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The 50 Best Free Games On PC

No free-to-play, just free.

The best free games are on PC, and if you want to know what the best 50 are then you’ve come to the right place.

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Below you’ll find an entirely objective list of best games you can download and play right now (a list we’ve now updated since it’s original posting in 2015). You’ll find links to each game, pointers towards similar games, and links to where you can read more about them on this very website.

Before we begin, let’s explain the rules.

When we say free, we mean free. Free-to-play games aren’t allowed, because no matter how generous a game might be, it’s not free if there are items, characters or hats waiting to be bought. All of the games here are completely, one hundred percent free.

This also means that we’ve excluded games that have a pay-what-you-want model, because although you could play them for free, the developers presumably hope that you won’t. Games that have an alternate paid version like a remake or sequel, or which were once free before being let loose, are fine and you’ll find a few in the list below.

Lastly, unless it has a standalone version, no modifications are allowed. If you need to buy a game in order to play the free game, then it’s not free. Again: when we say free, we mean free. And if you’re looking for the top ten in video form, we have you covered…

Can’t find a game you love in the list? That must be because you are objectively wrong, but no matter. Hop to the comments and write an entry of your own, explaining why you adore the game, and drop in a link so other people can share in your objectively wrong love. For those unsure what to comment, I’ll save you some time: Cave Story isn’t on the list.

Onwards towards the games! The links below will skip you forward in intervals of ten, if you like. You can also change pages using the arrows beneath or below the image at the top of each page, or using your arrow keys:

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The 50s

The 40s

The 30s

The 20s

The 10s

50. Passage [Official site] (2007)

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Developer: Jason Rohrer

Passage is a simple, 2D game in which you walk from left to right, and as you do your tiny sprite man experiences all the stages of life: growing old, chasing love, finding a wife, not being able to fit through one-square gaps because the wife makes you too wide…

The simplicity of its metaphors aside, Passage was released in 2007 at a time when “indie games” and “art games” were just beginning to gain traction. It helped jumpstart both, by showing a way – albeit a limited one – that games could communicate through their mechanics without cutscenes or plot or anything borrowed from other mediums. It’s now one of a handful of games regularly accepted into museum exhibits worldwide, including the Museum of Modern Art’s videogame design exhibition.

Notes: Creator Jason Rohrer has gone on to make a number of interesting games, but some of his most interesting are those designed – but not necessarily ever made – for the Experimental Gameplay Workshop at GDC.

What else should I be playing if I like this: Sleep Is Death is my favourite Rohrer game. It’s a two-player game that allows for collaborative storytelling, in which one player sets a scene with characters and objects and then invites another to interact with it. The storyteller then responds to the player’s actions in real-time through a simple turn-based system.

Where can I download it: Official Site

Read more: Alec’s massive interview with Jason, Part 2.

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49. Slave of God [Official site] (2012)

Developer: Increpare Games

You buy some drinks. You try to make conversation with strangers. You stumble into the toilet and try desperately to get it in the bowl. You connect with someone on the dancefloor and suddenly it’s hours later, and they’re gone, and you’re spilling out into the early morning street alone. Slave Of God depicts a single night in a club with a polygonal, fuzzy style the evokes the half-remembered blur of an alcohol-soaked night out. It’s short but memorable – like all the best nights out.

Notes: Graham live-action roleplayed Slave Of God unknowingly in his early 20s.

What else should I be playing if I like this: Anything else made by Increpare, as his games alternate between frighteningly smart design experiments and auto-biographical vignettes. Sometimes they’re both at the same time.

Where can I download it: Official Site

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Read more: Cara’s review

48. My Father’s Long Long Legs [Official site] (2014)

Developer: Michael Lutz

There are many free horror games, often made in software like RPG Maker, which, as the name suggests, was not specifically designed for shocks and scares. Wonderfully, working within the limitations of a seemingly unsuitable engine or framework can have a deliciously unnerving effect. Like the self-imposed or budgetary limitations of some of the most effective horror films – whether the experimental makeup and special effects of The Evil Dead or the theatrical single set of Bug – apparent restrictions often bring out the best in game developers.

Michael Lutz’s My Father’s Long Long Legs is a Twine game, an engine used to create interactive fiction, often using basic text inputs and descriptions. With a series of carefully chosen and positioned words, and a single audio intrusion, Lutz has created a game that has the power to unnerve weeks and months after the first encounter with its horrifying depths.

Notes: Lutz’ work has some similarities to the short stories of Bruno Schulz as well as the body horror of Junji Ito.

What else should I be playing if I like this: Cyberqueen and Horse Master are excellent and unusual Twine horror games. Traditional interactive fiction is also home to some uncanny experiences, notably the cleverly told urban legend of All Alone, the strange reality of Shade and the horrific moral maze of the intricately constructed Vespers.

Where can I download it: Official Site

Read more: Adam’s Have You Played…?

47. Rat Chaos [Official site] (2012)

Nothing makes you feel as warm and fuzzy as getting the Good End. Rat Chaos understands this. It is as odd as a Twine game can get and just as funny, playing with language and mistyping in a way that evokes the weirdest of Weird Twitter. If there is a plot, it’s that of a spaceship captain who has two choices: either go about your day as normally as the game’s silliness will allow, or succumb to the inviting and ever-present option marked “Unleash Rat Chaos”.

What occurs next is a rambling, tangential flood of rat-based text, easy to understand but difficult to describe (and, ultimately, faintly sad). It’d be easy to dismiss it all as being “weird for weird’s sake” but you’d be missing the point – the playfulness of the broken language, the rhythm of it. It’s a game with a single voice you can hear quite clearly. Listen… The voice says: “chicken dinner waiting back in your Quarters”.

Developer: Winter K

Notes: Rat Chaos disappeared from the internet for years, forcing all who remembered it to seek out clandestine copies saved to hard drives. But it’s back now, saved from extinction by RPS contributor Robert Yang, who is hosting it on his site.

What else should I be playing if I like this: Horse Master, The Writer Will Do Something

Where can I download it: Play it on Yang’s site

Read more: Porpentine once called it the funniest Twine game she’d ever played

46. UnReal World [Official site] (2013)

Developer: Enormous Elk

UnReal World was farther ahead of its time than any other game. The elements of play were unfamiliar when the first version released in 1992 but are now a genre in and of themselves. It’s an RPG about wilderness survival, with borrowings from the roguelike ocean, and an enormous amount of things to craft. It’s also, quite possibly, the best example of its type.

While the original release is twenty two years old, the game still receives updates. Two decades of development have paid off and UnReal World has the most intricate procedural worlds to explore and perish in. The setting isn’t the usual dungeon with a dragon in it – fantasy aspects are stripped back and the game takes place in the far north during the late Iron Age. You’ll spend your time hunting, trapping, fishing, building, trading, fighting and freezing to death. Sometimes you might bleed to death instead, if the mood takes you.

Animals and people are convincing, the world is full of wonders both mundane and extraordinary – the paw prints of quarry essential to your survival in the morning’s fresh snow, a sled piled high with human meat capsized by an abandoned village.

Notes: UnReal World has been free to download since 2013 and Maaranen accepts donations to support development. In 2016, however the game was made available through Steam with a $11 price tag. It’s completely optional and the game is still available free from the official site, however, so we’re keeping it as part of this list.

What else should I be playing if I like this: Catacylsm: Dark Days Ahead is another intricately simulated turn-based survival sim, but in a completely different setting – it takes place after the fall of civilisation.

Where can I download it: Official Site

Read more: We named UnReal World one of the 50 Best RPGs of all time

45. Spaceplan [Official site] (2016)

“Spaceplan!” sang Quad City DJ’s, “I always wanted to go into Spaceplan!” Well, now you can. Of all the clicker games on this list, this is the tidiest, the shiniest and the one with the most potatoes, we can guarantee you that. It follows all the usual rules of compulsive clickers – numbers go up, upgrades unlock, numbers go up faster, new things are revealed, on and on and on, until you can do nothing but click. While there’s nothing here that isn’t done in those Candy Box and Dark Room precursors, the story that unfolds is polished and intelligent. It involves firing hundreds of thousands of potatoes into the sun.

It’s this humour and the orbital details that make it stand out. You’re stuck in a slowly repairing spacecraft floating around the solar system. An AI wakes up and starts helping you out, bringing the ship back online – essential systems like the Thing Maker, the Fact Holder, the Word Outputter, the Idea Lister. There’s some neat details too. Much of your increasing numberpower comes from solar cells, and when you pass behind a planet, this number slows. You were in the planet’s shadow, you see.

It also has something many clickers lack – a reachable ending, and a really good one at that. Leave this running for half a day, popping in every so often to read your AI’s advice and to click-click-click, and you’ll easily reach the conclusion.

Developer: J Hollands

Notes: According to the creator, the game is based on his “total misunderstanding of Stephen Hawking’s ‘A Brief History of Time’”

What else should I be playing if I like this: Candy Box, Cookie Clicker, A Dark Room

Where can I download it: The creator’s website

44. NORTH [Official site] (2016)

It’s a good thing you don’t live in SOUTH anymore – that place was horrible. But is NORTH any better? This surreal city has you roaming around in first-person, trying to make sense of the dark alleys, the towering skyscrapers, the blob-like bureaucrats, the CCTV cameras, the church. Even understanding what you are meant to do at your new job is a mission. All the while you can use the postboxes you find to send letters to your sister, giving you hints about exactly what is going on.

It’s sometimes a confusing game, in the sense that you don’t know what it wants you to do. There are machines that dispense drinks but it’s hard to tell what the effect is, there’s elevators hidden in nooks that you thought you’d fully explored, and there’s plenty of unexplained tasks. There’s so much unknown that it can easily put off any player expecting at least some direction. But that’s life in an alien place. And if you persevere to the end, you’ll have seen so many strange and sinister things that you won’t care if you got stuck. Bewildering, political and visually stunning. It certainly is grim up NORTH.

Developer: Outlands

Notes: NORTH was nominated for an A Maze award

What else should I be playing if I like this: Executive Towers has a similarly odd vibe, but replaces darkness for colour, Kitty Horrorshow’s games are likewise very sinister

Where can I download it: From it’s itch.io page

Read more: Alice tried to avoid spoiling the best bits, Brendan called it a game of “profound architectural distress.”

43. Championship Manager: Season 01/02 [Fan site] (2001)

Developer: Sports Interactive

To my mind, there’s always two football management games worth playing: the latest Football Manager, to see the modern state of the series; and Championship Manager: Season 01/2, which is the epitome of a certain version of the series.

01/02 didn’t add anything particularly remarkable over 00/01, but it was the last game in the Championship Manager 3 series, before Championship Manager 4 took a leap towards greater complexity and before developers Sports Interactive parted ways with Eidos and with the Champ Man name. That means that 01/02 was the last time that you could reasonably complete a season in a day and believably take League 2 minnows to European supremacy. To me, it represents the best balance between Sports Interactive’s love of simulation and the fantasy aspect to managing your favourite football club. Good thing that Eidos made it official freeware in 2008, then.

Notes: There’s an appealing nostalgia to managing football clubs from 2001, but if you don’t feel that, the game’s community have kept its database of players up to date for the past fourteen years. The most recent data update can be found here.

What else should I be playing if I like this: The modern Football Manager games, obviously, especially the Classic mode, which aims to revive a little of the speed and charm of the earlier entries in the series.

Where can I download it: This fan site

Read more: This also featured in our best strategy games list.

42. Off-Peak [Official site] (2015)

Developer: Cosmo D

A model blue whale hangs from the ceiling of this train station. Stencil art, graffiti, and paintings cover the walls. In the bar, giants are playing Netrunner. Fish swim past windows. Three identical eerie schoolgirls follow you.

It’s a fascinating space, a train station “curated” for its passengers by its not-so-benevolent station master, filled with curios for their consumption. It’s delightful and surprising and exciting to explore, but all your character wants is to gather the fragments of a train ticket. Some people may have other ideas about that.

What else should I be playing if I like this: Bernband is a similarly delightful place to explore, and found elsewhere on this list.

Where can I download it: Game Jolt, Itch.io

Read more: Alice and Pip have a chat and a wander through Off-Peak

41. Dr. Langeskov The Tiger and The Terribly Cursed Emerald: A Whirlwind Heist [Official site] (2015)

It’s like the Stanley Parable but with more Simon Amstell. The voice of the broken comedian takes you through the backstage sections of a fictional videogame that you are supposed to be playing, always promising that you are next in line to play, in just a little moment, yes, very soon. Obviously, there are problems. The creators have been hit with a strike and the “game” won’t function properly. That means you are drafted in to press buttons, follow instructions and generally mess about behind the scenes of whatever appears to be happening to your unseen counterpart beyond the walls and separators of this silly set.

It is far more “on-rails” than its office bound predecessor, but there are plenty of funny moments to be gained from disobedience. Second-guessing the narrator and refusing to go where he says or do what he wants leads to insistent complaining. It is also one of a rising breed: games about games, although it’s much more light-hearted than it’s paid-for counterpoint, The Beginner’s Guide. In many ways they are two sides of the same meta-fictional coin. That makes sense, since one of the developers, William Pugh, worked with Davey Wreden on The Stanley Parable.

Developer: Crows Crows Crows

What else should I be playing if I like this: The Beginner’s Guide, The Stanley Parable, The Static Speaks My Name

Where can I download it: Get it on itch.io or Steam

Read more: Alec’s review

40. The Marathon Trilogy [Fan site] (1994-1996)

Before Halo, there was Marathon – a “2.5D” first-person shooter set on a spaceship under assault by aliens and staffed by artificial intelligences. Sounds familiar. When Bungie released the first game of this series in 1994, it was only available on Macintosh. Thankfully, the years have melted away and left us with a couple of free versions to play on whatever we want.

Marathon and its sequels now look like any other FPS of the era, but at the time they were very swish indeed. You could recharge health and shields at medical stations, you had clear objectives (not just find the red keycard), and you could talk with microphones while fighting in multiplayer. It also offered a good chunk more story than your average action game, and you can still see the threads taken up by Halo years later: AIs go “rampant”, your character gets stuck in a crossfire between clashing alien races, ancient species of alien are revealed. It’s all ripped straight from the sci-fi catalogues of books and cinema, of course, but Marathon was one of the first to put it all together in a polished and exciting videogame way, and it still holds up surprisingly well today.

Developer: Bungie

Notes: The story of Marathon was partly inspired by The Jesus Incident by Frank Herbert (author of Dune) and Bill Ransom

What else should I be playing if I like this: System Shock 2, Doom, Halo: Combat Evolved

Where can I download it: Get them from Bungie or the open source Aleph One project

Read more: Luke Pullen dissected Marathon Infinity’s opening level

39. Cataclysm Dark Days Ahead [Official site] (2013)

Developer: Clever Raven

One of the most complex and initially intimidating games in existence, Cataclysm: Dark Days Ahead is also one of the best, should you be able and willing to navigate the learning curve. It’s the post-apocalyptic survival simulator that games like DayZ aspire to be, packed with the unexpected and terrifyingly complex. You can repair a car and mow through crowds of zombies but you’ll also need to keep an eye on your supplies of food and drink. Cataclysm is a full-featured life simulator that just so happens to take place when there’s little life left in the world.

Notes: The developers ran a Kickstarter in 2013, aiming to raise funds for full-time work on the game. The Kickstarter updates are still one of the best places to find information about new systems.

What else should I be playing if I like this: Neo Scavenger is another remarkable take on post-civilisation roleplaying, with a superb, brutal and terrifying combat system.

Where can I download it: Official Site

38. The Grow Series [Official site] (2005)

Developer: Eyezmaze

The Grow games are one of the proudest relics in the enormous, mixed bag of Flash gaming. In each, the title is also the objective and sole instruction. Make things grow. The ‘things’ in question vary from one game to the next, and as the setting and objects alter so does the apparent genre of the game you’re playing. Perhaps it’s a God game in which you’re creating a world or maybe an RPG in which you’re guiding a hero through a series of quests. Whatever setting and theme they tackle, the Grow games are perfect little toys, in which the mouse cursor and a series of clicks are tools for creation.

Notes: The series has been running for thirteen years – the most recent game was released in July 2015.

It could be argued that the Grow games influenced the modern trend of clicker games, such as Clicker Heroes and Adventure Capitalist, but the inclusion of a correct sequence rather than the need for constant attention makes them stand apart.

What else should I be playing if I like this: Vectorpark’s games, Windowsill and Metamorphabet, are similarly charming and surreal.

Where can I download it: Official Site

37. The Elder Scrolls II: Daggerfall [Official site] (1996)

Bethesda might have just released a shiny new edition of Skyrim, but spare a thought for the venerable Daggerfall, which became twenty years old this summer. Screaming skeletons and procedurally-generated dungeons were possible in 1996 too, and the ambition of the second Elder Scrolls game did not stop there. Hidden plotlines, spying, demons, a huge open world. “Daggerfall doesn’t just shoot for the moon,” said Adam in our retrospective, “it shoots for the moons of Jupiter.”

It’s a little rough around the edges, graphically speaking, and a lot of the landscape is actually pretty empty. But are shiny graphics and crowded roads all you want in a game? Loud dragons and glistening snow? Get out of here and pay for Skyrim then, ingrate. Honestly, I don’t know why we even talk to you.

Developer: Bethesda

Notes: Daggerfall was released with lots of buggy code – a tradition Bethesda still follow to this day. Wayooooooo!

What else should I be playing if I like this: The other Elder Scrolls,

Where can I download it: The official site

Read more: Adam dives into its Labyrinths

36. Space Station 13 [Official site] (2003)

Developer: Robust Games

There’s an entire field of boardgames based around betrayal as a mechanic. For these games to work as they should, a structure that supports varied goals and social interactions is required. Whether that’s the late game switcheroo of Betrayal At House on the Hill, which designates an unsuspecting player as the antagonist following a part-randomised mid-game development, or the tidy thematic tension of Battlestar Galactica’s paranoia.

Space Station 13 might be the closest a game has come to capturing that sense of conspiracy and camaraderie. It’s a cooperative game, in which players (often strangers to each other in real life) join a server, take a job and attempt to keep a space station operational. Things will go wrong and players must either work together to keep the station stable, or enjoy the ensuing chaos. Some players spawn as antagonists, with nefarious objectives, but their status is hidden and only their actions will betray them.

The whole game holds together thanks to one of the most complex simulations available anywhere. Almost every element of the space station can be manipulated, broken, utilised or picked up. Atmospheric, chemical and biological reactions occur as different objects and elements collide and combine, and the simulation engine itself is often a greater hazard than the antagonists. Whether you jump in for a few minutes to kidnap a monkey or spend hours playing a long-game of deception and subterfuge, Space Station 13 is one of the finest sandbox simulations available, for free or otherwise.

Notes: Space Station 13 is built on the BYOND engine. A standalone version was planned but has since been abandoned but the source code is available

Reddit has a good list of active servers, which includes a descriptor for “Shenanigan Tolerance”.

What else should I be playing if I like this: Dwarf Fortress is one of (if not the only) game with a similar level of complex simulation of individual entities and objects. You’ll find simpler, singleplayer space station pleasures in Startopia.

Where can I download it: Official Site

Read more: Quinns’ Galactic Bartender series

35. ARMAGAD (also Tetrageddon Games) [Official site] (2015)

A particular era of the internet is coming back to haunt us. A time when gifs were made of spinning skulls, and shining banners implored us to sign Angelfire guestbooks. Tetrageddon knows that era all too well. It replicates a broken desktop full of secrets, games, faux viruses, virtual pets and looping sounds. It is an almost-overwhelming box of weird treats.

At first glance it seems like it might just be a strange library of the creator’s previous games – Froggy, Anatomically Incorrect Dinosaurs, and so on. It is a library, you’re right, but it is so much more than that. Click around and discover the adventure of the cyber monkey, the despondency of the glitchbot, a frightened being called Igor trapped in lost windows, the flirtbot who apologises for being rude. Perhaps one day you will see it all. Perhaps.

Developer: Nathalie Lawhead

Notes: It won the Nuovo Award at the IGF in 2015

What else should I be playing if I like this: It’s not out at time of print, but Hypnospace Outlaw looks to be going down a similar gif-strewn road

Where can I download it: Download it from GameJolt or play a smaller web version here

34. The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy [Official site] (1984)

“The game will kill you frequently,” says the BBC website hosting it. “It’s a bit mean like that.” They are not lying. Hitchhikers Guide is a very funny game, taking much of its story and dialogue from Douglas Adams’ original tale. But it also doesn’t mess about. Even in the opening if you spend too long fumbling in your pockets looking for an analgesic you’ll get crushed in your house by something yellow. Later, a now-infamous puzzle involving a Babel Fish can render the game unwinnable if you don’t do it correctly.

But it also something of a rite of passage for any fan of interactive fiction and parser adventures. Don’t panic: you don’t have to complete it (and even if you did it has a notoriously abrupt and disappointing ending). But it’s worth sampling nonetheless, as much for its respect to the original’s humour as for a lesson in adventure game history.

Developer: Infocom

Notes: A sequel was planned which meant to continue the story from the abrupt climax but it was cancelled in 1989 because – according to archives discovered in 2008 – there was “no solid game design” and “nobody to program it”.

What else should I be playing if I like this: Zork, 9:05

Where can I download it: The BBC has a version but there are plenty of others. Check the Interactive Fiction Database entry for some of them.

Read more: Victoria Regan’s covered it for our Gaming Made Me series and it came 9th in our 10 best games based on books.

33. Ending [Official site] (2013)

Developer: Aaron Steed

Ending is a stripped back puzzle game that might be a dungeon crawler or might be something else entirely. No context is provided to make sense of the abstract visuals but, hey, we’re controlling an ‘@’ symbol so maybe that’s a person? If so, it’s a person in trouble. Ending has a set of pre-built levels, full of traps and enemies to observe, destroy or avoid, but it can also make random levels that somehow seem almost as cleverly balanced as the prefabricated kind.

It’s a beautiful game to look at and those symbols make sense at first sight. There’s also just the right weight and crunch to movements and attacks, but the heart of the experience is that perfectly poised set of contraptions and apparatus that make the dungeons tick. Every move counts and every mistake could be your last. Beating a level is like defusing a bomb but the rapid nature of each playthrough and the ease with which you can restart and try again ensures that the game never punishes you.

Notes: The game is free (that’s why it’s on this list) but you can buy the mobile version if you fancy supporting the developer.

What else should I be playing if I like this: Desktop Dungeons is a fantasy-themed roguelike puzzler that approaches similar ideas from a completely different angle.

Where can I download it: Official Site

Read more: Graham’s short tale of trying to remember Ending’s name

32. Corrypt [Official site] (2012)

Developer: Michael Brough

Seeing the first few rooms of Corrypt will either lull you into a false sense of security or cause the sweat to start prickling at the back of your neck. It begins with a simple, understandable puzzle mechanic – “I’ve seen this a hundred times before”, you might think. And that’s when the doubt should take hold because surely it can’t be that simple?

It isn’t. As you explore Corrypt’s world, which is splendidly realised and packed with actual characters, the central mechanic of the game seems to twist in your grip. Just when you’re getting a handle on what you’re capable of and how you can influence your surroundings, everything seems to change. Importantly, the game never does anything quite so crude as altering the rules; it reshapes your understanding of the rules until your brain aches, your shoulders slump and you realise you’re face to face with a formidable intelligence. Corrypt is one of the most devious games ever made.

Notes: It’s possible to puzzle yourself into a dead end while playing Corrypt but you’re more likely to think you’ve broken all possible solutions long before that has actually happened.

What else should I be playing if I like this: Brough’s own 868-HACK is definitely worth a look and Starseed Pilgrim plays on expectations and assumptions in a similar way.

Where can I download it: Official Site

Read more: Alec’s interview with Michael during IGF 2014

31. Murder Dog IV: Trial of the Murder Dog [Official site] (2011)

Developer: thecatamites

“My Taste For Bloodshed Remains Voluminous” – The Murder Dog

thecatamites’ back catalogue contains some of the richest gems in gaming. Absurdly comic and often violent, they’re wonderfully expressive pieces of writing that deconstruct gaming conventions. Importantly, they’re not simply parodies, however, instead using the structure of point and click gaming in a way reminiscent of an absurd playwright’s use of the artificial nature of the stage to communicate meaning. Murder Dog is silly, inventive and bizarre, but it’s also startlingly clever.

Notes: Most of thecatamites’ games are free but if you want to contribute some cash, check out the 50 Short Games collection or ride the ghost trains of Magic Wand

What else should I be playing if I like this: Everything else thecatamites has ever made, starting with Goblet Grotto, Space Funeral and Crime Zone.

Where can I download it: Game Jolt, Official Site

30. Horse Master [Official site] (2013)

Developer: Tom McHenry

Horse Master initially seems like a Twine game with bolted on stats and mechanics. You’re raising and training a horse and your goal is to make that horse the best of all possible horses. Very quickly, the true nature of the game becomes apparent. It’s a warren of possibilities – victory is possible and defeat comes in many terrible forms. But even success is horrific. Horse Master peels back the skin and reveals the glistening muscle and throbbing tendons beneath. It is body horror on a scale that would make Shinya Tsukamoto, David Cronenberg and Junji Ito shudder.

Notes: Creator Tom McHenry is a cartoonist as well as game designer – check out his work at Noncanon.

What else should I be playing if I like this: Pokemon.

Where can I download it: Official Site

29. Bernband [Official site] (2014)

Developer: Tom van den Boogaart

In the endless push towards photorealism, it’s easy to forget just how evocative a few broad strokes and good sound effects can be. Bernband drops you in a believable futuristic city populated by aliens – aliens in bars, aliens playing jazz, aliens at church, aliens on TV, and flying cars which we assume are being driven by aliens. That it’s mostly textureless doesn’t matter, because the fuzzy edges, splashes of neon, greebly population of sprites, and sense of scale does all the work needed to make you feel like you’re exploring a foreign, bustling, sci-fi metropolis. There’s nothing to do while touring Bernband but walk and watch, but like the best holidays, you’ll end your trip wanting to live there permanently.

Notes: Boogaart has become known since the release of Bernband for the GIFs of his games that he posts to Twitter, and the wild, curious and unpredictable things they tend to depict.

What else should I be playing if I like this: You might like to try Diaries of a Spaceport Janitor, which takes place in a similarly bustling spaceplace, or Strangethink’s Secret Habitat, which is set in a gallery of odd paintings

Where can I download it: Game Jolt

Read more: Bernband was our favourite Being Pleasantly Lost Simulator of 2014

28. Super Crate Box [Official site] (2010)

Developer: Vlambeer

Vlambeer are known today for Nuclear Throne. And Luftrausers. And Ridiculous Fishing. But before they became the reigning kings of “game feel”, they proved their skill by releasing Super Crate Box, a free, single-screen shooter. It has two rules: one, enemies flow along platforms from top to bottom, and if they fall into the firepit at the end, they re-appear at the top in faster, angrier form; two, you score points by collecting the crates that drop at regular intervals, but each crate also randomly replaces your weapon.

These two rules, when combined, create a game which is frantic but tactical. You’ll be battling to keep the crowd under control, but while one moment your melee weapon will require you to get close, the next you’ll have a rocket launcher and be trying to keep out of the blast zone. It’s an exhilarating score attack game – and yes, it feels great.

Notes: Vlambeer were founded to create commercial games, but Super Crate Box was released for free to help the two-person studio create a brand and grab attention. It worked.

What else should I be playing if I like this: Nuclear Throne takes everything Vlambeer know about gun feel and applies it to a top-down shooter. It costs money but it is also Quite Good.

Where can I download it: Steam, Official Site

Read more: Nathan’s interview with Vlambeer about being just so unlucky

27. VVVVVV: Make and Play Edition [Official site] (2014)

Developer: Terry Cavanagh

VVVVVV is a superbly designed puzzle platformer in which you navigate its rooms not by jumping, but by reversing gravity so that you alternately walk on its floors and ceilings. From this it finds a dozen different ways to challenge you, either using selective screenwrap for fiendish navigation puzzles, introducing objects that forcibly reverse your orientation for you, or by offering dastardly reflex puzzles as in the famed Veni, Vidi, Vici series of rooms. That it’s also a funny game, full of heart, and with a great soundtrack, makes it a classic of the genre.

This Make And Play edition meanwhile is the icing on the cake. After moving the original game to a new engine, Cavanagh and collaborators added a level design tool to the game so that users could create their own. It was released alongside a number of levels made by popular indie game devs, including Minecraft’s Notch, and then later made available for free. That means you can now play any custom made levels without having to buy the original game; though you should probably still do that, too.

Notes: Terry Cavanagh also made the even simpler, more challenging Super Hexagon. If you like the look, feel and sound of VVVVVV, you’ll probably like that too – and there’s even a free prototype for it, which you’ll find, uh, directly below this entry.

What else should I be playing if I like this: The decision to add a level editor and release it for free was partly inspired by Knytt, a platform game you’ll find elsewhere on this list.

Where can I download it: Official Site

26. Hexagon [Official site] (2012)

Developer: Terry Cavanagh

Super Hexagon is the paid-for and better version of this game, no doubt, but the core pleasure of it is so simple that the free version is still brilliant if you’re hard-up for cash. You control a small triangle that you’re able to rotate around a central point, and by doing so you must squeeze through the gaps of a maze that’s constantly throbbing, dancing and contracting towards you. That’s it. It’s completely simple, but also perfectly formed. By offering quick restarts, and always feeling responsive to control, you’ll soon shift from only ever lasting a few seconds per life to skirting the edge of survival for minutes at a time. The maze will keep moving faster and faster towards you, but it’s never frustrating and always exhilarating. Play it.

Notes: Terry Cavanagh also made the slightly more expansive puzzle platformer VVVVVV. If you like the look, feel and sound of Super Hexagon, you’ll probably like that too – and there’s even a free version of it, which you’ll find, uh, directly above this entry.

What else should I be playing if I like this: Canabalt has a similarly frenetic, high-score-chasing sense of speed and simplicity, perfect for mobile or minutes skiving off work.

Where can I download it: Official Site

Read more: Adam’s review of the paid-for version, Super Hexagon

25. Dungeon Crawl Stone Soup [Official site] (2003)

Developer: Stone Soup Team

Some roguelikes contain everything but the kitchen sink. Others throw in the kitchen sink for good measure. Stone Soup is one of the best traditional roguelikes in existence but many of its strengths are due to the knowledge of its own limitations. Rather than including every possible thing, Stone Soup is a condensed dungeon crawl (although it’s an expanded Dungeon Crawl, the 1997 Linley’s Dungeon Crawl being the base on which it is built). It’s packed with things to see, do and be, but rarely becomes overwhelming. Balanced, user-friendly and beatable in a single lifetime, Stone Soup is one of the best starting points for anyone interested in exploring the roots of the genre that has cast its shadow over so many modern games, from Spelunky to FTL.

Notes: Linley Henzell, creator of Linley’s Dungeon Crawl, the game on which Stone Soup is based, went on to create indie SHMUPs. This interview covers his post-Crawl development habits.

What else should I be playing if I like this: Go to Temple of the Roguelike and explore. Start with ADOM, TOME and Brogue, maybe.

Where can I download it: Official Site

Read more: Adam’s favourite Roguelikes of 2011

24. Desktop Tower Defence [Wikipedia page] (2007)

Developer: Paul Preece

In the here and now of 2016, there is something a little glum about the phrase “tower defence.” It’s often a signal that a game that initially seemed exciting is actually nothing more than a treadmill of familiar mechanics.

Back in 2007, however, that wasn’t the case. Those mechanics weren’t familiar, and Desktop Tower Defense was the crystallization of something new and pure. A steady stream of enemies are about to start strolling from one part of the screen to another, and it’s your job to place down turrets to stop them. At the start of the game, it’s always easy: a few enemies which can be swiftly dispatched with some sloppily positioned turrets. But soon the number and strength of enemies increases until your haphazard architecture won’t cut it anymore. You’re forced to either more efficiently manage your upgrade curve – the method by which you unlock and build more powerful turrets – or to construct ever more elaborate and precise death mazes for your creeping foes to wander through.

Where so many real-time strategy games eventually decided to jettison the base-building stage entirely, Desktop Tower Defense found a way to make it tactically interesting and enormously engrossing.

Notes: Desktop Tower Defense was created by Paul Preece, who later co-founded game developer KIXEYE, creators of a short-lived MOBA called TOME, which was both launched and pulled from Steam within a year.

What else should I be playing if I like this: There are a thousand tower defence games, many of which are good, many of which are boring. Perhaps try Anomaly: Warzone Earth for an interesting twist on the formula.

Where can I download it: Armor Games, Kongregate

23. Canabalt [Official site] (2009)

Developer: Adam Atomic

You automatically run from left to right, which means Canabalt is controlled using only a single button. That button is used to make your sprinting character jump, and by pressing it at the right time you’ll leap between rooftops, leap through windows, leap on to destructive machinery, and live out the fantasy of a cinematic, science fictional escape sequence. Canabalt’s popularity on mobile has somewhat obscured what a clever, clean piece of design it is, and how fun.

Notes: Simple games are often the hardest to make, as boiling them down to their most satisfying form takes a lot of iteration. Creator Adam Saltsman has written about the particulars of Canabalt’s feel.

What else should I be playing if I like this: Robot Unicorn Attack is a less austere infinite runner, and places elsewhere on this list.

Where can I download it: Official Site

Read more: Canabalt was one of our games of Christmas 2009

22. Command & Conquer: Red Alert [Fan site] (1996)

Go back in time and kill Hitler (again). Red Alert’s interface hasn’t aged particularly well as far as troop mustering and barrack constructing goes, and later C&C games improved on the formula in so many ways, but it is still one of the better examples of RTSing in the early days, before Generals came out and sunk the whole franchise. Red Alert is cleaner and simpler than the present day clickfests. You are out to win the Cold War as the Allies or the Soviets. But the real joy of the story mode are the old-school FMV sequences between missions, which feature a commanding alternate reality Uncle Joe.

Most of the free versions out in the wild, like OpenRA, focus on providing some kind of online multiplayer. You can still find the singleplayer campaigns though, if you rifle through the download options.

Developer: Westwood

What else should I be playing if I like this: Commandos, Company of Heroes, Command & Conquer, basically anything that begins with “com”

Where can I download it: From OpenRA or CnCnet

21. Candy Box [Official site] (2013)

Developer: aniwey

Candy Box is a browser-based text game in which you farm candies. Part of what makes it great is the surprises that then happen along the way, so given that it’s free, runs in your browser, and can be played with minimal attention: go, go now, and stop reading.

If you’re still not convinced, then OK, fine, I’ll spoil some things. Every second you play, the number of candies you have ticks up. Gather a few of them together, and you can plant them in order to grow lollipops. Lollipops are more valuable. Sometimes a travelling salesman will turn up and you can buy things using your accrued sweets. And different items unlock still further ways to use your candies. The game is simple in the extreme, but it’s more than just charming or a silly novelty. What makes it exciting, and worth playing, is never completely knowing where the limits are. What seems initially like a simple idle game seems to switch genres four times over the course of two hours of play.

Notes: The creator of Candy Box never imagined it would be successful, and made it only as a tool for learning web design and programming.

What else should I be playing if I like this: A Dark Room is another browser game with incremental timed progression and a lot of surprises along the way. Spaceplan is also pretty slick.

Where can I download it: Official Site

20. Frog Fractions [Official site] (2012)

Developer: Twinbeard Studios

Frog Factions is a game disguised as a different game. There’s something exhilarating about interactive experiences that spill out of the borders of the frame, whether they’re simply breaking with genre traditions or communicating with the player in unexpected ways. Frog Factions does both of those things simply by presenting one face and then shifting into new forms. It’s an edutainment game, that’s all you need to know. It’s an edutainment game, until it isn’t.

Notes: Following a successful Kickstarter for a sequel, it has become tradition to assume every odd and unexpected game that comes along might be Frog Factions 2 in disguise. How else would it arrive, after all, but in the guise of another game?

What else should I be playing if I like this: A Dark Room and Candy Box grow out of their original form in fascinating ways.

Where can I download it: Official Site

Read more: Nathan’s chat with the developers

19. Brogue [Official site] (2009)

Developer: Brian Walker

‘Roguelikes in ASCII are ugly!’ Except that Brogue’s shimmering colours depict floating gases and flowing liquids and surprising caves with style. ‘Roguelikes in ASCII are inaccessible!’ Except that Brogue’s mouse-controls makes it a cinch to move around, allow you to hover over each item on screen and discover what it is, and to focus on moving forward towards the anecdotes that await you.

And that’s the best thing about Brogue: you can’t play it without coming away with a story to tell. Of a potion you slugged which cast you down into the depths. Of a frog who poisoned you and made you mistake a rat for a vampire. Of a monkey you saved, who became your ally, and then broke your heart. If you’re going to play one traditional roguelike, make it this one.

Notes: There’s an iOS release of Brogue created by a fan, which is allowed because the game is open source. It works well on iPad.

What else should I be playing if I like this: ZangbandTK is harder to get into but bigger and still brilliant.

Where can I download it: Official Site

Read more: Graham loves dying in Brogue and interviewed Brian about how its levels work

18. Alien Swarm [Official site] (2008)

Developer: Black Cat Games

Remember when Valve released a game for free? Not free-to-play, just free. It was called Alien Swarm, it was a standalone follow-up to a mod, and it was Valve’s first released game that wasn’t a first-person shooter. Instead Alien Swarm is a four-player co-op game in which you control a character from above as you fight swarms of… yeah. You do so as one of four classes: Medic, Officer, Special Weapons and Tech, who have distinct abilities such as hacking doors, placing turrets, and healing teammates, but who all spend most of their time popping bugs with shotguns and machineguns.

Alien Swarm is simple and around three-hours long, but it’s as well crafted as everything Valve does. That’s in large part due to the level design, which funnels you and your enemies into chokepoints, dramatic last stands, and achingly long waits for slow moving elevators.

Notes: The original Alien Swarm was released as an Unreal Tournament 2004 mod, before Valve hired the team behind the game. They made Alien Swarm in Source almost as a spare time project while the same people also worked on Left 4 Dead and Portal 2. It also prepared the Source engine for another game played from a similar perspective: Dota 2.

What else should I be playing if I like this: Alien Swarm’s SDK comes with tools for randomly generating levels, automatically plopping together pre-defined room shapes that can be built in the normal Valve Hammer Editor. So you could play lots and lots of custom built Alien Swarm campaigns, I’m saying. Or the original mod. But failing all of that, try Left 4 Dead, which has similar co-op ideas but in first-person and with funny writing.

Where can I download it: Official Site, ModDB

Read more: Quinns was a big fan of the mod when it was released and here’s the RPS verdict on the standalone version

17. Gravity Bone [Official site] (2009)

Developer: Blendo Games

Gravity Bone seemed to land fully formed. It opens with you descending in an elevator, gazing through grating towards a colourful party scene. Distant biplanes are flying against the blue sky. The architecture is unusually yellow. Latin music is playing. There’s a card in your hand which, with simple instructions, gives you your mission. It seeds a feeling of adventure and mischief in mere seconds.

Everything that follows keeps up the wit and lightness of spirit. Gravity Bone is a story of espionage, assassination, double-crosses, thrilling chases, and it makes use of quick cuts and techniques borrowed from film in a way that’s still fresh now. Best of all, it’s funny. There’s no dialogue, but chasing a thief down the length of a long dining table while glasses explode underfoot is a physical and visual setpiece designed to make you chuckle.

I say that it seemed to land fully formed because, in reality, Gravity Bone is something like the fifth entry in the Citizen Abel series, each one of which is a Quake or Quake 2 mod. Brendon Chung learned his craft over years of practice, but you don’t need to have played any of the preceding mods to understand or appreciate Gravity Bone.

Notes: Brendon Chung also made space strategy roguelike Flotilla and zombie-smasher Atom Zombie Smasher, before returning to first-person with the similarly short Citizen Abel continuation Thirty Flights of Loving.

What else should I be playing if I like this: We just told you! Thirty Flights of Loving is worth picking up, but perhaps more so is Chung’s hack ‘n’ heist game, Quadrilateral Cowboy, which came out this year.

Where can I download it: Official Site

16. QWOP & CLOP [Official site] (2008 & 2012)

Developer: Bennet Foddy

I was working in an office in 2008 when QWOP was released and it turns out the game is a spectator sport. As players desperately tapped at Q, W, O and P to individually pump thighs and calves and try to propel their sprinter more than a few feet down the track, crowds would gather behind them to laugh, to jeer, to holler. Now there are dozens of games offering slapstick physics – Gang Beats, Human Fall Flat, Octodad – but QWOP is still one of the few to elicit that response over and over. That’s because where other comparable games – yer Surgeon Simulators, Goat Simulators, et al – are outwardly silly, there’s a semblance of dignity to your QWOP athlete. He wants to be upright. He wants to run. He’s just forgotten how to use his legs, is all.

CLOP is extremely similar, which is why we’ve cheekily paired them together here. You’re still using the four letters in the game’s name to pump legs, but now they’re the four legs of a unicorn trying to climb a gentle incline. It is a delight.

Notes: Foddy has made slapstick sports games his oeuvre, also releasing 2QWOP for competing against your friends, plus Pole Riders, Little Master Cricket and many more.

What else should I be playing if I like this: I also love Bennet Foddy’s GIRP, which casts you as a shirtless rock climber where G, I, R and P correspond to locations where your hands and feet can connect with the wall you’re climbing. Beware the bird, whose attitude is succinctly described by his Twitter bio.

Where can I download it: Official Site

15. Line Rider [Official site] (2006)

Line Rider is what happens when you combine MSPaint with SkiFree. It’s a simple idea: draw a course of lines on a white background then press play to watch a wee man on a sled barrel down the badly-angled slopes you’ve created, before inevitably tumbling off into oblivion. For most of us, Line Rider is a distraction that lasts a few minutes, as you try to make something resembling a single cool ramp, enough to do a small hop through thin air, or maybe even a backflip.

For others, Line Rider briefly became an obsession. You only need to enter the game’s name into YouTube to see how it became immortalised on the noughties web. Rollercoasters, deadly slopes, geometrically perfect skate parks. And then there’s this insanity…

Developer: Boštjan Čadež

Notes: InXile Entertainment, those of Wasteland 2, now own the game and have released mobile versions, the traitors

What else should I be playing if I like this: OlliOlli, the maths-based SineRider

Where can I download it: Play the flash version here

14. Digital: A Love Story [Official site] (2010)

Developer: Christine Love

I hold no nostalgia for early ’90s bulletin boards, but as the delivery mechanism for Digital’s story, those blue-backgrounded email clients are wonderfully evocative. You connect via an old fashioned modem, crackly noises and all, and then browse messages to piece together the story. The interface is striking and does a good job of making you feel like a detective, but the game works as well as it does entirely because of Christine Love’s writing, which is natural and expressive and witty. A wonderfully told, gentle, and slightly sci-fi romance. To say anything more would tip into spoilers, but for a game so sweet, you can spare the 30 minutes it’ll take to play.

Notes: Though it looks like nothing else, Digital was made in Ren’py, a Python script library designed to help make visual novels. It’s a neat piece of software with a healthy community and strong tutorials if you want to try your hand at making similar games.

What else should I be playing if I like this: Christine Love has gone on to forge a career as an indie game creator, including a sort-of-sequel, Analogue: A Hate Story. Other than that, you might try Emily Is Away, a game told through early 2000s instant messaging.

Where can I download it: Official Site

Read more: Kieron’s review

13. 2:22 AM [Official site] (2014)

Developer: Albert Lai

Dreams are fleeting, fragmentary things that crash the familiar into the unfamiliar and the everyday into the fanciful. They loop and return and revisit, picking up old dreams and mincing them to mix with new stimuli, new ideas. The sinister becomes mundane and the mundane becomes sinister and all this spins around and around with an emotional core and narrative thread that you can feel but which dissolves into nonsense when you put it into words.

Vignette ’em up 2:22AM understands this. 2:22AM is very good. “Play alone,” says its creator. “Play at night.” Do so.

What else should I be playing if I like this: Mystery Tapes, from the developer of Secret Habitat, is a similar kind of vignette ’em up, based around accessing the content of different VHS tapes. It’s pay-what-you-want.

Where can I download it: Official Site

Read more: Alice’s video of playing it

12. Barkley, Shut Up And Jam: Gaiden [Official site] (2008)

Developer: Tales of Games

There are few games where their appeal is partly communicated by a dry explanation of what they are, but: Barkley, Shut Up And Jam: Gaiden is a free RPG in which real world basketball player Charles Barkley roams a post-cyberpocalyptic Neo New York, dealing with both the guilt of having destroyed the world with a now infamous Chaos Dunk and the murderous pursuit of the B-Ball Removal Department. It is funny, surprising, inventive and a legitimately good RPG.

That last part is worth saying because, if you haven’t played it, it probably sounds like gibberish. A novelty packed with references. It is those things, but it’s also more than the sum of its references. The world being based on basketball (and the game Barkley, Shut Up And Jam!, and the film Space Jam) gives the whole thing a weird internal consistency.

Its mechanics are as likely to be part of the fun as the characters, the dialogue or the setting. But still, yes: its greatest strength was in its willingness to over-commit to the stupidest of jokes, such that there is no part of the game that is not a joke.

Notes: A sequel to Barkley was successfully Kickstarted in 2012 and re-surfaced in September 2015 with a live action trailer. It’s due for release soon – we hope.

What else should I be playing if I like this: Uh, I can’t think of anything else like it.

Where can I download it: Official Site

11. Samorost [Official site] (2003)

Developer: Amanita Design

Released in 2003, Samorost is a point-and-click adventure that forgoes many of the normal trappings of the genre. There are no dialogue trees, no inventory items, and you don’t directly control its main character. Instead you solve its puzzles by playfully clicking on scenery in order to discover the path forward, and the joy comes from the beauty, strangeness and gentle humour of that world. A world in which character’s inhabit planets built from tree roots, which can be travelled between by piloting soda can rocketships, and where progress might be achieved by getting a man stoned or by unfurling a proboscis into a tree’s mouth.

Samorost’s texture and pace is unusual, and it holds more in common with old, strange children’s fiction like the Moomins than it does the other games on this list. There have been two bigger, prettier sequels that you can buy, but the first Samorost game is still wonderful 12 years after its release, and you can play it for free in your browser right now.

Notes: Samorost was created by Jakub Dvorský, and among his other credits is the puppet design for the film Kooky.

What else should I be playing if I like this: Samorosts 2 and 3 obviously, but also Amanita Design’s other games, Machinarium and Botanicula. The former is a more traditional point-and-click adventure about a telescoping robot and the latter is a weird world of plants, seeds and dark spiders, with a soundtrack by Czech band Dva.

Where can I download it: Official Site

Read more: Alec’s preview of the upcoming Samorost 3

10. Space Funeral [Official site] (2010)

Developer: thecatamites

Before Undertale, there was Space Funeral. An absurdist waltz through the blood and smoke of a hazily remembered JRPG world, it stars the saddest boy in existence and Leg Horse, a horse that is all leg and no head. On your journey through WHATWHEREWHY, you’ll encounter muscle hedonists, criminals (they’re afraid of Bibles), blood blood blood, Dracula and a genie. Don’t look for a deeper meaning. If one jumps out at you that’s great but Space Funeral is maybe just weirdness for its own sake, and it’s funny enough to exist happily as a big blob of weird. Five years after release, it’s still one of the oddest games you can download and the only reason it hasn’t been emulated by a million wannabe surrealists is that being this weird without losing the shape of things entirely takes a lot of skill. Nowhere is that skill better shown than in the game’s final moments.

Notes: Characters in thecatamites’ games are often defined by one trait, which might be a name, an aspect of their appearance or an animation. They’re brutally minimalised.

What else should I be playing if I like this: Everything else by thecatamites and then Undertale.

Where can I download it: Game Jolt

Read more: Space Funeral was one of our games of Christmas 2010, Brendy interviewed thecatamites about his games

9. Desktop Dungeons [Official site] (2010)

Developer: QCF Design

Desktop Dungeons is very, very clever. Desktop Dungeons is also very, very simple at first glance. A roguelike in which every level is a puzzle, and where survival is dependent on working out the correct order in which to approach its enemies.

It’s only when you play through level after level, death after death, that you begin to see the extreme precision of its design underneath the surface. Your hero’s health and mana are not simply meters to be emptied and filled, but resources from which every expenditure is an important choice. Make those choices unwisely and you’ll end up running out of either one, with no way to recharge and enemies left on the board to defeat. This same mechanic also makes levelling up more important, because not only does it makes you stronger, it also restores your health, and at the right moment that might suddenly open the door to fighting something on a level that otherwise would have killed you. Everything requires tactical thought.

What I admire most about Desktop Dungeons is that no death is ever unexpected. The game will tell you that the decision you’re about to make is going to kill you, and you will therefore only choose that death if there are no other options. Or at least, no other options that you can see. Sometimes, though, there are ingenious methods by which to escape said death and figuring those out feels great.

Notes: There’s a paid-for remake of the game that’s worth playing if you like the free original. Among its many art updates are a range of female characters, and it goes to great lengths to depict them without resorting to gender stereotypes. That’s worth applauding and you can read about the design process here.

What else should I be playing if I like this: Brogue, elsewhere on this list, is a more traditional roguelike which is no less accessible.

Where can I download it: Official Site

Read more: Alec’s interview with Danny Day about what was happening with the prototype in 2011 and his review of the paid-for version

8. Open Transport Tycoon [Official site] (2004)

Developer: OpenTTD Team

Chris Sawyer created Transport Tycoon for MicroProse in 1994, and it was a wonderful management game full of the soothing charms of oil refineries, freight shipping and business simulation. Which sounds like a joke but isn’t: it was an amazing game and playing it could cause hours and days to vanish as if in an instant. If you sat down in 1994 to tweak some railway lines and looked up moments later to realise that 21 years have passed, fear not. Open Transport Tycoon is an attempt to remake that original game as closely as possible, but with a few additions which take advantage of all the technological progress of the intervening years. You’ll still be building a shipping empire, but on vast maps, and in multiplayer, and with a range of bug fixes and enormous improvements to AI over the original.

Best of all, OpenTTD comes with its own community-made art and sound packs, meaning it requires nothing from the original game. That’s what makes it completely free. There’s oodles to play with here, too. If the old maps don’t suffice, you can download the hundreds created by the community, many of which include new art assets, directly from the game’s interface itself. There are gigantic maps which let you slowly colonise Britain or Europe or North American with your own transport networks if you choose, as well as user-made tutorials that do a better job of explaining the game than anything official.

If you miss the management games of old and enjoy relaxing by making efficient vast systems with many moving parts, lose the next 21 years to OpenTTD.

Notes: Chris Sawyer created the original Transport Tycoon, before being distracted from making a sequel by production on RollerCoaster Tycoon. He eventually returned to trains and automobiles with Chris Sawyer’s Locomotion in 2004 and, in 2013, a mobile game called Transport Tycoon but which used art from Locomotion. Thanks, Wikipedia!

What else should I be playing if I like this: Big Pharma is a management game that has a similar activity in plotting routes and a similar challenge in maximising efficiency, but the routes you’re drawing are carrying and crafting pills, not freight.

Where can I download it: Official Site

Read more: We named it the 50th best strategy game of all time and Adam reminisced about his childhood want for Transport Tycoon

7. Knytt [Official site] (2006)

Developer: Nicklas Nygren

Most free platformers concern themselves with being bastard hard, cramming spikes on to every edge. Knytt is different. It’s a Metroidvania-style platformer that’s more concerned with atmosphere than killing you every fifteen seconds. There’s still challenge in finding your way through its level structure and unlocking the path to progress, but it’s a place where you’ll just want to stop and enjoy the art, the sounds, the music.

This might get boring in a less well-executed game, but Knytt’s platforming is as precise as any of its more meaty peers. I love the sound of your footsteps, the reassuring grip of your walljumps, and the way levels bend around and back on themselves to reveal previously unseen intricacy.

Knytt has a number of sequels which will cost you money to play, but the lo-fi simplicity of the first free Knytt makes it special.

Notes: Knytt creator Nifflas has made a number of other games, but his most recent is Affordable Space Adventures, a Wii U game with a similar tone to Knytt but in which you explore its levels by controlling a small spacecraft instead of a person.

What else should I be playing if I like this: The sequels, obviously, or N and Super Meat Boy if you like your walljumping platformers with more challenge than atmosphere.

Where can I download it: Official Site

6. Battle for Wesnoth [Official site] (2005)

Developer: David White

The Battle for Wesnoth should be one of the first programs you install on a new PC. For ten years, David White’s turn-based hexathon has been one of the great freeware strategy games and it has been consistently updated with new content and improvements. When a tablet version appeared on app stores with a price attached, it seemed reasonable to assume that the PC version might follow suit, becoming a commercial product after more than a decade (including pre-1.0 versions). That hasn’t happened.

Wesnoth is still free. Not free to download and play up to a certain point and not free with the option of purchasing in-game currency or unlockables – free like that free lunch they said you’d never find. The (lack of a) price wouldn’t matter if the game wasn’t worth your time but, thankfully, it’s in sterling form. Not just one of the best free games on PC but one of the best games within this genre available anywhere. There are sixteen campaigns, spanning all the races of the world, and even covering the distant future of Wesnoth, and the included editor means you can design your own scenarios or simply download unofficial content when you’re done with the wealth of material included.

Notes: Wesnoth was originally a nonsensical name but The Rise of Wesnoth campaign retrospectively explains its etymology – a combination of West and North.

What else should I be playing if I like this: Telepath Tactics is smaller in scale – focusing on parties rather than armies – but tackles similar rulesets and ideas.

Where can I download it: Official Site

Read more: We named it the 44th best strategy game of all time

5. Robot Unicorn Attack [Official site] (2010)

Developer: Spiritonin Media Games

Canabalt is the slicker, more polished infinite runner, but Robot Unicorn Attack has a robot unicorn, stars to collect and boulders to dash-attack through to smash, and Always by Erasure playing on repeat as you try and try to beat your high score. If any of those things make it sound like a novelty, then go, play it, and see if it doesn’t grip you. The music is repetitive, but it puts you into a kind of trance. The art is crude, but colourful and relaxing and fun. The variation in the position and distance between platforms feels occasionally unfair, but bursting through those boulders is more satisfying even than Canabalt’s windows.

Notes: There’s a sequel, a Christmas edition and a Retro Unicorn Attack that swaps in 8-bit graphics, but the original is the purest and best.

What else should I be playing if I like this: Canabalt, obviously, if you’re looking for another endless runner. CLOP if you’re looking for another game about a unicorn. Any other song by Erasure on Spotify, if you like Always.

Where can I download it: Official Site

Read more: Kieron’s article for Eurogamer’s games of 2010

4. Masq [Official site] (2002)

Developer: Alteraction

Masq is a choose-your-own adventure-style storygame that casts you as the head of a fashion design company. The opening few minutes establish multiple points of drama. You’ve a big fashion show coming up, but you lack the money to fund it. You suspect your wife might be having an affair with her boss, the only man who might be able to give you the money. And to make matters worse, your friend and colleague has just been murdered – and you’re a suspect.

What follows is a series of single frame comic panels with choices to be made underneath, where doing nothing at all is a valid choice.

Masq was released in 2002, but its format is similar to the modern Telltale adventure games like The Walking Dead. What’s different is that Masq features no puzzles whatsoever, and that its soap opera setup justifies a narrative that can diverge in the wildest of ways. Over a single fifteen-minute play session, you can end up divorced, or in prison, or bankrupt, or having an affair, or in a caravan with a gun pointed at a naked man waiting for a snake to bite him on the balls.

Every session of Masq ends with glimpses of some scenes you might have missed during your story, and it provides an endless compulsion to play again. You’ll have had this incredible journey, see the previews of paths not taken and… Who is this kid? Why am I on a beach playing frisbee with some kid? Who are you?

The last few years have seen a dramatic increase in narrative-led games, and that’s a wonderful thing. Many of those games will be better written than Masq, more likely to affect you emotionally, personally. But I’ve yet to find any that are as thrilling, or which reward your choices as well as Masq does.

Notes: Masq was originally released for a fee, then ad-supported, and is now completely free. Its creators left the industry for a long time before returning with a series of similar games, all of which are in Spanish and designed to support product placement.

What else should I be playing if I like this: 80 Days is a similarly excellent choice-based game about humans and dialogue, while The Walking Dead is still the finest distillation of the Telltale formula for dramatic, life-and-death choice-based adventures.

Where can I download it: Official Site

Read more: Masq featured in Graham’s article about failing in games

3. Dwarf Fortress [Official site] (2006)

Developer: Bay 12 Games

“Etar Patternedtombs was a mint green demon. It was the only one of its kind. A gigantic feathered ass twisted into humanoid form. It undulates rhythmically. Its mint green feathers are patchy. Beware its deadly gas!”

But enough about your dad – let’s talk about Dwarf Fortress.

Dwarf Fortress is a fantasy simulation game that’s become famous for the endless anecdotes produced by the collision of its teeming forts, its emotionally unstable dwarves, and a world of elves and goblins and terrible hellbeasts that want to destroy them. It’s also infamous for its obtuse interface, which by default renders the world’s absurd detail with simple ASCII graphics. If you can overcome such challenges to your patience – and there are plenty of friendly tile graphic sets, as per the one seen here – then what awaits you inside is a management game unlike any other, with characters whose fingernails grow, who mourn the death of their pets, whose grief can trigger city-destroying events, and who write poetry about their infinite sadness. Even if you can’t play Dwarf Fortress as a management game or in its more accessible roguelike adventure mode, it’s worth following it as a decades-long, one-of-a-kind development project. It is, despite appearances, the most ambitious game ever made.

Notes: Although free to download and play, Dwarf Fortress development is funded by donations via PayPal or Patreon. If you play it and like it, consider checking those out – rewards include a short story or drawing about a Dwarf Fortress character of your choice.

What else should I be playing if I like this: Prison Architect offers a similar simulation and building game, but about prisons and with less of a focus on individuals. RimWorld is smaller scale but applies Dwarf Fortress’ formula to a space colony.

Where can I download it: Official Site

Read more: Graham breaks down how easy it is to play, Quinns’ diary from 2010 and us naming it one of the best RPGs and strategy games of all time.

2. N [Official site] (2004)

Developer: Metanet

N’s single-screen levels have umpteen methods of tearing apart your tiny stick-figure ninja and sending his parts flinging across the level. What makes it worth persevering with is its physics, which are a joy to learn to manipulate. Whether it’s air control, wall jumping, bounding up ramps just so in order to launch yourself to greater heights, N is precise and rewards your practice with a graceful replay of your ultimate success.

There’s more variety here than in many paid-for alternatives, too, owing to the game’s menagerie of different enemies types. Sliding electroshock droids, slow-targeting lasers, heat-seeking missiles, squashing blocks, mines, and many more; there’s more to learn to master in N than simply spikes to avoid.

There are paid-for versions of the game available, with nicer presentation and music, but the free N2.0 still has hundreds of levels, the ability to watch replays of other player’s fastest times with the click of a button, and all the satisfying platforming a person could want.

Some of you might wonder why N is in this position over, say, the original free Meat Boy release. Here’s the answer:

I like N better.

Notes: N developers Metanet spent a number of years working on a grappling hook game called Robotology, but after years of research and the development of their own physics engine, decided that they couldn’t technically create what they envisioned.

What else should I be playing if I like this: N++ was released recently for monies, and its music and presentation and new levels are very nice. Otherwise, yes, the original free Meat Boy is great, too.

Where can I download it: Official Site

1. Spelunky [Official site] (2008)

Developer: Derek Yu

Spelunky! Spelunky. Spelunky. Spelunky. Spelunky.

Spelunky isn’t just the best free game ever. It’s also probably, maybe definitely, the best game ever. And it’s not because of its procedural level generation, or the mixture of roguelike and platforming that spawned a genre of imitators, but because of the design of its items, traps and enemies. Spelunky is a tightly wound machine, precision-engineered to create moments of anticipation, drama and comedy.

Anticipation. You’re stood upon a ledge looking down at two spike traps, a caveman and a man-eating plant. You know that you should drop calmly atop a spike trap, jump on to the other, and then over and away from plant and man.

Drama. You make the leap and immediately overshoot it, missing the surface of first spike trap and instead grabbing onto its side. You are moments away from being spiked to instant death.

Comedy. You leap away from the spike trap just in time, but in your panic dive directly into the mouth of the waiting plant. You are dead.

Or maybe you carry out this simple challenge perfectly but some levels later are floating towards an exit when you are defeated by an inanimate rock. It leaps up off a bounce pad and hits you on the head, knocking you unconscious. Before you can wake, it hits you again. And again. And again. You are dead.

Or maybe you get much further, gather the tools needed to reach the city of gold, and gently set down your just collected Scepter while you bomb through a wall. But the splash damage of the bombs propel the scepter backwards, over a ledge, and directly onto your head. You are dead.

Spelunky doesn’t have the brighter high definition art of its paid-for remake, Spelunky HD, nor its co-op or daily challenge modes. But it is still a masterclass of game design; a perfect loop of rules for creating infinite fun situations. And free!

Free. Free. Free. Free.

Notes: The free version of Spelunky was made in Game Maker, a game creation tool which is remarkably easy to get started with. Before that creator Derek Yu was the artist on underwater puzzle adventure Aquaria, and made the default tileset for the free release of Desktop Dungeons, elsewhere on this list.

What else should I be playing if I like this: As always, the paid for release. Dungeons of Dredmor, for a similarly accessible take on old roguelike formulas. Or Binding of Isaac, for something as deep and as rewarding.

Where can I download it: Official Site

Read more: Graham on Spelunky’s bats, Quinns’ essay on why it’s the best

There. That’s all the free games that matter – except for the ones you like most, which are featured in an invisible part of this list. Cave Story is number 51.

Free games are diverse, which of course means there’s hundreds of extremely good games that we haven’t featured on this list. We may therefore one day expand it or change it (it’s seen one revision already), but until then you can help by writing your own entries in the comments. Write a few sentences about why a thing you love is great and toss in a link, and we can all help lead one another to a better, freer tomorrow.

Sick of the sight of all the games below and want still more free things to play? Check out our free game columns Live Free Play Hard, Freeware Garden, and Free Loaders, which goes up every Tuesday and archives its best finds in this collection.

Here’s our top 50 in full.

50. Passage
49. Slave of God
48. My Father’s Long Long Legs
47. Rat Chaos
46. UnReal World
45. Spaceplan
44. NORTH
43. Championship Manager: Season 01/02
42. Off-Peak
41. Dr. Langeskov, The Tiger, and The Terribly Cursed Emerald: A Whirlwind Heist
40. The Marathon Trilogy
39. Cataclysm Dark Days Ahead
38. The Grow/eyesmaze games
37. The Elder Scrolls II: Daggerfall
36. Space Station 13
35. ARMAGAD (Also Tetrageddon Games)
34. Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy
33. Ending
32. Corrypt
31. Murder Dog IV: Trial of the Murder Dog
30. Horse Master
29. Bernband
28. Super Crate Box
27. VVVVVV: Make and Play Edition
26. Hexagon
25. Dungeon Crawl Stone Soup
24. Desktop Tower Defence
23. Canabalt
22. Command & Conquer: Red Alert
21. Candy Box
20. Frog Factions
19. Brogue
18. Alien Swarm
17. Gravity Bone
16. QWOP & CLOP
15. Line rider
14. Digital: A Love Story
13. 2:22 AM
12. Barkley, Shut Up And Jam: Gaiden
11. Samorost
10. Space Funeral
9. Desktop Dungeons
8. Open Transport Tycoon
7. Knytt
6. Battle for Wesnoth
5. Robot Unicorn Attack
4. Masq
3. Dwarf Fortress
2. N
1. Spelunky

For more of RPS’ bestest best games, take your pick from:
The best PC games of all time
The 50 best FPS on PC
The 50 best strategy games on PC
The 25 best co-op games ever made
The best space games on PC
The best non-violent games
The 14 best Metroidvania
The 10 best hacking, coding and computing games
The 25 best horror games on PC
The 23 best VR games
The 10 best games based on movies
The 25 best stealth games on PC
The 25 best action games on PC
The 50 best RPG on PC
The 25 best adventure games ever made
The 25 best puzzle games on PC

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