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Best for Tactical Combat: Into the Breach at Steam
"Puts you in charge of three time-warping pilots and the huge mechs they control as they battle the insidious Vek."
Best Scare Factor: The Forest at Steam
"You're the only survivor, but you're far from alone. Unfortunately, the existing inhabitants aren't thrilled to have you around."
Most Addicting: Oxygen Not Included at Steam
"Tunnel to new areas, create weird and wonderful mechanical contraptions to purify your water, separate gases and generate power."
Runner-Up, Most Addicting: My Time at Portia at Steam
"The colorful cartoon graphics and relaxing soundtrack mix perfectly, making sure you keep playing."
Best Survival: Raft at Steam
"Cast adrift on a small raft with nothing but a simple plastic hook for company, your first task is finding something to eat and drink."
Best Roleplaying: Kingdom Come at Amazon
"This open-world roleplaying game mixes exploring and interacting with strangers with a challenging first-person combat system."
Toughest Decision Making: Frostpunk at Amazon
"Temperatures have plummeted around the world and it's up to you to build a functioning society—and not let everyone freeze to death."
Part futuristic combat simulator, part chess match, Into the Breach puts you in charge of three time-warping pilots and the huge mechs they control as they battle the insidious Vek.
Starting with basic mechs and simple capabilities, success brings access to a range of different combat machines. Note that's different, not necessarily better — each mech has its own strengths and weaknesses, and it's choosing the best combinations that will get you through the four islands and to the final showdown.
Smart tactics are key to winning battles, as with a little help, the mindless Vek will kill each other just as well as your own mechs. Equally, pushing them into the ocean or towards an erupting volcano can often be more effective than straight-out blasting.
It's easy to pick up the basics, but mastering the game will take longer. Graphics and sound are functional rather than impressive, but that just means Into the Breach plays well on laptops and low-end desktops.
The Forest starts with your plane crashing on a remote forested island, and things don't get better from there. You're the only survivor, but you're far from alone. Unfortunately, the existing inhabitants aren't thrilled to have you around.
Your only job is staying alive, which initially consists of scavenging food and making a basic shelter. Over time, you can create tools and weapons from the things you find, and build traps and a fortified base to keep the mutant enemies out.
Exploring further afield offers useful resources and hints at a deeper mystery to your new home, but also brings you into contact with some truly horrific creatures hiding in the darkness.
The more impact you have on the island, the less happy the inhabitants become. They're not afraid to let you know about it, either, with stronger enemies and larger groups showing up to deal with the interloper.
Expect to be jumping out of your seat regularly, as a blood-curdling scream pierces the night, or an enemy unexpectedly leaps out from behind a nearby tree. There's a multiplayer mode for up to eight players, but for maximum terror, take on The Forest alone.
If you've got a long, wet weekend ahead of you and no plans for it, download Oxygen Not Included. This space colony simulation will suck every spare minute you have to give it, and then some, as you set your colonists to work building a habitable base deep within an asteroid.
The cute cartoon graphics and easy introduction disguise what quickly becomes a deep and complex battle for your colonists' survival. They need breathable air, unpolluted water, food and warmth, and continuing to provide all of these simultaneously will tax even veterans of this style of game. Of course, survival is one thing, but happiness is something else entirely.
Tunnel to new areas, create weird and wonderful mechanical contraptions to purify your water, separate gases and generate power, grow enough food, avert a crisis or two and then check the clock to realize it's 5 a.m. and you haven't been to bed yet.
If you enjoyed Stardew Valley, or those farming simulators that were all the rage on mobile a while back, you'll love My Time at Portia. Despite being set post-apocalypse, the little village of Portia and surrounding countryside is surprisingly lovely, but there's no time to stand around looking at it.
Your first tasks are simple enough — patch up the decrepit house your father left you, craft a few simple tools — but things get harder fast. Finding the components to build a bridge requires tracking down rare components in the surrounding ruins and caves, crafting machines to create ever more complex materials, and setting them to work while gathering and processing the rest of your supplies. It's a big job, and you've only just got started.
Whether you're exploring the fields, chatting to the village locals or hunting fluffy animals, it's the cuteness that stands out as you work your way to being crowned the top workshop in town. The colorful cartoon graphics and relaxing soundtrack mix perfectly, making sure you keep playing for "just another five minutes" far too often.
The gentle roll of the swells, the cooling breeze, the endless shark attacks. Such is the ocean life, apparently, at least when you're playing Raft.
Cast adrift on a small raft with nothing but a simple plastic hook for company, your first task is finding something to eat and drink. Catch whatever debris floats past, scavenge from reefs, and before you know it, you'll own a floating mansion instead of a few planks of wood, be growing your own food instead of eating waterlogged potatoes, and have enough water to last weeks, not hours. That's about the time the man-eating shark shows up and starts taking chunks out of your vessel. Great.
Keeping the various systems ticking along, while upgrading your vessel and fighting off the marine life, starts to resemble an elegant dance when you get it right, and a clumsy mess when you don't. Later in the game, you can explore the islands you float past and dive underwater to find scarce resources. Assuming the shark doesn't get you first, of course.
With a perfect gameplay curve, immersive sound and graphics, and the ideal mix of frantic action and smooth sailing (pun intended), Raft is one of those games you'll just keep coming back to.
If you've ever fancied being a nobody in fifteenth-century Europe, you've finally got your chance. Kingdom Come: Deliverance takes you from simple village life as a blacksmith's son to the front lines of a typically-bloody medieval war, without a single magic spell or bloodthirsty vampire in sight.
This open-world roleplaying game mixes exploring and interacting with strangers with a challenging first-person combat system, but it's dozens of little touches that bring the politics and challenges of the period to life.
Your clothing changes how you're perceived, as does how bad you smell. Get caught stealing, and you'll go to jail. Change out of your noisy armor into something quieter and more subtle, and you'll do a better job of sneaking around.
Your character, Henry, learns by doing, whether that's sword fighting, horse-riding or anything else. Quests abound, often with multiple ways of approaching them that each have their own benefits and pitfalls.
Even the approach to saving games is well thought out, with autosaves being rare, and the only other options being paying for a bed in an inn (assuming you're near one), or drinking a rare and expensive alcohol (which gets you drunk if you do it too often).
You'll need a beefy machine to play Kingdom Come: Deliverance, and in a game this vast, it's not surprising to discover more than a few bugs. If you've got enough patience and computing power, however, it'll make a great addition to your roleplaying library.
In Frostpunk, your management skills are the last hope of a shivering population. Temperatures have plummeted around the world and it's up to you to build a functioning society — and not let everyone freeze to death — out of the icy wastelands that remain.
It's a tough game, and just as you finally get things running smoothly, another crisis hits. This leads to unthinkable decisions: Do you force children into the coal mines to keep the furnace running for another night? Raise spirits by using the resources you had earmarked for a hospital to build a pub instead? Put sawdust in the food to ensure there's enough to go around?
The game looks gorgeous, but there's little time to admire the view. As the city grows, you can send expeditions out beyond the crater you start in — but don't assume they'll all come back with useful resources or good news.
If things get bad enough, what's left of your population will rebel and leave town, or simply cast you out to die in the snow alone. Best get that furnace cranking…