Monthly Column – November 2021 Top Hidden Steam Gems
No ray-tracing required for this month’s collection of curious hidden gems from Steam; with a few secret exceptions, these games are black and white and ever so simple…at least visually speaking.
But with monochromatic minimalism comes mystery, and these are some of the most enigmatic offerings I’ve come across since I began this column. Is there a connection between limited color palettes and limitless unanswerable questions? No one knows…
Is Nix Umbra a first-person action game? A terrifying walking simulator? A puzzle adventure based on horrific things in the woods? The answer to all of these questions is a definite “Yeah…kind of…maybe?”
You can also look at it as a dark ambient/noise composition with interactive visuals if that helps. If you can imagine Lustmord doing an improvised score to The Blair Witch Project, it’s maybe a little like that?
If it seems that I’m being vague about what Nix Umbra is and how it works, there are a couple of reasons for that. It really is that vague at first – even potentially frustrating upon your first few deaths, if you don’t stick to it – and more easily described as a mood piece than by using typical video game terminology. Stick with it, though, and its secrets slowly begin to reveal themselves, and therein lies this game’s dark joy.
Without giving too much away: you are in a nearly lightless forest. There are things there, evil things that fly. You have a flaming sword. It may protect you. Be brave and persistent. Knowledge of folk horror tropes and occult symbolism may or may not be of help.
There’s also an online leaderboard tracking high scores, which seems almost like needless cruelty.
by Factory Game
SOMETHING, as you might guess from its less-than-descriptive title, is another game better played than described.
Mechanically speaking, at least, it’s a sort of existential endless jumper with a distinct – albeit stark – graphical approach, the platforms themselves consisting of silhouetted shapes and seemingly random objects like cats, candelabras, and guns on a stark white background.
Simulated CRT curvature and harsh analog ambient tones add to the disparate imagery to create a sense of vaguely retro tension.
Is there more to it than that? It’s not for me to say, but the Steam page hints at a story about a cat trapped in a parallel universe. You had better start jumping, follow the occasional full-color objects, and find out for yourself…
Somewhere in a Clay Nowhere
by Louie Waynward
This one I can at least explain: it’s about a space traveler who crash-lands on a planet and needs to figure out how to communicate with the locals.
It’s also rendered in monochromatic clay animation, and between the oddness of the visuals and the very concept of figuring out basic alien technology – like coat racks and lamps – and language, the end result is a bit like Hylics crossed with Heaven’s Vault.
Admittedly, the language decoding here isn’t quite as complex as the alien archaeology masterpiece from inkle, and figuring out words amounts to collecting secrets by solving puzzles throughout the environment, but what Somewhere in a Clay Nowhere might lack in sophistication it makes up for with sheer strangeness.