Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Steam sale deep cuts: 20 under-the-radar games under $5

Steam sale deep cuts: 20 under-the-radar games under $5

Screenshot: The Yawhg (Damian Sommer/Emily Carroll), Westerado: Double Barrelled (Adult Swim Games), Year Walk (Simogo)

Every summer, the ubiquitous computer-game storefront Steam incites a period of wild consumerist frenzy with its annual seasonal sale. Prices plummet, people’s wills are tested, and many games that probably won’t ever be played are bought and, eventually, agonized over. The cycle has existed for so long now that it’s not uncommon to hear people lamenting how they’ve bought so many of the usual Steam sale suspects that there’s nothing left for them to care about. Well, fear not, our fellow weak-willed Steam surfers. We’ve dived into the bowels of this year’s discounts and returned with a list of deep-cut recommendations that might have flown under the radar of even the most hardened Steam sale aficionados. And to make things even more tempting, all of these games are available for under $5 until July 5, the day when the Steam gods release us from their awful grip.

Pathologic Classic HD

A dense, anxiety-inducing exploration of rot—the kind that tears apart bodies and the kind that tears apart towns—this Russian survival nightmare is the perfect game to pick up on the cheap and save for a rainy, moody day. All the better for it to fester in your library, possibly for years, until it finally metastasizes and its unique, obtuse charms suddenly colonize your brain. [William Hughes]

Westerado: Double Barreled

Red Dead Redemption 2 is still several months away, but Ostrich Banditos’ Westerado: Double Barreled might be the perfect thing to whet your appetite for interactive Westerns. It too is an open-world cowboy tale, setting players on a mission to track down and take vengeance upon the desperado what done murdered your family. You can accuse, interrogate, and attack anyone you meet. Just keep in mind that going around shooting folks willy-nilly means there’ll be that many fewer people to help find your actual target. [Matt Gerardi]

Mini Metro

Mini Metro tasks players with the extraordinarily dry-sounding job of designing subway systems for metropolitan areas, but it presents these via impossibly elegant, minimalist overhead maps, accompanied by an almost subconscious burble of electronic music. Its language of triangles and clean lines quickly becomes fluent, at which point you realize its high design masks a surprisingly tense real-time strategy game that demands lateral thinking, bold reinvention, and ruthless economics. Turns out mass transit can be pretty exciting after all. [Clayton Purdom]

Hidden Folks

You can’t throw a rock at a digital game storefront without hitting some hidden-object games, but Hidden Folks has something most of those don’t: It’s super cute and funny. Designed by Adriaan de Jongh, the game has you click through line-drawn worlds created by artist Sylvain Tegroeg to find little people and objects, and you can even peek behind doors or bushes—with each move accompanied by some delightful mouth-made sounds. [Sam Barsanti]


Deadly Premonition is often credited with being the video game most clearly indebted to Twin Peaks, but it has a spiritual twin in Sylvio. (They even seem to share a car.) If Deadly Premonition evoked Lynch’s quirky small town, upended by a grisly murder, then Sylvio seems to take place entirely in the menacing, dreamlike red room, full of antagonistic spirits and uncanny assemblages of real-world objects. A lot of what you’re doing feels pulled from the Silent Hill school of level design, but the game’s real innovation is its seances, frequently conducted by decoding patches of ominous white noise. Janky, gloomy, and suffused with a dark beauty, Sylvio is a true original. [Clayton Purdom]

Lethal League

Lethal League is a game that dares to ask the question “What if you played dodgeball with bats and balls and also it was anime as hell?” The answer it provides is one of the simplest, most nerve-wracking multiplayer games of the last few years. Players smack around a ball and do everything they can to avoid getting hit. But the real juice comes from how the ball speeds up every time someone connects with their bat, to the point that lengthy volleys have you seemingly tearing the fabric of reality apart with seismic waves of distorted color. [Matt Gerardi]


A simple idea executed complexly, Tom Francis’ debut has a basic hook: Players are allowed to “rewire” almost anything in a level to anything else. If we’re being honest, it’s probably too much power for the relatively simple problems the game poses, but that in turn transforms Gunpoint into a weird sort of art game, challenging players to come up with the most stupidly elaborate Rube Goldberg machine answers to questions like “How do I open this door?” [William Hughes]

The Last Door

The Last Door is proof lo-fi games can be every bit as atmospheric as their three-dimensional cousins. A little bit Poe and a whole lot Lovecraft, it’s a creepy point-and-click adventure that has you fumbling around dark Victorian manors and stumbling into an ancient and probably very evil mystery. Its two interlocking seasons have long been completed, and you can even get them bundled together for less than a fiver. [Matt Gerardi]

Alpha Protocol

A clunky spy classic from Obsidian, the masters of clunky classics of all descriptions, Alpha Protocol is the rare conversation-based RPG that makes a game out of conversation itself. The fighting and sneaking are only so-so, but the game’s ability to let you verbally out-maneuver your opponents—seducing them, enraging them, blindsiding them with outside-context solutions—has rarely been matched by its big-budget successors. [William Hughes]


Teleglitch is a little black-hearted virus you download onto your computer willingly. The hybrid survival-horror roguelike—a natural pairing not done this well elsewhere—tasks you with cobbling together empty cans into armor, diving deep into a sprawling military-industrial complex, and fighting wave after wave of pixelated, chittering freaks. Roguelikes are hard by nature, but Teleglitch earned the subtitle of its deluxe rerelease as the “Die More Edition,” adding in expansive bonus content to an already sprawling and varied game full of glitched-out effects and psychedelic cathode-ray freakouts. Its camera—looming, omniscient, haughty—is the best in its class. [Clayton Purdom]


In the years between Limbo and Inside, Playdead designer Jeppe Carlsen took some time off from crafting moody nightmare worlds to make 140, a platformer where the surroundings and challenges are shaped by the ceaseless beat of the cold, electronic soundtrack. It has a minimalist look to match, allowing color and smart visual cues to do all its talking. [Matt Gerardi]

The Swapper

The first thing that strikes you about The Swapper is its “found” art style, which repurposes real-world objects into deep-space dioramas. Then you notice its sound design, a ghostly mix of drones and creaks and ungodly blasts of noise. But eventually, this all fades away, as the game’s breathlessly inventive puzzles get their hooks in you, demanding you create endless clones of yourself and abandon them in each solved room. And by the time you’re in the game’s final stretch, one last transformation has occurred, and it’s the game’s robust, hard sci-fi ideas that you won’t be able to shake. [Clayton Purdom]

Super House Of Dead Ninjas

As perfect a coffee break treat as Adult Swim’s surprisingly strong games wing has produced so far, this roguelike action-platformer sends your (fragile, fragile) ninja heroine down hundreds of floors full of easily dispatched mooks. The real stars here are the customization options and the ninja-esque fluidity of your movements—especially a downward spin attack that sends you tearing through enemies with maximum satisfaction. [William Hughes]

Year Walk

From Simogo, the developers of the iOS masterpiece Device 6, Year Walk is an adventure game about a man who ignores a whole bunch of foreboding signs and decides to embark on a journey that he believes will allow him to look into the future. It’s all wonderfully spooky, and in one brilliant twist, getting the “real” ending requires doing a bit of research via an in-game encyclopedia. [Sam Barsanti]

The Magic Circle

This slightly bitter love letter to the game-making process burns through ideas so quickly that it can feel almost overwhelming at times. But its gorgeous wire-frame aesthetics, combined with a fantastic voice performance from James “Rusty Venture” Urbaniak” and a thrilling ending that dares the player to put their money where their mouth is ensures The Magic Circle holds strong and stable even as it constantly darts forward to its next big thought. [William Hughes]


There is a gradually growing canon of games that send you wandering through some hallucinatory megastructure, solving loosely prescribed puzzles and gradually freaking yourself out (Antichamber, Memories Of A Broken Dimension, NaissanceE). Kairo—one of the earliest of these—imagines a series of angular, neon mausoleums, connected only by the faintest of dream logic and each built around massive, room-spanning puzzles that work better than they have any right to. The result feels like a Zelda dungeon come unhinged from reality, speaking in some forgotten universal language. [Clayton Purdom]

The Yawhg

The Yawhg plays out as a simple choose-your-own-adventure, with up to four players making decisions for their characters while the threat of a world-ending storm draws near. The events, brought to life by the humorous writing and wonderful illustrations of Emily Carroll, are assembled at random, and it’s their outcomes that shape who your character will be as society tries to rebuild in each run’s epilogue. That process usually doesn’t end well, but victory is not the point. The Yawhg’s appeal lies in those randomized 10-minute stories about people coping with impending doom, ones that are meant to be generated again and again and shared with a few equally doomed friends. [Matt Gerardi]


Strider was an attempted reboot of the Capcom series of the same name, one about a badass assassin using cool ninja moves to destroy vaguely Soviet-styled robots. This one twists the classic side-scrolling action into something more akin to a Metroid game, with a big contiguous world for you to kill robots in. Also, Strider Hiryu’s cool scarf is worth a couple bucks all on its own. [Sam Barsanti]


Before we were treated to the shouting slapstick comedy of Chuchel, Botanicula was the peak of silliness for Amanita Design’s whimsical point-and-click adventures. Having to do with a motley crew of insects trying to save the last seed of their home tree, it’s a leisurely game that’s more interested in letting you click around on its odd creatures and crack a smile than stumping you with illogical puzzles. It also happens to feature one of the best game soundtracks in recent years, a shimmering naturalistic score from the Czech freak-folk band DVA. [Matt Gerardi]


We’re almost tempted to avoid recommending this one, because even at its regular whopping price tag of $3, Grizzly Games’ procedurally generated flight simulator is already a steal. Meditative, beautiful, and only ever as difficult as you make it, Superflight sends players soaring through alien landscapes and down thrilling valley dives with nothing but their wings and a simple, addictive scoring system to accompany them. Who needs anything else? [William Hughes]

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