I knew the moment the tide had turned. It was 15 hours into my first XCOM: Enemy Unknown campaign, and I’d just outfitted my squad’s psychic soldier with psi armour. I’d only discovered Major Tom’s latent mindbending abilities a few missions before, but he’d already proved himself a devastating anti-alien defence in the field. Kitted out in this gear, he was near unstoppable.
Earlier in the game, I’d hung back. I’d waited it out, luring aliens into laser crossfire, overlapping vision cones and overwatch orders, patiently, eventually clearing out XCOM’s alien infestations. Now, I could sprint psychic Tom out into the open, call out those unknown enemies in droves, and melt their puny brains. I revelled in it. I started talking at the screen. “You think you can run, you horrible bug? I’ll make you eat your friends. I’ll make you stand in the open, rip your disgusting body open with hot plasma. I’ll make you die. I’ll make all of you die.” Then I’d start cackling.
I’d invented a fiction. My soldiers were my action figures, I’d made them run and hide and shoot and watch their friends die, and I imbued them with the heroism and pathos of those events. Graham Smith had been impetuous and aggressive. He died when he strayed too close to a burning – later exploding – car. Owen Hill, once carefree and cheerful, was calcified by his death. He became a dead-eye sniper, silent and stoic, and able to lance a Muton through the eyes with a snapshot from half a map away.
Marsh Davies was relentlessly helpful. My team medic never missed a mission, and reinvigorated everyone else when their resolve slipped or their blood drained out. He never once panicked. Richard Cobbett was insane: a close-range monster, he’d hurtle into combat, heavy alloy cannon acting as far-future shotgun and drawing enemies out for easy shooting. He somehow survived the entire campaign.
Until the turning point, I imagined my women and men daunted by the task of saving humanity. After, with the psychic in their midst, I imagined them standing in XCOM’s home base, grinning. They had it in the bag. They were too powerful, too well-equipped, knew too much about their enemy. Enemy known, now.
I’d led them all the way, but I didn’t feel like it was my victory. It was theirs as much as mine. These action figures were alive. XCOM: Enemy Unknown seduces players with attachment, making you know and care for your soldiers. When they die, a tiny part of me dies. Sometimes they live. I love it when they live. Without that attachment, XCOM is merely a mechanically superb turn-based strategy game that I’d suggest everyone plays. With it, XCOM elevates itself even further, forging player memories that’ll live as long as you play and care about games.
The fact that FTL lets me command a craft called The Space Badger with Don Draper at the helm isn’t the main reason I love it (although it is a factor). Ever since I saw Firefly, I’ve been eager to take charge of a crew and lead them to almost certain death. FTL lets me do that, over and over again.
Your primary objective is to outrun the rebel fleet, which advances like a red wave across every sector. Dozens of jump points form an explorable web in each system. You can encounter anything from a drone guarding treasure to a planetary distress signal or a secret space shop. These quick interludes offer a short list of choices, which may result in a fight, a reward, or nothing at all.
For the first few playthroughs, these little choices formed the narrative of my ship’s journey, but that novelty began to wear off as I saw the same choices repeating. Then I started to game the system. I would always ruthlessly destroy pirates even if they tried to surrender, knowing that the more resources I earned from early sectors, the better my long term chances would be. It soon became obvious that FTL isn’t a game about canned stories or alien encounters, it’s about survival.
Then the important decisions came to the fore. Should I spend precious resources on upgrading my energy drive? Should I repair? Should I buy fuel? FTL’s upgrade systems present a fascinating ongoing conflict between the need to keep the vessel ship shape and a desire to make it better.
It helps that FTL’s most devastating weapons are a joy to use. They let you sketch streaks of laser death across the hulls of your enemies. They can teleport bombs right into your enemy’s engine room. They let you order drones to surgically slice up your enemy’s oxygen supply. You can even see the doors on their ship opening and closing frantically as the crew dash to repair what remains of their vital systems.
Everything you can do, however, can also be done to you. FTL’s campaigns are often tales of continuous, worsening crisis. Like the hero of a hardboiled detective novel, your ship becomes more battered and bruised with every encounter, limping towards the distant final boss with a naïve sense of hope.
FTL’s finely balanced systems deliver great strategy, but it’s in the slow demise of your craft that the game finds its drama. That it manages to do so much in such short bursts of time is remarkable.
Read More: Our FTL review and Tom F's FTL Diary.
Runners Up: Hotline Miami and Thirty Flights of Loving
At the end of each year we hand out awards to honor the experiences that live in our best memories of the preceding months—the games that moved us with their ambition, quality, and pioneering spirit. None of the decisions are ever easy, and there's no secret formula: we pit opinion against opinion with straightforward, old-fashioned arguing until one winner is left standing in the GOTY battle cage. Look below for the first landmark of that exciting week-long debate: a list of our eligible winners in 11 categories, including Game of the Year.
Beyond recognizing what games we loved most this year, though, it’s crucial to call attention to a truth that connects them all: PC gaming is exploding. Our hobby is many-tentacled and unbridled—practically every niche, genre, and business model mutated in a meaningful way this year. Two shooters built on new, PC-only technology released (PlanetSide 2 and Natural Selection 2). Dota 2 grew into its adolescence. League of Legends’ Season 2 Championship drew an audience of 8.2 million—the most ever for an eSports event. Modders resurrected content that was thought to be lost. So many remakes and spiritual successors to old school PC games got crowdfunded that we're sure we’d miss some if we tried to list them all.
That said, the following list marks the peaks of this mountainous year, and you'll find out which games won in the next issue of PC Gamer, and here on the web soon.
Dota 2 Dishonored Mass Effect 3 PlanetSide 2 The Walking Dead Tribes: Ascend XCOM: Enemy Unknown
Crusader Kings II FTL: Faster Than Light Sins of a Solar Empire: Rebellion XCOM: Enemy Unknown
Guild Wars 2 PlanetSide 2 Rift: Storm Legion World of Warcraft: Mists of Pandaria
Dark Souls: Prepare to Die Edition Diablo III Mass Effect 3 Torchlight II
Borderlands 2 Dishonored Far Cry 3 Max Payne 3 Spec Ops: The Line
Super Hexagon may have become our fast, frantic and brilliantly soundtracked game of choice, but Hotline Miami remains an excellent acid trip of revenge, violence and talking owl masks. It makes the 80s look cool, which is an impressive achievement in itself.
If you've yet to experience Dennaton Games' brutal top-down murder-ballet, now's the time to take a look. Steam have gone and chopped its price in half, cutting it down to a criminally cheap £3.49/$5.
The store have also got a 40% deal on the marvellous FTL, dropping its price to £4.19/$6. It's a decidedly more strategic affair than Hotline's hyper-kinetic ode to viscera, but still a panic-inducing experience in its own right.
Both sales will run until Monday.
That's enough exceptionally cheap indie games, now let's have an ultimately pointless argument about which song from Hotline's amazing soundtrack is the best. My vote's for El Huervo's Turf. Or maybe Sun Araw's Deep Cover. Ah, they're all good.
Spaceship management roguelike FTL is one of this year's standout games, and also one of the first Kickstarted projects to result in a playable product. Its modding scene centers around new ships, tweaked mechanics, and updated graphics. We've picked out three ship replacement mods by hellcatv, with art in the case of Serenity and the Enterprise provided by MattsterT. Each of these mods swaps out one of the default ships with a new model complete with new equipment and a custom load-out.
Download links can be found below. Check out our FTL review for more on the game.
Grognak's Mod Manager USS Enterprise ship mod (replaces Kestrel) Star Destroyer ship mod (replaces Engi ship) Serenity ship mod (replaces Kestrel)
Tyler, Omri, and T.J. discuss what a wonderful time it is for PC genres that were once considered forgotten. Dishonored brings back stealth simulation, XCOM: Enemy Unknown is a sleep-depriving boardgame, Star Citizen asks why resource-intensive PC space sims ever left us, and Project Eternity takes a pre-rendered isometric point-of-view on the whole modern RPG situation.
All that in PC Gamer Podcast 332: Yo genre so old...
(Plus more weird tangents. Like Garfield.)
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The fellow nursing the mug of Roc ale in the corner of the cantina doesn’t have to tell you he’s an FTL captain. The laser burns on his jacket, the monkey wrench in his belt, and the broad grin creasing his craggy, careworn face give him away.
Sit down opposite him and you invite a torrent of torrid tales.
“See this scar? I got that when I targeted my own bridge with an incendiary missile. Had some Mantis boarders running amok – it was the only way to take them down.
“Buy me a pint and I’ll tell you about the time my ship, the Belle Guano, tangled with a pirate cutter twice its size near the Slug homeworld. Trust me, you don’t know fear until you’ve had to shut down your own shields, life-support system, and sensors in order to summon the power necessary to launch an anti-ship drone.”
Every one of FTL’s evening-sized odysseys bulges at the bulkheads with dramatic dogfights, tough trading decisions and bittersweet twists of fate. If you’ve ever yearned for a randomness-heavy 2D Firefly game – a top-down Star Trek or Blake’s Seven turn-based strategy game – then yearn no longer.
Adventures begin with ship selection. Initially there’s just one vessel type available. Completing enigmatic quests widens the choice on subsequent playthroughs.
Whatever craft you’re captaining, the ultimate objective is always the same: deliver a vitally important message to the Federation fleet by battling, trading, and upgrading your way through a randomly generated web of sectors. Every sector is its own navigable web of unscripted surprises.
Because a powerful rebel armada is always hot on your heels, you can’t linger in any sector indefinitely. Speed is of the essence, but so too is scrap – FTL’s precious currency. Knowing that resistance stiffens the closer he gets to his goal, the sensible skipper loiters for as long as possible in order to maul and recycle the maximum enemies.
It’s rare that a turn passes without a hard choice or a satisfying skirmish. One minute you’re looking on as your lasers and missiles steadily savage the systems and unstitch the hull of an outfought/out-thought foe, the next you’re deciding whether to intervene in an intergalactic mugging, rescue a mad castaway, or send crew to investigate an eerie space hulk. Pauseable combat and multiple-choice event texts mean there’s always limitless time for mulling over options.
There are hundreds of possible encounters, and countless ways of improving your ship. Bad luck and poor decisions regularly lead to heartbreaking setbacks and sacrifices. So far I’ve refused to hand over any crew to bullying slavers, but have on several occasions had to sell indispensable kit in order to finance essential repairs or fill an empty tank. Running out of fuel is one of the game’s scariest situations. You’re forced to drift forlorn and regret-wracked waiting for either a good Samaritan or a rebel coup-de-grace.
FTL feels like a project that’s been thoughtfully tweaked over several years. Features work hard and are well meshed. Texts are trim and nicely phrased. Even Ben Prunty’s twinkling soundtrack fits beautifully. Scanning the game’s impressive superstructure for vulnerable exhaust ports and shot traps, just about the only weakpoints I’ve managed to identify are the lack of personnel histories, and the painfully slow rate of vessel unlocks. A few lines illuminating the backgrounds of new crewmen, and some more generous blueprint dispensing would nudge this unmissable sci-fi story generator even closer to perfection.
Expect to pay: £7 / $11 Release Out: now Developer: Subset Games Publisher: Steam Multiplayer: None Link: www.ftlgame.com
Valve quietly updated its Steam storefront today with its "Software" tab, selling utility, development, and benchmarking tools. Although Valve announced its move into non-game products as early as August, today marks the public availability of visual and structural development apps on the digital distribution giant.
Valve is still slowly furnishing its software catalog, but a few choice items for purchase include GameMaker: Studio, 3DMark 11, and ArtRage Studio Pro. Coupled with the recently launched Greenlight indie voting platform, and it appears Steam is gradually transforming into a one-stop destination for every facet of a game's creation process.
All software is 10% off for the first week. Additionally, GameMaker: Studio is free to use without purchasing a license, and has Steam Workshop integration. Aspiring developers, go make the next FTL, would you?
Valve did a sneaky, small-but-significant thing recently: it expanded its "Top Sellers" list on Steam to include one hundred games. The sales leaderboard doesn't tell us exactly how many copies a game sold, but it gives us a vague idea of how well certain games are doing on Steam in a given moment.
It's an inherently misleading metric—take that as a disclaimer. Still, as we sit in the shadow of some of 2012's biggest releases, I'd like to take a crack at gleaning what we can from this moment in time.
2K's having a great end of the year. The $50 pre-sale of XCOM is outselling everything but Borderlands 2 on Steam. We might be able to chalk that up to fairly generous pre-purchase incentives (which could include a free copy of Civ 5 if enough people pre-buy it). It might be mild evidence that demos still work, too. Borderlands 2's high concurrent user count over the past few days (reaching 123,758 last weekend) is also evidence that 2K will win the weeks connecting September and October on Steam.
Digital pre-orders are a thing. XCOM isn't the only thing-you-can-buy-but-can't-play-yet doing well. Joining the unreleased are Dishonored at #7, War of the Roses at #12, Football Manager 2013 at #17, Company of Heroes 2 at #29, and Hitman Absolution at #51. Even though there's no chance of a game going out of stock, Steam users don't seem to mind putting money down in advance, especially if they're rewarded with bonus content or a small discount for doing so.
Where are the MMOs? Oh, right. Zero MMOs appear in today's top 100. I might consider that unsurprising—we wouldn't expect too many people to be picking up competitors while Guild Wars 2 and Pandaria are drawing the attention, and neither are available on Steam. Still, it's a little surprising not to see RIFT ($10) or EVE Online: Inferno ($20) popping up anywhere.
Call of Duty remains a PC fixture. The sense that Call of Duty remains a fixture for PC gamers is supported by SteamGraph data. Some form of Call of Duty make up 10 whole entries of the Steam's top 100. Many of those are map packs, but the performance of Call of Duty: Black Ops - Mac Edition (#41) is interesting to me. It released yesterday, September 27, and it's outperforming stuff like Civ V: GOTY and Natural Selection 2. Modern Warfare 3 is 50% off until October 1, and it's sitting comfortably at #5.
DayZ continues to have a long tail. I don't think Arma 2: Combined Operations (what you need to play DayZ) has left the top ten of Steam's Top Sellers since it caught on in May and June. It seems to be outperforming other games that released in May and June like Sins: Rebellion (#56), Max Payne 3 (#76), Civ 5: Gods & Kings (#20), and Spec Ops: The Line (unlisted).
Below: the data, captured at 6:05 PM PDT. Ctrl + Fing encouraged.
Top Ten Borderlands 2 XCOM: Enemy Unknown Total War Master Collection Torchlight II Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 Carrier Command: Gaea Mission Dishonored Counter-Strike: Global Offensive Arma 2: Combined Operations Empire: Total War
#11-25 Castle Crashers War of the Roses Borderlands 2 Season Pass FTL: Faster Than Light Cortex Command The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Football Manager 2013 The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim - Dawnguard Garry's Mod Sid Meier's Civilization V - Gods 'n Kings Dark Souls: Prepare To Die Edition The Binding of Isaac Half Minute Hero: Super Mega Neo Climax Ultimate Boy Left 4 Dead 2 Hell Year! Wrath of the Dead Rabbit
#26-50 F1 2012 Hearts of Iron III: Their Finest Hour Rome: Total War - Gold Company of Heroes 2 Total War Shogun 2 - Fall of the Samurai Sid Meier's Civilization V Counter-Strike: Source Borderlands: Game of the Year Worms Revolution Total War Mega Pack Terraria The Walking Dead Rocksmith Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 Collection 3: Chaos Pack Call of Duty: Black Ops - Mac Edition Binding of Isaac: Wrath of the Lamb Portal 2 McPixel Sid Meier's Civilization V: Game of the Year Total War: SHOGUN 2 The Sims 3 Counter-Strike Complete Hearts of Iron 3 Collection The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings Enhanced Edition
#51-100 Hitman: Absolution Borderlands Train Simulator 2013 The Testament of Sherlock Holmes Medieval II Gold Sins of a Solar Empire: Rebellion Orcs Must Die! 2 - Family Ties Booster Pack Call of Duty: Black Ops II The Amazing Spider-Man Orcs Must Die! 2 Saints Row: The Third Dead Island: GOTY Natural Selection 2 Orcs Must Die! 2 - Complete Pack Half-Life 2 Amnesia: The Dark Descent Rome: Total War - Complete The Orange Box Borderlands 2 + Official Brady Guide Batman: Arkham City GOTY Arma 2: Operation Arrowhead Grand Theft Auto IV Endless Space Killing Floor Call of Duty: World at War Max Payne 3 Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 SPORE I Am Alive Fallout 3: GOTY Fallen Enchantress Valve Complete Pack Fallout: New Vegas Ultimate Edition Mount & Blade: Warband New Star Soccer 5 Portal Bundle Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 Collection 2 Magic: The Gathering - Duels of the Planeswalkers 2013 Expansion Counter-Strike Call of Duty: Modern Warfare® 3 Collection 1 Arma 2 Might & Magic Heroes VI - Danse Macabre Adventure Pack Magic: The Gathering - Duels of the Planeswalkers 2013 Call of Duty: Black Ops Tony Hawk's Pro Skater HD STAR WARS: Knights of the Old Republic II Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare Planets Under Attack Transformers: Fall of Cybertron Age of Empires III: Complete Collection
Reiterating: We don't know what formula or data drives Steam's Top Sellers rankings. It's probably safest to consider them a representation of what games are selling well in one moment of time on Steam.
Evan returns from the depths of space to join Tyler, Omri, and T.J. in discussing all things Project Eternity. Also kind of a lot of things are coming out right now, and we go over the big ones including Torchlight II, Borderlands 2, FTL, Black Mesa, and Mists of Pandaria. You'll also not just hear, but experience, updates on what's going on with BioWare and Bohemia, a new special segment in which T.J. administers shotgun blasts to the face to all of his coworkers, and extended FTL and XCOM discussion in Playlists.
All for the low, low price of absolutely nothing on this content-tastic episode, PC Gamer US Podcast 330: RPGs and Aliens!
Support the Bohemia guys currently incarcerated in Greece: www.helpivanmartin.org
Have a question, comment, complaint, or observation? Leave a voicemail: 1-877-404-1337 ext 724 or email the mp3 to firstname.lastname@example.org.