It's that time of year again, when the Valve coffers open up like expanding black holes and suck the money straight from our wallets. The Steam Summer Sale is upon us and if you have even a modicum of sense, you'll be getting ready to fill your virtual shopping cart with game after game after game.
But what to buy? It's no good saying "I'll just get what's cheap" because right now, everything is cheap. Left 4 Dead 2 is 75% off. When a game that last week cost £15 is now £3.74, it might be hard to keep your senses together. You might be tempted to just get everything. And you could, probably. But when would you get to play them all? When would you find the time? You wouldn't. You need to pick your purchases carefully, or else you'll end up with a hard-drive filled with games that you never even open.
We want to help you make sense of the bargain blizzard that is the Steam Summer Sale. We know it's overwhelming, but if you can limit yourself to just five downloads, here's what we recommend.
Fallout: New Vegas
Due to technical foul-ups like this, New Vegas had a hard time from some critics, who passed it over as a hasty cash-in on Fallout 3. But it's brilliant. Relentlessly difficult and utterly miserable throughout, it's precisely what an apocalypse game should feel like. When you're crawling away from a bandit attack on two broken legs, stopping only to lick a few drops of water up from an irradiated puddle, you know it's the end of the world. The scorching desert, the jerry-built rifles, the endless attacks from Cazadors - Fallout: New Vegas absolutely hates you but if you can learn to adapt to its harsh environment, there are some remarkable little moments to be found. It's really what you make it.
And right now, it's only £3.75. Fallout 3 is another safe bet, and at exactly the same price, you might be tempted to give that a whirl first. But try New Vegas as well. You may have been put off it by critical backlash, but now it's less than £4, you can at least give it a try. And trust us, you'll love it.
Another bonkers markdown. Tomb Raider was £29.99, is now £7.49, so just get it, right? It's brilliant. Crystal Dynamics and writer Rhianna Pratchett have done a stellar job with Lara Croft, reinventing her from pin-up game totty to empathetic woman. She cries; she sweats; she bleeds. There's this excellent scene where she kills someone for the first time and bursts into tears.
There's also plenty of big-budget fare, with a scene involving a collapsing bridge and some snipers making for the strongest set-piece. It's beautiful, tense and really nasty in a lot of places: Tomb Raider drags Lara through the mill, and you can't help but wince whenever she gets pierced by a branch or goes tumbling off an escarpment. At £7.49 you have to try this. It's one of the best games of this year.
FTL: Faster Than Light
You know those bits in Star Trek or Battlestar Galactica where the commander's shouting "man the photon torpedoes!" or "fire up the shields"? FTL lets you play those bits. It's a micro-management/strategy game where you have to command a spaceship, dispatching crew members to maintain shields, repair your engine, tweak targeting computers and fire missiles. If fires break out in your starboard bow, you have to activate airlocks to suck all the oxygen out. If you're about to be attacked by a much stronger ship, you need to quickly plot and execute a faster than light jump to the next star system.
It's a bit overcrowded with numbers and RPG-style statistics, but FTL is still really good. You end up forming a bond with each of your crew, watching people grow from lowly engineers to seasoned comrades. Then a rebel starship blows up the hull and they all get sucked into space. FTL's terrific, and it's only £3.49.
This is getting silly now. Both Portal games for £4.49. Have you played the Portal games? Do you know how good they are? On a ratio of money spent to quality of games bought, this deal is so completely disproportionate it threatens to undermine the entire ideal of capitalism. It's like if we could suddenly buy Ferraris for a tenner, or the Galapagos Islands for the same price as a Dexter boxset. It's madness.
But good madness - the kind of madness that nets you two of the best games of the last 10 years for the same price as a Kronenbourg in Covent Garden. The Portal series is funny, charming and intelligent. It has a great soundtrack. It's something everyone can enjoy. If you like good videogames, you have absolutely no excuse for not indulging in Portal. It is just totally brilliant.
Max Payne 3
Another game that, like New Vegas, was marginalised on release. Lord knows why: Max Payne 3 is probably the best game of last year. Ultra-violent, completely silly and backed by an excellent soundtrack by HEALTH, Max Payne 3 features the best gunfights in any game, ever.
It's another beautiful one - levels set in a nightclub and Brazilian slum standing out in particular -and if you play it on the latter difficulties, it's a real slog. The plot's total rubbish, but James McCaffrey's voice and mo-cap performance as Max just about carries it. If it's shootouts and style that you're after, and you've only £6.24 to spend, get Max Payne 3 on Steam right now.