When the weather outside is frightful, it's an ideal opportunity to spend some time on the computer - and what better way to while away the snowy hours than a good computer game. Today's latest titles can cost a fortune, though - and many require a powerful, modern PC to play at all.
Thanks to the internet, though, it's possible to buy some fantastic older games for almost no money at all. Most will run happily on older PCs that run Windows XP, and as they're ready to download there's no need to stomp through the sleet to the shops.
Here's our pick of ten classics, all available to buy online now. Each costs less than £10, and will run on Windows XP. A word of warning, though: many of these prices are Christmas special offers, so don't hang about!
1) The Secret of Monkey Island - Special Edition
It's remarkable to think that this classic adventure game is now 20 years old. First released in 1990, it's a rare example of a game that manages to be laugh-out-loud funny, but also packs in a plot that'll keep you hooked for hours. You play Guybrush Threepwood, self-proclaimed "mighty pirate" and generally unterrifying character, and must journey across the Caribbean for reasons of plot that we won't reveal. This Special Edition includes the original game, plus optional and rather beautiful new graphics, allowing you to switch back and forth between the two as you wish.
Buy it from Steam for the frankly ludicrous price of £3.50.
Explore a vast science-fiction world in Half Life 2
2) Half Life 2
And while we're talking about games available from Steam, there's one action game that shouldn't be missed out. Half Life 2 was the long-awaited sequel to the already fantastic Half Life, which is also available for a few quid and well worth playing, and has for years been ranked as the single best PC game ever made by the review-aggregator Metacritic. And it's easy to see why: as well as looking great it's a huge, immersive and genuinely intriguing science fiction action adventure. And, like the Secret of Monkey Island, it currently costs less than four pounds. Madness. But before you pay, be sure to check out number nine on this list.
Buy it from Steam for the offensively low price of £3.50.
3) Beyond Good and Evil
Speaking of action games, here's a hidden gem. Beyond Good and Evil was released in 2003 on both PC and consoles to critical acclaim, but was a commercial flop. Looking back, it's hard to see why: pretentious title aside there's so much here to love. It's an action game in which you, playing as a character called Jade and armed with a camera, must discover the truth behind a series of abductions. Oh, and there's also a talking pig. It's beautifully made, utterly charming and great fun. A new remastered version is due for release on consoles next year, but you can play the original now for just a few quid.
Buy it from Good old Games for just $7.
4) The Longest Journey
If you like point-and-click adventure games, but prefer something more serious than the pirate-based frivolity of Monkey Island, this is the game for you. The Longest Journey is often rated as the best adventure game ever made, and you can see why: set around two lavishly created worlds, it's full of well-written dialogue, believable characters and fiendish puzzles. You play as a human, April, who accidentally slips into another world while dreaming, and the rest of the game plays out as you move between the two: Stark, a world of science, and Arcadia, a world of magic. We should offer two warnings, though: first, as the title suggests, this is a very long game indeed, so be prepared to lose many hours in it. Secondly, some of the puzzles are not so much clever as bizarre, so you may eventually have to resort to an online guide (and even then the reason for the solution may not be obvious). These problems noted, it's still unmissable.
Buy it from Good old Games for $6.
Uncover the conspiracy - with a pig - in Beyond Good and Evil
5) Civilization III
The Civilization strategy game series has been running for years, and we recently raved about the latest edition, Civilization 5. If you're looking for something cheaper, or to run on an old PC, though, here's a great alternative: the Complete edition of Civilization III is on sale for less than a fiver online. It misses some new features, of course, but you still get to nurture a civilization from its roots as a group of nomads to a massive superpower, and to win by conquering the world or taking to the stars with a space colony. It'll run on Windows XP computers. For those with newer PCs and deeper pockets, Civ 5 is also available to download for £26.
Buy it from Direct2Drive for £5
6) Sim City 4 Deluxe
If you prefer simulation games to strategy, here's a great alternative. Sim City 4, first released in 2003, was a significant step up when compared to its predecessors. It allows you to play as mayor, turning a giant empty tract of land into a bustling metropolis, to play god and strike your own city with any number of natural (and not so natural) disasters or even to take control of a vehicle and drive through the town you've created. It's also the first Sim City game to use 3D models, so it looks great.
Buy it from Direct2Drive for £10
Create a metropolis, then drive through it, in Sim City 4
7) GTA: San Andreas
Love them or loathe them, the Grand Theft Auto games have been some of the biggest blockbusters of the past 15 years. Like all GTA titles San Andreas is absolutely not for kids, but if you like your action games packed with sardonic humour - and, yes, quite a lot of violence - then it'll fit the bill. San Andreas allows you to rampage through an enormous virtual West-coast USA, with reproductions (or perhaps parodies) of LA, San Francisco and Las Vegas all included. It's vast, skillfully written and great fun to play.
Buy it from Direct2Drive for £6
8) Ultimate Doom
And while we're talking about games for adults only, here's a real classic. The game that kick-started the first-person-shooter genre back in 1993, Doom may now look rather dated but it still plays magnificently well. Take to the keyboard (mouse control came later) and fight your way across the moons of Mars, splattering a variety of pixellated but nonetheless terrifying monsters as you go - it's particularly fun it you played it the first time around, too, as you'll be surprised by how many of the levels you remember.
Buy it from Steam for £4.50
9) Portal (the Orange Box)
Portal is one of the more modern games in this list, and it requires a relatively powerful PC to play - Windows XP is fine, but you'll need a graphics card that supports SSE and DirectX 8.1. If your PC meets those requirements, though, you can pick up Half Life 2, Portal, plus the two Episode add-ons to Half Life 2 and the multiplayer game Team Fortress 2 for just £8.50 - just search for the "Orange Box" pack. Half Life 2 aside, Portal is the gem here: it's an innovative, brain-stretching and amusing action puzzle game that sees you attempting escape from a test facility using only a special weapon that can create "portals" for you to walk, jump or fall through. And keep an eye out for the cake..
Buy it from Steam for just £8.50
10) Left 4 Dead 2
.. And finally, what if you fancy something to play online through the snowy hours? Sadly the lifespan of online games tends to be shorter than those that can be played alone - they require servers to communicate, and these get switched off eventually - but if your PC is up to the task it's currently possible to pick up one of the best multiplayer games of recent times for a steal. Left 4 Dead 2 puts you in the place of one member of a four-person team of survivors surrounded by a zombie horde - and in order to escape, you'll have to work together. It's simple but well made and funny, too, taking its cues from the tropes of zombie movies, but as you'd expect absolutely unsuitable for kids. It'll run on Windows XP, but you will need a Core 2 Duo 2.4GHz processor and a fairly powerful graphics card (Nvidia 7600 or ATI X1600 or better) to play. Read our full review here.
Buy it from Steam for £7.50
So, that's our pick of the best game bargains you can buy online this snowy Christmas. Do you have any recommendations or favourites? Add them in the comments below.
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