Steam could soon have a rival as the go-to destination for PC gaming, as GOG.com has pushed out the alpha version of its Galaxy client.
GOG, originally Good Old Games, launched in 2007 with a niche but much-needed product — retro games optimised to run on modern systems. Owned by The Witcher developer CD Projekt Red, GOG also offered all its titles without DRM restrictions, an exceedingly popular move with players. It’s since grown into a cult favourite among PC gamers and started attracting newer titles to the platform.
Until now, the closest GOG has had to a dedicated client has been a downloader package, a concept as antiquated as some of the games on offer. Galaxy, although in its infancy, has the potential to put it on a level footing with Valve’s all-conquering behemoth. WIRED.co.uk takes a closer look.
For an alpha build, it’s surprisingly polished. Load it up and it presents the ‘Featured’ store page, with a selection of currently on offer titles or preorder notices for upcoming releases. It’s a clean, nicely arranged panel view with a good cycle of content on display. Prices automatically displaying in local currency is also a pleasant sight.
A more in-depth catalogue can be explored by selecting ‘Browse Games’ from the ‘Store’ dropdown. This allows you to filter the 1000+ games currently available through GOG by genre, system compatibility (including Mac and Linux compatible titles), language, game features such as multi-player or co-op, release era, company, or price. There’s no low-high option for the latter though, as GOG’s pricing tends towards tiers rather than variable pricing.
The only confusing element of the layout is when it comes to searching. There isn’t a search box on the Featured page, but there is on the Browse. However, ever-present at screen left is a column of your recently installed games. Above that is a different search box, ostensibly to find games in your collection but also allowing you to look for matching results in the store. This isn’t clear at present, and having the sidebar search and one in Browse, but not on Featured is confusing.
The actual act of searching is, at least on Browse, a smooth experience with results instantly displayed. The selection on offer is limited only to games at present — the GOG website also sells indie movies — though there’s no intrinsic reason the client couldn’t sell them directly in future.
When it comes to buying through Galaxy, there does seem to be a fairly major bug if you try to use PayPal. It seems as though the same code used on the site that takes you through to a PayPal page is part of the client, but an attempt to buy a game through this method went nowhere. Nothing progressed in Galaxy, nor was there a background browser tab that opened. Paying with good old fashion plastic worked just fine though. There is also an option to fund purchases with PaySafeCard.
Any games you’ve purchased show up in the ‘Library’ tab, the default grid view still modelled on shelves packed with games as on the site. A list view streamlines things slightly, though the visual impact of your collection is quite nice. Like the Browse page on the store, games can be filtered — useful if you don’t know exactly what you want to play. Click on a title’s cover image and you’re taken to its dedicated page, where you can install or play it, or select which extras you want to download too (GOG releases often pack in soundtracks or desktop wallpapers as bonus content). Alternatively, a dropdown on each game lets you install from the Library page.
Mostly, the section works well. The only problem encountered was that Galaxy is supposed to detect existing GOG purchases already installed on your system and display them in the Library, though in our case it missed a copy of Anachronox already sitting on the hard drive. If GOG shifts over to an almost entirely client based ecosystem, as with Steam, that’s likely to be less of a problem going forwards.
Community functions are well integrated into GOG Galaxy and — surprisingly pleasantly — avoid unnecessary flashiness. You’ll be presented with a curated selection of discussion forums based on the games in your account, or can search for ones centered on titles you’ve yet to purchase. There seems to be a minor glitch here at present though where, after searching for a forum, the list defaults to show all 700+ fora, rather than reverting to those for your own titles. That aside, getting involved with other players is a simple affair, and the client will even notify you of replies to your posts or threads.
While the minor bugs and inconsistencies we encountered are about what you’d expect from an early release such as this, there are general areas where Galaxy could improve. It currently adds desktop icons for each game installed without asking, which creates unnecessary clutter and feels underhanded. An option to disable this entirely, or at least be asked on a case by case basis would be better. There’s also no option yet to select where on your computer you want to install each game, though you can change the default location for all games to one of your choosing. No doubt there’s also a segment of the player base that wants beefier community features, though we hope GOG doesn’t sacrifice the clear and easily navigable approach it’s taken so far.
Future features include game auto-updating, achievements, game time tracking, a friends and live chat system (hopefully satisfying aformentioned beefier community features), and notifications. Judging from the greyed-out checkboxes in the settings menu, these will all be able to be turned on or off with a click. The client does seem to already track time played though, so it appears it’s just the option to turn that off that’s yet to be added. There’s also an option to set the client’s start page to either the store page, your library, or simply continue where you left off in your previous session.
Overall, a very impressive start for an alpha build, and while there’s room for improvement Galaxy gets the main parts right. Hopefully, it’ll help build GOG into an even stronger platform for selling PC games, and attract publishers currently scared of the DRM-free model to sell more content on it.