety the name of the game.

Bastion comes with multiple unlocks and upgrades: guns, powers, shrines to name a few. Indeed to unlock everything in the game would take multiple playthroughs and that really isn’t a bad thing. There’s a lot of game for your change here.

The game also sports a great soundtrack, available bundled with or completely separate on the Steam store. Retailing at US$15 (without the soundtrack) Bastion is a fantastic deal. With its fresh approach to narration, a great visual style and huge variety, Bastion is one of the best games available for fewer than 15 dollars on Steam.

Trine 2 (Available through Steam or on the official site)

If you haven’t heard of Trine, then you missed out. Fortunately the even better sequel, cleverly named Trine 2 came out just a few months ago. Available through Steam for US$15, what can you expect? Well a fantastic side-scroller platformer akin to Blizzard’s classic The Lost Vikings.

As with that game, you play as three characters that you alternate between at will, each with their own strengths and weaknesses. The Wizard can create boxes (and later planks) out of thin air and levitate objects in the environment. He is the key player for solving the many puzzles the game throws at you. The Knight: your primary weapons man. Wielding a shield and a sword or mace, this is your man for blocking oncoming projectiles and killing off those pesky goblins. And finally The Thief: your ranged attacker through bow and arrow and also with a nifty grappling hook, to help you get to those hard to reach places – the mildew cleaner of the group.

The three set off on an adventure as the game’s signature narrator tells you at the start. Although not as cleverly used as Bastion’s, the narrator does add to the storybook element of the game. Trine 2 sees you scroll across beautifully animated environments, but it is not just the graphics that stand out as much as the physics and how these two elements relate to each other. Have a see-saw log but can’t get any higher, let the wizard drop a box to give you the leverage you need. The physics based puzzles are greatly designed and challenging at times. In fact Trine 2 has some of the best level-design and physics-based puzzles since Half-Life 2 introduced the gravity gun – it’s that good.

The story isn’t much to write home about, it’s a solid fairytale with some nice morals for the kids out there, but for gameplay, design, as well as a fitting soundtrack, you can’t get much better, it’s even got co-op (local or online) if that sways you. And for less than half the price of a title feature from any of the big publishers, I can’t stress how much you need to get this game today.

Boiling Point

It’s a good day when we live in a world where games like Trine 2, Bastion and Gemini Rue are distributed so easily and readily for consumers. Made by tiny teams and bustling with originality, these games really do deserve the praise they are receiving. With prices that laugh in the face of EA and Ubisoft titles, the future looks bright for indie developers and studios.



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