Throughout the week, we will be looking into the digital gaming stores on various consoles, including an overview of their functions, their key features and their selection of exclusive downloadable games — including the ones to check out on each system. Today, we’re jumping off from consoles and onto PCs. Let’s take a look at the one and only Steam store.
Because its interface is set up for a computer, the Steam storefront has one of the best and most organized stores of any platform. The front page allows for quick looks at what’s on sale, what’s new, what’s being featured, what are the top sellers and so much more. It doesn’t feel cluttered and an easy-to-access toolbar at the top makes narrowing your search to genres, pricing, platform and early access a whole lot easier. And because Steam’s community framework is built right into the system, it becomes easy to get opinions from friends and see what people are saying about it. Having millions of other users logging onto the service doesn’t hurt that either.
Games can also be sorted by user-defined tags, which — while often useful— on some occasions can be a bit misleading. But even then, Steam does a good job of making itself like a storefront, organizing itself much like a bookstore might organize its catalog. It’s highly accessible and far and away the best storefront on any platform that I’ve seen.
Key Feature: Mods
If there’s one thing that PCs have over consoles (besides graphics, indie titles and performance in general) it’s the ability that users have to modify their games. Sometimes the end result is a hilarious change, many times it’s a broken mess (even for the best mods) and sometimes it’s the most amazing creation you could possibly imagine. It has become such a mainstay of modern PC gaming that developers like Bethesda have actually created modding tools to make it easier for the community.
Notable Modded Games
“Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim”
There are many different mods I could name for “Skyrim;” there are too many interesting ones to count. There’s one that turns all of the dragons in the game into Randy Savage. There’s a mod that takes this cold, wintry landscape and makes the game into a tropical setting. There are just so many of cool mods for “Skyrim” to discover.
“Half Life 2” – “Black Mesa” & “Neo Tokyo”
“Half Life 2” has quite a few mods as well. These are a few of the most interesting. “Black Mesa” is a complete recreation of the original “Half Life” game and really shows the time and effort the modding community puts in. It also shows the magic they can create when they put their minds to it. The second, “Neo Tokyo,” takes the game and puts it into a dystopian near-future version of Tokyo with cool sci-fi gadgets that basically turns the game into an FPS version of “Ghost in the Shell.” Now THAT is worth it.
“Just Cause 2” – “Just Cause 2 Multiplayer”
What’s better than an open-world game where you can do anything you want, explore anything you want and do it all to the extreme? How about doing all of that alongside up to 1,000 people on the same server? If this sounds too crazy to be true, fear not, I have video evidence:
“Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare” – “Star Wars: Galactic Warfare”
It’s not that this game has a ton of great mods. I don’t even know if this game has any other mods. All I know is that someone took “Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare” and turned it into something of the likes of the “Star Wars Battlefront” series.
Other Key Features: Steam Sales
Every once and a while, Steam holds a sale – and everyone goes crazy. Games can get marked down as much as 75 percent or more, leaving many Steam users with a catalog full of games they own and no time to play any of them.
Steam Games to Check Out
“Gone Home” (PC, Mac, Linux)
“Gone Home” isn’t a complicated game. Even if you don’t like video games or are bad at video games, you can pick it up and enjoy it easily. You play as a woman coming home after a year abroad to find her family’s new house empty and an ominous note from her little sister telling her not to come find her. It’s a game of expectations, but more about the concept of family. It’s also not a long game, so it’s easy for anyone to pick it up and spend some time with it.
“Papers, Please” (PC, Mac, Linux)
You play as an immigration inspector at a border checkpoint for a fictitious dystopian country. You must evaluate each prospective immigrant, looking for discrepancies to decide whether to let them in or refuse them. You do this to avoid letting in terrorists, smugglers, criminals or other unwanted individuals. The balance then comes from letting in enough people to meet your quota and make sure your family will remain fed. While mundane at times, “Papers, Please” is unique and introduces a style of game that no one had thought of before. It’s well worth your money to experience it.
“The Stanley Parable” (PC, Mac)
You play the role of Stanley. A Brit, who constantly talks condescendingly about you, narrates your life as you play. He knows all about you, and he says everything that you’re going to do next. Of course, that doesn’t mean you have to do what he says. “The Stanley Parable” is all about the idea of choice and offers multiple endings based on how much you listen to the narrator and how much you do your own thing. It’s a comedic, thoughtful and quite unusual parable.
“Nidhogg” is a minimalistic 2-D fencing game for two players. Whenever you kill your opponent, you get an arrow that lets you advance forward, but your opponent will continue spawning in front of you and try to kill you. Using parries, stabs, jumps, kicks and rolls, you must advance far enough on your opponent’s ground until you reach the win screen, where the Nidhogg– a giant worm dragon– eats you. Congratulations, let’s play again.
The stealth game “Gunpoint” tasks you with breaking into a building, avoiding security, hacking a computer and then making your escape. You can buy equipment and gadgets to make your job easier, such as rewiring electrical circuits to take care of nuisances like infrared lasers. It’s a relatively short game, which might just be its greatest criticism, as at every turn it keeps you wanting more.
“Goat Simulator” (PC)
In “Goat Simulator,” you play as a goat. You play as a goat with an impossibly long, impossibly sticky tongue that can grab onto everything. It’s a poorly made game, with mechanics and animations that are all extremely buggy and nonsensical, but that’s “Goat Simulator’s” charm. Everything is stupid and crazy, but if you expect anything less when playing a game called “Goat Simulator,” I’m not quite sure what you are thinking.
“Jazzpunk” (PC, Mac, Linux)
Ever watched a “James Bond” film and thought about how stupid a lot of what happens is? The creators of “Jazzpunk” may very well have felt this way, which led them to create this first-person exploration game, where you play as an espionage agent in late 1950s Japan. The game features a unique art style that makes quite a lot look like nothing in particular. Its main goal is not an epic storyline or dangerous missions. “Jazzpunk” is all about exploring the world and making you laugh with as much deadpan humor, puns and absolute absurdity as the visionaries behind the game could pack in.
“FTL: Faster than Light” (PC, Mac, Linux)
“FTL” is a top-down strategy game where you manage a spacecraft and its crew. Your goal is to survive the long and perilous journey through several procedurally-generated sectors to reach the fleet at your destination, avoiding the enemy fleet that is hot on your tail. If you die, that’s the end. Perma-death hangs over every action you make, so tread wisely.
“Counter-Strike: Global Offensive” (PC, Mac, PS3, 360)
The original “Counter-Strike” was actually a multiplayer mod created from the FPS classic “Half-Life” (also worth checking out). Valve took on that mod, as they’ve done with a few other games, and turned it into a full game, widely considered by many players and critics to be the best multiplayer FPS on the market, outdoing annual best sellers in “Call of Duty” and “Battlefield.” Like most FPS games on the PC, however, there’s going to be quite a bit of a learning curve when you first start playing.
“Team Fortress 2” (PC, Mac, Linux, PS3, 360)
Speaking of FPS made by Valve that were originally mods, “Team Fortress 2” is a much more welcoming shooter for the PC, and became free-to-play in 2011. The original “Team Fortress” was a “Quake” mod, but Valve gave the game much more personality – mainly in the fact that all the classes have their own personalities. Look up “Meet the Pyro” on YouTube to know just what I mean. It’s a great FPS and it’s free, so there’s no reason not to try it out.
Other Games to Check Out: “Kentucky Route Zero,” “Broforce,” “Day Z,” “Dear Esther,” “DOTA 2,” virtually everything else.