Game publisher and digital distribution vanguard Valve just popped the lid off a radically different looking version of its Steam games client. The company says the new version includes "several major upgrades to the platform's core functionality," and that the interface has been overhauled "to enhance the way [we] already buy and play games, adding info about things that matter."
Touting access as an "opt-in beta," the company said the beta was available immediately to anyone with a Steam account.
I pulled it down and had a look.
To grab the beta, you have to have the current Steam client installed, go into 'settings', click 'change', then choose 'UI Update'. The beta client should download automatically, install itself, then restart Steam.
First thing I noticed: The Steam 'start menu' icon looks different. Same gear-crank graphic, but off-black, like it's coated in the stuff (steam, that is).
You can now dictate whether the client runs online or offline from the top menu. It's the second option, in fact. Click 'go offline' and you're prompted to 'restart in offline mode'. As usual, you have to store your access credentials locally for offline mode to function, something Valve requires to prevent multiple installs in violation of its EULA. That aside, it's nice to see a previously tucked away option foregrounded. Playing offline remains a fundamental requirement. My WLAN radio died last night. Without an offline option, my review copy of Supreme Commander 2 would have been inaccessible.
Switching back to online mode is just as easy: Click the 'steam' menu option, then 'go online' to restart the client.
Menus and sort-by options look sleeker and better differentiated. Aside from the top menu bar with its customary small font, you now have four large font categories to choose from: Store, Library, News, and Community. The idea's the same, but the presentation feels cleaner. The only downside is that the category and menu options harbor redundancies. You can 'view' the forums off the top menu, or click the 'community' category. You can 'view games library' from the top menu, or simply tap the 'library' category. Better and less confusing, I think, if Valve would pick one location or the other.