At this year's CES in Las Vegas, Valve unveiled the first Steam Machines - PC-based games consoles that run a variant of the free and open-source Linux operating system with the company’s game download service built right in, SteamOS.
Steam has transformed Windows and Mac gaming by making games easy to install and its centralised marketplace works rather like the iPhone's App Store - and boasts 65 million customers. As well as Windows and OS X, Valve also supports the Linux and it is this free operating system that it has chosen for its Steam Machine platform. Anyone can build a Steam Machine console (Valve unveiled more than a dozen models from various manufacturers at VES) and you can even put one together yourself with a suitable PC by downloading and installing Valve's home-brewed remix of Linux, SteamOS.
In time, SteamOS could prove a real threat to Microsoft by removing the need for gamers to pay the ‘Windows tax’ for their gaming rigs, but for now, compared to Windows (and OSX to a lesser extent) however, Linux isn't widely seen as a games platform. So, if you went out and got yourself a Steam Machine tomorrow, what could you actually play on it? Here are ten of the best games currently available.
Metro: Last Light
Set in the ruins of a post-apocalyptic Moscow, Metro: Last Light is a none-more-bleak stealth shooter that pits you against grim paramilitaries and drooling mutants in a fight for survival. Rightly praised for its storyline (the game is a semi-official sequel to the cult sci-fi novel Metro 2033 by Russian author, Dmitry Glukhovsky), M:LL has triple-A production values and some incredibly tense sequences of sneaking around in the shadows paired with blistering, frantic action sequences.
Shadowrun Returns is the product of a Kickstarter appeal to fund a digital version of classic tabletop RPG, Shadowrun. The game takes place in a universe that is a demented hybrid of cyberpunk and fantasy with hackers and corporate assassins rubbing shoulders with laptop-wielding elves and trolls. On Steam, SR is a point-and-click adventure that comes with one murder mystery 'scenario' with many others being created by both the designers and the wider fan community.
Broken Sword 5 - The Serpent's Curse
Another Kickstarter-funded rebirth. The original Broken Sword games were classic 2D point-and-click adventures that trod the same fertile ground of conspiracy theory and historical intrigue as The Da Vinci Code and the Indiana Jones movies. This all-new fifth game is a return to the classic adventure gameplay, with the 2D visuals now given a 3D remix. The same humor and clever plotting of the originals remain as does the winning combination of lead characters - the guileless George Stobbart and cunning journalist Nicole Collard who reunite to uncover another mystery.
Defense Of The Ancients began as a mod for WarCraft III in which two teams of players attack each others bases (the 'ancients' of the title) using powerful 'Hero' characters, each with unique abilities. This standalone sequel is a fearsomely complex real-time strategy game with a very steep learning curve. Despite its reputation for difficulty, Dota 2 is enormously popular with tournaments now attracting teams from around the world with some prize purses exceeding one million dollars.
Left 4 Dead 2
Valve's kill or be killed zombie game may be showing its age graphically but its combination of finely-tuned action with rewarding team co-op play still packs a punch. Guide four survivors across a variety of levels, avoiding or destroying the 'infected' who chase you in packs. The game is guided by an artificially intelligent 'director' that keeps the action moving and provides lulls and growing tension to keep players on tehir toes at all times. L4D2 doesn't have much in the way of storyline but you won't find a better co-op shooter on any platform.
Out Of The Park Baseball 2014
Out of the Park Baseball is essentially a really complicated spreadsheet in which you juggle statistics and crunch the numbers to take your team to the top. That would be dull were it not for the intuitive front end and dramatic recreations of games where you can see your hard choices pay off (or not).
Fully customisable with the opportunity to play in historical leagues or create your own major or minor league with as many teams as you like as well as online league play against real opponents. If you’ve ever thought you could do better than your favourite team's manager then this game will give you the chance to step up to the plate and put your Moneyball where your mouth is.
Amnesia: A Machine For Pigs
The Amnesia games are truly terrifying slices of survival horror that put you in the shoes (and first-person POV) of a helpless victim being pursued through a dark, disturbing horrorshow. If you have ever sneered at the terrible decisions made by horror movie characters, this is your chance to step up and show us what you’ve got. This latest installment (the previous games are out on Linux too) takes you into the heart of a bizarre automated slaughterhouse in which an unspeakable evil lurks. You’re armed with only a lantern and a growing sense of unease.
You are a dead videogame character, wandering the random access memory of the games console while you wait to be deleted. A surreal, downbeat and downright odd game but one packed with style and imagination: guide your pixellated persona around the inside of the computer as you try to claim a little more life before your inevitable demise. In the words of the developer, "It's less about action and strategy and more about taking an emotional and philosophical journey that allows the player to explore his or her own sense of mortality." Fun!
Surgeon Simulator 2013
One of the most insane games on any platform, Surgeon Simulator is a black comedy of a game that puts you in the role of the world's worst surgeon by moving his shaky hands, or at least trying to. Famously (and intentionally) difficult to control and often hilarious, this game requires a strong stomach and no morals whatsoever.
Kerbal Space Program
Ever wanted to run NASA? Kerbal Space Program lets you do exactly that - or rather the space program of an alien race known as the Kerbal. The Kerbal want to be a spacefaring race but they need a bit of help designing rockets, running test flights and eventually sending brave volunteers into space. The game’s an engaging simulation with plenty to fiddle with and play about with for anyone even slightly interested in space flight. A subtle dig at NASA’s current space exploration policy? No, surely not.