Steam Summer Sale 2021: 30 Hidden Gems Worth Buying On Sale

Paper Beast

Pixel Reed, PID Games

The latest rendition of Steam’s annual Summer Sale has been underway for about a week now, and, as usual, it’s discounted virtually everything on the PC games store. But while the Halos, Grand Theft Autos, and other mega-hits of the world may get the most front-page attention, the sheer breadth of the sale means that a truckload of lesser-known but more-than-worthwhile games have dropped to more approachable prices as well. To assist those who’d like to expand their interactive palate, I’ve rounded up a collection of recent under-the-radar games that are both worth your time and nicely discounted.

To be clear, this list isn’t comprehensive. There are several thousand games on sale, and, unfortunately, we can’t play everything. (As always, feel free to share your own recommendations below.) Definitions of “under-the-radar” may differ, but the vast majority of this list consists of games we haven’t covered previously on Ars, and I’ve generally tried to avoid more well-publicized indies like Ars GOTY winners Hades and Celeste. So, allow us to shine a light on some good games that may not immediately seem laudable. Steam’s sale ends on July 8, but you can consider these recommendations valid for afterwards as well.

Note: Ars Technica may earn compensation for sales from links on this post through affiliate programs.

Ape Out

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Devolver Digital

Normal price: $15
Deal price: $4.94
Length: 2-3 hours
Also onSwitch

In Ape Out, you play as an ape who wants out. This is a top-down beat-em-up in the vein of Hotline Miami, only more soulful than cynical in its violence. The levels and their jazzy soundtracks are all procedurally generated, so there’s no way to memorize a “correct” route. You rarely stop moving, and oftentimes, it’s best to run from confrontation entirely. Like good jazz, it all has an air of improvisation.

All of this turns what could be a simple power fantasy into something more poetic: ape smash, yes, but it’s also desperate, afraid, and angry—the way any cornered being would be when it aches for freedom.

art of rally

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Funselektor Labs Inc.

Normal price: $25
Deal price: $17.49
Length: 20 hours

Art of rally is a rally racing game played from a top-down perspective. It’s not a simulator: The cars look like Matchbox toys, they aren’t officially licensed, and there’s no co-driver. But it’s not pure arcade fare, either. You can load up on assists, but you still need to tame the beast to achieve fast times, maintaining a feel of your car’s weight, grip, momentum, and balance.

There’s a career mode that takes you through different eras of rally and leaderboards to compare times against. Where art of rally excels, though, is in locating that subconscious zone that comes with attaining true focus through a video game. The minimalist style, bold colors, electro soundtrack, and just-feisty-enough handling combine to create an almost-meditative state—it’s just you, that winding road, and the need to go fast, with no distractions in between.

Before Your Eyes

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Enlarge / Before Your Eyes.

Skybound Games

Normal price: $10
Deal price$7.99
Length: 1-2 hours

Before Your Eyes is a narrative-driven game with a brilliant core conceit. This is a story about recalling the memories of an artist’s life after death, and you hop from moment to moment by blinking. At various points, a symbol of an eye will appear on-screen; if you hover over it and blink, you’ll uncover more detail about the scene at hand. Eventually, a metronome icon will appear; blink from that point on, and the memory will end, regardless of whether you’ve fully consumed it. You’ll then jump forward to the next moment.

You’ll need a webcam—though you can still play without one—but as a mechanic designed to express a point about the inevitability of time and finding peace with regret, it’s powerful, if a bit on-the-nose. Life moves forward as steadily as the need to blink. This is the deal we must accept. Memories emerge as incomplete splashes of time. Straining to stay in a particularly illuminating moment, fighting nature to keep your eyes open as long as possible, knowing you’re bound to progress… this is the kind of externalization of experience you can only get from a video game.

Before Your Eyes has issues. The game lives and dies on its narrative, and the central players feel a bit undercooked by the end of the 1.5-hour runtime. There’s a mid-game twist that veers close to cloying territory. The stray elements of player choice seem needless, threatening to undermine the story being told. Still, the overarching tale of parents passing the weight of their pasts onto their children is more thoughtful than not. Mostly, Before Your Eyes is worth considering as an experiment in involuntary interaction.


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Raw Fury

Normal price: $15
Deal price: $4.49
Length: 8-10 hours
Also on: Switch, Xbox, PS4, iOS, Android

Dandara reconfigures the platformer. Instead of the long arcing jumps of a Mario game, the titular heroine here moves only in straight lines, bouncing off walls and slicing the air like a katana. You can’t walk or run. It’s a foreign sensation at first, but one that immediately makes moving through the world refreshing and engaging.

This is a Metroidvania, so expect your share of backtracking and abilities to upgrade. The narrative is thin in terms of written exposition but still rich in imagery and focused in tone. (Look up the game’s namesake to get an idea of what’s going on here.) And while it’s difficult, it’s not about being difficult the way lots of pixel-art platformers can be. Dandara respects your ability to learn and never patronizes.


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Normal price: $15
Deal price: $7.49
Length: 5-7 hours
Also on: Switch

Eliza is a visual novel that might appeal to regular Ars readers, as it’s essentially about what would happen if Amazon turned Alexa into a therapist. You play as Evelyn, a former developer of the titular virtual counselor. She left her tech-industry gig after a traumatic event and general burnout, but she returns to the Amazon stand-in three years later as one of the AI’s “proxies,” lending a human voice to the program as it counsels (or attempts to, at least) a number of genuinely troubled people. All the while, this tool collects hordes of data in the process.

For much of the game, this amounts to you simply pressing buttons, confirming what the machine tells you to say as these patients bare their souls in search of help. As a game mechanic, this fits: Evelyn is a woman adrift, unsure of whether her work has actually done any good. When you’re in that state, sometimes all you want to do is disengage and follow prompts.

Eventually, you and Evelyn gain more agency in ways you might expect. Outside of the therapy sessions, you interact with other people in Evelyn’s life, who range from skeptics to tech evangelists. But throughout, the voice acting is effective, and the writing stays grounded and lucid. This is a game that asks relevant, provocative questions but refuses to provide easy answers where there are none.

If Found…

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Annapurna Interactive

Normal price: $13
Deal price: $8.44
Length: 2-3 hours
Also on: Switch, iOS

If Found… is a game about Kasio, a young woman who has just graduated from college and returned home to a small island off the west coast of Ireland. It’s the early 90s, she is trans, and neither her family nor her hometown truly accept her. She finds refuge and experience in a handful of friends who have been similarly outcast.

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