Indie games on sale offer great value for money

By Alexander O. Cuaycong
and Anthony L. Cuaycong

Game Review
Darkest Dungeon
Cooking Witch
Death Road to Canada
PC via Steam

IT’S STEAM’S SUMMER SALE! Held every year during summer, Valve’s gaming platform/storefront Steam gives users discounts of as high as 90% off for a wide variety of games. Shadow of Mordor Game of the Year Edition, games from the Civilization series, and the recent Total War games are all excellent pickups at their discounted price, offering tons of content and hours of enjoyment on the cheap. There are also the indie titles, which are hit and miss but offer uniqueness as reward for the risk; below are three such releases.

DARKEST DUNGEON (60% DISCOUNT — P251.98)
Stylish, grim and very difficult, Darkest Dungeon represents the best of Red Hook Studios. Called back home, you learn that your relative’s once beautiful mansion has something dark and terrible hidden below, and it’s up to you to lift the curse that haunts the place. Only by assembling a brave party of four adventurers tough enough to survive the depths can one find and conquer the root of the land’s corruption.

Two major things strike you upon starting Darkest Dungeon.

First, the game looks and feels absolutely amazing. The most enjoyable parts of Darkest Dungeon lie not in the gameplay, but in the exploration of the universe it manages to create, and experiencing the game’s twisted backstory first-hand. The hand-drawn artwork combined with the brooding narration and the rumbling, mournful tones of the game’s soundtrack form the game’s strongest points. There’s nothing quite similar to the experience. Exhibiting charm that manages to be both hideous and beautiful, this deliberate hammering of the game’s depressing backstory is a welcome thing when paired with a style this sleek. Darkest Dungeon manages to create an aesthetic design that is depressing, but not overbearing to the point of suffocation.

Second, Darkest Dungeon is hard, almost to the point of being unfair. While difficult titles like Dark Souls exist, these usually use player skill as a meaningful bar. Darkest Dungeons takes this to a next level. Yes, skill is still important here — but so is luck. Relying heavily on percentages and dice rolls, Darkest Dungeon is brutal if you don’t have fate on your side. The many random mechanics in the game (random loot, random treasure, random enemies, random hit chances) combined with features such as permadeath can often make for a very frustrating experience.

Still, it’s all well and good.

The beauty of Darkest Dungeon: You should expect to fail. Again and again. It’s practically written in the setting. It pounds you with dark imagery and blasts you with dreary narration; it sets the mood that you should have no hope — and indeed, it is difficult to have hope when a large part of the game relies solely on chance.

And yet, you go for your best odds, constantly trying to finish a dungeon and escape death with just a sliver of health remaining. This is the feeling Darkest Dungeon is going for — the satisfaction at proving the game wrong, at having conquered the unconquerable despite the many setbacks.

Darkest Dungeon is not a game for everyone; But for those willing to brave the darkness, give it a try. You won’t regret it.

THE GOOD
• Beautiful artwork
• Stylistic and polished
• Good depth in combat
• Intriguing (if somewhat confusing) storyline and setting

THE BAD
• Chance-based
• Can sometimes feel unfair
• Can get somewhat grindy

RATING: 8.5/10

COOKING WITCH (20% DISCOUNT — P55.96)
Whereas Darkest Dungeon thrives on difficulty, Cooking Witch is completely casual and simple. Play as a witch and fly off the screen. Glee maniacally as you pick up children and throw them in your boiling cauldron, and avoid the angry adults who wish to shoot you out of the sky. It’s a surprisingly morbid concept for such a simple game, and simplistic is entirely what this is. Looking for any real depth in the game is a waste of time. The whole game can be thusly: Pick up kids; throw them in a pot; don’t die.

To its credit, Cooking Witch does try to add more depth to what it offers, and its efforts do not go unnoticed. The art style is colorful and cheerful, and the game does give you tasks to do, such as knocking out a shotgun-wielding Daddy, or cooking three kids in one life. It even rewards you for doing so, letting you upgrade your witch so you can fly faster or have more health points. There’s even a scoreboard so you can compare points with other players and find out who’s the better witch.

That said, the game gets silly and repetitive. With no extra modes, nothing new to unlock, and nothing to change up the pace of the game, Cooking Witch is at best a casual time waster.

Ultimately, Cooking Witch gives the player exactly what it advertises, and nothing more. If it sounds appealing to you, it’s a decent pick-up at a little over 50 bucks.

THE GOOD:
• Scoreboard
• Unlockables
• Cute graphic style

THE BAD:
• Repetitive
• Boring

RATING: 6/10

DEATH ROAD TO CANADA (33% DISCOUNT — P281.36)
On download, the file size of Death Road to Canada seemed shockingly small. Just 78 megabytes for a modern game priced at P281 seems ridiculous. But don’t let appearances fool you. Despite the use of meager disk space driven by simplistic graphics, Death Road to Canada has a lot on tap.

For those who are familiar with the older game, Death Road to Canada mimics the 1971 video game Oregon Trail, except with more zombies. With the world overrun by undead flesh eaters, it is up to you and your companions to escape to the only safe zone left in the world — Canada! Pack up your little car with supplies and valuables and rush to Canada as fast as you can before the zombies get you. Use a variety of weapons to defend yourself, from a knife, to an electric guitar, to the more staple and run-of-the-mill pistol and shotgun. And don’t get eaten, of course.

A simple concept, really, but done well. Death Road to Canada’s strongest points are in what it does — which it does a lot. Focused around randomly generated events and places, the game eschews similarities in playthroughs. You wander a neighborhood on your first pass, and then a shopping mall or a supermarket. You may encounter bandits that steal your food or meet merchants on the road. You can never really tell what’s going to happen — and that’s part of the fun.

Fortunately, Death Road to Canada’s randomness borders on the humorous rather than the frustrating, and its design is so deliberately tame as to underscore that it doesn’t take itself too seriously. Telling an armed bandit to “Cool it” and having him just wander off, convinced by your words, is but one example of the game’s humorous bent. Add to that the fact that the controls are easy to use, simple to master, and very fluid, and it’s not even a surprise when you fall into an easygoing rhythm playing it.

Death Road to Canada also has class editing and character customizing going for it. The game has unlockable content available as a reward for players who progress through certain points, and has two-player co-op as an option to boot.

Given its lower price tag, Death Road to Canada is one of the better games to get during the Steam sale. Its humor is not for everyone, that’s for sure — but it’s a nice title to play alone or with a friend if you’re not looking for a serious play session.

THE GOOD:
• Loads of fun
• Simple, but entertaining
• Randomized
• Character creation
• Unlockables

THE BAD:
• Sometimes shallow humor
• Simplistic graphics
• No mouse control (keyboard only without controller)

RATING: 9/10

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