The first steam machine hit store shelves last week, but Valve has been working on the little back box’s Linux-based operating system for a lot longer. Since the launch of SteamOS a little less than two years ago, the number of Linux-friendly games has increased exponentially; Valve’s digital publishing platform now boasts more than 1,500 “steam machine ready” games. To help you narrow that down to a shopping cart compatible number, we’ve put together a list of 30 of our favorites.
Playing Jazzpunk, the Airplane-esque parody of secret agent adventures from developer Necrophone Games, is a genuinely funny, definitely absurd experience. Over the course of it’s three-hour run, you’ll laugh, you’ll groan and you’ll laugh again. There are more gags than gameplay, but funny is what they were going for and funny is what they deliver in rib-aching abundance.
29. Dying Light
Techland resolves the slow vs. fast zombie conundrum by including both in Dying Light; during the day, the dead slowly shamble Night of the Dead-style, but when the sun sets they turn 28 Days Later fast with a hunger to rival their speed. The real fun isn’t in fighting but fleeing, thanks to the awesome parkour mechanics; once you build up your skills, you’ll be flipping over corpses and flying over rooftops. Unlike zombies, it never gets old.
Teslagrad tells its story without words, relying instead on gorgeous animation, clever puzzles and fun mechanics; you’ll explore an abandoned tower full of Nikola Tesla-inspired technology which you’ll use to navigate the platforming, puzzles and old-school boss fights. Rain Games’ first effort is a delightful Metroidvania-styled puzzle platformer whose hand-drawn visuals will keep you playing despite its occasional hair-pulling difficulty.
27. The Banner Saga
Stoic Studio’s bleakly beautiful, Viking-inspired adventure blends punishing tactical combat with striking visuals and a compelling narrative. It features well-balanced, turn-based combat bookended by a somber story that forces players to make at times morally ambiguous choices in order to ensure the survival of the caravan, like Oregon Trail with more shields and spears. The Banner Saga is a linear journey, but one still worth taking.
26. The Stanley Parable
What started as a Half-Life 2 mod evolved to be a fantastically meta video game reflecting on the very nature of video games. As you lead office drone Stanley in search of his missing colleagues, either following or defying the omniscient narrator’s expectations, you quickly realize you have only the illusion of choice. It’s a fact that most games actively try to get you to forget, but The Stanley Parable hammers it home with every hilarious, scathing, deprecating line of dialogue. It manages to make fun of narrative tropes in video games while still being fun.
25. Axiom Verge
Tom Happ loves Metroid.
He loves is so much, he spent five years distilling the best parts of Metroid
– exploration, discovery and ass-kicking powerups – into a solid, sci-fi love letter to the series. Axiom Verge
will hit you right in the retro feels. This level of polish would be impressive coming from a studio, let alone one man.
24. This War of Mine
There are plenty of “war games” casting the player as a capable solider, but only one that explores what it’s like to be a civilian living in a war zone. This War of Mine is an emotional exploration of the hard choices made by those caught in the middle of conflict, where every day is a struggle against hunger, disease, loneliness and the loss of hope. 11 bit Studios has created a harrowing and realistic portrait of the true cost of war, but beneath the weighty message there’s still a great resource management game.
23. The Cat Lady
Harvester Games has created a true psychological horror game, a morbidy mature study of tragedy, depression, suicide and ultimately redemption. As Susan Ashworth, the titular Cat Lady, you are sent back to the world of the living after downing a bottle of pills to battle demons both literal and metaphorical. The Cat Lady opens with a warning about the horrific imagery, sexual content, and brutal violence you’ll experience. But despite the gore it still manages to be beautiful, a twisted but surprisingly touching journey through the darkest corners of the human mind.
22. Wasteland 2: Director’s Cut
Though you can’t wander the wasteland of Fallout 4 on SteamOS, the Linux native Wasteland 2: Director’s Cut offers in many ways a much more visceral post-apocalyptic experience. Deep Silver’s Wasteland 2 is the direct sequel to 1988’s Wasteland, the first-ever post-apocalyptic computer RPG and the inspiration behind the Fallout series. In fact, thanks to its massive open world, deep character customization, immersive combat and gripping storyline, it’s regarded by many as the real Fallout 3.
21. To The Moon
As an adventure game, To The Moon is average. But as an interactive story, it’s amazing. You play as Dr. Wyatt and Dr. Rosaleane, two scientists who have arrived at the house of a dying, elderly man named John in order to grant his last wish – to visit the moon. They can’t actually send him into space, but they can infiltrate his mind Inception-style, traveling backwards through his memories to plant the idea of becoming an astronaut in the mind of his childhood-self so that he “remembers” going to the moon. What unfolds is a bittersweet tale that will make you laugh and cry, sometimes simultaneously.
In Antichamber, creator Alexander Bruce has given us more than just another Portal-inspired first person puzzler; his Escher-esque labyrinth is an interactive work of art. In this maze of geometric shapes, brilliant colors and malleable physics, you’ll encounter puzzles both mind-bending and mind-expanding. When you finally conquer a challenging puzzle, usually one whose solution seems obvious in hindsight, the sense of accomplishment always outweighs the annoyance.
19. Invisible, Inc.
In Invisible, Inc., Klei Entertainment has combined the stealth mechanics of their excellent Mark of the Ninja with the turn-based gameplay of XCOM: Enemy Unknown, resulting in a gorgeous cyber-espionage title that makes you feel every bit the bad-ass spy. It’s smart. It’s stylish. And, thanks to its randomly generated levels and gear, it will keep being smart and stylish for as long as you keep playing.
Broforce is an homage to cheesy 80s action movies, chock full of muscle-bound heroes, double-fisted guns and blood-drenched carnage. It’s like Contra on steroids. Free Lives have created an insanely addictive, and at time insanely difficult retro action game best enjoyed with a handful of bros and a cooler full of beers.
17. Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor
Shadow of Mordor is the best Lord of the Rings-inspired game to date. Monolith’s take on Middle-earth borrows its free-flowing combat from Batman and its free-running from Assassin’s Creed, to great effect. Where it sets itself apart from its open world inspirations is in its Nemesis System – randomly named Uruks in Sauron’s Army that are uniquely generated with each playthrough. If they kill you, they’ll move up the ranks, gaining cooler armor and more power. And if you kill them, they’ll bear the scars and hold a grudge. Uruks also struggle internally for rank, and you can interrupt their duels, feasts and hunts to tip the scales of power. Long after you’ve completed the story, you’ll still have fun clashing swords with the great cast of Orcs.
Frictional Game’s underwater sci-fi horror-adventure plays like a more mature Bioshock. Both games take place in underwater facilities where monsters roam free, but whereas Bioshock gives you cool powers and weapons to fight back against these horrors, your only recourse in SOMA is to run and hide. In place of boss fights, there are long stretches where you wander the lifeless Pathos-2 research facility trying to piece together what happened, making your next encounter that much more terrifying. And in those rare moments you have the choice to “put down” one of these creatures, you’ll question if you should. SOMA is one of the best science fiction stories in recent memory, striking the perfect balance between terrifying and thought provoking.
15. Shovel Knight
Yacht Club Games nails the look and feel of a classic NES game in Shovel Knight, their 8-bit homage to the side-scrolling platformers of our collective childhood. Everything from the colors to the music to the controls transport you back to the heyday of the Nintendo Entertainment System, when Duck Tales, Mega Man and Super Mario Bros. reigned supreme. Even if you don’t share my sense of nostalgia, it’s an amazingly well executed and cleverly designed platformer.
14. Dust: An Elysian Tale
If you missed this gorgeous adventure when it was on Xbox Live Arcade, its port to Linux is every bit as beautiful. The hand-drawn backgrounds and wide-eyed anthropomorphic characters make Dust: An Elysian Tale look like a late 90s Disney movie. But the frenetic action and dark tone make it play like Castlevania. Just, you know, with more bunnies.
13. Papers, Please
Indie developer 3909’s passport stamping sim manages to make bureaucracy seem thrilling. As an immigration inspector for the communist state of Arstotzka, you decide who gets in and who get turned away, arrested or worse. Essentially, Papers, Please is a game of spot the difference – you check passports, compare names, examine seals, and as the game progresses conduct searches to ensure contraband isn’t being smuggled into the country. But there’s also a wonderful dystopian story playing out in the background. You can take bribes. You can break rules. You can even throw your lot in with the secret society striving to overthrow the government. There are more than 20 endings to discover; it will take a lot of paper pushing to get them all, but it’s well worth the drudgery.
12. Amnesia: The Dark Descent
There’s absolutely no shame in admitting that I only play Amnesia: The Dark Descent with the lights on. As an amnesiac stranded in a haunted castle, you are armed only with an oil lantern and a note from your pre-amnesia self letting you know 1.) that your memory loss was self-inflicted 2.) that you’re being hunted by a nightmare in corporeal form and 3.) that you must find the heart of the castle, where its owner resides, and straight up murder him. From there things just get scarier. Amnesia: The Dark Descent is pure Lovecraftian nightmare fuel. Just remember, turn the lights off at your own risk.
11. Cities: Skylines
Cities: Skylines succeeds where SimCity failed. Colossal Order’s modern city-building game revives the genre with its friendly interface, addictive progression system and enormous maps. Cities: Skylines is the new standard in city building games, with great modder support ensuring it will become even bigger and better with time.
10. Gone Home
Opening doors, searching rooms and reading notes are the meat of Gone Home‘s action and violence-free gameplay, but through performing these mundane tasks you piece together a poignant, emotional story. The excellent writing and detailed environments make you want to rifle through every drawer, listen to every answering machine message and read every hastily scrawled note in order to uncover the secrets of the Greenbriar family. By the time you price to together the reason your little sister Samantha ran away, the cause of your parents’ marital woes and the sketchy history of your great-uncle-cum-ghost, you’ll feel connected to these characters despite not having met any of them.
9. Crypt of the Necrodancer
Zelda re-imagined as a rhythm game? That description doesn’t quite capture the quirky brilliance of Brace Yourself Games’ roguelike dungeon crawler, where all the moves and attacks are timed to the beat of the music. In smashing together two seemingly disparate genres, they’ve created something beautiful. Crypt of the Necrodancer is a wholly original and magical experience, and surprisingly challenging beneath its joyful demeanor.
8. Shadowrun series
Harebrained Schemes brought Shadowrun – a tactical turned-based RPG based on the tabletop role-playing game of the same name – back to life with 2013’s Shadowrun Returns. Since then, they’ve released two stand-alone expansions, Shadowrun: Dragonfall and Shadowrun: Hong Kong, that continue to expand the near-future fictional universe in which cybernetics, magic and fantasy creatures co-exist. Each installment improves upon the last, but all offer compelling storylines and interesting missions
7. Kerbal Space Program
Despite its slapstick humor and cartoonish aliens, Kerbal Space Program manages to be an incredibly complex space sim. This hardcore physics simulator will have you building your own spaceships in an attempt to reach the stars without crashing or exploding. And every little green life lost in the pursuit of this goal gives you a greater appreciate for how hard rocket science really is.
6. Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings
While we wait for CD Projekt’s promised Linux port of Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, the second game in the series still holds up as a deep, dark and gritty role playing experience. Though no longer the benchmark by which all other RPGs will be judged and found wanting, Witcher 2 is still visually stunning and narratively compelling. And you chase a chicken through a forest of penis-shaped mushrooms.
5. Torchlight II
Torchlight II is a loot whore’s dream game. Runic Games distilled everything we loved about their Diablo III-inspired dungeon crawler into the multiplayer-enhanced sequel, which is a concentrated loot-a-palooza. It’s chock full of combat and quests and loot, oh so much loot. Whereas Diablo III was criticized for being stingy with powerful items and upgrades, Torchlight II showers you in unique, character specific treasures that will keep you happily clicking your way to carpal tunnel syndrome.
4. Borderlands Series
Speaking of loot, Gearbox’s excellent shoot-and-loot series is a welcome addition to Linux, with both Borderlands 2 and the not quite continuation Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel available on SteamOS. Both games look great and run smooth, a must with all the fast-paced firefights. Add fan-favorite Clap-Trap as a playable character and you’ve got hundreds upon hundreds of hours of wise-cracking, gun-slinging fun.
3. Pillars of Eternity
Lots of text to read. Lots of battles to fight. Lots of load times to wait through. And every second worthwhile in this role-playing masterpiece. Pillars of Eternity follows the trail blazed by genre classics like Baldur’s Gate II and Planescape: Torment, but it’s also an amazing RPG in its own right. Obsidian has struck the perfect balance between old-school direction and new-school pacing, creating a new classic in the process.
2. Civilization V: Complete Edition
There’s a reason Sid Meier’s turn-based, empire-building series rivals Fast & Furious for sequels. It’s the most friendly strategy franchise ever made, with Civilization V in particular streamlining gameplay for newcomers without sacrificing complexity. Now the complete edition is available on Steam for Linux, bundled with all of the previously released add-on content including the critically-acclaimed Brave New World and Gods & Kings expansions.
1. The entire Valve library
Building up to the steam machine roll out, Valve has been busy porting its impressive selection of sequels — Half-Life 2, Team Fortress 2, Dota 2, Left 4 Dead 2 — over to Linux. Portal 2 is now a Linux native! Having been optimized for the Linux-based SteamOS, they show off what the system can do.
Learn more about the Alienware Steam Machine – now officially available for purchase via Dell.com and GameStop – at Alienware Arena.
ThatVideoGameBlog does not accept payment in exchange for coverage, but does accept games, gear or products to provide honest opinions from a gamer’s perspective. The Alienware Steam Machine was sent to us for review purposes. All opinions expressed in this post are those of the author, and do not reflect those of Dell or Alienware. This post may contain affiliate/referral links.