15 hidden gems to grab before the Steam Winter Sale
15 hidden gems to grab before the Steam Winter Sale
2022 was a preposterously good year for games. Maybe not so much on the AAA blockbuster front, but every single month of the year smaller studios brought a swarm of fascinating new things to play, only to be driven from our minds by the next wave time and time again.
With the Winter Steam sale in its final days, here’s a grab-bag of discounted indie gems that have almost certainly flown under your radar. All of them released in 2022 and have racked up far fewer user reviews than I feel they deserve. Think you’ve seen it all this year, or want to surprise someone with something completely out of left field? Take a look at these.
I can scarcely believe this one launched to zero fanfare. A childhood pencil-sketch n’ papercraft JRPG adventure with constantly shifting gameplay mechanics, genres and art styles without ever leaving your school desk. It’s gorgeous to look at and endlessly creative. I dare you not to smile constantly. The only thing I could complain about is that it’s relatively short at only 6-7 hours, but every second of that is densely packed with fun and childish imagination, as Kerry wrote about on PC Gamer (opens in new tab).
Price: $7.99/£6.19 (40% off) | Developer: Foolish Mortals Games
A brilliantly clever asymmetrical turn-based tactics puzzler. Part Into The Breach, part board game, giant monsters are stomping around the map, systematically crushing the nearest buildings. With their movement (mostly) predictable, slow them with tanks, planes and mechs while researching scientific solutions, or go for a fast military victory. Boasts a lengthy campaign, some genuinely funny writing, and both comic-book and FMV silliness bookending the action.
Before Elden Ring and before Dark Souls, there was King’s Field, FromSoftware’s influential first-person dungeon crawler series. Devil Spire aims to recapture the feeling of those classic games, but restructured as a highly replayable roguelike. With multiple unlockable modes, lots of secrets and a complex crafting system, this one has a bit of immersive sim spirit lurking under its crunchy PSX-adjacent aesthetics. One of those games that improves as you master it.
One of the most interesting immersive sims I’ve played, a bit like Prey (2017) spliced with ‘80s puzzler Paradroid. Playing as a disembodied and deathless mind in a very British retro future, you can freely hop between robot bodies and anything else mechanical in the area, opening up some mind-bendingly creative solutions to problems and giving it huge replay value. Some of the achievements (like completing the game without unlocking the jump/climb button) sound impossible, hinting at huge depth.
Price: $15.92, £12.39 (20% off) | Developer: Sakuba Metal Works
A quietly nightmarish point-and-click adventure with some light survival elements, full of uncomfortable imagery and ideas. A strange biomechanical creature explores a world on literal rails, struggling to maintain fading consciousness and understand its own nature. Originally launched in 1999 exclusively in Japan, this translated remake cleans up the unsettling art, adds some quality-of-life features and restores some cut content, but the core remains deeply retro.
A relaxing, non-violent open world adventure about being an itinerant space engineer. More story-driven than I expected and lighter on the puzzles than I’d have liked, but deeply charming and frequently funny. Explore strange new places, use a delightfully physical interface to fix gadgets with your backpack of random junk and befriend many weird robots. It’s not a short game either. Expect it to eat a solid twelve hours of your life once it has its hooks into you.
Price: $5.39/£3.71 (40% off) | Developer: HON Team
It wouldn’t be a recommendations list from me if I didn’t include at least one GZdoom-powered FPS. Hands Of Necromancy is immediately nostalgic fun to fans of Heretic and Hexen, as you explore non-linear labyrinths and explode wizards and monsters with an assortment of magic. Setting this one apart from its inspirations, you gradually unlock Metroid-esque transformation spells that open up new paths and levels, as well as giving you some fun new attack options.
An offbeat and beautiful twin-stick shmup set in a child’s nightmares, so you’ll be fighting against unpleasant vegetables, yappy dogs and mean schoolmates. Getting through its looping, short stages is easy; just collect enough shining soul fragments. Mastery comes through intentionally dragging things out as the difficulty rises, chasing score and survival times. Lengthy for a shmup, with lots of equipment loadout options, branching routes and obviously gorgeous art.
A bundle of nine bite-size sci-fi puzzlers from nine different developers. Sold separately but far cheaper if you buy the complete set. All of the games are single-sitting snacks, from about 30 minutes to a couple hours, and range in complexity and depth. From short narrative experiment Frequency Dissonance, to personal favorites Triga (a triangle-grid block puzzle with hidden goals) and Linelith (a bit like The Witness, but you’re also one of the puzzle pieces). I’ll admit I’m a fan of this themed anthology style for smaller games. See also: the Dread X collections.
Price: $12.49/£11.24 (50% off) | Developer: Bitmap Bureau
TMNT: Shredder’s Revenge might have been 2022’s most nostalgic brawler, but Final Vendetta is the most arcade-authentic. A single playthrough will take you a snappy half-hour, although it’ll take a lot longer to get through the higher difficulty settings without continues. Featuring chunky and smoothly-animated SNK-esque sprites, a retro UK techno soundtrack (matching its dilapidated London setting) and combat that’s 80% Final Fight, 20% Streets Of Rage.
A lightweight and fun mech turn-based tactics roguelike. A little looser and more knockabout than Into The Breach, but more forgiving of imperfection. The fun tactical twist here is overheating, which can be equal parts blessing and curse. High heat means more damage done but more vulnerability, and maxing out a mech’s heat draws all enemies towards that one target. Between battles, explore an FTL-style map and unlock more pilots & gear between runs.
Atama (opens in new tab)
Price: $11.99 /£9.29 (40% off) | Developer: Team Zutsuu
This year has been great for horror games of all stripes, but Atama is a particularly deep cut, riffing off the largely forgotten Siren series. Stealth-focused horror where you could ‘hack’ into the vision of the monsters and learn their patrol routes through their own eyes. Atama puts a surreal Junji Ito-ish spin on that by having you evading bizarrely expressive huge floating heads as they patrol an oddly dreamlike abandoned village. Beyond that, I don’t want to spoil.
Recently launched into early access, Deadeye Deepfake Simulacrum is another hacking-centric immersive sim, but with a roguelike structure (including procedurally generated weapons with funky names), an abstract 2D aesthetic, command-line network infiltration and a cheerfully grim sense of humor. Once you’ve got some cyber-powers, missions can get weird and fast.
Analgesic Productions are an intentionally low-key indie studio that make soft-spoken and strange games like Anodyne 2, but it still hurts to see Sephonie lost in the 2022 rush. A contemplative and non-violent but challenging parkour platformer about a trio of researchers exploring a living psychic island. Introspective prose is woven in between complex navigational problems and a surprising number of block-placing puzzle minigames.
Price: $14.99/£12.59 (40% off) | Developer: Firepunchd Games UG
This was a weird year for VR games. Lots of smaller indie releases, some fantastic VR mods and even a new headset (the Pico 4) but little support from big publishers. Goggle-owners may be forgiven for missing out on Tentacular, a construction-focused comedy puzzle game about being a clumsy, colossal yet friendly kraken attempting to help the comparatively tiny human inhabitants of a sunny island chain. Frequently giggle-inducing fun, and good for VR newbies.