Update

35 great games for Linux PCs and Steam Machines

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—the Steam Controller, Steam Link, and Alienware Steam Machine all kick butt—but any game released for “SteamOS” works just fine on other Linux distros, too. Here are a slew of killer PC games that’ve recently become Linux natives—including two recent two PCWorld Game of the Year winners.

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XCOM 2

XCOM: Enemy Unknown (also on Linux!) became an instant classic when it launched, mixing tough, strategic combat with perma-death for you customizable soldiers. Especially on Ironmann mode, battling back the alien invasion felt desperate and overwhelming at the best of times—and in XCOM 2, we learned that it was.

The Aliens—now dubbed the Advent—won, and now crush humanity under a velvet boot. In XCOM 2, rather than being a multinational anti-alien strike force, your team’s a rag-tag bunch of resistance fighters flying around the world in a ship of your own, trying to overthrow the invaders and restore human self-determination. The setup and frequent timed missions add an even more frantic feeling to a game that already rocked high stakes, and XCOM 2 feels far more polished than its predecessor—and tweaks like stealth insertion add even more flavor to the beloved XCOM combat.

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The Talos Principle

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 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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Superhot

SUPER. HOT. SUPER. HOT. SUPER. HOT. SUPER. HOT. SUPER. HOT. SUPER. HOT.

This marvelous game is the most innovative shooter we’ve played in years, hands-down. Time only moves full-speed when you move. Stand still and everything slows to a crawl. Bullets hang in the air, red trails stretching out behind. People are practically motionless, frozen mid-charge.

Superhot is a gimmick game, to be absolutely clear. But as far as one-trick ponies go this one is pretty stellar, doing its damnedest to make you feel like the consummate badass and leaving you with all sorts of “That was amazing” moments, feats that could never be pulled off at full-speed. Play it.

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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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SOMA

The slickly atmospheric SOMA does Bioshock better than Bioshock does Bioshock—albeit with far more exploring and far less gunplay. It’s one of the finest pieces of science fiction in recent memory, and we gave it a perfect five-star review. What more do you need to know? Get this.

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American Truck Simulator

Euro Truck Simulator 2 won over hordes of gamers despite sounding about as exciting as watching paint dry: You drive a truck, hauling freight from town to town, checking in at weigh stations, buying upgrades and paying speeding fines as they pop up. But once you actually play the game, the magic sets in. The truck handling feels weighty and realistic, and hauling loads down a long highway while rocking out to your favorite radio stations and tunes somehow manages to be both intensely relaxing and stimulating at the same time.

American Truck Simulator’s more of the same, but polished up and featuring American landmarks and cities rather European ones. Early reviews say it’s great. And even if you’re not sure if a driving sim’s up your alley, it doesn’t cost much to dip your toes in: The game’s only $20 and sells exclusively via Steam, which offers refunds now. In other words: Buckle up.

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Baldur's Gate: Siege of Dragonspear

Baldur’s Gate: Siege of Dragonspear is technically DLC for the superb Baldur’s Gate: Enhanced Edition, but don’t let that fool you. This 30 hour expansion fills in the blanks between the two Baldur’s Gate games, maintaining everything that made the originals so wonderful to begin with and adding some interesting new touches of its own (like massive army brawls!).

Who knows what possessed Beamdog to make Siege of Dragonspear an expansion to a 17-year-old game, or what devil’s pact coerced them into making it thirty-odd hours long. It’s insanity. But it’s also incredible. Be sure to check it out.

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Pillars of Eternity

Meanwhile Pillars of Eternity, the spiritual successor to Baldur’s Gate that we’ve all been begging for for over a decade, landed on PCWorld’s list of the top PC games of 2015. Even better than the sublime gameplay and insanely deep and well-written story? It’s available for Linux PCs.

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Cities: Skylines

Cities: Skylines is everything that the supremely disappointing SimCity wasn’t, also cracking our list of the best PC games of 2015. Yes, Cities: Skylines somehow lives up to the unfair expectations heaped upon it, presenting one of the best city builders in years, and the developers were diligent in ensuring it works on Linux systems as well as Windows PCs.

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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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Civilization: Beyond Earth

Civilization: Beyond Earth on the other hand 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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Invisible Inc.

Ostensibly a turn-based stealth strategy game, the sublime Invisible Inc. blends parts of XCOM, Splinter Cell, and rogue-like games into one heck of a gloriously addicting game. Whether you’re slinking through an office, hacking cameras, or knocking out guards, danger’s always lurking around the corner—this is one tough game—while the randomly generated maps ensure you’ll find new challenges awaiting for as long as you want to keep on playing. And it just oozes style.

Simply put, Invisible Inc. is one of the best turn-based strategy games in recent memory.

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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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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. On top of the Linux support, this game's mod friendly, and it earned PCWorld's first perfect review rating in years (though SOMA and Witcher 3 earned similar reviews shortly thereafter).

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Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor

This adventurous romp through Tolkien’s universe takes some of the best action elements from the Batman and Assassin’s Creed series, then ties it all together with a unique Nemesis system that creates tailored enemies for you, down to unique names, personal strengths and weaknesses, and growled greetings that hark back to your previous encounters when you bump into a bloodthirsty Orc yet again.

Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor landed on a legion of top-ten lists last year, and there’s a damn good reason why. Try it out—though be warned that only Nvidia graphics cards are officially supported in the Linux version.

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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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Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic 2

Sure, KOTOR 2 may be a decade old, but the game made its Linux debut in 2015, complete with a modern overhaul that added support for 5K resolutions and the Steam Workshop—including day one support for the Restored Content Mod, which adds a bunch of cut content back into the game and fully fleshes out the games amazing story. This is what makes PC gaming so grand.

And to top it off, KOTOR 2 is still one of the best RPGs ever released.

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Prison Architect

A long-time Steam Early Access darling, Prison Architect—which tasks you with building and managing a prison—finally hit an official release in October. From our review: “Prison Architect’s genius is in translating a real-world debate into video game terms, forcing players to make tough choices with no good solutions.”

And it’s a hell of a lot of fun, too.

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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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Shadowrun series

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.  

Two expansions/sequels have launched since then and they're even better than the original (and also available on Linux)! Shadowrun: Dragonfall offers the perfect blend of narrative and player choice, and while Shadowrun: Hong Kong suffers a bit from offering almost too much freedom, it's still one hell of a game.

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Crypt of the Necrodancer

After earning an honorable mention in PCWorld’s list of the best PC games of 2014 while still in Early Access, Crypt of the Necrodancer finally has a full release (and also earned an offical slot on our best games of 2015). This Zelda-esque game is a roguelike dungeon crawler, except all movements and attacks are tied to the beat of the music.

It may sound weird, but give Crypt of the Necrodancer a whirl—it’s insanely addicting.

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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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ARK: Survival Evolved

Dinosaurs, weapons, multiplayer, and survival elements. Is it any wonder that Early Access title ARK: Survival Evolved has taken the world by storm? As Steam user Kakaloto put in a review of the game, “Ark is a childhood fantasy come true. It’s like a mix of Jurassic Park and Minecraft with a touch of DayZ.”

Sold.

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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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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.

terraria
Terraria

Terraria’s long been a hit among Windows gamers thanks to its delicious mix of exploration, compelling crafting, and a procedurally generated world that ensures the game never gets old. The developer regularly releases sweeping, free updates that other games would call an expansion and charge you for.

Not bad for $10—especially since you can now buy it for Linux PCs, too.

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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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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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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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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