Since there is a huge end of the year sale going on at Steam, and I've been using the service for about a year now, I thought I would share my thoughts on some of my favorite games that I've played on Steam over the past year with some quick reviews.
The Elder Scrolls: Morrowind: I have to admit, my conception of what a role playing game was supposed to be was very much rooted on the Japanese side of the pond, where there was a central narrative and a lot of invisible walls guiding you towards the end, with few deviations, and yes, I had played a few games which were sandbox games with RPG elements, but it wasn't until I played Morrowind (with some graphical mods to bring it up to today's standards in terms of visuals) that I really understood what a Western sandbox role playing game could be. There was just so many ways to play and so many places to explore that it was easy to just go off and do your own thing. While I did not finish it, my experience was exceptional, and I look forward to playing Oblivion, the Fallout games and eventually Skyrim.
Beat Hazard: I was never really into bullet hell-type shooters, but the lovely twist on that genre is that each level is generated by whatever piece of music you play it to. And since the elements are pretty much the same every time you play that particular song, you can compete against yourself to better your score or coop/play against your friends who have that same song. It is a brilliant design decision. However, it is certainly not a game for those who have epilepsy. But if you can take the flashing (it took me a while to get used to it), it is a very enjoyable experience.
AI War: Fleet Command: This is a relatively new entry for this list, but it does have more than a few little tricks up its sleeve to make up for that. The premise is simple... there was a war between two competing factions on Earth who both created AI forces to try to defeat each other. However, over time, the AI conspired with each other to try to take humanity out, which pushed the remnants of the human race together against the foe they had mutually created. I know it sounds like something out of the Matrix, but it does give the whole game a great atmosphere. Blending elements of real time strategy, tower defense and other tactical gaming, you really do get a sense at the beginning that you are fighting a hopeless battle (and the AI swatted me enough times when I was playing a little too brash for my own good). I also love the fact that when you play with other people online, they are always on the same team as you... that they have the same goal as you... to defeat the two AI forces (which each have their own unique fighting styles) and win the galaxy back for humanity.
The Binding of Isaac: There are a few phrases that I can use to describe this game. Gross. Blasphemous. Zelda-clone. Rogue-like. And yet, they don't really get down to the essence of what makes this game so fun (and at times frustrating). With its cartoonish graphics about a child escaping from the mother who wishes to sacrifice him to God through the underworld beneath his home, it's charm is easy to see, and it is clearly a game designed with a perverse sense of humor, and the fact that it mimics a lot of the aesthetics of the original Legend of Zelda is also a huge selling point. But what makes this a stand out title for me is the fact that every time you play it, the dungeon changes, as do the powerups you find, which gives the game a lot of replay value. Add to that the choice that you only have one life with no continues, which increases the difficulty, and you can see why this game might also be maddening. So if you don't mind a lot of blasphemous content in your games, you will probably enjoy this game.
Team Fortress 2: A first person shooter with a wicked sense of humor, great visual style and supports a lot of different play styles. And its free. It is the game that just keeps on giving for me. I love, love, LOVE this game and unlike some of the other multiplayer games I've played, generally the other people playing are cool too. I have almost 100 hours of play in this game and I can literally count the number of times I've been insulted by another player on one hand (with some fingers to spare). I've met a lot of people who were just getting into Steam, and it is the first game I recommend. It is a game that is easy to get into and one which is very much geared for a quick play, but with all the weapons that you find, it also rewards persistence and strategic thinking, because some combinations will be much more conducive to a particular play style.
I never thought I would say this, but I think I've finally become an whole hearted advocate of digital game distribution. The sheer availability of legally obtainable games at my fingertips is amazing. I've played a lot of games I would have never even been able to find at a store, games crafted with love or from an area of the world where distribution in stores in North America would be a pipe dream, and for that I am thankful.
My year with Steam has been memorable and has opened my eyes to just how wonderful gaming is.