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15 of the best cheap Steam games

PC gaming needn't make you bankrupt: here are the best Steam games available for less than £25

The PS4 and Xbox One tend to steal the headlines, but it’s an under-discussed fact that there’s never been a better time to be a PC gamer.

Fire up the platform’s ubiquitous game delivery platform, Steam, and you’ll be presented with a vast collection of titles that spans four decades of gaming history, from the beginnings of the first person shooter in the early ’90s to the big budget blockbusters of today.

Best of all, Steam combines its overflowing library with some seriously wallet-friendly prices, and that’s before you take into account the regular, monstrously generous sales and deals.

But where does the discount-hunting PC noob start? With a wee read of these top picks, that’s where!

Additional copy by Sam Kieldsen

Life Is Strange (Episode 1 free)

The first episode of this five-part series is now available gratis – a sizeable free sample of one of 2015’s very best video games, and a tantalising glimpse of where the medium is heading next. For a tale that revels in the past, this masterful fantasy is most successful when it makes you ponder the future.

You play Max Caulfield, a painfully shy photography student who suddenly wakes from an apocalyptic daydream to discover that she can time travel. Rather than being able to hop in a blue phonebox and head back to the Middle Ages or when there was life on Mars, Max’s powers barely extend beyond the last five minutes.

Being able to reverse very recent history means Max can twist previous conversations to her benefit, pre-empt the actions of others and change what happens next. You’re invited to agonise over small choices and watch as their consequences snowball in unexpected directions.

Stuff Says: ★★★★★

Unique and thought-provoking, Life is Strange is a gaming steal

Download Life is Strange from Steam

Compatibility: Windows, Mac, SteamOS (also available for PS4, PS3, Xbox One, Xbox 360)

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt (£24.99)

What can we say about this stupendously well-received RPG that you haven’t already heard? The Witcher 3 is a sprawling fantasy yarn set in a vast open world (or more precisely, several open worlds) packed with side quests and other optional tasks.

Even if you forego the bits on the side, however, there’s dozens of hours of main line adventure awaiting you as you pull on the armour of Geralt, a gravel-voiced mutant and Witcher who makes his living hunting monsters but is now tracking a decidedly different quarry: his surrogate daughter.

Brilliantly written, populated by engaging characters (several of which you can sleep with, should you be that way inclined) and rich with gritty, grimy atmosphere, The Witcher 3 brings a focus and personality to open world adventure that many outwardly similar RPGs (Fallout 4 and Dragon Age Inquisition, for starters) simply can’t match.

The two DLC add-ons are highly recommended too, but the base game has plenty for you to plough through first. If you want to get lost in another world for a few weeks, here’s your gateway.

Stuff says: ★★★★★

We urge you to enter this huge, living world with adventure around every corner

Download The Witcher 3 from Steam

Compatibility: Windows (also available for PS4, Xbox One)

Papers, Please (£6.99)

An indie game in which you pull on the (doubtless beige polyester) shirt and tie of a border control official in a fictional totalitarian state might not sound like much fun, but Papers, Please isn’t your average time-sink. At times, it feels more like a transportive experience than a form of entertainment.

Don’t get us wrong; there are game mechanics here, and they’re solid – you have to check would-be immigrants’ documents against an ever-increasing list of rules and regulations, with mistakes punished in the form of docked wages, all the while battling against the clock – but they’re really there to further immerse the player into the mindset of a human being asked to become an unthinking cog in a hellish bureaucratic machine.

And it’s when the game asks you to think – to bend or break those rules you’ve been given – that it becomes truly compelling.

Stuff says: ★★★★✩

Brings the daily dreariness of dystopian drudgery to brilliant life

Download Papers, Please on Steam

Compatibility: Windows, Mac, SteamOS (also available for iPad)

Stardew Valley (£10.99)

Had enough of combat, globe-trotting and intrigue? How’d you like to spend your evenings engaged in something a little more relaxing and gentle – while still retaining that dopamine-dumping gaming loop that ensures you’ll be playing long past midnight?

Allow us to present Stardew Valley, a game in which you take over and run a dilapidated old farm; not a farm plagued by zombies, not a farm upon which an evil corporation wants to drill for oil – just a farm on the outskirts of a sleepy countryside town, with some land and a few buildings you can develop. As the seasons roll by, you’ll meet your neighbours – and maybe even fall in love and start a family.

And don’t worry, this has far more in common with Harvest Moon than it does Farmville, concentrating on gently prodding you into being more productive rather than constantly chucking stuff in your face.

80 Days (£6.99)

Inspired by Jules Verne’s Around The World in Eighty Days but with a steampunk twist and possibly even more words to read, 80 Days is the perfect game for those seeking atmosphere and adventure – but who don’t have 100 hours to sink into a game such as The Witcher 3.

You can sail (or drive, or elephant-ride) through a trans-global playthrough of this in little more than a couple of hours, and the beauty of it is that it’s very replayable. While Verne’s novel had Phileas Fogg and Passepartout taking one route around the world, 80 Days gives you dozens of potential combinations, each of them packed with unforgettable moments.

Be warned: it’s an interactive story rather than a reflex-testing action-fest, and heavy on text (but still a feast for the eyes). So if you’re from the Donald Trump School of Reading Dislikers, it might not be the game for you.

Stuff says: ★★★★✩

A wondrous interactive tale filled with memorable moments

Download 80 Days from Steam

Compatibility: Windows, Mac (also available for iOS, Android)

Game of Thrones: A Telltale Game (£22.99)

If you’ve never played a Telltale adventure then the concept goes something like this: you take charge of a character (or a whole bunch of characters) in a story and guide them through a series of choices that affect the way the plot plays out. Occasional quicktime events and perfunctory puzzles also crop up, but the game’s focus is that all-important decision making.

This particular Telltale adventure follows the trials and tribulations of House Forrester, a minor noble family in the north of Westeros . Things aren’t going so well for the Forresters since their liege lords the Starks took a one-way trip to the Lannister abattoir, and their lives are being made hell by the forces allied against them.

It’s a testament to Telltale’s storytelling finesse that it can create an episodic game that constantly flits between four playable characters and still make it work. The cast is eminently likeable, the choices excruciatingly hard, and it expands a peripheral area of George R.R. Martin’s universe that fans of the series will be giddy with excitement to explore.

Stuff says: ★★★★✩

Game of Thrones gets the Telltale treatment with predictably excellent results

Download Game of Thrones from Steam

Compatibility: Windows, Mac (also available for PS4, PS3, Xbox One, Xbox 360, iOS, Android)

The Fall (£6.99)

From the world of grand budgets and massive scale to a superb example of what can be achieved with very few resources. The Fall is a platformer in which you play a hyper-intelligent space combat suit. No, not the person inside the suit, the AI of the suit itself, which is named ‘ARID’.

After a disaster in space, both ARID and her occupant crash land below the surface of a strange planet, but her charge is in dire need of medical care. In order to bring her human cargo to safety, ARID must battle her way past a nest of psychotic robots with little more than a hand pistol and a torch.

The whole escapade is short, but handled with deft care. The storytelling here is genuinely superb, and a cut above many of the ideas you’ll find in games ten times the price. We’re not of a fan of spoilers, but we will say that ARID’s journey takes a turn toward existential horror that is utterly delightful and will leave you slack-jawed.

Stuff says: ★★★★★

Short, simple and utterly superb, The Fall is a budget belter of a game

Download The Fall from Steam

Compatibility: Windows, Mac, SteamOS (also available for PS4, Xbox One)

FIve Nights at Freddy’s 4 (£3.99)

Who would have believed that an indie game about homicidal toys in a ’50s diner would become an overnight success? Five Nights at Freddy‘s has become the go-to indie horror experience as players attempt to make it through the night by keeping tabs on their animatronic assailants.

Never heard of it? The premise is simple – you have to, well, survive for five nights. Malevolent toys attempt to creep to your location undetected in order to bang cymbals in your face nerve-janglingly loudly, and it’s your job to stop them.

The player’s only defense against the mechanised threat is a network of security cameras and a couple of doors that can be held shut to prevent the animatronic nightmares from entering the room. Cue the pattern ‘check camera, look down hallway, check camera again, whimper’ and repeat until nerves are shattered beyond repair.

Parents everywhere should keep this one under lock and key lest it confirm to their children that monsters are real, they’re evil, and they will kill you in your sleep.

Stuff says: ★★★★✩

You’ll never see Toy Story in the same light again – truly terrifying

Download Five Nights at Freddy’s 4 from Steam

Compatibility: Windows (also available for iOS, Android)

SOMA (£22.99)

Imagine facing an army of your worst fears, totally alone, and your only options are to run, hide, or close the door and hope you don’t get chomped.

This is what SOMA, the latest first person incontinence simulator from the creators of Amnesia: The Dark Descent, is all about. You play Simon, an ordinary guy who goes for a brain scan in the present day and awakes within a submarine nightmare decades in the future. As if that doesn’t constitute a bad day in itself, the underwater facility’s entire crew is dead, the bodies appear to be missing most of their limbs, and Simon is being chased to his doom by all manner of unspeakable nasties.

Most other games designers would hand players a shotgun, flamethrower, and RPG with which to defend themselves, but not Frictional Games. This studio’s particular brand of horror features no weapons of any kind, instead forcing players to enter into deadly games of hide and seek with no specialist tools to assist them. This is undoubtedly one of the quickest routes to heart attack via digital download we’ve ever experienced.

Stuff says: ★★★★★

SOMA might be short, but it’s terrifyingly brilliant from start to finish

Download SOMA from Steam

Compatibility: Windows, Mac, SteamOS (also available for PS4)

XCOM: Enemy Unknown (£14.99)

Firing laser pistols at little grey men who are invading Earth sounds like the stuff of child’s play, but XCOM: Enemy Unknown is anything but.

Turn-based strategy hadn’t been in vogue for some time, but XCOM brought it back in style with classic mechanics that had been polished to perfection.

Players command a squad on a map that is divided into a giant square grid. Here they combat an alien force, each taking their turn to move, attack, and engage special abilities. It sounds simple, but the rules are deceptively complicated and it’s easy to suddenly find your squad reduced to plasma jam on the pavement as the flanks collapse and the ruthless extraterrestrials converge.

These skirmishes are just the beginning as the player is also responsible for managing levels of global panic in response to the alien threat. Neglecting to provide aid to jittery nations can result in them retracting their aid and weakening the player’s allied force.

Stuff Says: ★★★★★

Reacquaint yourself with anti-alien tactics before tackling XCOM 2

Download XCOM: Enemy Unknown from Steam

Compatibility: Windows, Mac, SteamOS (also available for PS3, Xbox 360)

Sunless Sea (£13.99)

Another game with stellar writing, Sunless Sea conjures a gloriously gloomy Gothic alt-world out of a few hand-drawn 2D graphics, some evocative audio and reams and reams of text – as with 80 Days, if you don’t like reading, you probably won’t get on very well with this.

And that would be a shame, because Sunless Sea is a game packed with wonder and terror. A heady mix of exploration, risk, insanity, cannibalism, combat and C’thulu-esque horror from the deep, it gives you a vast underground ocean and asks you and your tiny crew to navigate it, transporting goods and people in order to build wealth (and eventually upgrade your vessel) and, eventually, complete the specific story objective you’ve set for yourself at the beginning.

Be warned: it’s tough. Venture out into the deep unprepared and you’ll most likely end up as food for a sea monster, prey for a pirate ship or simply stranded in the dark with no fuel or food, left to drift helplessly as you starve. And with permadeath, if you do die there’s no reloading an old save to fix things. You’ve got to start again from the beginning…

Stuff says: ★★★★✩

Weird and wonderful adventure in a well-realised alternative history

Download Sunless Sea from Steam

Compatibility: Windows, Mac, SteamOS

Invisible, Inc. (£14.99)

Already own XCOM? Then it’s time to sink your teeth into Invisible, Inc. a game that owes its very DNA to the XCOM franchise.

Invisible, Inc. is a turn-based strategy game that focuses on espionage and stealth rather than straight-up combat. Players control a spy on a top-down isometric grid who must use each turn to disable alarms, knock out guards, avoid capture, and eventually complete their objective. Here there are no squads of military soldiers, no aliens with fiery lasers of death, just a solo operative faced with perilously deadly security measures.

You’ll breeze through your first couple of missions, but the difficulty quickly ascends to stratospheric heights as the guards get smarter and the configuration of obstacles becomes steadily more sophisticated. Few indie games offer the kind of sterling design or cerebral challenge that Invisible, Inc. succeeds in marshalling with such effortless grace. It’s even a looker to boot, with a gorgeous cell-shaded aesthetic that’s exceedingly easy on the eyes.

Stuff says: ★★★★✩

A superb, stealthy alternative (or companion) to XCOM

Download Invisible, Inc. from Steam

Compatibility: Windows, Mac, SteamOS (also available for PS4)

Rocket League (£14.99)

Essentially football with cars, Rocket League is easy to get into and difficult to master.

Controls and gameplay are easy. Drive around, smash into opposing players, and do whatever it takes to get a gigantic ball into the back of their goal. Collecting boosts around the pitch gives you a dash of extra speed, letting you smash into players and blow them up – the Rocket League equivalent of a two-footed tackle. You can also launch yourself through the air, providing an opportunity for a whole array of stunning saves and spectacular Messi-worthy goals.

Overall, Rocket League is a pure, innocent, simple, unadulterated explosive fun-fest, and a great pick-up-and-play title if you find yourself with five minutes to spare. Be warned though: one match will never be enough.

Stuff says: ★★★★★

This game of football on four wheels is pure, addictive, explosive fun

Download Rocket League on Steam

Compatibility: Windows, Mac, SteamOS (also available for Xbox One, PS4)

Audiosurf 2 (£10.99)

Audiosurf is the demented three-way lovechild of Wipeout, Tetris, and one of those dodgy DJ programs that were popular in the nineties. But it works.

The game’s premise is simple: shake up the traditional arcade racer by tying it to your favourite music. In Audiosurf 2 the levels are procedurally generated to match the exact style and character of your favourite songs. The racing is intense when the music reaches a crescendo and more forgiving when it reaches a gentle segment.

You’ll find yourself curious to see what the program produces in response to Karma Police compared to Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger, and the results rarely disappoint. The algorithm that translates audio track to race track is surprisingly deft at adapting itself to changes in tone and you’ll rarely feel like the resultant course of giddy lights and swirling obstacles isn’t in keeping with the chosen song.

Of course, this relies on the use of one of those increasingly rare ‘MP3 libraries’ of yore – none of this Spotify malarky here. Anyone who has abandoned local media storage should think twice before purchase. Those still clinging to the odd 20th century discotheque collection on their hard drive are in for a treat.

Stuff says: ★★★★✩

Audiosurf 2 is Vib-Ribbon for the HD generation, and it’s awesome

Download Audiosurf 2 from Steam

Compatibility: Windows, Mac, SteamOS

Undertale (£6.99)

While Undertale wears the clothes of an old school RPG, it’s anything but traditional. Here’s a game that you can complete without killing a single enemy – where the enemies in fact exhibit such character and uniqueness that you may prefer to befriend rather than behead them.

If soul, charm and narrative are more important to you than fancy visuals and animation, Undertale deserves a few hours of your time and a few quid out of your pocket; this simple 2D title, developed almost exclusively by a single person, offers more wit and innovation than five years of Call of Duty games put together.

Stuff says: ★★★★★

One of the most innovative RPGs of recent years

Download Undertale from Steam

Compatibility: Windows, Mac, SteamOS