Tuesday, August 12, 2014

The Best Games for Free!

American politics is a more dismal science than economics. You're talking about an entrenched, technocratic oligarchy that still gets the peasants to argue over which scumsucker deserves to sit in the big house, when they're not just celebrating the forced sodomy of others all in the name of security. Makes you root for the meteors or at the very least feel some burgeoning Texas Tower Syndrome...

So today we're gonna talk about video games! Where if someone is being an irredeemable asshole, you can shoot 'em in the face without consequence! Yeah!

And since despite the recent "job growth" in the economy everyone is still strapped for cash, these games are utterly and completely free! Just go install Steam and have at it!

Cry of Fear
A total conversion mod of the original Half-Life and the best of the new survival horror generation outside the Amnesia IP. Dropping you into an abandoned Scandinavian city, you have to survive twitchy monsters while piecing together the mystery of your own shattered mind.

Läderface? Herrejävlar!

And it really emphasizes the survival aspect. You get a limited inventory and must manage both your health and stamina to keep from getting pecked to death by undead toddlers. The store page boasts a dual-wield mechanic but they're really messing with you - you can hold a pistol in hand and your light in the other, but it makes your aim less accurate. Drop the light and you can shoot straighter, if you can see anything at all. Mixed with the best atmospheric horror this side of PS2 era Silent Hill, and you've got the best horror gaming experience not produced by Frictional.

Only the first Act is out now but it's two or three hours well spent. Part survival horror, part old timey adventure game, it drops you on the dock of some mysterious island where the few people who haven't gone all gold-eyed with the rage virus are still a few marbles short.

"I just want to ask you some questions. With my my hammer."

Though you won't encounter either for a good ten to twenty minutes. Like Cry of Fear, this is mostly an exercise in atmosphere and how the constructed game world - bereft of life but likely with a monster about to pop out at any moment - can have you on edge and carrying around any random object the Source engine will let you pick up as a crude improvised weapon. And once into the game proper, you find a mystery involving corporate conspiracy and malfeasance that may have consumed this island community and just may consume you too...

Why pay sixty bucks for a MechWarrior clone when the same thing is available for free? Hawken gives you all the giant robot combat you want without first making you scamper around in yet another Modern Military Shooter!


Though not stated anywhere in the official documentation, this is pretty clearly a throwback to MechWarrior. You pilot a walking murder machine through an industrial dystopia, ever on the lookout for enemy robots to blow apart or the mission objective if you're lame. There's a variety of chassis to choose from, depending on whether you prefer armor to speed, and just as many weapons to clip on. And in that best MechWarrior tradition, you get jump jets! Who needs to stumble around the battlefield like an angry turtle when you can go hurtling over terrain like Baron Munchhausen on a cannonball?

Back in college, I played way too much Diablo II with my friends. I know I'm not the only one to do so, nor am I the only one with such fond memories as the time someone messaged "I M TEH L33T HAX0RZ!1" just before getting annihilated by a boss monster. Path of Exile was made for people with such memories, being a shameless Diablo clone in every way it's possible without getting sued.


A simple point and click interface, isometric view, respawning monsters, a few simple ingredients that make for a surprisingly addictive experience. There's a story - you're an exile, come to this cursed land to finagle the mystical pants of Hildebrandt or something - but if you've been playing computer games long enough, you know it don't matter. This is just an epic quest for awesome loot, complete with gem sockets in said loot and a skill tree inspired by a baobab to ensure you will never ever run out things to steal and monsters to kill.

You can find me and all my rowdy friends every Monday night. My handle is "Klown_Hammer."

No More Room in Hell
Oh look, another co-op zombie shooter. Haven't we had enough of these yet? Clearly not and No More Room in Hell is one of the proper ones, eschewing any sense of "realism"in favor of ridiculous fun. Sure, it's got the sublime Source physics engine and a collection of real life firearms, but it also features player skins of Disco Stu and John Goodman.

"I will show you the life of the mind!"

You can still die real easy, but so can everyone else. So you won't spend too long waiting to do it all again, like that overrated douche-magnet Counter-Strike. And if you can get a good group going and survive long enough - since, in the grand tradition of co-op Source games, you really do need to work together to get anywhere - you can get a hold of AKMs, ArmaLites, sledgehammers, and the ever necessary chainsaw!

The shortest game you'll ever play but worth every second. More an exercise in visual and sound design than a game, it involves nothing more than directing a fly ever upward, through the soggy and fecund natural world into the choking industrial soot of modern urban civilization, then further and further into the infinite.


There is an end, though. And I'll leave it up to you whether it's the culmination of a surprisingly sublime experience or just a cheap joke. Personally, I accept that it's both.

Team Fortress 2

Do I even need to say anything? If you have the sense to PC game rather than burn money on a console, you already know about this finest of all online multiplayer shooters. Why do I need to go on about how it balances classes across varied and creative maps and game types?

...It still doesn't make sense in context.

Instead, a personal story: I was about to pack it in for the night but figured I'd do one more round. Clicking on a server named "Mario Kart," I found myself on a user generated map born of legos, old school Nintendo games, and crystal meth. People were driving boxy go-carts with even boxier cannons, exploring the castle of mirrors in the sky, and the gravity was turned down so my Scout's double-jump took me clear across the map and smack into a billboard full of dancing Japanese cartoons. A more delightfully surreal experience cannot be had anywhere outside Salvador Dali's home movies.

*          *          *          *

Honorable Mention
I would have like to put MINERVA: Metastasis in this list but it just didn't cut it. Despite it's excellent action and pretty good story, it's held back by some puzzles so obtuse as to earn the developer a dick punching party.

This can't end well...

Essentially Half-Life 2 fanfiction, it's well done enough to stand alongside Lost Coast as an apocryphal chapter of the game proper. The story is delivered in text from the titular Minerva, who might be an artificial intelligence from the same production line as GlaDOS or might just be an asshole. These messages are the most uneven part, swinging from juvenile vulgarity to understated sincerity and pathos. And as it doesn't distract you with amateur voice acting, you can just ignore it while blasting through Combine mooks.

So while not the best, definitely recommended.

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