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The 50 best free games on PC

No free-to-play, just free.

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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

The tension builds. The top 5 best free games are on the next page.

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