Not only have PC games never been cheaper, they've never been reduced in price so fast. That hot new release may cost you between £30 and £35 when it comes out, but you can safely expect that to drop by 15, 25 or sometimes even 75% over the next few months. Digital distribution services such as Steam and Good Old Games are constantly running sales and promotions. If you wait, you usually get the best version of the game, and often all its DLC bundled for free.
What do you do with the money you save?
You buy more games! Take some risks! Try more genres! Maybe there was something that caught your eye back in the day, but you didn't have £30 to gamble on actually liking turnbased strategy games, or not being put off by a score of 70%. Maybe classics such as Psychonauts or Sacrifice simply slipped your attention at release, and you just never got around to catching up. Maybe you're simply attracted by a screenshot or a funny description. For £5, it doesn't really matter whether a game is an unsung gem, or just something to pass the time on a dark, rainy evening.
Of course, we've set our sights a little higher, tracking down the best games that you can buy online for under £15, £10 and £5, as well as a selection of formerly commercial games that have officially been re-released as freeware. We've avoided a few, such as Deus Ex, in the name of giving some less-recognised games a turn in the spotlight, and of course, there'll be sales on now that there weren't at the time of writing. If the game you want isn't cheap enough yet, just hold fire. With digital distribution, you'll rarely wait very long.
LESS THAN £15
While it may only be a snack compared to the banquet promised by Diablo 3, we all enjoy a Mars bar now and again. Torchlight understood like few others what makes action-RPGs fun, with satisfying combat and simple but effective tweaks to the format – such as being able to send your pet back to town to sell unwanted kit instead of wasting your time walking. The sequel arrives later this year, but the first game is still perfect popcorn entertainment.
Burnout Paradise: The Ultimate Box
Slam the pedal to the metal in one of the first – and still one of the most entertaining – open-world racing games. It looks good, feels good, and you won't want for speed as you race around Paradise City in search of races to win and stuff to smash into. There's even a dedicated Crash Mode to show off in, so you really can claim that you really meant to total your car, honest.
Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines
Only one game has earned the right to be seen as a potential successor to Deus Ex – and it's not Invisible War. Bloodlines' shooting side is piss-weak, but the RPG elements more than make up for it. Install the fan patches, though: the official version lags far behind what it can be.
Monkey Island Bundle
Two of the most beloved adventure games ever, updated and in one package. The Secret of Monkey Island remake was slightly underwhelming, but remains worth playing for the series' place in history. Monkey Island 2, on the other hand, was a phenomenal upgrade to a far better game, with excellent voices, great repainted artwork, and a (sadly short) in-game commentary from its original creators. Both are available individually for £7 apiece if you only need one. The episodic continuation, Tales of Monkey Island, is still £25.
Pity poor BioShock 2. Cursed with having to try and continue a game that most people agreed was already finished off quite nicely, thanks, then almost immediately overshadowed by BioShock Infinite, it's no wonder it sank with fewer traces than its own underwater city setting. But here's the thing: it's an excellent sequel, with some terrific storytelling and better level design than the first game. While it may look like the first game, it ends up as a complete thematic inversion, with some achingly wonderful emotional scenes.
Batman: Arkham Asylum: Game of the Year Edition
Hands-down the greatest superhero game ever made, turning you into the predator striking from the shadows. Bat-feel enemies' fear as you Bat-defuse situations with quick Bat-thinking. Writing by Paul Dini and the voices of Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill are just the cherries on a dark but awesome cake.
Super Meat Boy
How to describe one of the best platformers in years? Think frustration. Pain. Death. Replay. Saws. Explosions. Frustration. Frustration. More Frustration. Impossible. Missiles. Hell. Slippery. Meat. Platforms. Comedy. Massacre. Replay. Frustration. Agony. Smashed controller. 8-bit. Punishment. Frustration. Jump. Explode. Jump. Luck. Fate. Precision. VICTORY!
Oblivion: Game of the Year Edition
Not only one of the best RPGs in recent years, but the perfect way to get ready for Skyrim. This includes the standard game, plus both expansions – the dull Knights of the Nine, and the far more interesting Shivering Isles. For another £5, you can get the Deluxe edition, which comes with all the Oblivion DLC – but don't worry too much about missing out.
Amnesia: The Dark Descent
Prepare to enter a world of survival horror that's as good at frightening you with silence as monsters. Amnesia is a masterpiece, turning one of gaming's most generic premises into an unforgettably scary experience. At this price, it's worth turning the lights off, your speakers up, and taking the gamble that you'll still be able to play after a few levels.
All three of the original Fallout games in one pack. Fallout remains the fan-favourite, with its dark humour but serious setting. Fallout 2 eased back a little, with more overt parodies and the best city in any Fallout so far – New Reno, where you can do anything from take out trash to become a porn star. The third, Tactics, is a combat-focused spin-off that can safely be ignored.