I'm Game!
September 10, 2010 4:51 AM   Subscribe

Help a mostly non-gamer find fun and satisfying PC games to play.

So far, the extent of my PC gaming experience is pretty small. I've played Age of Empires, some sort of dinosaur hunter game I don't remember now, Spore, and WoW.

(I've also played various online Flash games such as Runescape, Shaiya, Facebook games (which always annoyed me after a while), and Aether, which is my favorite so far due to art and relaxing floaty dreamlike quality.)

So what would you recommend that I either buy or borrow and start playing? I'm willing to try a "shooter" but prefer it not be an exhausting first experience involving hour long battles, like Halo or some such.

I also very much enjoy the art of the game, which can be anything from extremely detailed or black and white abstract, but above all, I'd like to enjoy the experience.

So throw out your favorite PC (Windows 7, but working on getting XP also) games or what you think a beginner style gamer should try, and why. (Also, I don't have days and days to spend on leveling, so please keep that in mind)
posted by DisreputableDog to Computers & Internet (32 answers total) 46 users marked this as a favorite
Here's a few of my favourites:

The Submachine games
Anything by Amanita (Samorost, Machinarium)
Nifflas' Games
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 4:59 AM on September 10, 2010

Also, Jay is Games is probably the most linked-to site on MetaFilter for casual gaming.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 5:06 AM on September 10, 2010

Braid is a great little puzzle platformer that is very popular.
You Have to Burn the Rope is a silly little flash game, but it's short, and kind of self-explanatory.
VVVVVV is a great little game as well, just went on sale on Steam (not sure if it is still on sale or not, though)
Solipskier is another fun short little flash game. (so far my high score is 146million, woo!)
And if you're looking at a shooter, there is the best of the best of the FPS games out today: Team Fortress 2, which is a great multi-player FPS which is full of humor and giblets. Also check out mefightclub.com if you want some great folks to play it with, which I highly recommend.
posted by Grither at 5:07 AM on September 10, 2010

Oh, and it's a bit more "advanced", but my current obsession is Mount and Blade: Warband, which is the best medieval themed game out there. You can ride around on a horse and build armies, take and defend castles, etc. Nothing is more satisfying than finally building up enough of an army to take over your very first castle. But it does involve leveling and lots of time. But it's FUN time, at least.
posted by Grither at 5:20 AM on September 10, 2010

It's a few years old but Portal is good fun. And will get you up to speed for Portal 2 coming out this winter.
posted by Captain_Science at 5:23 AM on September 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

Portal is a 4-6 hour long first person puzzle game.

Plants vs Zombies is an immensely satisfying casual tower-defense game.

Minecraft is my current addiction... It's a first person building/survival game.
posted by empath at 5:23 AM on September 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

Aether, which is my favorite so far due to art and relaxing floaty dreamlike quality.)

If you like that kind of atmosphere, try Knytt, Knytt Stories, and Within A Deep Forest I haven't tried the other two games there, Saira and FiNCK.
posted by ArgentCorvid at 5:23 AM on September 10, 2010

Civilization, in one form or another, has been in possession of my brain for the past 20 years. I find turn-based strategy games a lot easier to deal with than first-person shooters or real-time strategy.
posted by mcwetboy at 5:29 AM on September 10, 2010 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Braid is a platformer that's become pretty well-known for its abstract, philosophical story and its ingeniously clever puzzles. Sounds like it might be right up your alley.

Portal is pretty much mandatory for anyone to play. It's a first-person puzzle game that's just too good to describe. It should be pretty cheap and you can get Grither's recommendation of Team Fortress 2 with it, if you purchase The Orange Box.

Mirror's Edge is a first-person game and it has some mandatory action scenes that aren't especially difficult or long. The game is a parkour platformer, and largely involves running a lot, jumping and maintaining the momentum. Also, it has a neat art style.

Seeing as you aren't a hardcore gamer, you'll probably enjoy point-and-click adventure games, which tend to be easy-going and more cerebral with an emphasis on storytelling. If you haven't played the 90s LucasArts titles, then I suggest you play those because they're amazing. Here's a good list to exhaust.

Apart from those, I strongly suggest The Longest Journey which is of a more serious nature than the LucasArts ones. It also has a more modern sequel. And I'm seconding the recommendation for Amanita's games, especially the endlessly charming Machinarium.

World of Goo is another indie classic - a physics puzzler that's about constructing "goo" structures and so on. It's weird how much of an emotional punch it's seemingly insignificant story has. Highly recommended.

Beyond Good & Evil is an oldie but a goodie - it's an action-adventure that's rather light on everything, the story, gameplay, action and actually benefits from it. It's a great buy now that its price has likely gone down.

Oh, and if you like strategy games, then you must play the Civilization games. I'd suggest you buy Civilization IV today, but you should instead wait for Civilization V, which comes out in a couple weeks. It might sound daunting at first, but once you get your feet wet, you'll find Civilization taking over your life.
posted by Senza Volto at 5:36 AM on September 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

Ah, looks like I got beaten to Portal and Civilization.

Any way, seconding the Plants vs. Zombies recommendation.
posted by Senza Volto at 5:38 AM on September 10, 2010

Oh yes, Portal, Plants vs Zombies, Civilization and World of Goo are all amazing as well!
posted by Grither at 5:43 AM on September 10, 2010

Man, Mirror's Edge, while an attractive game, was also the most wall-punchingly frustrating game I've ever played. I think Canabalt is a much better exploration of momentum.
posted by empath at 5:52 AM on September 10, 2010

Nthing Portal. Very relaxed puzzle-solving gameplay that can be enjoyed in small windows of time.

If you're looking for a shooter with beautiful art and a compelling story, play Bioshock on the "Easy" setting. It will be challenging enough to not be boring, the art is breathtaking, the story is great and the overall experience is "wow!" Bioshock can be had very cheaply these days on Steam.
posted by DWRoelands at 5:54 AM on September 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

Also, Peggle.. Really, anything by popcap.
posted by empath at 5:58 AM on September 10, 2010

Mass Effect. It's a few years old now so it should be pretty cheap to pick up, and if you enjoy it the sequel was released at the beginning of this year (and it's still getting new content). It's sort of a tactical shooter, but you can stick it on the easiest difficulty setting and just enjoy the well-told story and fun characters.

Mirror's Edge is beautiful but even on easy (which doesn't affect the platforming, just the shooty bits) I found the shooty bits irritating, and I'm good at shooty bits.

This is semi-OT but since you mention "the art of the game" I would recommend hunting down a Dreamcast, a PS2 or an Xbox 360 and playing Rez, preferably with a pair of enormous "I own a serious hi-fi system" headphones with lots of bass. That game does wonderful, terrible things to me.
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 6:35 AM on September 10, 2010


The second one just came out and is great but if you want to save money, the first one can be picked up for like $10 (or downloaded from BitTorrent if that's your style). The single player campaign is great and the story is very satisfying, but the game is by no means overwhelming. The multiplayer is awesome if you want to delve into it too.
posted by sprocket87 at 6:45 AM on September 10, 2010

I've only ever played the Myst family of games and a few other Myst-like games (Rhem I and II, Obsidian, Schizm / Mysterious Journey, Morpheus), and while some of them had frustratingly hard puzzles, almost all of them had amazing imagery and memorable plot twists, and I've been surprised how scenes from many of them stick with me after all these years. If you're not a puzzle-solving genius, it's probably a good idea to have a workaround page somewhere you can consult for reference if you get totally stuck, but also develop the discipline not to go to the cheat sheet unless it's really necessary, because the satisfaction of solving some of those puzzles is an amazing rush.
posted by aught at 7:13 AM on September 10, 2010

My favorite PC game of all time is Command & Conquer: Red Alert 2. It's even better with the Yuri's Revenge expansion. They are a decade old so they might not be what you're looking for (perhaps a newer RTS like Starcraft II is in order).

I also highly recommend the free space-roguelike Transcendence.
posted by The Winsome Parker Lewis at 7:57 AM on September 10, 2010

Basically, register yourself a Steam and Good Old Games account and go nuts. Most of the old classics are there, and you can hardly go wrong with them.

It's going to help if you can narrow down the genre some though. Do you like RPGs? RTSs? Turn-based strategy? Action games? Platformers? Adventure games? There are plenty of recommendations to be made about all of those, but one hardly knows where to start.

Other than the Civilization franchise. If you don't like that, you aren't a gamer. That's just all there is to it.
posted by valkyryn at 8:29 AM on September 10, 2010

Nthing the Civilization franchise. Nthing Portal.

I also recommend Bioshock which at its core is essentially a "shooter" but with story ambitions and mechanics far beyond what most would even try for. If you're not going to play that many games, you might as well play the best.
posted by haveanicesummer at 8:46 AM on September 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

I second Mass Effect, and in particular Mass Effect 2. Absolutely love the story, the graphics, the gameplay ... and you don't need any particular gaming experience, IMO.

I'd actually recommend starting with the second one. The ME2 missions are shorter and more linear/forgiving than the first one, and it's also a far better game - the first one has some very irritating and unforgiving gameplay bits that they got rid of in the second. You do miss the emotional impact of some parts if you do that, but I think it's is a far better game to start especially if you've never played shooters before. I played Mass Effect 2 with zero shooter experience on the lowest difficulty and enjoyed it immensely... the same cannot be said for the first.

OTOH, if you liked WoW, Dragon Age (also by Bioware, the studio that did Mass Effect) is a great single player RPG with similar gameplay principles. It's like controlling a four-man instance group that never griefs you.
posted by Xany at 8:55 AM on September 10, 2010

I'd also recommend skipping straight to Mass Effect 2- you will pick up the storyline from the first really quickly, and the first one has some seriously annoying issues that all got fixed in the second one.
Someone upthread said to play VVVVVV- I wouldn't, if you're not a big gamer. It's an incredibly good game but it is difficult as hell and will have you slamming your head against the wall in about a minute and a half.
Also, a friend of mine who's not a gamer got really, really into Red Dead Redemption (a lot more than I did) and said she had a blast just wandering around, enjoying the atmosphere and doing whatever she felt like, and skinning the occasional bear.

Since you said you like abstract and black and white- if you also like tricksy clever puzzles, you have to go with Limbo.
posted by Dormant Gorilla at 9:26 AM on September 10, 2010

Came here to suggest Civ and Mass Effect, NOT leaving disappointed. Also, Dragon Age, yes, omg.

I'm going to disagree with the others and say go with Mass Effect 1 for a very specific reason -- the storyline carries over from game to game, and your actions in ME1 will affect how people react to you in ME2. Plus, there's a few scenes that are ten times more satisfying and/or hilarious if you played the first. (Harkin for one, and Garrus if you play FemShep). If you like it enough, you'll probably end up getting all of them anyway, in which case you'll probably want to just play through in order. Of course, I play games for the story so yeah.

To explain what Mass Effect is: Out of combat, it plays much like Bioware's previous RPG games in the character dialog options, only the main character frigging talks. In combat, it plays like a third-person shooter with absolutely wonderful camera controls. I've played through ME1 four times just to get the different options available depending on which path you take (Paragon or Renegade, which are NOT mutually exclusive moralities), two characters with two playthroughs each. I've imported both into ME2 and will play through THAT one twice as well, and when ME3 comes out (it's planned as a trilogy after all) I'll do the same AGAIN. And I've only played Female Shepard, so eventually I'll be going back to play Male Shepard... No game has ever made me this obsessed, not even WoW.

All of the above games are available on Steam. I really don't suggest buying them from EA's online store, which disgusted me to no end.

My other half played the Sims games for YEARS -- first Sims 2, and now Sims 3. They're pretty benign, tons of stuff to do, you can micromanage or let them run free, engineer their happiness or torment them into mental breakdowns.

Diablo 2 is an old standby of mine -- it's a single player game, zones don't take that long to clear, and I actually consider it a BENEFIT that the maps respawn all monsters when you reload. It's a fairly grindey game but you don't have to play it for a long stretch. Torchlight is quite similar, and is available on Steam as well for pretty cheap.
posted by Heretical at 10:06 AM on September 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: The Orange Box is probably the best value gaming package ever. And like Grither said, come play TF2 with us over at MeFightClub! We will be happy to help you figure out the game (just speak up!) and you can join and play for just 20 minutes or so at a time if you want. And Steam is a good distribution system, with lots of demos and things too.

nthing: Portal, Plants vs Zombies, Braid, World of Goo, and Bioshock

Adding: Osmos (floaty and ethereal), Lucidity

If you like point and click adventures, the first two (1, 2) Monkey Island games are out in a special edition with updated graphics - they are really fun. Being old-school, though, they can be very hard. For an easier group of games, try the Telltale Games library (Sam & Max and Wallace & Grommit in particular) - they are really fun.

I adored Red Dead Redemption and Limbo too, but those games are not out on PC (Xbox Arcade only for Limbo).
posted by gemmy at 10:23 AM on September 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

FEAR. When you play it, you will shit bricks.


Just Cause 2

Command and Conquer Series

Sorry for no links, accessing MeFi from a device with no copy and paste facility.
posted by Biru at 11:16 AM on September 10, 2010

F.E.A.R. is a horror-themed FPS with some genuinely creepy moments.
I'm not a gamer, but love it.
posted by coolguymichael at 11:24 AM on September 10, 2010

Just be warned that Dragon Age can very easily take upwards of 60 hours to finish playing through the story, if you do most of the quests. It's also not the prettiest game ever, despite being released last year. That said, the characters and story are fantastic, so if you want a story-driven experience, it's pretty hard to beat. I've put some 180 hours into the game over various playthroughs, if that tells you anything.

As far as Mass Effect goes, I too would recommend diving into ME2 first. Seriously, ME1 is a good game, but there's very little direction and the controls are kind of clunky. ME2 is a superior experience, even if there is a lot to be gained story-wise from playing ME1 first. I couldn't get through the first game because of the clunky controls, though, so that could just be me. I suggest playing through ME2 first, and if you find yourself really interested in the story, then go back and play ME1 followed by importing that character into ME2 for a second playthrough. Oh, and if you decide to play either ME game, play the female Shepard. Trust me, the voice acting is *much* better, and Renegade female!Shepard is probably one of my favorite video game characters of all time.

Additionally, add me to the chorus of Portal recommendations. It's a fantastic game, it's relatively short, and, despite the fact that it looks and plays like an FPS, it's largely non-combative. It contains another one of the best video game characters ever, as well. I highly recommend playing through some of the stages with the developer commentary on; it's quite fascinating to hear them talk about the philosophy behind the game and what design decisions they made. If I were you, this is where I would start.

Torchlight might be good for you too. Its art style is somewhat reminiscent of WoW's, but it's single player and very clicky. You can return to town and quit pretty much any time you want to. Very fun game, with a quirky, humorous take on a steampunk-ish setting.

Lastly, nthing the above recommendations for Steam, as long as you have a decent net connection. You can often find older games for a mere $5-$10 on sale there, which makes it much easier to try out things. All of the games I've suggested are available from Steam.
posted by ashirys at 11:25 AM on September 10, 2010

Mass Effect. I'd say go with ME1 first.


Trine, which in my opinion does not get nearly enough praise or publicity.

World of Goo

Sims 2 or 3

Civilization; doesn't matter if you go for IV or wait for V to come out later this month. Either way you will probably have a good time once you get the hang of things.

Oblivion, Morrowind, and Fallout 3 or New Vegas; the first 3 can all be modded to be more pretty if they are too old looking for your tastes, graphically speaking.

Rollercoaster Tycoon (I like 3, but fans of the older ones will tell you that going from isometric to 3D made it lose its charm somehow.)

GTA III, Vice City, San Andreas, IV... maybe even Saints Row (not a GTA game, but very similar).

There are so many other games I could recommend, but it's hard to tell where you're looking to go with this. Also, there's no need to get XP if you have Win 7. I run everything on Win 7 myself.
posted by asciident at 12:35 PM on September 10, 2010

Response by poster: There are so many other games I could recommend, but it's hard to tell where you're looking to go with this. Also, there's no need to get XP if you have Win 7. I run everything on Win 7 myself.

While I thought this also to be true (Spore, for example), apparently some games don't want to? I tried downloading The Witcher, which looked fairly interesting, but it told me a certain driver would do harm to my computer. I haven't yet gotten around to figuring out a fix for this.

Also, since I didn't specify and some asked:

I do enjoy puzzle gaming in interactive worlds - thank you, I'd forgotten that I had played Myst once before a long time ago - Aether, for those who've played it, is also a recognizable puzzle game.

I'm not afraid to use keys in order to control my unit/creature/what-have-you, but I do find a straight point-and-click to lower the learning curve somewhat.

I don't _usually_ enjoy playing with other people in real time. I actually find it restricting and difficult to enjoy the game when I'm being told off by a supposed expert of the game for not knowing how to control my character....or being given a thousand tips on technique.

I have played Rollercoaster Tycoon, a few different versions if I remember correctly. While I do find it fun to control groups of people through making their little world better, I eventually get annoyed and bored and end up killing off mass amounts of the poor things (Spore and Age of Empires so far provide me consistent challenges to keep them -from- dying). This is why I'm willing to try new types of games, like shooters.

So far, both from your recommendations and from realizing I've actually heard about such games through reviews before, Bioshock and Portal are two I'll definitely get asap. I read an article on Limbo recently and was extremely disappointed that it's only through Xbox. I'll look through this list as soon as I can this weekend to provide feedback and maybe better specify what looks good to me.
posted by DisreputableDog at 2:10 PM on September 10, 2010

I do enjoy puzzle gaming in interactive worlds

Then you might be interested in Amnesia: The Dark Descent. A nascent classic, and one of the most terrifying games ever committed to pixel.
posted by Iridic at 2:51 PM on September 10, 2010

I do enjoy puzzle gaming in interactive worlds

I made it home, so I looked at my Steam library. If you like those types of games, may I also then suggest that you try: Dear Esther, which is a free mod for the Source engine. I found it hard to deal with the very simplistic graphics at first, but then I figured out the story and got immersed in it. Also The Path. Not really a puzzler, but another interactive story with interesting graphics.

The Amanita games (Samorost, Machinarium) mentioned up thread would probably also be good. They are more like traditional puzzlers.

Also, you may like Beyond Good & Evil, Psychonauts, or Ghost Master. All of them are available for very cheap on Steam.
posted by gemmy at 6:25 PM on September 10, 2010

Most of my favorites are listed already, but I see no one's mentioned Half-Life 2 yet. It's a shooter, but doesn't just keep throwing monsters at you, and it's interspersed with physics puzzles and some really fun vehicle sequences. Plus the story is pretty good.
posted by zompist at 7:28 PM on September 10, 2010

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