While they often violate one of basic tenets of the Steam game sale -- relinquish thine funds when prices are hacked 60 percent or more -- Early Access games join in on the festivities anyway.
Many of the 318 Early Access games are playing ball in this latest Steam Holiday sale, running until Jan. 2. Those games could offer fresh experiences to those who see "In Library" on every other game on the sale's front page every day of the wallet-wooing event. Besides, the current discounts are likely the best most of these games will see for quite some time.
Valve recently tightened its rules governing Early Access titles to help developers avoid making promises they can't keep and to safeguard consumers from picking up games that have little chance of ever seeing an official release. Early Access gives buyers immediate access to games that are being developed and the chance to offer feedback. It is up to developers to say when they are ready for release.
The rules are clearer and gamers can expect to run into fewer games like this in Early Access, but prospective buyers should always ensure they understand the terms before slinging their wallets at unfinished games. With that out of the way, it's time to look at some promising Early Access games in the works by developers that seems to be in the holiday spirit -- that means their games have at least a 25 percent discount.
Wickland (60 Percent Off)
The pace of this arena shooter screams Quake and Unreal Tournament in the Doppler effect, inviting players to hop in and never stop moving. What gives Wickland its own identity in the arena shooter genre is the ability for players to morph into beasts that hulk, smash, plasma blast and rebound stomp their way to victory.
Wickland offers three maps, eight beasts, a number of powerups and a simple spectator mode. Developer Mad Ram Software plans to improve Wickland's spectator mode, add ranking, introduce clans support, roll out five more maps and release an offline mode in which players can practice on bots.
Kings of Kung Fu (25 Percent Off)
With the grounded nature of a Virtua Fighter game and the jittery pace of a Mortal Kombat title, Digital Tribe's Kings of Kung Fu seeks to satiate the rumbling bellies of fighting game purists. The gameplay focuses on brisk and realistic strikes, rather than 40-hit combos and off-the-screen tosses.
European Ship Simulator (25 Percent Off)
Euro Truck Simulator 2 was hilarious -- the idea of driving big rigs around Europe. Then the gaming world fell in love with those just-in-time deliveries, the gorgeous scenery and the accomplishment of building a transportation empire.
Excalibur's European Ship Simulator isn't nearly as ambitious as ETS2, right now at least. But its mission editor promises to expand on the eight it has now and Excalibur plans to announce more features soon, including more ports and ships.