Last summer was a social, exploratory Summer of Gaming. Last year I finally gave myself the gift of an up-to-date console, pre-packed with half a dozen games I’d already reserved for free. Game-playing became a delightfully communal experience: I scheduled low-key hangouts with other gaming friends to try out new-to-me games (like Oxenfree, which thrilled and chilled us) and rediscover old favorites through their eyes. But over the fall and winter, the gaming playdates were replaced by other kinds of social activities and I fell out of the habit.
Now that it’s hot enough to seek refuge in my cool basement, I’ve returned to my stockpile of free games–plus a few additions. What’s on your list this summer?
Fallout Shelter is a free game! Not just free during a special offer, but free always! And yes, it’s a bit of a commercial for Fallout 4, but it’s a solid and charming sim in its own right. You’re a Vault overseer and your job is to construct a Vault that provides safety, resources, and wellbeing. As your dwellers become stronger and wealthier, you can send them out on missions which are themselves a little tedious. But for the kind of gamer who loves collecting things–dwellers, special weapons, silly outfits, pets–it’s a daily delight. “Complete” here is relative–I have a large, well-functioning vault and most of the achievements unlocked, but Vault life hums along forever.
Fallout 4. Fallout Shelter worked its magic, and I nabbed this game the next time it went on sale.
“It’s like Skyrim, but grimdark” I explained to one of the friends I spent last summer playing Dragon Age with. “With a semi-optional Stardew Valley subplot.” When I first started the game, tentatively picking my way down the hill from my Vault to the ruins of my former suburban home, pocketing clutter along the way, I didn’t know that the classic Bethesda trashpicker element had been blown up into a whole minigame. The settlement-building mechanisms are not very intuitive and I am not great at it, but I became obsessed with collecting resources for my settlers and connecting them with trade routes. Despite being a few years behind on this bestseller, I had managed to avoid most of the spoilers and was frequently surprised and delighted by its plot twists and characters (rarely the selling points for any big Bethesda sandbox).
I won’t feel that I have truly completed the game until I unlock 100% settlement happiness, but without DLC I’ve mostly exhausted the game’s intrigue for now. I don’t enjoy deathclaws and dungeon crawls enough to discover every location or hunt down every bobblehead.
The Room: Old Sins. Since my short but intense dalliance with Dragon Age: Heroes, I don’t download any games to my phone–but this sequel was on sale for like $2! It combines the clever locked-box appeal of the original game with the detailed staging and scale of The Room 3, and the mechanism of moving between rooms in its creepy miniature gothic mansion is much easier and visually appealing than 3’s tower.
Rise of the Tomb Raider is full of adventure and discovery, with more of what I enjoyed about the 2013 game (tomb puzzles, shooting things with arrows, breath-taking scenery) but with fewer graphic death scenes. Sure, I absolutely miscalculated some jumps and overestimated my ability to fight a leopard, but Lara’s deaths are more artistic and blurry now, which is fine with me.
I am very, very close to the end, but I’ve gotten very completionist about fulfilling all the level challenges such as breaking statues and lighting braziers, so it feels a bit like homework at the moment.
Qube 2 bears some resemblance to Portal in terms of contained puzzle levels, although its voice acting is less winsome. I am also very very close to the end here, but get distracted by shinier flashier games.
Dishonored 2. Dang, I am terrible at stealth games.
Sleeping Dogs. I’m not very far in and wish I had more time to explore the night market instead of shaking down vendors and fighting off gangsters, but I suppose that speaks to the game’s appealing attention to detail.
Games that I definitely started a year ago and haven’t finished yet but maybe I will this summer?
Seasons After Fall
Tales from the Borderlands
In the queue
Portal: Still Alive