This may sound kinda hipster, but I love being the first in the know. The first to discover a great restaurant. The first to hear a cool new band. And my love of firsts? It seems custom made for Steam’s Early Access program.
Designed to connect gamers with games long before their completed, Steam Early Access both scratches that hipster itch and helps developers raise the funds they need to complete these projects. Also, what better feedback is there during the development phase than hearing directly from your target market?
As with any “best of” list, it’s impossible to be definitive. This is really a collection of our favorites more than anything else. As new game hit Early Access that really float our boat, we’ll be sure to update our picks.
Who It’s For: Crafting fans with a pick in the dirt and an eye on the stars.
Why We Like It: Imagine if Terraria were a little more like Star Trek, and you’ve got Starbound in a nutshell. And we don’t just mean that in a “me too” kind of way — Starbound is very much its own beast.
That said, it’s lead developer was the artist on everyone’s favorite 2D crafting game, so they know a thing or two about the genre.
Unlike Terraria, Starbound is about exploring space (or, more to the point, different planets) that are vastly different, each offering up their own set of challenges and opportunities. From ice planets to space pirates, there’s plenty to discover and love in Starbound. Just make sure to mine some coal to keep your spaceship fueled up.
Who It’s For: Fast-paced actioneers with a love for variety. Fish with guns.
Why We Like It: Nuclear Throne has the spirit of a roguelike and the style of Smash TV. It’s a frantic twin stick shooter (well… it is if you have sticks, though we quite dig the mouse and keyboard combo) that has procedurally generated, plenty of characters, and more guns than you can shake a stick at.
Like any good roguelike, there are enough variables at play that no two runs should ever feel exactly the same. Each character has their own unique twist (the plant shoot brambles, the fish can dodge and roll), the weapon variety is staggering, and you’ll be able to choose from a grab bag of evolving behaviors whenever you level up your hero in your quest to sit atop the Nuclear Throne.
Who It’s For: The last of us.
Why We Like It: Survival is a word that gets tossed around a lot in video games, whether we’re talking about the “survival horror” of Silent Hill or the “survive as long as you can” nature of endless runner. But real survival? End of the world, every-man-for-himself stuff? DayZ is the first game that we can think of to nail it so damned perfectly, and it’s already spawned a wealth of imitators.
Players jump into servers that support 40 survivors as they scavenge, craft, and fight to live another day. And did we mention zombies? There are totally zombies. Of course, they’re only deadly if the other players don’t get you first. (If you’re looking to group up and play nice, we suggest doing so with friends).
Dungeon of the Endless
Who It’s For: Survivalists who wish their hobby was a team sport.
Why We Like It: Hewing a little closer to the traditional roguelike than a lot of games with that label nowadays, Dungeon of the Endless tasks players with exploring the depths of an alien world after crash landing their spaceship.
The twist? You are not alone.
You’ll start off with two characters on your squad, but as you you plumb through the depths you’ll find more and more folks to join your band of space-faring misfits — which is good, because you’ll want to replace the ones that die. And they’ll die a lot. Everything takes place in real-time, so you’ll need to control multiple team members that you’ve sent in multiple locations, turning this one into a game that’s as much about team management as it is survival.
Kerbal Space Program
Who It’s For: Rocket scientists. Those who wish they were.
Why We Like It: Remember when NASA still had the funding to be cool? So do we, and it makes us sad. At least it did until we played Kerbal Space Program — aka the closest we’ll personally ever get to designing our own rockets for interstellar travel.
Armchair rocketeers will design their own spacecraft with the end goal of sending it to the stars (without exploding and murdering your entire crew). Just as in real life, it’s harder than it sounds (and super-rewarding when you don’t accidentally explode Buzz Aldrin).