There's a myth out there that you need a high-end expensive gaming rig to run video games, and that if you don't have the most recent video card, you're stuck playing archaic games that everyone else finished with fifteen years ago.
Luckily, that's not true. With Steam and the indie gaming movement, there are plenty of great games that will run on the average PC. Some of them are old, some of them are new. All of them are fantastic. And the best part is that none of them carry the high price tag of the high-end triple A games.
Bastion is one of my favorite games. It's set in a colorful world with a superb soundtrack and an amazing narrator. You play as the Kid, a young man who wakes up to find the world around him has succumbed to a horrific tragedy. The gameplay is fast-paced and challenging, but not frustrating. The wide array of weapons and the ability to strengthen your enemies in unique ways makes Bastion a good time for anyone.
Another fast-paced game, Torchlight II is everything I wanted Diablo III to be. With a painterly style similar to Bastion, it is a delight on the eyes even as it offers the classic Diablo II style gameplay enjoyed by so many. If you've never played a Diablo clone before, be prepared for chewing through massive numbers of enemies and hoarding loot as one of four character classes. Various difficulties are available, and the style is easy to pick up, but offers long-term enjoyment. Multiplayer is available, so pick up an extra copy for a friend!
Thomas Was Alone
Thomas Was Alone is described as "minimalist game about friendship and jumping." This is a game that defies the notion that beautiful games have high-end specs. Thomas Was Alone will probably run on just about any PC with a gig of RAM. It's a fairly simple puzzle-platformer with a touching story and wonderful sound. Aside from one puzzle, I found the whole game engaging and relaxing, just the thing for unwinding.
World of Goo
Another game that will run on just about any computer, World of Goo is a puzzle game where you manipulate different types of goo balls with the intent of getting them from point A to point B. A distinct visual style and slow-building story complement the fantastic gameplay. A demo is available free on the official website (and though services like Steam), so there's no reason not to give World of Goo a go.
MSRP: $20 (official store) $9.99 (Steam)
You want action? You got it. Half-Life 2 came out ten years ago in November. Despite its age, the game is still an amazing piece of work. There's no need to have played Half-Life to enjoy Half-Life 2, which continues the story of theoretical physicist and unlikely hero Gordon Freeman. The shooter aspects of the game are tried and true, but where the game really shines is in the variety of styles. Like puzzles? There are puzzles. Like your shooters with a touch of survival horror? You'll enjoy the Ravenholm chapter. Want urban combat? That, too. And don't forget the Gravity Gun! The characters and their interactions are still my favorite part of Half-Life 2 though, from the capable Alyx Vance to the charmingly befuddled Dr. Issac Kleiner.
Don't forget to pick up Half-Life 2 Episodes One and Two to complete this arc of the story.
MSRP: $9.99 ($7.99 each for Episodes One and Two)
You've probably heard about Portal. This is a game that lives up to the hype. There is no element of Portal that could have been left on the cutting room floor. Every puzzle, every line of dialogue, every turret is a necessary part of your experience as an Aperture Science test subject. Efficient, effective, and absolutely hilarious, this game deserves top marks and is amazingly easy to run.
Don't Starve is a survival game, much like Minecraft. Unlike Minecraft, however, the focus is on not creating, but merely surviving. You'll find yourself dropped into the wilderness with no direction given, to explore (and probably die) all on your own. The settings can be tweaked to make the game less difficult, but since death is permanent, forcing you to restart, the game is still very brutal. That's not to say Don't Starve is hard, or frustrating. Instead, the game is challenging and immensely rewarding, even while you curse yourself for going down into that abandoned mine shaft.
Audiosurf is probably the most oddball of the games on this list. It's a rhythm/puzzle game where you choose any audio clip or song off your hard drive (and I do mean any), and the game generates a roller coaster-like track where you aim to collect colored blocks to score points. The premise is simple, but you'll find yourself spending hours playing every song you own and appreciating your favorites in a completely new way.
Plants vs. Zombies
Plants vs. Zombies is your typical Pop-Cap title...quirky and horribly addictive. You try to keep the zombies from eating your brains by planting defensive and offensive plants in your front yard, back yard, and roof. Different plants have different abilities, and so do the zombies that will eat them...and you. You'll spend many hours fending off the undead hoards in Plants vs. Zombies.
Bioshock is a brutal shooter with a brilliant story. You start the game after surviving a plane crash and finding yourself in an inexplicable underwater city called Rapture. But from the first step out of the bathysphere, something is very wrong in this underwater paradise. Bioshock is a classic, both in gaming and in the shooter genre and it's well worth your time.