With New Year celebrations just around the corner, it's understandable that you might not have time to trawl through our weekly Best Free PC Games archive, analysing every write-up to construct your own top ten list. So, since we understand the importance of ranking free games in order of perceived quality, we've done it for you. Here are PC Gamer's ten favourite freebies of 2011!
10. Don't Take It Personally, Babe, It Just Ain't Your Story
Christine Love. Download it from Christine's website.
With its anime style and graphic novel format, Christine Love's Don't Take It Personally, Babe, It Just Ain't Your Story might not seem like the most enticing prospect to a lot of players. Push past the presentation, though, and you'll find an intricate and notably human story of what it is to be responsible for the lives of a group of teenagers.
You play as a teacher who gets a little too involved in his students' issues. And while the game is only minimally interactive, it does present you with some genuinely affecting moral choices, the likes of which even the biggest videogame developers struggle to get right year after year.
9. The Wager
Surprised Man. Download it from the official website.
An exploration game whose stretches of planet are generated on the fly each time you start, The Wager is a much smarter game than its often primitive presentation would let on. You take to the seas in search of new lands, whose resources you might exploit, or whose co-ordinates you might sell to others eager to spread their feathers into new climes.
It's smart because of the requirement to make decisions about how you'll deal with the game's obstacles, and because of how neatly the often bizarre writing slots into its place in the game. It also received a substantial update recently, making the already compulsive title even more of a delight.
Joost van Dongen. Download it from the official website.
Proun's developer recently revealed that the game's 'pay what you like' sales pitch didn't do as well as he'd hoped. When people treated it as a freebie, though, the response was overwhelmingly positive. It's a gloriously presented indie title that sees you rolling a ball around a frantic racetrack, avoiding obstacles as you go.
Its crowning achievement is the speed at which you travel, and the sense of kinetic energy the game manages to convey. Performing well on the slowest speed setting, 'fast', allows you to unlock unimaginable paces for later races. Let's hope the £23,000 van Dongen did make is enough to convince him to make another game this good.
LittleLoud. Play it on the official website.
Channel 4 gets educational games. Commissioning talented and renowned developers with proven track records, they manage to take concepts that our young could find tedious, and transform them into experiences that even proper grown-ups can get something out of. Sweatshop is one of those games, a title designed to teach of the ills of the horrible forced labour that goes on around the globe.
You play as an aspiring factory manager, hiring, firing and tweaking your factory's workforce. What initially starts as a genuinely amusing title quickly grows dark as your workers begin to tire, you start hiring children for cheaper labour, and you quickly realise you've become the horrific being you promised yourself, at the start, that you wouldn't be.
6. At A Distance
Terry Cavanagh. Download it from the dev's blog.
This is the renowned indie developer's take on co-operative play. Two people sit at separate computers, preferably side-by-side but certainly on a network. Each player is lost in some kind of colourful maze. But it is by exploring the world that the other person inhabits, and seeing what effects your actions are having on your friend's game, that you'll solve the overarching puzzle of At A Distance.
It's clever and inventive, and a shame that the requirement of network play might put some people off one of the more interesting two-player games in recent times.
NPlay. Play it on NPlay's website.
BeGone has become quite the thing in 2011. Initially launched as a competent and impressive multiplayer shooter, this browser-based gem quickly grew to become something that could rival a lot of full games. There are now several maps, all nicely balanced, and the presentation has been spruced up considerably.
It's a bit like Counter-Strike, basically - and that's hugely impressive, considering this runs in a nice little window right in the middle of a web page. It's a game that requires some decent skill, which it rewards handsomely. And it keeps getting better and better.
4. Stealth Bastard
Curve Studios. Download it from the official website.
A tactical action-platformer, as if Metal Gear Solid were reimagined in true retro-modern style, Stealth Bastard sees you sneaking past robot guards and security systems that aim to take you out in a millisecond. It's fortunate that you can put your sneaky know-how to use across a variety of beautifully imagined levels.
And if those aren't enough, you can even create your own in an initially confusing but eventually fairly sensible level-editing suite that comes free with the already-free game. It's baffling when a developer releases so much of such quality for no coins at all, but it's probably best not to complain too much, or they might stop.
Damp Gnatt. Play it on the dev's website.
One of the most joyously creative games of the year regardless of price, Wonderputt is a crazy golf experience like no other. The game plays out on just a single screen, but it's a landscape that changes radically across the 15-or-so minutes it'll take you to see it all.
That might not sound long, but every second of Wonderputt is remarkable: from the changing landscapes, to the immaculate ball physics, to the splendid music that plays throughout. It's an absolute labour of love, a game that seems to have had layer upon layer of attention gifted unto it throughout the course of its development. 18 holes have never been so delightful.
DigiPen. Download it from the official website.
Nous is creepy. This seemingly sentient AI says it's a psychoanalysis system, but it appears to mean you harm. Or does it? It also enjoys confusing you at every turn as it judges your performance across a series of neon-lit and action-packed levels.
The game's ability to craft such an atmosphere from so little is an extraordinary feat, and it's coupled by engaging game mechanics that see you striking a fine balance between killing your foes and turning them into health by herding them through special converters. It's fantastic fun, gorgeously presented, and both captivating and unsettling as the story plays out.
1. Team Fortress 2
Valve Software. Grab it via Steam.
Well, of course. What else could it be? It's the best multiplayer shooter ever released on the PC, and you can play it for no pennies. We are, quite truly, being spoiled.
We've written about Team Fortress 2 a lot, you may have noticed. Some might say we've praised it to death. Others will be quick to point out its original 2007 release date. But this is the year when TF2 became a free game, and as such it would be barmy not to position it right at the top of the list.
Its quality lies in every aspect of the game. Beautifully and distinctively presented, it's also fantastically balanced, each class playing its own unique role across a variety of maps that, in their immaculate attention to detail and playability, could only have been created by Valve. It's also a game that's filled with personality, as evidenced by the vast amount of fiction that's cropped up around this wonderful shooter.
You get so much for no money at all. It might as well be the full game. In fact, it's not quite, but to upgrade all you need to do is buy a single item from the store. The cheapest item is 29p. That's all you need to pay to unlock a premium account - but if even that seems a bit too much, you'll lose barely anything by playing at the most basic level.
Craig re-reviewed the game this year, upping its original 93% score to a PC Gamer UK 'highest score ever' of 96% as a result of the carefully planned additions and refinements that have trickled in over the years, in what must be one of the most comprehensive post-release support campaigns a developer has ever committed to. We don't give out scores that big lightly - but not only is Team Fortress 2 the best free game in the world, it's also now one of the best in the world regardless of cost.
Found a better free game in 2011? You should totally let us know about it in the comments!
Do you remember the tail end of 2010? We all wore rags and lived in dirt-floored shacks, dinosaurs ruled the Earth, and ‘free to play’ was still a dirty set of words. 2011 saw those words climb into the word shower and wash themselves clean, courtesy of League of Legends.
Developers Riot Games released player figures for their five-on-five Defence of the Ancients interpretation in November 2011. The numbers were, frankly, dazzling. League of Legends now has more active players than World of Warcraft – yes, World of Warcraft – sporting a population of 11 million. More impressively, over four million people play LoL every day, and 1.5 million of those are on at the same time. To put that in context, all of Steam has 2.5 million concurrent users.
But capturing the short term attention spans of children, idiots, and child idiots was easy enough for the terrible free to play titles of the past. Craftily, League of Legends snared their monstrous userbase by bucking that trend, and by being crisp, clear, and blessed with thousands of ways to play. No wonder it’s done so well – it stands out like a golden pin in a shed full of pigswill.
I play as Caitlyn. I stand in the bushes, peppering creeps with shots from my comically oversized sniper rifle. My basic attack is a single shot. My ultimate attack, gained after fifteen minutes of play and souped up over the next half an hour, is a bullet wider than Caitlyn’s waistline that travels a quarter of the length of the map and slams a third out of its target’s health bar. I kill people from a distance, and never let myself near other players.
Tim plays as Leona. She’s a holy paladin, kitted out in gleaming golden armour and armed with a repertoire of incredibly earnest sayings. Leona’s pure tank – she steams into combat, drawing attention and aggression from everyone, leaving other players free to escape or level their weapons on their stunned foes.
Owen plays as Teemo. He runs around behind the AI creep scuffles, watching and waiting for his moment to drop traps. Teemo’s stealthy: he hides in plain sight, supporting his team and sneaking shots against any weakened foes. Well, he’s as stealthy as he can be, at any rate, considering he’s dressed as a fluffy white rabbit, and the traps he lays are easter eggs.
I always play DPS characters. Tim’s tanked for years. Owen… Owen really likes dressing up as fluffy animals. That League of Legends lets us all play different games inside one title is impressive. That it let us play them even when it had one game mode and one map is amazing. That it’s a free to play game with a level of polish, community, and developer support unseen outside of studios like Valve is utterly unheard of.
Highly recommended: Team Fortress 2, World of Tanks.
Even though Lego Lord of the Rings has been announced, we reckon they’re fast running out of franchises to render in acrylonitrile butadiene styrene. Lego James Bond is the one we always mention when we see the Traveller’s Tales guys, but so far we’ve had no luck convincing them that squashing a plastic version of Sean Bean with a giant satellite array would be a very good thing.
Flickr user Catsy has completely inspired us to believe that a Lego version of Half-Life would be the way for Lego to go. As Kotaku reported, he/she has created a Lego version of Gordon Freeman using stock Lego bits and bobs, equipped with a customised Overwatch Standard Issue Pulse Rifle made from a Lego tommy gun.
As Catsy notes, Freeman needs a little more smoothing and painting. But between his/her and Orrange Stahl’s attempts at Lego Half-Life, we think there’s more than enough to convince the Danish toy giants to create Lego versions of Freeman, Alyx Vance, The G-Man et al. Who knows, maybe they could even make a game of it.
A sly Team Fortress 2 update yesterday added a secret wedding ring as a craftable item. It's called "Something Special for Someone Special" and is described as being a "level 100 ring." The item wasn't revealed in the patch notes. Players posted their discovery on the Team Fortress 2 wiki after digging through the file changes made by the update.
If you play Team Fortress 2 regularly with your loved one, prepare yourself for a sudden proposal. It could happen between control points, it could happen in the middle of a desperate Payload defence. But which map would be best? The spires of badlands have some pretty good views, The roof of the bridge on 2Fort would get everyone's attention. If you want somewhere really, really quiet, there's always Hydro.
It might not be for a real marriage proposal, of course. Perhaps one of the classes has finally plucked up the courage to propose to the Pyro. He/she/it has been waiting long enough. If an in-game marriage proposal does come out of this, Team Fortress 2 will join a unique collection of games, including World of Warcraft and Minecraft, that have been used to pop the question. It'll be hard to beat the Portal 2 proposal below, though. It featured unique dialogue from Glados' voice actor, Ellen McLain, and looked just like this:
The Team Fortress 2 Australian Christmas celebratory extravaganza is go! The free update adds a new control point map called Foundry which, according to the achievements list, will feature a big, deadly cauldron fire. Pyros and Engineers get new class packs and 50 items are 75% off in the Mann-Co store. The update is detailed on the Australian Christmas page on the Team Fortress 2 site. "But what about the new hats?" you're perhaps asking, clawing at your unhatted head with eager fingers. Read on and all shall be revealed.
Having your face stuck inside a gas mask that's also inside a space helmet makes it awfully hard to smoke a pipe. The Pyro's new helmet solves that problem by building a pipe into the space helmet. It looks a lot better than it sounds. He's also getting some new weapons, including The Third Degree, a fire axe that will damage the player your hitting, and any players attached to them by medic beams (ie. Medics). The Phlogistinator is a flamethrower that will gradually boost its "Mmmmph" meter with all damage dealt. It can then be activated to heal yourself and crit anyone you're flaming at the time. That sounds powerful.
Engineers, meanwhile, will be able to earn the Brainiac Pack. This includes some Einstein style hair, a wrench that can teleport him back to the spawn zone and a "level 10 indivisible Particle Smasher." It shoots bolts that pass through enemies. If it hits a medic, it'll dock them 10% of their medigun charge. Stricken spies will be stripped of 20% of their cloak power.
Valve also mention "14 new holiday-themed weapons, hats and cosmetic items by the TF community's item creators." This will see some of the fantastic entries we've seen in the Steam Workshop making their way into the full game. These items will only be available by unlocking the "nice crates" that will be appearing in TF2's maps for the duration of Australian Christmas. "Naughty crates" will also drop. These contain "Smissmass lights" that can be used to spruce up weapons. The item drop rate will be doubled for the first week of the event, which kicked off yesterday. Bonanza!
It's just a man in a T-shirt of course, but there's a Half-Life 3 logo on the front of it and a Valve employee inside it.
Art director and executive producer at UberEnt (the team behind Super Monday Night Combat) posted the photo above on Twitter with the message "All I'm saying is I saw this at a local game developer event worn by a Valve employee," sensibly attaching a #ValveTrolling hashtag. He couldn't get any more info out of Valve's man but he confirms that "I did try to smother my face in his chest on the HL3 logo." This did not help.
A long time ago, when dinosaurs roamed the earth, Valve announced that they'd release three follow up episodes for Half-Life 2, allowing them to put out shorter stories at a faster clip. The episodes so far have taken longer and longer to develop, and Episode 2 ended up being longer than most modern shooter campaigns. Years on from Episode 2's release, it would make sense for the next game to ditch the episode format and become Half Life 3. Recently, the Cambridge Student asked Gabe Newell whether he considers releasing Half-Life 2 sequels in an episodic form a mistake. "Not yet," he said.
Valve have repeatedly said that they're still committed to the Half Life series. We'll surely see another one one day. WE JUST WANT TO KNOW HOW IT ENDS.
Half-Life: Origins comes from the same team behind the excellent Beyond Black Mesa short film released earlier this year. It's a short but evocative take on those famous first moments of the original Half-Life, the peaceful train journey before all that nastiness with the interdimensional portal, and the aliens, and the crowbar. It captures the workmanlike atmosphere of Black Mesa quite nicely, though the chap playing Gordon keeps reminding me how perfect Hugh Laurie would be for the role. Infectious Designer should ask him to do their next film, I'm sure he's not busy.
When he’s not tweeting, Minecraft developer Markus “Notch” Persson loves to indulge in a little Team Fortress 2, according to his tumblr blog. He was recently invited to take part in the third TF2 Mixup, with famous Team Fortress 2 personalities such as Valve’s Robin Walker and YouTuber Freddie Wong blasting each other to bits.
Notch was enjoying the game, earning the Primeval Warrior medal, when suddenly he was awarded with his very own hat. It resembles Notch's own visage, if it were made in Minecraft and then copied onto a cardboard box, and - so far - he's the only owner. “I am never quitting TF2 again, and you should all go buy it right away,” said Notch. “How much is it, you ask? It’s FREE! YES!”
Super Meat Boy completely won us over with its slightly icky take on the good ol’ platform genre. To celebrate its first anniversary, the game has been released as part of a huge bundle on Steam, which includes the original game, Aquaria, Bit.Trip Beat, Bit.Trip Runner, Braid, Gish, Machinarium, VVVVV and World of Goo. You’ll also get the music tracks from Super Meat Boy, Braid, Machinarium, Bit.Trip Beat and Bit.Trip Runner. That’s a whole bunch of indie gaming right there, and it’ll only set you back £17.89 ($28) - or £1.78 per game. Oh yeah, it also includes Half-Life 2, for some reason.
With Team Fortress 2 items appearing in Saints Row, it was only a matter of time before the reverse also became true. Now Joystiq have spotted a post on the TF2 blog that reveals new TF2 items for those that pre-order Saints Row: The Third over steam.
The bonuses take the form of a new outfit for the Heavy, giving him a diamond encrusted Lucha Libre mask, a pair of bling covered boxing gloves and a Saints Row fleur-de-lis badge (which can also be worn by other classes). The TF2 blog claims it's a faithful recreation of the outfit Mikhail Gorbachev wore when he accepted the Nobel Peace Prize in 1990... er... indeed.
Sadly, getting hold of this outfit will be problematic for UK users, as Saints Row: The Third is yet another game that is inexplicably missing from steam in the UK. As ever, we're trying to get to the bottom of this story, but no-one is willing to talk to us about it.