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For those on a budget, that isn’t a reasonable deal. Thankfully, Steam offers a huge library of games that are just 5 bucks (okay – $4.99) and provide hours of entertainment. These games do not have the gee-whiz graphics of a new $60 title, but they’re still plenty of fun.
This RPG from 2002 started life with the dream of becoming Ultima Underworld III. The developer could not obtain that license, however, so the game instead released under the name Arx Fatalis, then faded into obscurity.
Over time, however, many players have come to enjoy the game, resulting in a cult following. The greatest strength of the game is its unique spellcasting system, which responds to the player’s mouse gestures. This results in sometimes frantic gameplay – as long as you focus heavily on spells.
The narrative of Arx Fatalis isn’t particularly compelling, but the gameplay will likely strike a chord with fans of the Elder Scrolls series. Better yet, the developer recently released the game’s source code under General Public License, which should make mod fans happy.
At its core, this game is a squad-based real time strategy game, and there are plenty of those to be found. What makes Freedom Force stand out, however, is the love with which the developers embraced comic book culture. Although this is not a licensed game (that means no Batman or Spiderman), everything from the graphics to the dialogue is modeled after the early days of comics, making it easy to recognize the archetypes each hero and villain represents.
The gameplay also sets Freedom Force apart from your average strategy title. This is not an easy game, and players will have to be creative with their use of the powers each hero has available. Grabbing victory from the jaws of defeat will make you feel as heroic as the characters you’re commanding.
The sequel, Freedom Force vs. the Third Reich, is also available for 5 bucks.
The oldest game on this list by far, Railroad Tycoon II was released all the way back in 1998 (yes, they had computers back then). Obviously this means the graphics aren’t going to be much, but the outstanding gameplay makes up for any visual shortcomings.
At its core, Railroad Tycoon II is a management game. Building railroads and watching trains roll back and forth is easy, but figuring out how to make those trains profitable is hard. Success will mean carefully planning your routes, buying the right trains for a given route, and managing your cash flow through economic booms and busts.
If you’re the kind of gamer who is into finding the best strategy and maximum efficiency, Railroad Tycoon II Platinum will keep you entertained for months. This game is arguably the best value on the entire Steam service if the amount of play time you receive for your money is a priority.
Digital distribution’s impact on indie gaming has been overwhelmingly positive. Many games that would have struggled to exist in a world of physical discs have been successful on Steam. Adventure games are one example of a genre that flat-lined, but have now been revived thanks to the lower cost of distributing niche titles.
Ben There, Dan That! and its sequel, Time Gentlemen, Please! are traditional adventure games in the same vein as the Monkey Island series. The gameplay follows a humorous plot about the adventures of Ben and Dan, two dim-witted anti-heroes who predictably find themselves fighting the world. The writing is hilarious, the artwork unique, and the gameplay excellent (if you’re into adventure games). The best news? This is a combo pack, which means you will receive both games for just 5 bucks!
While we’re talking about resurrected genres, we should definitely talk about VVVVVV. This game is an old-school platformer, and like many new games in this style (Braid, Super Meat Boy, Give Up Robot), VVVVVV will probably make you put your head through your monitor in a fit of rage. It’s all in good fun though, and the pay-off to beating an absurdly difficult level is the satisfaction of conquering what seemed impossible.
There’s more to VVVVVV than challenging levels, however. The retro-style graphics are faithful to the source material, and the game even has a reasonably engaging plot. It’s not Shakespeare, but you will likely find yourself sincerely concerned about the characters you interact with, even if they are nothing more than simple 2D sprites.
Obviously, this selection of games is based off my personal opinion. Some other great titles that I didn’t particularly enjoy, but others will probably like, include Star Wars Jedi Knight: Dark Forces II, Geometry Wars, and Overlord. Only games normally priced under $5 (i.e. those not on sale) were eligible to be a part of this list.