When you’re looking for something new to play, it’s all too easy to limit your shopping to the front page of Steam. It’s where the heavily advertised and top-selling games are, the ones everyone’s playing and talking about. But fail to scratch beneath the surface and you’ll be missing out.. Hidden among Steam’s catalogue are some real gems that players are singing praises for, but are all but invisible to most.
We’ve rounded up some of the best reviewed, least talked about games on Steam for your consideration. These are Steam’s hidden gems.
Looking for a big, popular game instead? Try one of the best PC games of 2016.
Firstly, let’s talk about how we found these games. Steam Database has a list of the 100 top-rated games on Steam. Many of them are what you’d expect: Portal 2 takes the top spot, and is joined by huge triple-A hits like Batman: Arkham City and cult indies such as Undertale. But peppered between the big-hitters are a number of games you likely have never set eyes upon before.
It’s important to note that these games have been determined by the Wilson Scale: an algorithm that was developed in 1927 to accurately list items by average score. More typical average listings use flawed systems that would rank an item with two positive scores and no negative scores higher than an item with 1,000 positive scores and a single negative score. Wilson does clever stuff with a mathematical algorithm to arrange scores logically and assemble a true picture of the grading scale. Thus, these 100 titles are genuinely the hundred best-reviewed games on Steam.
To find the ‘hidden gems’, we restricted ourselves to games with low player counts. You’ll find that the majority of the games on this list are played by less 100 people in a month.
So let's dig into these lesser-spotted diamonds with...
16,817 positive user reviews
97% Steam score
96.99% Wilson score
£2.79 / $3.99
Geometry Dash at first seems to be Flappy Bird (remember that?) dosed up on acid. A psychedelic-coloured platformer that requires you to jump to stay aloft through a variety of incoming hazards, it’s exactly the kind of rage-quit challenge that powers the likes of Super Meat Boy. The need to overcome its difficulty curve has fuelled players and driven them in droves to write glowing reviews on Steam.
“You will push yourself further to complete those few percentages each attempt,” writes SpectraSound in a Steam user review.
“Geometry Dash is a challenging, one-button, colorful, techno rave that made me more emotional than many relationships,” explains QCXV [Snowed] in another write-up.
They hypnotic music is a real high point, with new layers being added to the soundtrack with each successful hazard you clear. If you’ve got the patience, Geometry Dash is a compelling, obsession-creating indie.
3,865 positive user reviews
97% Steam score
96.51% Wilson score
£1.99 / $2.99
The Witness is a game about doing line puzzles, and it’s £29.99. LYNE is also a game about line puzzles, but it’s a penny shy of £2. Of course they’re wildly different games, but if you fancy connecting the dots in a greymatter-bending manner, you won’t go far wrong with LYNE.
“This game involves a methodical step-by-step approach to thinking that allows you to break down complex problems,” explains Steam reviewer Melody.
Keb47 sums up the game’s difficulty: “At first, the game is easy as ripping a piece of paper. As you soon move onto the next 25-30 levels, it's like ripping a phonebook.”
It’s a game about understanding the rules of the dots you’re connecting: some allow multiple lines to cross through, while others are restricted to specific colours. And those rules grow ever more complex as the game continues, but your understanding naturally grows too. LYNE’s Steam page claims it will ‘calm your soul’, which may not be the case in the more challenging puzzles, but it certainly has those serene elements that will see the hours pass by.
Recettear: An Item Shop's Tale
3,479 positive user reviews
98% Steam score
96.88% Wilson score
£12.99 / $19.99
A Japanese RPG with a unique perspective, Recettear casts you as the owner of an item shop with a loan that needs repaying. The only way to keep out of the shark’s bad books is by making sure the shop makes a healthy profit, and merchandise keeps flowing. It’s a game with two approaches: either playing the market by trading to amass the supplies you need, or heading out into dungeons to kill monsters and take their loot for your storerooms (apparently beasties frequently carry valuable goods ideal for resale).
It can also lead to some fun emergent stories. “This game made me realise how much of a monster I was,” writes Steam reviewer 123. “I have scammed the poor and innocent little girl multiple times, possibly causing her to get scolded by her mother many many times.”
“This game does nothing better than completely make you one with the world,” says ONE WHOLE EGG. “At times you'll feel filthy rich, and other times, completely helpless.”
Recettear feels like it’s been designed to be a dungeon crawler as its combat is the core feature it boasts. But it’s entirely possible to complete without heading into the danger zone, and a trade-only playthrough is likely an enticing challenge for pacifist-loving players.
2,775 positive user reviews
97% Steam score
96.49% Wilson score
£9.99 / $13.99
Imagine a violent blend of baseball and dodgeball and you’ve got Lethal League; a game all about hitting a deadly anti-gravity ball at your opponent. It’s rendered in a nostalgic graffiti-like 90s cartoon style, with grungy characters and colourful effects. The more the ball is hit, the faster it becomes, making it all the more difficult to avoid and strike in the direction of your opponent’s face.
“It's got the charm of Smash Brothers, and the balance of Street Fighter,” writes Orangestar on the Steam reviews.
It’s the sheer velocity of Lethal League that makes it so fun, with blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moments that lead to victory or defeat. There’s a single-player mode and support for four online players, but it’s clear Lethal League’s true calling is local play with friends.
Layers of Fear
2,592 positive user reviews
97% Steam score
96.26% Wilson score
£9.99 / $12.99
Layers of Fear is inspired by the atmosphere-thick, non combative horror games of the last few years. But rather than sneaking around staying out of view of monsters, you’re in control of a painter who’s attempting to complete his magnum opus. Unfortunately for him (and you), he’s going insane, and so the walls of your estate will start bleeding paint. And that’s just for starters...
“It's actually really quite unsettling. You start realizing that once that door closes behind you, you've nowhere to go but forward,” says Iroquois Pliskin in their Steam review.
“It's truly creepy and scary and will have you questioning your sanity,” claims firmwares.
The nearest touch point for Layers of Fear is PT, the incredibly chilling horror game that was briefly on PS4. But here on PC, it’s arguable that this is the horror game variation of Gone Home: a journey through familiar territory that gets darker and twisted the further you tread.
2,443 positive user reviews
97% Steam score
96.12% Wilson score
£6.99 / $9.99
I don’t think ‘adorable’ is the sort of word normally associated with transport simulators, but Mini Metro manages it. It’s thanks to the use of bold, bright colours that evoke the great visual design of real subway maps. Throwing 3D cities and trains out the window and focusing on simple lines keeps Mini Metro a focused, almost obsessive experience.
“Each round starts with lulling, zen-like ease and and music to match,” writes Steam reviewer richnixon. “As the game progresses and your transit systems becomes more and more complex the atmosphere slowly and imperceptibly shifts until you find yourself racing to pick-up passengers from an over-crowded station with the pace of the music matching your ever increasing heartbeat.”
Starting with just three stations, it’s up to you to keep up with the town’s expansion and increased population as they utilise your rapidly growing transport links. Dropping in bridges, new lines, and solving the problem of ever-increasing demand makes Mini Metro as much of a puzzle game as it is a transport sim. Trains don’t deserve to be this fun.
1,915 positive reviews
97% Steam score
96.08% Wilson score
£6.99 / $9.99
Machinarium is one of the best-known indie darlings on Steam, but the robot point-n-click has a younger brother. Botanicula is a similarly styled adventure game set in the microscopic world of insects, asking you to solve humour-filled puzzles in an attempt to save a seed from a nest of parasites.
“It's a perfect game to relax with and just explore the alien ecosystem, see what everything does and how they interact with each other,” describes angel_arrow_maker in their Steam review.
“A very original and unique game, with a powerful message!” says Myra Ella.
As you’d expect from Amanita, the character designs are superb and endearing. Your team of five heroes all have their own unique skills to bring something special to the puzzle solving, which is gentle and relaxing. If you’re looking for a soothing and pleasantly emotional adventure, Botanicula is your ideal starting point.
1,163 positive reviews
99% Steam Score
97.55% Wilson score
£6.99 / $9.99
King of the couch games is Towerfall, and it’s certainly been something that’s filled a PCGamesN lunchtime or two. However, looking like it could take the local multiplayer crown is Crawl, a dungeon crawler that pits one hero against a gang of their friends. Of the up to four players, one takes sword in hand and attempts to make it through a dungeon while the rest control traps and monsters. Should the hero be slain, the player who scored the kill gets to take their place.
“Crawl has honestly blown my expectations away, giving me the feel of nostalgia from its music and art style while also giving me the kind of gameplay that has nearly infinite replay value,” enthuses Aulubear in their Steam review.
lordmortis is equally as taken by it: “Heart pumping, addictive multiplayer action. Grab it now and hope your humanity isn't stolen.”
If your gaming friends are online rather than local, you don’t have to miss out on Crawl’s thrills: there’s a single player mode where the AI is surprisingly competent. It’s certainly not where Crawl shines the brightest, but it’s a great opportunity to hone some skills before taking on some real humans.
Creeper World 3: Arc Eternal
1,212 positive user reviews
98% Steam score
96.31% Wilson score
£10.99 / $14.99
Strategy games generally have you developing a lot of rock, paper, scissors-style tactics to defend against and defeat a variety of enemy types. Creeper World 3 only throws one enemy at you: a tide of fluid spreading over the terrain towards you. It means that it’s less about developing tactics to combat predictable groups, but constantly re-assessing your position as the deadly water creeps its way around your structures. It’s an entirely unique approach to RTS.
Steam user Sankt Artilleron sums the game up as thus: “What happens when you combine a tower defense game with Supreme Commander? Creeper World 3 happens, and if you like any of the two before mentioned games then you should have a great time with this one!”
“An endless battle against a deceptively simple, yet overwhelming, enemy,” writes Pitchkart.
Creeper World’s star feature is its terraforming, which allows you to mould the landscape to help cull the tide of evil goo. Combined with pylons that repulse it, and weapons that can eradicate it, Creeper World is all about creating a (literally) water-tight defensive strategy. It looks busy, chaotic, and intimidating in trailers, but it’s a RTS worth taking a risk on.
Choice of Robots
1,008 positive user reviews
98% Steam score
96.37% Wilson score
£3.99 / $4.99
One of the most surprising things of the last few years is how popular interactive novels have become on PC. Choice of Robots is a fairly simple looking entry for the genre - all text, and no mad pictures like its Japanese cousins - but it’s a 300,000 word sci-fi epic that allows you to choose where the future of artificial intelligence will go.
The multiple-choice paths can lead to many outcomes, as Aulbath explains in a Steam review: “It is quite extensive, and the three or so playthroughs I did always had stuff going on I had not read before - some more subtle others dramatically different,” they say. “The scale of your actions quickly grows to global proportions, always a plus in my book when your actions feel like they really have an impact on the characters / world around you.”
Those multiple paths are enough to generate some interesting talks around the watercooler with friends who are also playing/reading. It’s probably a good way to judge people’s character: did they teach their robot army the meaning of love, or simply obliterate their enemies and march them over a smouldering Alaska?
That’s our pick of the most underappreciated titles from the 100 top-rated games on Steam. But that’s not an exhaustive list. Why not take a look yourself and see if there’s anything that catches your eye? Let us know your spots in the comments.