TPG writers offer up their favorite freeware and Free-To-Play titles. From the obscure to the mainstream, we present our personal picks for PC games that will not cost you a single penny.
If you’re looking for recommended freeware games, two names should be at the top of your list. Locomalito is a Spanish developer whose work is incredibly polished and shows a keen sensibility for retro aesthetics. This is no mere pixel art, this is a conscious throwback to the style of particular systems and eras. His games also happen to be tough as nails hard, harkening back to the fabled “Nintendo difficulty” of old. It’s excellent vintage gaming fun, and it’s completely free. L’Abbaye des Morts, Maldita Castilla, and Hydorah are more than recommended.
If you’re not up to the challenge, you ought to check out Daniel Remar’s work. Hero, Hero Core, and Iji are incredibly well-designed Metroidvanias designed to look and play like early 90s PC games. Hyper Princess Pitch is a Christmas-themed arena shooter with a few surprises up its lace hems. All of these games may not look particularly impressive, but the level design is beyond reproach. I’d gladly pay for the amount of pure videogamey fun all of these games deliver!
Planetside 2 provides a massive game world with hundreds of concurrent players, and manages to do so with surprisingly few noticeable stability issues. It offers deep customization for weapons and vehicles, and these choices facilitate truly diverse gameplay possibilities. Some nights I feel like doing nothing but dogfighting, and with expansive servers encompassing multiple continents, unfriendly skies are abundant. Other nights, I want something completely different. Lead an elite squad of six behind enemy lines? Check. Engage in offensive counter-sniping from a cliff high above an impenetrable stronghold? Check. Join a 60-strong tank column hard-charging across snowy hilltops? Check and mate. No other game offers a similar experience.
Among the most balanced multiplayer FPS titles available, Team Fortress 2 is exceptionally-executed in so many ways. Each class offers a distinct style of gameplay, and the community routinely discovers all sorts of diabolical ways to deliver mayhem to your screen. Valve took its job very seriously: make a game that in no way takes itself seriously. The cartoony art style belies the solidity of the core mechanics, which allow talented players and teams to swing the tide of even the most grim of battles. For every rock, TF2 also provides paper, scissors, lizard, and Spock. Those who rigidly play only one way and fail to adapt quickly are soon dismembered in the most delightful way.
I’m still early in my Hearthstone journey, but so far it has been scrumtrulescent. Hearthstone is 10% deck-building and 90% praying to the gods of favorable draws. Success is measured largely by your ability to make the best out of what is in front of you. This governing dynamic forces you to learn quickly but also provides convenient and occasionally valid excuses for your many inevitable losses. Who doesn’t love blaming crushing defeat on bad luck? Real men make their own luck, however, and Hearthstone does its fair share of validating that cliche. When you play the game of ‘Stone, you win or you die.
When I was a young nipper, my family didn’t have the income to purchase mainstream games but I understood this and appreciated anything they gave me because the thought was more important than the actual gift. As a result, the majority of my time was spent playing shareware games such as Epic Pinball, Cannon Fodder and Hocus Pocus. This is an overlooked gem which captured my imagination through its quirky tone and colourful aesthetic. In Hocus Pocus, you play as a young impressionable wizard vying for the approval from elders on the council. You are guided along the way by Terexin, a powerful mage, who advises you to accumulate crystals designed to enhance your magical powers. Your character is frail without these crystals so you must find them at all costs.
Throughout the game, you will encounter 30 different types of monsters including imps, dragons and even mystical ghosts. There are also a number of bosses to test your skills and bravery against devious and omnipotent enemies. In your arsenal, you can employ a wide range viable attacks but I found the basic lightning strikes to be extremely effective. The combination of excellent level design and impeccable enemy variety makes the game a truly unique experience. Hocus Pocus a bright and charming platformer which holds up remarkably well despite being over 20 years old.
When I hear the phrase “Free PC Game” my mind immediately thinks “Roguelike.” However it would be kind of hard to narrow the genre down to just one or two titles. There are just too many to choose from and any roguelike fan reading this already has their favorites picked out. So instead of listing one that I think is the best, I’ll give the one I feel is most accessible to newbies. If you have little to no experience with roguelikes and want a free one to gauge your interest I would suggest DoomRL. The ruleset is fairly simple and the gameplay is straightforward. Unless you have never played Doom, there is very little that needs to be explained in terms of plot, monster or item descriptions. It is the same classic Doom universe, just in roguelike form and with some RPG elements added. DoomRL may not be the best, but it is a fantastic game and a good roguelike to start with.
When I’m wanting something a bit less serious my choice is Mayhem Triple. It is your standard platform shooter with wall jumping, weapon upgrades and an outrageously zany plot. Evil alien bunnies from the future have come to destroy humanity and only one man can stop them! Unfortunately that guy just got hit by a truck so now it’s up to you. Blast evil bunnies while running, jumping and diving through the game levels. There is a lot of humor and a fair bit of violence as you turn hundreds of bunnies into gooey red pixels of alien blood. With varied levels, fast paced action and several difficulty settings, Mayhem Triple feels like a game I would expect to spend $5-$10, but it is 100% free.
For people who like strategy and teamwork, Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Phantoms is a great game. At first, it seems like a pay-to-win game, but anyone who spends enough time with it knows that a team that communicates well will win. Knowing when your teammates use their tactical abilities is especially important because they will help you push the other team back on defense. Strategies like having someone put up a shield to draw fire while others flank around is worthwhile and puts the other team under a lot of pressure. It’s like a tug-of-war; a team that doesn’t work together will fall to the ground.
At the time of writing this, Defiance is not free but will be in June 2014. I actually pre-ordered Defiance at it’s full price of $50 and I think it’s worth noting that I don’t regret it. I loved how the game tied in with the show. They did a few obscure mentions, but they involved the game in some pretty big events. Those events came to the game in form of scripted quests, but to see the fruits of your labor in the show was neat. As for the game itself, the Arkfall events were pretty amazing. It was awesome to be a part of a random, massive boss fight with tons of other players. I mean, how many times do you get to fight a massive hellbug these days?