LESS THAN £5
The tragedy of Freespace 2 is that over a decade later, it's still the best space-shooter ever made. To play it is to curse the industry for letting the genre simply fade away. On the plus side, to finish it is to have the perfect excuse for some of the many fan-made campaigns.
The Last Express
It's the eve of World War 1, and the Orient Express is unknowingly making its final journey across Europe before hostilities break out. This real-time adventure is a true classic, with no expense spared on atmosphere – from getting native speakers to play characters from across Europe, to meticulously recreating the cars on board the train itself. It's a magical, if occasionally slow, journey, and one guaranteed to stick with you long after the Orient Express reaches its final destination.
Puzzle Agent is the closest we have to a series like Professor Layton, with its quirky charm already netting a sequel later this year. The puzzles are tied together with a simple, surreal story, and while they're not always inspired, they hit a good balance between being simple enough to avoid frustration, and complex enough to feel satisfying when cracked.
Master of Orion 1 + 2
Ask a hundred 4X fans to name their favourite game of the genre, and Master of Orion 2 will almost certainly end up the winner. (Just don't ask about 3 if you want to get out alive – that game still has many bad memories attached to it). An epic game of strategy, diplomacy and discovery, and one whose age has done little to diminish its charms. Very few games have even come close to replicating its success, with the possible exception of Galactic Civilizations II. Which costs more.
With Gabriel Knight, Jane Jensen created one of the best adventure game heroes around – a failed horror author who suddenly finds himself the heir to a monster-hunting legacy. At this price, the first two are terrific if you want a genuinely absorbing story, from a genuinely great adventure designer.
In another universe, Outcast was a platform-defining game. In ours, its high systemrequirements and lack of support for 3D accelerator cards made it a cult classic, but nothing more. But wait! Now, we all have computers that can chew up this amazing RPG shooter hybrid. Give it enough time, and it'll reward you with an adventure that just keeps on giving.
Freedom Force Vs The Third Reich
Freedom Force is a game about love – not in the sense that the characters defeat Hitler by kissing, but for its devotion to the excesses of Silver Age comics. The cast can't get enough of bellowing catchphrases in shiny spandex, and you can also make your own underwear-confused heroes to send out instead.
You'll learn to fear simple squares, circles and diamonds, even as you master the arts of blowing them away on the constantly fluctuating board of shimmering plasma. Your only goal is to survive long enough to set a high score – ultimate defeat is guaranteed. The trick is in building up a big score multiplier, and then staying alive long enough to actually make use of it.
X-COM: UFO Defence
The original X-Com, and still the best. It's not the easiest strategy game to get into – we advise watching some Let's Plays on YouTube – but it's one of the most satisfying. From the world map, you build bases to fight back against an endless stream of aliens. On the ground, a turn-based isometric combat system will have you biting your nails every time you step out into battle.
Hitman: Blood Money
Any old murderer can kill someone by emptying a clip of bullets into his face, but Hitman has little tolerance for such amateurism. It's about the joy of a plan coming together – dressing up as an actor to take out another with a real gun instead of the intended prop. It took IO several attempts, but Blood Money finally got it right. It's the ultimate murder sim, in desperate need of a sequel.
The Misadventures of PB Winterbottom
He's an evil, pie-stealing, self-cloning machine! And he's hungry. PB Winterbottom is a clever-gimmick platformer along the lines of Braid, but with far less pretension. The specific gimmick is being able to record actions, then continue playing the level while your previous incarnations carry them out – pressing buttons, flipping see-saws and carefully timing dashes to retrieve delicious pie from the most inconvenient places. The retro monochrome look adds to the charm, and the puzzling itself is satisfying, but never too hard.
Independence War Deluxe
If you've already played Freespace, or find regular space-shooters a little too primitive for your liking, there's the Independence War series, which brings real physics to space combat. The first instalment is the most hardcore. The second tones the difficulty down a lot, adding some Elite-style trading and Privateer-esque plot advancement. If you only pick one, go with that – but prepare to give it quite a bit of time before you feel entirely comfortable getting into fights and successfully pulling off stunts in zero-gravity.
This cult strategy classic never got the attention it deserved at launch, but even today, it's worth taking a punt. Its up-close-and-personal approach to strategy kept things fast and furious, giving you access to game-changing powers in the middle of combat, as well as an army of loyal minions to do your bidding. It was a funny game too, though: full of bickering gods and great one-liners. Unlike many strategy games of the time, the tech and AI remain good enough for it to still be playable, and there still are no modern successors to make it feel as old as it otherwise might.
Beyond Good and Evil
Very few people who played Beyond Good and Evil didn't end up loving it. Unfortunately, thanks to bad marketing and a meaningless name, very few people actually played it, full stop. It's an amazing game – an epic quest, a beautiful world, a superb heroine and a soundtrack to die for. By the point that most games start to feel old, Beyond Good and Evil has yet to even unfold everything it has to offer. There's supposedly a sequel on the way, but nobody's heard anything about it for years. To play the original game is to know precisely why you should care about this.
One of the few modern RPGs to even be mentioned in the same breath as games such as Ultima VII, and easily big and complex enough to fight in the same arena. If anything, it's slightly too big, but that's absolutely fine if you want a quest that you can settle into and play for the long haul. Skip the sequel, Beyond Divinity, though. Even fans of the series will usually agree that it wasn't very good, and that you'd be better off rejoining the action in the actual Divinity 2, though that's yet to have a big price cut.