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The 50 best free games on PC

No free-to-play, just free.

Featured post

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: Alice 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: John’s review of Samorost 3

The final countdown awaits as we head into the list of the ten best free games on the next page.

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The all-seeing eye of Rock, Paper, Shotgun, the voice of many-as-one.

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