I am obsessed with my Steam Deck. I received Valve’s handheld gaming computer in May of this year, and it quickly became my favorite console of all time. After a period of severe media burnout, it’s made me fall in love with games all over again, and I’ve finished more games in the past six months than in years past. As you might expect, the rest of my console has been gathering dust ever since.
To tell you how deep the rabbit hole goes, even when it comes to watching a particular PlayStation or Xbox game, I’ve been using remote play services like Cheeky and Greenlight so that I can play them. play on my steam deck. God of War: Ragnarok sings on the big screen, sure, but what if you could play it from the comfort of your bed, compromise-free? In a world obsessed with the attention-economy, it’s a gambler I’m interested in.
The bespoke nature of the Steam Deck, along with its tinker-friendly Linux base and easy access to the desktop, means you’re able to play more games than anything that could fit between your palms. Even complex PC-only games like Mount and Blade 2: Bannerlords will work on this thing, thanks to its fully remapable inputs and access to layouts created by knowledgeable community members.
And herein lies the Steam Deck’s secret superpower. I’ve cleared out a lot of my backlog with this device, but I’ve also broadened my palette with so many cult classics that never got the privilege of portability.
Reviving Old Games for a New Age
Nothing bothers me more than when games get lost in time due to backward compatibility, licensing issues, weird control schemes, or just plain old commercial unpopularity. The Steam Deck feels like a great equalizer in this regard—it’ll play pretty much anything you throw at it, including a slate of gems from my childhood.
2011’s The Lord of the Rings: War in the North is a game that no one talks about, mainly because it came out the same year as Dark Souls and Skyrim. But it’s also a great third-person co-op action game with an innovative RPG system, a stellar voice-acting cast, and a killer license. It feels like a continuation of the (fantastic) Lord of the Rings movie tie-in games from the early 2000s, and it’s a piece of history that led to Monolith’s Middle-earth series. But history has not been kind to him. War in the North was removed on most digital storefronts and was never made backward compatible. Still it runs like a dream on my Steam deck.
The novelty of the process, and indeed, the strangeness of playing a console-only game on the go, has yet to dawn on me. My weekly rotation includes your typical favorites, but also games like Lost Planet, Max Payne 3, Gun, Kane & Lynch, Condemned: Criminal Origins, Killer 7, and Project Snowblind.
Steam Deck is a goldmine if you feel nostalgic for the many eras of experimental IP. It felt so refreshing to dig into this aspect of the library, given how safe and apathetic the industry can feel nowadays. One of my favorite games of 2010 was Digital Extremes’ The Darkness 2, a franchise that is now for some reason (what looks like) forever.
in the darkness
A beautiful relic of the past, I was very surprised to learn that it runs full steam decks in 2022, much better than at launch. I was able to gain a new appreciation for aspects of the game that connected with me when I was a teenager, such as the game’s unique cel-shaded art style, evocative of the same graphic novels The Darkness 2 is based on.
“It took a lot of work to make a game where visual lighting could affect the gameplay as well as the gameplay itself. It was not easy to manage every setting and gameplay scenario that needed to work in light and shadow. Even now If we can avoid it, we tend to avoid such systems in our games,” said Matt Tremblay, art director on The Darkness 2.
“There were other games at the time, like Borderlands, that were doing something similar, but I think we managed to make our game stand out from the crowd. The subject matter, the graphic novel roots. We wanted to adopt that visual style.” because so many games at the time focused on desaturated realism”
There’s also unique combat, which blends a first-person shooter with a hack ‘n’ slash, as you prowl the cosmic dungeons and kill robbers, or lob them with metal poles. Pin it on the wall. The ‘play with your food’ approach to combat has seen success in later games such as Sony Santa Monica’s God of War: Ragnarok.
“I mean, running those demon arms! It’s pretty awe-inspiring,” said Tremblay. “In the end, the game came together well, and it’s great to see it see a resurgence on platforms like Steam Deck … Too many great games are made and then forgotten as a shiny new game is announced and released.”
What was it about this period that spawned so many cult classics? Tremblay noted that in 2012, they were still making the game “as a boxed product”, which led to fierce competition. “When people only have so much money to spend on sports, they can more often than not go with the safer bet.”
Tremblay was interested in the idea of working on another game in the series, but noted that as of now, Digital Extremes is working on their free-to-play Behemoth Warframe and the upcoming Soulframe. “If we had the opportunity to do Darkness 3, it would be interesting to see how Jackie Estacado’s story could be expanded upon,” Tremblay said. “We have matured as developers and would suggest that we will be able to expand on that story in ways that we may not have been equipped to do back then.
back to the island
Another game that has found a new home on the Steam deck is Curse of Monkey Island, a LucasArts classic from 1997. After reviewing Return to Monkey Island, I thought it would be a good time to check out the series foundation that lacklusterly received the improved treatment the first two games received.
I know what you’re thinking. a point and click? on a handheld device? But the Steam Deck’s trackpad makes it the best way to play this genre. All you have to do is change the layout so that the right touchpad feels like it’s a computer mouse, and you have a portable point-and-click interface for playing a ’90s classic with a timeless art style is ready.
“We looked at the artistic development and production process used by Disney and other traditional studios, as well as the art styles of classic book illustrators,” said Larry Ahern, co-project leader for Curse of Monkey Island. “I think The Curse was in a unique place in terms of design and production values. The game has a long and complex design that much like older games, had to lean on this element to entertain their audience because they Couldn’t do much with the art and animation,” he continued. “But then with Curse we had higher resolution, and brought in a team of classically trained traditional animators, a digital ink and paint system that was the main were formally used in films, and blended the two.”
Curse of Monkey Island felt like a rare treat on the Steam deck, with its gorgeous assets scaled up on an 800p screen. It’s hard to encounter a truly funny video game, but Curse continually intrigued me with its warm characters and biting wit. It would be nice to have a full-scale remake, but in lieu of that reality, this is a great option for modern players.
“A few years ago it seemed like the company was working its way through special editions for a lot of older games, so we were hoping they’d make their way to Curse, but then things stalled.” Gone,” Ahern said. “I’m definitely in favor of portability of games and playing in smaller chunks or chapters. I think if players don’t feel like they need to buy expensive hardware and put a dent in the games they’re playing If you commit to putting in a full day, it opens up the game to a wider audience.
After Curse of Monkey Island, Ahern went on to work on Insecticide, another underrated gem from LucasArts alumni that blends action-adventure combat and exploration with inventory puzzling in 3D space, Grim Fandango style. Part 1 of the action-adventure detective game landed in 2008, boasting awesome voice-acted animated cutscenes and fun puzzles, but Part 2 was canceled and never officially materialized. This is another underrated gem, remarkably plug-and-play on the Steam deck.
“I would have liked another insight into the world of Insecticide. I think we were too early on the indie scene with that one. Just a few years later and with an off-the-shelf game engine, development would have been so much easier.” and other tools to support remote teams,” Ahern said. “It would be fun to make another game like this, but I feel that many of my original game concepts may not be commercial enough to justify the budgets I’d like to work with. So, never say never, but It would take a great idea and a very supportive publisher to entice me back.
The future for Steam Deck looks bright as we move through its life cycle. It’s a force to be reckoned with, both as a powerful handheld equalizer and a means of preserving video game history. This forward-thinking tool brings with it the added privilege of a window into the past, and it is expected that as more games gain community support and deck validation, the unique library will grow, bringing countless cult classics with it, so that they can be achieved. If they can, they deserve appreciation.