10 new games for old PCs

Features James Hunt Jan 22, 2013

Got an old PC? Don't worry, there are still great games out there for you to play...

Maintaining a cutting-edge gaming system is one of computing’s less forgiving tasks. Not only does the hardware cost hundreds of pounds, but the games themselves can quickly drain your bank account. For many computer owners, the idea of keeping up with new games is little more than an unlikely dream. There are alternatives, though. The gaming industry currently has a vibrant scene full of original and eclectic titles created by small groups of programmers, not unlike the bedroom games-makers of the 1980s.

To play these games, you don’t need a cutting edge CPU. You don’t even need a graphics card. And for the cost of a single copy of Far Cry 3 you could pick as many as three or four of them, resulting in weeks more entertainment. Better yet, you can download them either from their own websites or through Valve’s Steam platform, so you don’t even have to leave the house to try them. These are the best new games for old PCs, so if you’re itching to play something fun but can’t afford a new graphics card, this is the place to start.

#1: FTL: Faster Than Light
Site: www.ftlgame.com
Price: £6.99 (Steam) or $9.99 (official site)
Minimum Requirements: Windows XP, 2GHz CPU, 1GB RAM, Intel HD graphics

This Kickstarter-funded action/strategy game feels a lot like starring in your own episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, as you pilot a starship from one end of the galaxy to another with nothing but your crew, your weapons and your wits to keep you alive. Blending real-time space battles with turn-based exploration, FTL’s randomised elements ensure every play-through is different, and the game’s narratives emerge organically rather than following a specific script. You can’t predict where your game’s going, but you’ll enjoy finding out even if you fail.

While at first glance the somewhat clinical graphics aren’t up to much, they end up having a certain charm, especially when exploding ships fly apart. The soundtrack, however, is top-drawer. Atmospheric, catchy, and brilliantly evocative. Combined with gameplay that’s simple to learn but difficult to master and endlessly compelling in a one-more-game sort of way, FTL more than lives up to its hype.

The formula, quite simply, is a winner. Despite its relative simplicity, FTL has turned up in multiple Best Games Of 2012 round-ups, competing with all sorts of AAA titles. If you ever enjoyed playing Elite, Wing Commander or like RPGs, or had fantasies of commanding your crew to “divert more power to the shields”, then this is the game for you.

#2: Hotline Miami
Site: hotlinemiami.com
Price: £6.99 (Steam)
Minimum Requirements: Windows XP, 1.2GHz CPU, 512MB RAM, DirectX 9 graphics with 32MB RAM

Although indie games have a tendency to be slightly twee, arty affairs, Hotline Miami proves that just because your PC can’t run the latest GTA, there’s no reason you can’t also have fun with cartoonish hyper-violence. It’s a top-down action game where your only goal is to break into buildings and kill everyone inside in a variety of bloody and hilarious ways.

With a super-loud 80s-inspired soundtrack and simple-yet-brilliant graphics, the whole experience is as intense as any AAA shooter can be. The mix of fast, twitchy explosions of action and long, tense waits while you stalk your prey creates an engrossing air of menace that keeps you coming back for more, no matter how many times you die and restart. Strictly for over-18s, it’s like your own personal John Woo movie. How can you not love that?

#3: Spelunky
Site: spelunkyworld.com
Price: Free
Minimum Requirements: Windows XP, Pentium III/Athlon XP 1500+ CPU, 256 MB RAM, DirectX 9 graphics

This game’s big brother, Spelunky HD, was released on the Xbox 360 a few months ago, but that doesn’t stop the PC original being one of the greatest platform games released in decades. In it, you play a nameless explorer venturing into a vast network of randomly generated caves to unlock its secrets. And make no mistake, there are secrets to unlock, some of which you may not even find until you’ve played through the entire game.

Part of Spelunky’s devious charm is lies in simply learning to survive its tricks and traps. A game can be over in seconds, and an hour of gaming can easily be lost with a single slip, but slowly, surely, you’ll become wise and, with growing caution, you will stop worrying about simply making it to the end of a stage, and start planning ahead, seeking out power-ups and treasure to make your survival more likely as the game progresses. It’s a punishing experience, but that only makes your victories all the more satisfying.

#4: Super Hexagon
Site: superhexagon.com
Price: £1.99
Minimum Requirements: not specified (but low)

Originally devloped for smartphones, Terry Cavanagh’s fiendish minimalist action game has come to the PC, and it’s just as compelling. The trippy graphics combine with a thumping soundtrack from electronica artist Chipzel to create an aesthetic experience that’s as close to being at a rave as a computer game can be. It’s rock hard, as anyone who’s played Cavanagh’s previous game, VVVVVV, will expect, but it’s also gloriously simple. All you have to do is press left or right and concentrate on your next move. How hard can it be?

#5: McPixel
Site: mcpixel.net
Price: £3.99
Minimum Requirements: Windows XP, Pentium 4/Athlon 64, 512MB RAM, DirectX 9 graphics

Named as a parody of MacGyver, McPixel is a series of 100 short point-and-click scenarios delivered in a rapid-fire manner, not unlike Nintendo’s Wario Ware games. All you have to do is stop the bombs blowing up and save the day! Easy, surely? Well, when you only have 20 seconds to do it, it’s actually surprisingly hard.

McPixel shares Wario Ware’s slightly juvenile sense of humour (while being slightly more crude) as well as its simplicity. You might be turned off the moment you see the lead character urinating on some TNT, and that’s fine, but if you like the idea of merciless slapstick, you’ll love it. It’s a game defined by its jokes as much as how you play it.

Like all indie games, it’s packed with secrets and unlockables, and there’s free downloadable content planned in the form of extra levels. Notably, it was the first game to be released by Steam Greenlight (where players vote for games they want to see), so if nothing else, take a look and see what the hype was all about.

#6: Incredipede
Site: www.incredipede.com
Price: Free (in-browser) or $14.99 (desktop version)
Minimum Requirements: Windows XP and a web browser with Flash 11.2

Incredipede is probably more the kind of title you’d expect out of a list of indie games: a browser-based physics game with an arty presentation laid on top. However, the fact that it ticks a lot of indie developer boxes doesn’t stop it being great fun. Described by its creator, Colin Northway, as a “game about life and feet”, it’s really a brilliant little puzzler with an almost primal soundtrack of drums and flutes and unusual woodcut-style visuals. It’s weird but also weirdly compelling, and when you can play it for free, what’s to stop you giving it a go?

The free version has up to 60 official levels, but if you enjoy it, the desktop version comes with a level editor and thousands of user-created levels so you can play for even longer!

#7: Cook, Serve, Delicious!
Site: tinyurl.com/bs97lmy
Price: $8.95
Minimum Requirements: Windows XP, 512MB RAM, DirectX 9 graphics

An entry into that most neglected of genres, the restaurant sim (a genre which began - and pretty much ended - with 1994’s Pizza Tycoon), Cook, Serve, Delicious! gives you the opportunity to plan and manage your restaurant from the ground up as you pursue to goal of a five-star dining experience armed with only a few thousand dollars and a menu.

With hundreds of items to choose from and plenty to unlock later on, it’s up to you to decide what the best way to bring in punters is, whether that’s purely with good food or by appearing on publicity-hungry TV shows. Read email from your customers, check reviews, even pursue a Kickstarter-style funding model for special projects with the in-game ‘Clicknstart’ system; it’s a unique gaming experience that can run on even the lowliest system.

#8: Botanicula
Site: botanicula.net
Price: £7.49 (Steam) or $10 (official site)
Minimum Requirements: Windows XP, 1.6GHz CPU, 1GB RAM, DirectX 5

Released by Amanita Design, the Czech developer behind indie smash hits Samorost and Machinarium, Botanicula is, at its heart, a point-and-click adventure game. However, don’t be put off; it’s also a lush sensory experience with a unique story and a setting that can’t fail to charm.

The game’s fantastic visuals and music, combined with challenging (but rarely frustrating) puzzles, make Botanicula a game that PC owners of all ages can feel proud to play. While there’s a strong narrative at the centre of the game, the experience is fundamentally exploratory. You’ll find yourself clicking on everything, just to see what happens, and you’ll rarely be disappointed by what does. The developer has thought of everything, and the result is a game that’s as much fun to play with as it is to play through.

#9: Splice
Site: www.cipherprime.com/games/splice
Price: £6.99 (Steam) or $9.99 (official site)
Minimum Requirements: Windows XP SP3, 3GHz Pentium 4 or 1.2GHz Core2 Duo, 2GB RAM

Created in the same vein as abstract puzzlers such as Osmos, Eufloria and Spacechem, Splice sees you manipulating (splicing) a variety of different microbes to solve increasingly complex puzzles.

If that sounds too abstract to start with, don’t worry; the game eases you into its world, teaching you as you play. At first, you might not understand what you’re doing, but a few levels in it’ll become second nature. You only get a limited number of moves to solve each puzzle, but the relaxing piano music means failure rarely becomes a problem. Indeed, more often than not, Splice does what the best puzzle games should: it makes you feel like an absolute genius.

Perhaps most helpful in preventing any hair-pulling are the reward and fast-forward modes, which mean you rarely have to repeat actions, nor wait for longer ones to finish when you know the outcome. With just a spin of the mouse wheel, you can navigate your moves to fix what went wrong and redo what didn’t.

In many ways, Splice is a great example of what casual gaming can be, when at its best. It’s deep but simple, rewarding but not too challenging. You’ll get stuck, but never for too long, and each new level brings a new idea or mechanic to the surface, so you don’t feel like you’re solving the same puzzle twice. Lovely stuff.

#10: Resonance
Site: xiigames.com/resonance
Price: £6.99 (Steam) or £7.97 (official site)
Minimum Requirements: Windows ME, Pentium CPU, 64MB RAM, DirectX 5 graphics

Most of the games on this list are action titles, so how about some classic, narrative-based adventure gaming? Resonance begins when a brilliant particle physicist dies unexpectedly, and the race begins to secure the potentially devastating technology he left behind before it falls into the wrong hands.

With four playable characters all fighting against the clock to uncover the scientist’s secrets, Resonance is, in many ways, a return to the adventure gaming renaissance of the early 90s, but it’s also free of nostalgia and brings modern sensibilities to the genre, rather than trying to recapture old glories. No ambition has gone unrealised, with full voiceover work, a storyline that changes based on player decisions and over ten hours of gameplay. The slow burn of the story means that it takes a little patience to get into properly, but once you’re hooked you’ll feel compelled to keep going right up until the conclusion of this strange and original story. 

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