The Best Free Games on the Web
In the last week Microsoft revealed that the average Xbox 360 gamer in the UK spends £64 per month. That’s £768 a year on games, an expensive habit. There’s apparently an economic recession going on, but you’d never guess on those figures. Even assuming the 13% surveyed who spend over £100 a month are dragging up that average, we’re still spending far too much. Why, you ask? Because the wealth of free games available online puts store shelves to shame. You may need to be willing to look past dated graphics, but there are some gems that deserve your attention, this is just a taster. From the artistic to the downright ridiculous, there’s something you’ll like out there, and it won’t cost a penny.
Hidden and Dangerous
One of the earliest examples of a squad based shooter, Hidden and Dangerous gives you control of a 4-man team which can be customised for every mission. These missions are quite varied and include planting bombs, destroying buildings and vehicles and rescuing prisoners. Stealth is the key, as the title suggests, and leading your squad through enemy territory is a tense affair. Each member can be controlled individually, or commanded. Often your squad will have to split up and take on multiple objectives. The AI is quite good, particularly for a game over a decade old, with your soldiers lacking the death wish programmed into most AI companions. The stealth mechanic is somewhat more forgiving than the likes of Rainbow Six, but this a tough game, requiring serious effort to get through some sections. The graphics are quite dated at this point, but excellent gameplay and good use of the squad element make H&D worth playing. Download here.
Flash games are ten a penny, to be blunt, and the vast majority are pretty bland. Canabalt, however, stands head and shoulders above most of its peers. From the moment it loads and the thumping music starts, it’s clear that this is a breed apart. The game couldn’t be simpler, but that is its greatest asset. Pressing space to jump is the only control necessary, and the goal is to run as far as possible before falling to your death, or crashing into an obstacle. The player-character, and the world around him, is black and white, which highlights the brilliant design. Birds flutter off rooftops as you run past, strangely shaped aircraft hover low in the sky and glass shatters gloriously to the ground as you burst through windows. There is no story, the art direction speaks for itself and allows the players imagination to take hold. With some brilliant music to back up simple score attack gameplay, Canabalt is a triumph for its simplicity of gameplay and complexity of design. Play it here.
Beneath a Steel Sky
Before creating the brilliant Broken Sword, Charles Cecil made Beneath a Steel Sky, a cyberpunk adventure title set in a dystopian future. When hero Robert Foster (named after the beer, no less) is abducted from life in the wilderness and taken to a huge industrial city, answers are thin on the ground. After escaping his captors and bringing wise-cracking robot Joey back to life, Foster looks for a way out of the city, and so the story begins. With comic-book style illustration by legendary ‘Watchmen’ artist Dave Gibbons, the game has a wonderful look from the outset. Cecil is a talented storyteller, and Foster’s plight is certainly intriguing, with plenty of twists and turns as it plays out. Joey the robot is also a great companion, brilliantly sarcastic and blunt, his presence alleviates the occasional frustration of a difficult puzzle. Beneath a Steel Sky is one of the finest point and click adventures ever made, and hasn’t aged at all thanks to its comic-book styling. Sign up for Gog.com and download it for free.
Every Day the Same Dream
Another flash game, but this time an artistic rendition of the daily grind. Controlling a generic employee who is literally faceless – all the characters are – this begins as a simple, story-focused, move-right-constantly game. Soon it reveals its true nature, as after reaching the day’s conclusion, probably sitting at your desk, it begins anew. Each day starts identically, and the aim is to figure out the minor differences that can be made in order to change the outcome of each trip to work. The puzzle element is genuinely tough. It’s not even obvious that there are puzzles, other than a woman who says ‘5 more steps and you will be a new man’ – the number dropping as you discover alternate endings to the game. Like Canabalt, this is black and white, and again, uses that to brilliant effect, evoking the monotony of the rat race. This is gaming re-imagined by Rene Magritte, a poignant and intelligent effort that asks more questions than it answers. Play it here.
Command and Conquer: Red Alert
Have you ever wondered what would happen if Einstein invented a time machine, travelled back to pre-WWII Germany and assassinated Hitler? Well wonder no more. It turns out Stalin, in Adolf’s stead, erects the iron curtain and declares war on Europe and America. This bizarre plot sets the scene for one of the best strategy games ever made. The Soviet army take on the Allies with gigantic tanks and over-powered traps (Tesla Coils are a crowd-pleaser) while the Allies respond tactically, with spies and eventually a large naval force. This strange balance works brilliantly, with Soviet players having to be aggressive early, before they have a navy to contend with. The addition of special troops and once off weapons from radar jamming to atom bombs makes gameplay fast-paced and exciting enough for the novice RTS player, yet still phenomenally deep. The single player campaign is fantastic, but multiplayer even better. If you aren’t able to find anyone online to play, the skirmish mode is a highlight, with great AI. If nothing else, the ability to roll mammoth tanks into an enemy base while shouting ‘Must Crush Capitalism’ makes Red Alert worth playing. Download here.
Equal parts game and modern art, Facade was an award winner at the relatively obscure Slamdance festival. The game gained praise from the artistic community, yet as a technical achievement it’s a shame few gamers have played it. Players take on the role of a friend of Grace and Trip, a married couple. Upon arriving at their apartment, they begin arguing. What starts off as barbed comments soon descends into their marriage being laid bare, lies and truth revealed in equal measure. The player can prod events along by interjecting with typed phrases. The amount of words and phrases recognised by the game is incredible, and with a huge number of different directions possible for Grace and Trip’s disagreements, from resolution to divorce, the player can choose how they try to influence proceedings. Most interestingly is that what the player tries never quite works out. Compliments can anger as much as impress, and timing is crucial. Keeping Grace and Trip calm is a huge challenge, and attempting to change the path of their lives makes repeat plays compulsive. Facade is an astonishing achievement, and in the way that it plays out in real time and allows the player to push events forward, but not stop them or take the time to think. It innovates and immerses in a way no other game ever has. Download it here.
Chef Boyardee’s Barkley, Shut Up & Jam: Gaiden, Chapter 1 of the Hoopz Barkley SaGa
Yes, that is the real title. The plot is even better. Legendary basketball player Charles Barkley has slam dunked so hard that millions are dead, thanks to the ‘Chaos Dunk’ – a skill only a select few can perform. But is Barkley really to blame? And why did Michael Jordan become a B-Ball player hunter? There are many questions, and players must control Barkley as he seeks answers and a better future for his son. Shut up and Jam is a tongue in cheek tribute to classic RPG games like Final Fantasy, and an excellent game in its own right. The turn based combat is tactical and fun, with lots of interactive moves, and the plot is surprisingly interesting. NPC’s speak at great length about RPG games of the past to great comedic effect, and for anyone who enjoys the genre, this is a must-play. Oddly, Barkley’s melancholy world, and his own guilt and torment manage to transcend the silliness of the game and draw the player in, just as the games this is based on would have. Download it here.