It's that time of the year again. Valve has blessed us with a buffet of irresistibly cheap PC games that will inevitably haunt our libraries, uninstalled and unplayed, for years to come. While many gamers might be looking to grab last year's hottest AAAs at bargain bin prices, I'd like to remind everyone not to ignore the little guys. I could be here for hours listing awesome games being sold for less than the price of a small fry at your favorite fast food chain, but I'll keep it to 10 for brevity's sake. Here's 10 indie games you might not have heard of for under $5.
Expeditions: Conquistador was one of the first games I ever reviewed, on a site that no longer exists. This strategy RPG places you in command of a group of Spanish explorers searching for fame and fortune in the jungles of the New World. Gameplay is split between diplomatic negotiations with the natives, random events, exploration, and turn-based combat. The core mechanics in each segment are pretty basic, but they all come together to form a solid adventure in a criminally underutilized setting. I hear that Logic Artists have improved the formula significantly in their Viking-themed follow-up, but that title is still way too recent to be heavily discounted.
Do you want to slaughter hordes of monsters with a staggering variety of weapons, but only have a few minutes to spare? If so, you can't go wrong with Crimsonland. This is the 2014 remake of a classic shooter from 2003, and a lot has been added over the years. Pick one of five survival modes and annihilate enemies for as long as you can with dozens of grossly overpowered weapons and power-ups. There is nothing deep or sophisticated about Crimsonland, it's just mindless, gory fun. It's not as good as Nation Red in terms of bloody carnage, but it's still a satisfying way to kill some time.
Rocket Bear Games
Speaking of alien genocide, Infested Planet is everything the Starship Troopers video games should have been. You lead a small squad of space mercenaries against a never-ending horde of alien bugs. The ground is so thick with aliens that each rocket can turn a dozen of them into red mist without even putting a dent in the chitinous swarm. Your kill count after any given mission can easily reach the tens of thousands. To make any progress you'll need to carefully micromanage your squad, positioning each soldier just right to ensure the maximum number of kills with each shot as you slowly grind your way towards the hives. The game may seem pretty easy at first, but later missions introduce alien hives with increasingly tough mutations designed to counter your favorite tactics.
I'll be upfront about this one: Contrast is a very flawed game. The controls aren't very tight, and some segments can get frustrating because of the clunky camera and character movement. The game was also very buggy when I first played it back in 2013, with one puzzle becoming unsolvable because the box I needed to move decided to do its best UFO impression. With all that said, I still enjoyed Contrast enough to cautiously recommend it, especially at the current sale price. If you can get past its flaws, you'll find a gorgeous platformer with a fantastic soundtrack, some genuinely cool puzzles, an interesting world, and a touching story that deals with some pretty mature themes as seen through the eyes of a child.
Tales of Maj'Eyal
Tales of Maj'Eyal is one of the best modern roguelikes on the market. I use the term "modern" loosely, as Maj'Eyal is just the latest iteration of a series that has been around for nearly two decades and can trace its roots back to Angband. ToME is the quintessential roguelike, an unforgiving adventure with a ludicrous amount of depth. You can easily lose a hundred hours to ToME and barely scratch the surface. It's not a game for the faint of heart, but luckily you can test the game for free on the official website.
AI War: Fleet Command
I'm nothing if not a raging fanboy of Arcen Games, so it was just a matter of time before one of their titles made it onto this list. AI War is Arcen's most popular and well-known game, and for good reason. This unique strategy game has been steadily improved and expanded upon for six years, and all the DLC is ridiculously cheap right now as well. The basic premise of AI War is that humanity lost the war with the machines. All that remains is a tiny, insignificant resistance that would easily be slaughtered should the AI learn of its existence. What follows is a guerilla campaign where you must silently take out the AI's subcommanders, steal and sabotage enemy technology, and build your forces without attracting the AI's attention. The game has a fairly steep learning curve, but if you can get past its quirks you'll discover an infinitely replayable and satisfying strategy game unlike any other on the market.
If a tense and deadly space war isn't your thing, then why not travel to the chill and colorful world of Reus? This god game gives you an empty world and four gods with unique abilities so you can shape it to your heart's content. Each god represents a different ecosystem with its own flora and fauna. The goal is to give humanity the resources they need to build thriving villages by placing plants, minerals, and animals in the most optimum arrangement to generate bonuses. Beware, however, as a village that becomes too prosperous can also become selfish, greedy, and warlike. The core mechanics are easy enough to grasp, but the interactions between the various resources and ecosystems can get surprisingly complex as you progress to later tech levels.
Super Mutant Alien Assault
That word salad of a title belongs to a game that pitches itself as "The Citizen Kane of Super Crate Box Clones." While that's a fairly accurate description, I feel that the developers of Super Mutant Alien Assault are selling themselves a bit short. It's functionally similar to SCB in the sense that you pick up crazy weapons and kill hordes of enemies in enclosed, arena-like levels, but SMAA does quite a bit to differentiate itself. Levels alternate between objectives like "kill all enemies" and "bring X number of objects to device Y," with crazy boss fights at the end of each level set. If you loved the core concept of Super Crate Box but wanted to see it expanded further, then Super Mutant Alien Assault is worth adding to your collection.
I'll admit that I never actually finished The Swapper. The biggest "problem" with this atmospheric and clever sci-fi puzzle platformer is that I'm far too inept to properly play it. That doesn't mean I can't appreciate it, and I highly recommend The Swapper to anyone who isn't as incompetent as I am when it comes to using their brain. The puzzles are all based around cloning yourself to be in multiple places at once, with strict rules on how you can move and place your clones. Best enjoyed with headphones and in the dark so you can really soak in the game's lonely and mysterious world.
Finally we come to Intrusion 2, a side-scrolling shooter made by a Russian dude with way too much spare time on his hands. Intrusion 2 isn't the most polished, precise, or advanced side scroller out there, but it is a game that oozes charm from every orifice. The physics are as janky and hilarious as they are impressive for a game in this genre, and you'll often get stuck because the giant mecha worm you just killed fell on you, but the game is just so damn fun that you don't care about its flaws. It looks and plays like something dreamed up by a hyperactive child after binge-watching a GI Joe marathon, and that's all part of what makes Intrusion 2 so memorable.
So what are you waiting for? Get on Steam and help Gaben buy his 73rd solid gold yacht by spending lots of money on games you'll probably never play.