Linux

Linux gaming rising: 25 killer PC games that call Linux home

It's taken a long time and the promise of SteamOS, but more and more big-name games are finally becoming Linux natives. Here's a sampling.

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Linux games rising

For the first time in a long time, Linux gamers have a reason to smile. Gaming on the open-source operating system has long meant dabbling in Wine and arcane workarounds, but ever since Valve launched Steam for Linux a year-and-a-half ago the number of native Linux games has positively exploded.

Sure, Valve's embrace of Linux may have a wee bit to do with advancing the Steam Machine ideal, but any game released for "SteamOS" works just fine on other Linux distros, too. Ahead of the big Steam Machine unveiling at GDC 2015, here are a slew of killer PC games that've recently become Linux natives—including the previous two PCWorld Game of the Year winners.

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The Talos Principle

Let’s dive right into the meat of the matter. The Talos Principle couldn’t quite squeeze out a GOTY victory after its late 2014 debut, but its brain-bending blend of killer puzzles and deep philosophical musings almost—almost!—earned it the top spot. Simply put, there hasn’t been a puzzle game this stellar since Portal 2.

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Valve games: Portal 2, Left 4 Dead 2, Team Fortress 2, etc.

Speaking of which, Portal 2 is now a Linux native, as Valve's been busy porting its deep catalog of gaming hits over to Linux, and they're just as great as they were on Windows.Team Fortress 2, Dota 2, Left 4 Dead 2—the deuces are all here.

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Wasteland 2

Wasteland 2 is PCWorld’s Game of the Year of 2014, and the one title that Talos Principle couldn’t quite triumph over. It took a full quarter-century for this sequel to the legendary Wasteland to be made, and the wait was well worth it. Wasteland 2’s is nothing short of a love post-apocalyptic love letter to old-school CRPG fans, sporting a tantalizing setting, deliciously clever writing, and more far more flexibility to accommodate player actions than 99 percent of games out there.

Don’t have a key? Blow up the door. But make your choices wisely—each one affects how the story and characters react to you.

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Papers, Please

PCWorld’s 2013 GOTY also calls Linux home. Papers, Please may sport NES-era graphics, but the stark visuals only drive home the feel of the game. Everything, from the droning music to the overall aesthetic to the mechanics, supports the telling of a subtle but realistic and powerful story. The whole package is exemplary.

Papers, Please is proof that a great story married to great mechanics can be a powerful tool for storytellers, transforming the simple life of a border official into a must-play game.

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Civilization V

Sid Meier's turn-based, empire-building strategy masterpiece has long been one of PC gaming's crown jewels, and now, Civ 5 has landed on Steam for Linux. (Insert clever "You're supposed to settle early" joke here.) And it's not just the core game either: The "Gods and Kings" and "Brave New Worlds" expansions have come along for the ride, along with a slew of supplementary packs. Valve's upcoming Steam Controller and cross-operating system multiplayer are both fully supported.

That alone would be great for Linux gaming, but the team behind the port is almost as exciting. Aspyr has ported dozens of major games to the Mac over the years. If they're focusing strongly on Linux now, the open-source OS could soon be home to many more top-tier games.

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Dying Light

Okay, okay, Techland’s latest open-world zombie slaughterfest aims higher than it manages to hit. The game trips over some details, with a bored-sounding main character and a tendency towards dumb fetch quests.

But if you ignore all that and just run around, basking in the game’s killer parkour mechanics and cornucopia of outrageous hidden secrets, Dying Light is a blast—kinetic, brutal fun. It’s gorgeous, too.

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The Witcher 2: Assassin of Kings

Mere weeks before Civilization made the jump, CD Projekt RED's blockbuster The Witcher 2: Assassin of Kings launched on SteamOS and Linux. The Witcher 2 is one of the deepest, most mature role-playing games of all time, featuring a gritty and dark world to explore, superb swordplay, and one of the best stories in recent video game memory. (The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is due to release early next year and is already looking great.)

Alas, the game runs on a virtualization "wrapper" dubbed eON, which an eON developer calls "a middle ground idea between what WINE does, and a native port." Hardcore Linux lovers aren't pleased, but the Witcher 2 is nonetheless sterling, and it's encouraging to see such a top-shelf game run on Linux without having to coax it into working with WINE.

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Metro: Last Light Redux

Metro: Last Light is a flawed, yet unique and fun first-person shooter that sets you loose in post-apocalyptic Russia, with an emotionally-charged narrative told through a number of powerful scenes. We love it.

What's more, Metro: Last Light was one of the first big-name games to be ported to Linux after Valve announced its SteamOS endeavor. It was bundled with the Steam Machine prototypes Valve passed out to 300 lucky gamers. If you aren't one of them, you can grab the Metro Redux Bundle (which also includes Metro 2033Last Light's superb predecessor) on Steam for $50, or $25 for each individual game.

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Super Meat Boy

Around the same time Metro: Last Light landed on open-source shores in 2013, Team Meat celebrated the 3-year anniversary of its smash indie hit Super Meat Boy by unleashing a Linux version. Super Meat Boy is one of the best platform games in recent memory, with occasionally frustrating (but never unfair) action and a dark sense of humor.

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Fez

Super Meat Boy isn't the only Indie Game: The Movie gem to receive an open-source makeover. Fez, Polytron's acclaimed puzzle platformer, became available on Linux (and OS X) in September 2013, after debuting on Xbox in April 2013 and hitting Windows PCs in May 2013.

If you haven't enjoyed the game's revolving, 3D take on 2D platforming, definitely give the game a whirl. It'll bring you racing back to the NES days of old and is easily worth the $10 asking price (though you can often find it on sale for less). Just don't get your hopes up for a Fez 2.

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Shadowrun Returns

Shadowrun Returns, uh, returned the iconic series to its glorious turn-based isometric roots when it launched in late 2013, dropping players into a murky world mixing cyberpunk, fantasy, and crime elements alike. It sounds messy, but the game's terrific storytelling and mature approach help it shine (and its Dragonfall expansion is even better and also available for Linux).

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Europa Universalis IV

Europa Universalis IV is a grand strategy game about colonization, enlightenment, overthrowing tyranny, religious upheaval, nation-building, mercantilism, piracy, feuding monarchies, and political intrigue.

Or none of that. Like most Paradox games, EUIV is a virtual sandbox with a ton of systems and no real end goal. It’s dense, but if dense strategy games are your thing, this is a killer pick.

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Crusader Kings II

Another Paradox title, Crusader Kings II is still going strong years after release because of the developer’s devotion to releasing awesome new content on a regular basis. This deep strategy games plops you down in medieval Europe and is pretty much a less-graphic, strategy game version of Game of Thrones.

The behind the scenes intrigue is nothing short of a soap opera, full of adultery, murder, incest, political marriages, pope bribing, and the occasional slaughter of friends and enemies—all in the name of advancing your goals. This strategy sandbox sinks its hooks into you and won’t let go.

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Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel and Borderlands 2

Gearbox’s loot-crazed shooter series has nestled in nicely on Linux, with both Borderlands 2 and the stopgap (but still fun) Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel gracing open-source shores. (The original is not, alas.) If you can round up a couple of friends to play with these fast-paced firefests are a ton of fun, though they can feel like a bit of a slog after a while if you’re playing by yourself.

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Besiege

Besiege, a physics-based Early Access game in which you create siege engines to destroy castles and armies, has taken the gaming world by storm, largely because of the insanely original (and often NSFW) weapons crafted by the community. The game’s not even done and it’s already a sterling example of beautiful, creative destruction done right.

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The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth

The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth is essentially The Legend of Zelda’s dungeons meets randomized Rogue-like gameplay meets monsters and rooms full of poop. If your sensibilities can handle the heavier story aspects, this finely tuned game is borderline impossible to put down—especially if you can find a buddy to play co-op with.

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XCOM: Enemy Unknown

Firaxis’ XCOM: Enemy Unknown rejiggers the legendary X-COM formula for the modern generation with nothing less than stunning results. The game pits your squad of grizzled, heavily armed soldiers against a seemingly never-ending horde of alien invaders. Soldiers are individuals with upgradeable stats; making things more tense, their in-game deaths are permanent, and it’s all too easy to lose a seasoned vet forever if you get careless for a second in the midst of a tactical battle. The planning stage between battles is just as vital to success as the gunplay itself.

Highly, highly recommended.

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Civilization: Beyond Earth

Speaking of highly recommended Firaxis games, Civilization: Beyond Earth drags the classic Civilization gameplay into the stars. Beyond Earth can be a bit more difficult to get into than Civ V on account of its using fictional, sci-fi-inspired nations and technologies, but once you’ve got the terminology under your belt it’s yet another stellar Civ title.

Just don’t mess with the aliens.

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This War of Mine

You don’t necessarily enjoy this brutal look at civilian life in the middle of a warzone as much as you experience it. Just play This War of Mine already, eh?

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Kerbal Space Program

Build your own spaceships and fly them to the stars without having them explode or crash and kill the crew. It’s easier than it sounds in this amazing—and amazingly tough—physics-based game. Once you’ve got the takeoff under your belt, Kerbal Space Program lets you build spacestations, massive spaceships, and planetary bases in three different game modes. And yes, it’s mod friendly.

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Grim Fandango Remastered

Grim Fandango is the prime example of adventure games done right, and the recent remaster proves that Manny Calvera’s Day of the Dead-inspired trip through the Underworld is just as compelling as you remember (though you may want to keep a guide handy for some of the obscure old-school puzzles).

The writing is hilarious, the characters and setting are creative as hell, and Grim Fandango’s ambitious and mature in a way that not a lot of games before or since have accomplished. Buy it now.

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Goat Simulator

Goat Simulator is dumb. Goat Simulator is short. Goat Simulator is frequently broken.

But oh wow, is Goat Simulator glorious in a wonderfully stupid kind of way.

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Shovel Knight

If Wasteland 2 is a love letter to old-school CRPG fans, Shovel Knight is a pitch-perfect homage to the side-scrolling platformers of old, built from the ground up to mimic the look, sound, and even the feel of games like Mega Man and Duck Tales. Be warned: Like the 8-bit games of yesteryear, this game pulls no punches when it comes to difficulty, but the controls are so tight that you won’t care.

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Transistor

Transistor, from the same developer that brought us Bastion, is a gorgeous, wonderfully crafted game. Everything from the lush visuals to the compelling, customizable combat to the feels-infused narrator and Darren Korb’s haunting soundtrack perfectly complement each other to create a tight, fun experience of a game. It’s beautiful.

Don’t miss this. Transistor was my favorite title of 2014 behind Talos Principle and Wasteland 2.

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Kentucky Route Zero

Love Neil Gaiman books? Then you’ll love the thoughtful, magic-tinged world of Kentucky Route Zero. Only three of a planned five episodes in this saga about a highway in the caves under Kentucky are complete thus far—and it takes a long time for each new episode to be published—but KRZ’s already one of the most memorable adventures since, well, Grim Fandango.

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But wait! There's more

Whew! That’s a veritable bounty of top-notch PC games, all of which will run without you needing to partake in WINE. And even better, it’s only the tip of the iceberg.

Door Kickers. FTL. The SwapperRogue Legacy. NEO ScavengerOctodad. Hotline MiamiMonaco: What's Your is Mine. JazzpunkMountain. Hexcells Infinite. Don’t Starve. Many, many more.

It's still not quite the year of Linux on the desktop, but one thing's for certain: Linux's gaming prospects are looking brighter than ever before.