The Best Computer Games You Can Play for Free
Video games have become a prevalent part of many people's everyday lives. Even if you don't play yourself, you probably know someone that does. Celebrities now endorse games like they do products or cinematic productions - they sometimes even star in these same games.
Past just being popular, video games, in their many forms, have produced a massive industry which adds billions of dollars per year to the GDP. These days, video game single-day sales records far outshine their Hollywood counterparts; Spiderman 3's opening weekend was around $50 million. Grand Theft Auto IV was ten times that.
However, not all of us have loads of money to dish out to buy the discs or software to play these popular games. What is popular is not always best, though. Here, I will offer some free alternatives for those willing to try them. They may not be as polished or fancy as their big-company counterparts, but these games are (or have been) loved by many. If you can allow yourself to see past their faults, there are some gems to be had.
If you play games on your computer and you've never heard of Steam, then... let's just say, you're in for a treat. Steam is a game platform developed and released by Valve, the company which created Half-Life, which is widely considered to be one of the greatest games ever made.
You can easily create an account on their website and download their client software. This software not only allows you to buy games, but keeps track of what games you own, whether or not they are installed. So, if you have a game you don't want to play anymore, simply uninstall it from your system via your Steam Library, knowing that you can reinstall it at any time from within Steam.
Do you use Steam?
Not only is Steam great for buying games with sales and bundle packs, it also offers a large variety of free content, from trailers to demos to whole games. Most of the retail-level free games are Massively Multiplayer games, so if that's not your cup of tea, your selection is slightly limited. However, there are certainly some games worth checking out.
Any game which can be or must be attained through Steam will be noted as such, and it should quickly become apparent that Steam is quite the popular platform, particularly for free titles. You can find the Steam client here:
- PlanetSide 2 (Steam)
Having an article about free games without mentioning PlanetSide 2 is kind of like baking a cake without flour. This game is incredibly ambitious, and pulls it off wonderfully. It's a mix of first-person shooter and persistent-world massively-multiplayer online goodness that really cannot be done proper justice with words alone.
The game consists of three factions of players: the New Conglomerate, the Terran Republic, and the Vanu Sovereignty. As of this writing, there are currently three continents over which these three factions fight, in the air and on the ground. Nearly every level of combat is covered, from close-quarters infantry firefights to massive tank and air battles, with far-reaching plans to add more continents, the ocean between them, and naval craft to sail (and fight over) those oceans.
As you take part in combat, you gain Certification Points, which act as a sort of experience. This allows you to unlock weapons and upgrades, making you a more efficient killing machine as time goes on. These upgrades can be applied both to your infantry classes (Sniper, Engineer, etc.), as well as the vehicles and aircraft you operate.
I could probably write an entire article about this game, but instead, I'll simply say: if you like shooters, try this game.
- MechWarrior Online
The MechWarrior universe - or more accurately, the BattleTech universe - has been around since the early 80's, and it started on a game board (like Monopoly, sort of). Over the years, it has evolved in a couple different directions, spawning both books and video games (though never a movie, to the surprise of many).
Until recently, the ultimate expression of this massive-mechs-doing-combat concept was the latest iteration of the MechWarrior computer game series, MechWarrior 4, and its standalone expansion, MechWarrior 4: Mercenaries (actually, to be fair, there is a fan-made game called MechWarrior: Living Legends which is worth mentioning, and that would be the latest example).
Then, someone had the bright idea of taking the best part of those titles and building their game around that. What was the best part? Doing battle in massive mechs with other people, of course.
MechWarrior Online (MWO) is an online-only team battle arena in which you pilot your mech, choosing from a variety of weight classes and designs. Some are small and agile, good for scouting and quick hit-and-run maneuvers, while others are essentially skyscrapers with legs. And lasers.
The game has a slower pace than your typical shooter, however. You are piloting a vehicle, not running around. The fighting can be rather frantic at times, but conversely, finding yourself on the far side of the map from your objective when piloting a 90-ton behemoth can make for a long walk/drive. If you prefer something with a faster pace, the next game might be more your tastes.
As the YouTube crowd has pointed out, Hawken is to MWO as Call of Duty is to ARMA. Call of Duty is a very arcade-y game, whereas ARMA tries very hard to be as realistic as possible - but they're very similar games. This is a great analogy for Hawken and MechWarrior Online. Where MechWarrior works to create a sense of realism with things like damage sectors and momentum, Hawken tries to capture the frantic combat aspect of the genre and base the experience on that, forgoing most of the realism.
Both are good games, but my personal preference is MWO.
- World of Tanks
Then there's World of Tanks (WoT). This is another game which is, sort of surprisingly, a lot like MechWarrior Online; you pilot a upgradeable vehicle of your choice, and you enter into an arena on a team to do battle with another team. The difference is, of course, that in one you're piloting mechs, and in the other, you're driving tanks. Past that, the differences might be difficult to see.
Even so, the differences are important. WoT adds a line-of-sight mechanic which can render enemy tanks invisible if they're hiding themselves, say, in a bush. They will literally be invisible until they fire/move/etc., or until you get close enough to spot them (though I'm not even sure if that's enough).
Again, this is a good game, but if I'm going to play a game like this, my personal preference is MWO.
- Alien Swarm (Steam)
This isometric shooter is from Valve, the same company which develops Steam. The play-style is different from your typical shooter in that you move the character with the WSAD keys while aiming your weapon with the mouse pointer. What results is the interesting feeling of being a mobile turrent, unconstrained by the need to look "forward", though the screen does "look" around as you move your mouse in any particular direction.
It really has to be played to fully understand the dynamic, and I'd certainly say it's worth it to do so. The persistent character progression gives you a reason to keep playing, and the multiplayer is just as fun as the singleplayer, if not more so. The game has probably seen its peak days, but it still has a strong following.
- Super MNC (Steam)
Super Monday Night Combat (or Super MNC, as it's known nowadays) is a third-person shooter. That is, your perspective is always that of looking over the shoulder of the character you control (as seen in the picture). The combat is class- and team-based; you're always on Blue or Red team, and your character is always one of a few class types like Defenders and Sharpshooters. It's definitely a stimulating experience - if you enjoy team-based arcade shooters, you'd probably regret missing this one.
- Tribes: Ascend (Steam)
This game is the latest installment in the long-running Tribes series, a set of multiplayer first-person shooter games which offers things like jetpacks, vehicles, and placable turrets.
This game offers multiple game modes, such as classical and team deathmatch modes, and capture the flag. Unlike most FPSs, this game offers persistent character development. That is, the more you play, the more experience you acquire, the more new weapons and gadgets you can unlock. Combat is class based, with types such as Infiltrator, Engineer and Juggernaut mixed into the lineup.
With all these different class-types running around the various battlefields, combat can be rather intense. Adding to the chaos is the ability to "ski", effectively neutralizing the force of friction between you and the ground. This allows you to zip along at hundred of kilometers per hour, provided you can achieve the proper momentum. This is possible because the maps are fairly sizable, taking a few minutes to travel from side-to-side - traveling at 200 KPH!
- EverQuest & EverQuest II (Steam)
EverQuest (EQ) is the massively-multiplayer online game (MMO) that started it all. Sort of. That is, EQ was the first massively-multiplayer online roleplaying game to feature 3-D graphics. The only other MMORPG to speak of at the time was Ultima Online, which was/is (it's still around) a 2-D, isometric take on the genre, and it was very successful. Then EverQuest came along and gave UO a run for its money, literally. Here was a game which had all of the major features of one of the most popular games of the time, but offered a 3-D world to do it in. It was, and still is, a major draw for a lot of people. In fact, I've been finding myself logging in recently - and as a result, feeling myself lost in nostalgia.
But I digress.
EverQuest 2 is, obviously, the sequel to EQ. It offers a similar experience with some important differences - mainly, the community. EverQuest has been around for a long time; it was released in 1999. Fourteen years is a long time for anything to remain popular, let alone a video game. It also means that most people who play the game have had their fill of the early-game content. This results in a sometimes lonely experience for a new player. However, the people who are there are relatively friendly and welcoming, eager to have more people to play with.
Jump over to EQ2, and things change. The sequel was designed to be more solo-friendly than it predecessor, as well as making it easier to level one's character. This, coupled with the superior graphics, makes for a young, sometimes obnoxious community - so, like the community in many other MMOs.
Given a choice, I choose the original. They even have time/vote-locked servers available for play. Those are servers which run EverQuest in its original form, slowly releasing its 19 expansions over time, or when voted on. It makes for a very different, and much slower, experience. Slow, because if EverQuest was anything, it was that: slow. Leveling took a long time, as did recovery between fights. People these days are more accustomed to instant gratification - but there is something to be said for earning your desserts.
- Lord of the Rings Online (Steam)
Lord of the Rings Online (LotRO) is a massively multplayer game which started as pay-to-play and moved to the free-to-play style. The difference between this game and most others which follow that practice is that LotRO was not in trouble when it happened.
Most companies make that move to save dying games, but this game had a decent-enough following when they made the switch that it could have stayed that way and continued to make a profit. However, they likely made the right move - after they made the switch, the number of subscriptions to their service skyrocketed. Also, this move significantly raises the bar for other free games, as this piece of sotware is of rather high quality for a free-to-play title.
- Dungeons & Dragons Online (Steam)
DDO is an interesting game. Dungeons & Dragons, as any geek can tell you, was groundbreaking. It was a pen-and-paper game played by a set of rules contained within highly-prized books, using dice, theatrics, and sometimes even real swords and armor. It has spawned not only a great number of direct products in books, movies, and games bearing its moniker, but nearly every game in existence uses principles set forth by this game - things like rolling a random number to generate to-hit percentages and damage, or having random encounters with monsters which yields treasure. One might contend that these conventions would have been happened upon eventually, but even so, it cannot be disputed that D&D brought them into common practice.
Of the many games which wear the title "Dunegons & Dragons", this would probably have to be the closest one could come to actually being in that world. It is the best representation of the pen-and-paper rules in digital form which also is playable with hundreds of other people at the same time. There are others, to be sure - there's even one in this article. However, none of them attempt to remain true to the original experience, preferring instead to conform to modern MMO practices.
- Star Trek Online (Steam)
This is another game that started out as a pay-to-play game, but after finding themselves with a declining subscription base, they moved to a free-to-play model. Playing for free gives you access to all the content (i.e. there is nothing that "payers" get that you wouldn't), but people who choose to invest some money will not be disappointed. This game is definitely one of my personal favorites, as there isn't another quite like it. This could just be because I grew up watching Star Trek: The Next Generation, though (which is the era in which this game takes place).
At the time of this writing, they have just recently released a Romulan-based expansion, allowing for things like Romulan character creation and ship piloting, and exploration of a Romulan storyline.
- Americas Army 3 (Steam)
The United States Army released Americas Army in an attempt to boost recruitment numbers. Whether or not they succeeded in the endeavour, I cannot say, but what I can speak to is the following they created for the game they developed and published. This first-person shooter offers a few missions to get you familiarized with the mechanics of the play style, but the meat of the game is to the found in multiplayer. Team deathmatch rules supreme here, with most games simply pitting one side against the other. However, in many cases, the games run in rounds, meaning if you die in any given round, that's it until the next one!
- Quest for Glory II
This game is the second entry in the role-playing/action-adventure Quest for Glory (QFG) series by Sierra Entertainment, designed by Corey Cole and Lori Ann Cole. The QFGs, of which there were five, were primarily a point-and-click, cell-based game. That is, you click on a spot and that's where your character moves or interacts, and each area is located to the north, south, east or west of any other area (like a big checkerboad, but you only see one square at a time).
This particular entry in the series, released in 1990, was originally modeled on a typing gameplay, where you would type words to the interface (like "open door"), and your character would then execute them. However, fans of the series were not terribly fond of this deviation - hence why 3, 4, and 5 went back to point-and-click.
What are your favorite types of games?
Enter ADG Interactive. What they have done is rerelease (2008) the game with updated graphics and a point-and-click interface. They have taken great measures to remain true to the original, however, because every game in the series was loved by its fans for its fanficul nature, as well as its unique sense of humor. It's definitely worth a look.
The website and the wikipedia for the series can be found here:
Aion is another one of those massively multiplayer that has undergone a payment option transformation - that is, from a pay-to-play to a free-to-play system.. This particular entry hails from the other side of the world, coming from a company known as NCSoft, based in South Korea. This company makes a few other games such as Guild Wars and Guild Wars 2 (which are not free (but you only have to pay for the software once)).
Aion is different from most MMOs that we see here in the States in that it has a quicker pace and feel to the combat, normally associated with games played in Asia. However, this quick-feeling pace to the combat hides what's known as a "grind". When you have to spend a lot of time in the same place and/or doing the same thing, it's known as a grind. In Aion, grinding is almost a prerequisit, though they have worked to alleviate some of this aspect of the game due to player feedback. It's definitely something different - and you can fly!
Aion's official site:
Home of the Underdogs
Here at the end of this article, I will leave you with a favorite site of mine (even if I haven't used it in a while). This site is the Home of the Underdogs. The admin of this site has dedicated themselves to finding all of the best old games that have either gone out of copyright or were freeware to begin with, and listing them on her site. She is truly a pioneer in the field.
Old game heaven can be found here: