Overview:Have you ever wanted a Friends list, a server browser and instant messaging capabilities all in one snazzy program you can run while you play your favorite Half Life mods? Then this add-on pack from Valve Software should fit your bill quite nicely, despite a few minor GUI and framerate issues.

Developed By: Valve Software

The Pros: Continues to uphold Valve’s reputation for relatively stable software, server browser can list servers for several popular Half Life mods, several innovative features.

The Cons:
Only works with Half Life mods, occasional framerate drops, only comes with one skin.

Have you ever been playing Half Life, or one of its popular mods such as Counter Strike and Day of Defeat, and wished you could message a friend so he could come join in on the “fragging”? Sure, you could always press alt-tab in order to minimize your game and send messages to your friends using any number of popular IM (Instant Messaging) clients, but by doing so you risk falling victim to the still-unfixed-for-some-freakin-reason “sound bug”, which causes the game to go silent when you go back in. Your solution to this problem is Valve Software’s fresh-out-of-beta “Steam” addon, which will allow you to effortlessly communicate with your friends and enemies without having to tax your system with resource-heavy voice communication programs such as Roger Wilco.Steam allows a variety of search methods for locating your favorite servers.The first component of Steam is (duh) the Friends list, which you can pull up at any point during a game so you can chat with your friends without having to go “A F K”. The decision to not allow conversions between more than two people was somewhat disappointing, but other than that the chat client is surprisingly robust and easy to use. Let’s face it – we’ve all been embarassed at some point or another typing in global chat by accidentally saying something easy to misinterpret or making a typo that changes the meaning of a sentence, and with this handy dandy instant messaging client you can easily avoid that problem.

The other component of Steam is the server browser, which is a convenient way to locate and join servers for today’s hottest games. You can sort servers by name or by ping, which allows you to locate a fast server rather than join any server with an open slot and end up being called a “lagger.” I even used this server browser to play games I had never tried before, such as Ricochet, a deep and surprisingly addictive disc-launching mod that takes its cue from Tron. The only drawback I discovered was that the server browser only works for Half Life servers and not for newer and more popular games like Unreal Tournament 2003 and Battlefield 1942, but if Half Life is still your thing this browser should be all you need.

Unfortunately, Steam only comes with a default grey skin, forcing you to either download a new skin from the internet or make your own.Steam does suffer from relatively uninspired GUI design, which is perhaps the tradeoff from Valve spending all their effort making sure the software is stable and bug-free. The dark gray color scheme is very visually unpleasant and ugly, and this problem is compounded by the fact that no other skins come packaged with the software and additional skins must be downloaded from the internet. Additionally the content-heavy windows caused many framerate problems while resizing and repositioning windows while in-game, occasionally resulting in a cheap death at the hands of a sniper or a heavy weapons guy.

In a period when companies frequently release buggy, shoddy products prematurely, Steam stands as a testament to what a company can accomplish when they wait to release their software until they get it right. I expected Steam to be another bug-ridden failure when I heard some of the horror stories that originated when it was in beta, but now that it has gone gold these issues seem to have been addressed. Hopefully Valve Software will release an updated version of Steam to go with Half Life 2.

Additional Features:9
Features for Price:10

Each category in the rating system is based out of a possible 10 score (10 being the best). The overall score is based out of a possible 50 score (50 being the best).

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