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    Best free games for 2020

    When you’re looking for the best free games on PC, what are you looking for? We think we’ve got you covered with our selection below, whether it’s browser games you can start playing instantly, free-to-play games to rival anything you’d spend money on, or downloadable games that you can play for a lifetime.
    The list is in no particular order, and is regularly updated as free games fall in and out of favour. In the most recent update, we’ve actually removed more games than we’ve added.
    As always, mods are excluded. Everything here is standalone and can be played without any mandatory purchases. Prefer videos to these chicken scratchings? Then the RPS video team has you covered, with their own picks for the best free PC games:


    Best free games

    Our picks for the best free games on PC are below. Don’t see a game that you think should be on this list, or looking for something different entirely? Let us know in the comments, or hop over to our picks of the best PC games to play right now. Otherwise, read on.



    Apex Legends

    “This is the best battle royale game we’re going to see for a long, long time.” So reads the RPS Apex Legends review, in words that could so easily have backfired. It’s been five months though, and those words seem more true than ever.
    Apelegs has more clever new ideas than you’ve got front teeth. Characters have abilities, gluing Overwatch style tactical consideration to last-squad-standing tension. The ping system has set a new industry standard for communication. Players can respawn, an idea so good that Fortnite couldn’t resist pinching it (as they should). Supply drops and supply ships give players objectives to pursue, zipwires and balloons give them exciting ways to get there. Or you can always just bumslide your way over. The bumslides are magnificent.
    Those slides feed into the real star of Apex’s show: the movement. Plenty of games let you climb, but few let you do it so quickly. The winner of a firefight is still normally whoever has better aim, but sometimes it’s the person who realised they could scrabble unexpectedly onto a box.
    When you marry that freedom of movement to large health pools for every player, you get encounters that evolve. Encounters you can escape. It’s a refreshing change of pace from Royales where death often arrives at the hands of enemies you never saw.
    Notes: The existence of a battle royale game set in the Titanfall universe was leaked on Reddit a couple of years before Apex Legends was announced. Most of the commenters dismissed the rumour as ridiculous, but it turned out to be a strategic leak by the game’s development team.
    What else should I be playing if I like this: Fortnite is the free-to-play battle royale frontrunner, whereas PUBG will cost you money and maintains more of the genre’s roots in military simulations.
    Where can I play it: Via EA Origin. Start at the official site.

    Dota 2

    Once you’ve played your first thousand of hours of Dota 2, it really starts to click. It’s a bottomless rabbit hole about two teams of wizards attempting to destroy each other’s rock garden. An average match lasts about an hour, as you and four other wizard-clickers weave a path through hundreds of characters, items and spells.
    Success hangs on a myriad of factors. You’ve got to think about positioning, teamwork, psychology, tempo. Every layer you peel back reveals another beneath it, a constant influx of considerations that frame the game in a whole new way. I’ve played Dota for nearly 4,000 hours. I could play it for 4,000 more, and I still wouldn’t understand it.
    While other MOBAs offer a rotating pool of free heros and make you buy your faves, every Dota hero is completely free. It’s a refreshingly generous business model that reflects yet another part of the game’s appeal: restricting your options simply wouldn’t work when countering your opponent’s hero choices can be so crucial.
    Dota defined a long phase of my (Matt’s) life, not least because of the people I met along the way. The journey towards mastery, or even competence, is laughably long. Rope along a friend or two, though, and it will be one of the most rewarding trips you’ll ever take.
    What else should I be playing if I like this: League Of Legends is Unreal to Dota 2’s Quake, also free-to-play, and you might enjoy its balance more. See also: about a half dozen other games which jumped into the genre and managed to survive. Alternatively, Dota Underlords is a free-to-play autobattler spin-off in the same setting and featuring the same characters.

    Dr. Langeskov The Tiger and The Terribly Cursed Emerald: A Whirlwind Heist

    It’s like the Stanley Parable but with more Simon Amstell. The voice of the broken comedian takes you through the backstage sections of a fictional videogame that you are supposed to be playing, always promising that you are next in line to play, in just a little moment, yes, very soon. Obviously, there are problems. The creators have been hit with a strike and the “game” won’t function properly. That means you are drafted in to press buttons, follow instructions and generally mess about behind the scenes of whatever appears to be happening to your unseen counterpart beyond the walls and separators of this silly set.
    It is far more “on-rails” than its office bound predecessor, but there are plenty of funny moments to be gained from disobedience. Second-guessing the narrator and refusing to go where he says or do what he wants leads to insistent complaining. It is also one of a rising breed: games about games, although it’s much more light-hearted than it’s paid-for counterpoint, The Beginner’s Guide. In many ways they are two sides of the same meta-fictional coin. That makes sense, since Dr. Langeskov’s development was led by The Stanley Parable’s William Pugh, while The Beginner’s Guide development was led by The Stanley Parable’s Davey Wreden.
    What else should I be playing if I like this: The Beginner’s Guide, The Stanley Parable, The Static Speaks My Name.
    Where can I play it: Get it on Itch.io or Steam


    Open Transport Tycoon Deluxe

    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 25 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 America 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 25 years to OpenTTD.
    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 play it: Official site


    Path Of Exile

    Path Of Exile is a gore-slick and intricate action RPG with a refreshingly antipodean setting and voice cast. While it may escalate into near-fractal complexity, it starts out as simply as any Diablo or Torchlight: you walk around, you bash monsters, you level and loot, and become an ever-more powerful bringer of death.
    While some parts of the game are intimidating (the passive skill grid, while not as complex as it looks, is frightening at first glance), some of its ideas are elegant. Potions refill themselves when you deal damage. Hit monsters to earn HP and MP restoration, encouraging aggression and constant chugging. Your character’s abilities aren’t class based either, but bestowed by socketed gems which synergise with each other. A large damage-over-time projectile only gets better if you pair it with a gem that slows but amplifies a projectile’s power.
    The early stages of the game are an almost absurd power trip, as the huge number of options available to you all turn you into a huge machine of death. If you want to survive the endgame however, you’ll need to make some careful choices regarding your character build – or just follow a guide you found online.
    While a loot and levelling-heavy free-to-play game could be an exploitative mess, Grinding Gear Games have striven to keep the game’s business model ‘ethical’. The game is free. Every class, every dungeon, every piece of loot is earned by playing normally, with no shortcuts available. No boosters, no early unlocks. The only advantage that money can buy is additional cross-character storage space. Handy to have if you’ve been playing for months, but you won’t feel the need to expand until after beating the game at least once. Beyond that, you can buy fancy character skins (appealing, considering the improvised look of much of PoE’s armour), but it’s something to consider paying for after you’ve decided you like the game.
    What else should I be playing if I like this: Diablo 3. It’s not free but Blizzard’s updates have altered or fixed most of the major issues it had back at launch.
    Where can I play it: Official site and Steam

    Team Fortress 2

    Team Fortress 2 was released 12 years ago, but you wouldn’t know it to look at it. For starters, its cartoon art style is as impressive now as it was at the time. Polygon counts don’t matter when we’re talking about colour choice, animation, or how much personality is expressed through character design. There have obviously been other cartoon-like games in the years since, but none do as good job of communicating through design as TF2. Example: you can tell what kind of character class the Heavy is just to look at him.
    Beyond the art, the game feels modern because it re-made the formula for online shooters in its own image. TF2 turned the drip-feed of new levels and weapons – familiar if you were a Counter-Strike player already – into a part of the game’s entertainment. Patch notes were accompanied by blog posts filled with jokes; new modes came with in-game develpoer commentary; every major update and character got not a trailer, but a finely scripted and animated short film. MMOs were already doing the games-as-a-service thing, but none with so much craft and care.
    Those updates have dried up now, as Valve’s focus has moved onto other things (some of which also feature in this list), but thankfully Team Fortress 2 remains great fun to play. Its initial strength was in making explicit through design the natural dynamics that would happen on multiplayer servers. In-game taunts and rivalries took text-based smack talk and made it a part of the fiction. The ability for Medics to ubercharge comrades was the perfect antidote to chokepoint-based stalemates. Spies could have the fantasy of sneaking around the bowel’s of an enemy base, while Scouts and Soldiers basically played Quake.
    The neatness of this design has been lost to updates which added new abilities, effectively creating sub-classes for each of the nine characters, and at the same time making it harder to read what’s happening moment-to moment when you don’t understand what weapon your opponent is using. But what it has lost in neatness, it’s gained in variety, and I wouldn’t give up my Sniper’s bow and arrow for any perceived purity.
    As for its free-to-play trappings: its mostly hats, which I’ve never spent a penny on. You can also unlock crates for a chance at getting new weapons, but they’re also craftable if you don’t want to spend anything.
    What else should I be playing if I like this: Overwatch takes a lot of Team Fortress 2’s ideas and carries them forward. It also leaves certain ideas behind, like the ability to throw jars of piss at people, so you can decide where your interests lie.
    Where can I play it: Steam

    Alien Swarm

    Remember when Valve released a game for free? Not free-to-play, just free. It’s called Alien Swarm, it’s a standalone follow-up to a mod, and it’s Valve’s first released game that wasn’t a first-person shooter. Instead Alien Swarm is a four-player co-op game in which you control a character from above as you fight swarms of… yeah. You do so as one of four classes: Medic, Officer, Special Weapons and Tech, who have distinct abilities such as hacking doors, placing turrets, and healing teammates, but who all spend most of their time popping bugs with shotguns and machineguns.
    Alien Swarm is simple and around three-hours long, but it’s as well crafted as everything Valve does. That’s in large part due to the level design, which funnels you and your enemies into chokepoints, dramatic last stands, and achingly long waits for slow moving elevators.
    What else should I be playing if I like this: Try Left 4 Dead, which has similar co-op ideas but in first-person and with funny writing.
    Where can I play it: Steam



    And the award for most improved free-to-play game goes to Warframe. In fact, ‘improved’ does Digital Extremes’ space ninja looter-shooter a great disservice; it’s almost unrecognisable from what launched in 2013. What was once a handful of level tilesets to endlessly grind through is now a proper solar system, featuring two vast open world areas, a Gundam-like suit for dogfighting missions, a hoverboard (swapping resource grinding for handrail grinding), a series of AI companions (ranging from a mini-Metal Gear to a full-on space wolf) and a roster of 66 Warframes to learn and master. It makes Destiny look like a tiddler.
    Everything can be earned for free, but it requires patience and regular consulting of a Warframe wiki to parse the baffling din of terminology and options available from the start. The game has a new player problem and is in the midst of fixing it with a rework of the story’s opening, including a new cinematic intro and revamped tutorials. But once you cut through the noise and find the basic throughline you’ll amass weapons and suits and lose yourself in a deep modding system. And the game has added so many story quests and new locations that it’s going to take over a hundred hours before you really begin to hit serious grind. Any by that point DE will have probably added a whole lot more.
    More than anything, Warframe is a great advert for itself. Every level you’re surrounded with co-op partners doing seemingly impossible space magics with their alien frames; it’s a tantalizing glimpse of your potential future, and, as long as you resist the siren call of a Platinum currency purchase, all the inspiration you need to put your head down and grind your way through the shopping list of required ingredients. And with the upcoming Empyrean update set to add spaceships, multi-squad co-op and a Shadow of Morder-ish nemesis system, that to do list is only going to grow.

    What else should I be playing if I like this: For free? Eesh. There’s not a lot out there. In terms of vibe, there’s a bit of Destiny in the mix, but Warframe is much deeper.

    Where can I play it: Official site or Steam.



    World Of Tanks

    I played World Of Tanks for the first time out of professional curiosity, expecting to find it too grognard-y, too clunky, too free-to-play. Instead I was hooked pretty much immediately, because it scratched a Counter-Strike-shaped itch on my back. In each WoT round, small teams of players, each controlling their own tank, rush out from their starting positions to do battle across mid-sized maps that alternate open areas and claustrophobic chokepoints. The tactics required are all about positioning: how do you get an angle on an enemy without exposing the vulnerable side of the angry house you’re driving? Can you position yourself on that elevated ridge such that your artillery tank can hit its target, without simultaneously exposing yourself to a half dozen enemies rolling around below?
    Those artillery tanks are a particular favourite, because they’re basically snipers – snipers with the ability to view their targets from a magical top-down perspective. This feels like it should be ridiculously overpowered, but you’re still burdened by both needing line of sight, and having to lead your shots to account for the long travel time on each shell fired.
    I played World Of Tanks for a merry twenty hours and never spent a penny, which is why I’ve included it here. There are definitely high level tanks which will take a huge grind to unlock unless you spring for them with real money, but the last time I played, that wasn’t an obstacle to having fun or to destroying a few enemies.
    What else should I be playing if I like this: World Of Warplanes and World Of Warships, presumably, which trade the tanks for planes and warships respectively, within much the same round structure and progression systems. Tanks are better than planes and boats though.
    Where can I play it: Official site



    A particular era of the internet is coming back to haunt us. A time when gifs were made of spinning skulls, and shining banners implored us to sign Angelfire guestbooks. Tetrageddon knows that era all too well. It replicates a broken desktop full of secrets, games, faux viruses, virtual pets and looping sounds. It is an almost-overwhelming box of weird treats.
    At first glance it seems like it might just be a strange library of the creator’s previous games – Froggy, Anatomically Incorrect Dinosaurs, and so on. It is a library, you’re right, but it is so much more than that. Click around and discover the adventure of the cyber monkey, the despondency of the glitchbot, a frightened being called Igor trapped in lost windows, the flirtbot who apologises for being rude. Perhaps one day you will see it all. Perhaps.
    What else should I be playing if I like this: Hypnospace Outlaw costs money but goes down a similar gif-strewn road, as you solve mysteries in an Angelfire/Geocities-inspired retro internet.
    Where can I play it: Download it from GameJolt or play a smaller web version here

    Battle For Wesnoth

    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.
    What else should I be playing if I like this: Battle Brothers is a turn-based strategy game set in a fantasy world about hiring and maintaining a band of mercenaries. It’ll cost you monies, though.
    Where can I play it: Official site


    ‘Roguelikes in ASCII are ugly!’ Except that Brogue’s shimmering colours depict floating gases and flowing liquids and surprising caves with style. ‘Roguelikes in ASCII are inaccessible!’ Except that Brogue’s mouse-controls makes it a cinch to move around, allow you to hover over each item on screen and discover what it is, and to focus on moving forward towards the anecdotes that await you.
    And that’s the best thing about Brogue: you can’t play it without coming away with a story to tell. Of a potion you slugged which cast you down into the depths. Of a frog who poisoned you and made you mistake a rat for a vampire. Of a monkey you saved, who became your ally, and then broke your heart. If you’re going to play one traditional roguelike, make it this one.
    What else should I be playing if I like this: ZangbandTK is harder to get into but bigger and still brilliant.
    Where can I play it: Official site

    Butterfly Soup

    Butterfly Soup is a visual novel set in America about queer Asian girls playing baseball. The lead character, Diya, is Indian-American, a high school student, and a lesbian growing to understand her feelings for her friend Min-seo. The rest of the cast is similarly inclusive, but what makes the game great is that it moves the characters beyond the labels attached to them, and depicts them as whole people.
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    That’s in part thanks to a thick streak of the relatably mundane which runs through the game: Diya is grappling with those feelings for Min-seo, but she’s also stressing about school, chatting about baseball, going to the mall, and rushing excitedly towards potential dogs. The game is mostly made up of conversations, taking place with friends around town or in IM conversations, but those conversations aren’t structured around currying favour or attaining a goal. Instead, they’re written with a light touch and a lot of humour. There’s a haziness to it that makes it easy to fall in love with the characters and their warmth towards one another after spending just 15 minutes with them.
    What else should I be playing if I like this: Doki Doki Literature Club, for a similarly modern indie take on visual novels, elsewhere on this list. Alternatively, Heaven Will Be Mine for another queer visual novel, only with mech pilots.
    Where can I play it: Itch.io


    You automatically run from left to right, which means Canabalt is controlled using only a single button. That button is used to make your sprinting character jump, and by pressing it at the right time you’ll leap between rooftops, leap through windows, leap on to destructive machinery, and live out the fantasy of a cinematic, science fictional escape sequence. Canabalt’s popularity on mobile has somewhat obscured what a clever, clean piece of design it is, and how fun.
    What else should I be playing if I like this: Robot Unicorn Attack is a less austere infinite runner, and places elsewhere on this list.
    Where can I play it: The free browser version can be found on the Canabalt official site

    Cataclysm Dark Days Ahead

    One of the most complex and initially intimidating games in existence, Cataclysm: Dark Days Ahead is also one of the best, should you be able and willing to navigate the learning curve. It’s the post-apocalyptic survival simulator that games like DayZ aspire to be, packed with the unexpected and terrifyingly complex. You can repair a car and mow through crowds of zombies but you’ll also need to keep an eye on your supplies of food and drink. Cataclysm is a full-featured life simulator that just so happens to take place when there’s little life left in the world.
    What else should I be playing if I like this: Neo Scavenger is another remarkable take on post-civilisation roleplaying, with a superb, brutal and terrifying combat system.
    Where can I play it: Official site

    Desktop Dungeons

    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 make 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.
    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 play it: Official site

    Doki Doki Literature Club

    Doki Doki Literature Club follows the template of a thousand other visual novels: you’re a non-descript teenaged boy in a Japanese high school who decides to join a new after-school club. There in the literature club of the title, you meet four cute anime girls, and the (very occasional) choices you make amid reams of dialogue and description determine which of those girls grow to like you.
    It’s sweet, and well-written as far as these things go, but also horribly cliché. If you like these kinds of games, stop reading now and go start playing. If you’re wondering why something supposedly so generic is appearing on this list however, I’ll quote just one extra line that appears at the start of the game.
    “This game is not suitable for children or those who are easily disturbed.”
    There is, needless to say, more to Doki Doki Literature Club than meets the eye. The content warning necessarily tips the game’s hand, but it also improves its early sections, when you might otherwise have given up. When whatever is going to happen eventually happens in the game – and to describe it at all would be to spoil the fun – Doki Doki turns from a standard genre pastiche into one of the best narrative games of the past few years. If you need even more convincing than that, and don’t mind spoilers for the entire game, then read one of our articles on the game.
    Notes: The game was released for free, but there’s a “Fan Pack” available for £7 that includes a soundtrack, some making-of materials and other ephemera.
    What else should I be playing if I like this: Butterfly Soup, also on this list, if you want a similarly modern indie visual novel, albeit one focused on comedy rather than… this.
    Where can I play it: Steam

    Dungeon Crawl Stone Soup

    Some roguelikes contain everything but the kitchen sink. Others throw in the kitchen sink for good measure. Stone Soup is one of the best traditional roguelikes in existence but many of its strengths are due to the knowledge of its own limitations. Rather than including every possible thing, Stone Soup is a condensed dungeon crawl (although it’s an expanded Dungeon Crawl, the 1997 Linley’s Dungeon Crawl being the base on which it is built). It’s packed with things to see, do and be, but rarely becomes overwhelming. Balanced, user-friendly and beatable in a single lifetime, Stone Soup is one of the best starting points for anyone interested in exploring the roots of the genre that has cast its shadow over so many modern games, from Spelunky to FTL.
    What else should I be playing if I like this: Start with ADOM, TOME and Brogue, maybe.
    Where can I play it: Official site

    Dwarf Fortress

    “Etar Patternedtombs was a mint green demon. It was the only one of its kind. A gigantic feathered ass twisted into humanoid form. It undulates rhythmically. Its mint green feathers are patchy. Beware its deadly gas!”
    But enough about your dad – let’s talk about Dwarf Fortress.
    Dwarf Fortress is a fantasy simulation game that’s become famous for the endless anecdotes produced by the collision of its teeming forts, its emotionally unstable dwarves, and a world of elves and goblins and terrible hellbeasts that want to destroy them. It’s also infamous for its obtuse interface, which by default renders the world’s absurd detail with simple ASCII graphics. If you can overcome such challenges to your patience – and there are plenty of friendly tile graphic sets – then what awaits you inside is a management game unlike any other, with characters whose fingernails grow, who mourn the death of their pets, whose grief can trigger city-destroying events, and who write poetry about their infinite sadness. Even if you can’t play Dwarf Fortress as a management game or in its more accessible roguelike adventure mode, it’s worth following it as a decades-long, one-of-a-kind development project. It is, despite appearances, the most ambitious game ever made.
    What else should I be playing if I like this: Prison Architect offers a similar simulation and building game, but about prisons and with less of a focus on individuals. RimWorld is smaller scale but applies Dwarf Fortress’ formula to a space colony.
    Where can I play it: Official site

    Gravity Bone

    Gravity Bone seemed to land fully formed. It opens with you descending in an elevator, gazing through grating towards a colourful party scene. Distant biplanes are flying against the blue sky. The architecture is unusually yellow. Latin music is playing. There’s a card in your hand which, with simple instructions, gives you your mission. It seeds a feeling of adventure and mischief in mere seconds.
    Everything that follows keeps up the wit and lightness of spirit. Gravity Bone is a story of espionage, assassination, double-crosses, thrilling chases, and it makes use of quick cuts and techniques borrowed from film in a way that’s still fresh now. Best of all, it’s funny. There’s no dialogue, but chasing a thief down the length of a long dining table while glasses explode underfoot is a physical and visual setpiece designed to make you chuckle.
    I say that it seemed to land fully formed because, in reality, Gravity Bone is something like the fifth entry in the Citizen Abel series, each one of which is a Quake or Quake 2 mod. Brendon Chung learned his craft over years of practice, but you don’t need to have played any of the preceding mods to understand or appreciate Gravity Bone.
    What else should I be playing if I like this: We just told you! Thirty Flights of Loving is worth picking up, but perhaps more so is Chung’s hack ‘n’ heist game, Quadrilateral Cowboy.
    Where can I play it: Official site


    Super Hexagon is the paid-for and better version of this game, no doubt, but the core pleasure of it is so simple that the free version is still brilliant if you’re hard-up for cash. You control a small triangle that you’re able to rotate around a central point, and by doing so you must squeeze through the gaps of a maze that’s constantly throbbing, dancing and contracting towards you. That’s it. It’s completely simple, but also perfectly formed. By offering quick restarts, and always feeling responsive to control, you’ll soon shift from only ever lasting a few seconds per life to skirting the edge of survival for minutes at a time. The maze will keep moving faster and faster towards you, but it’s never frustrating and always exhilarating. Play it.
    What else should I be playing if I like this: Canabalt has a similarly frenetic, high-score-chasing sense of speed and simplicity, perfect for mobile or minutes skiving off work.
    Where can I play it: Official site

    Murder Dog IV: Trial of the Murder Dog

    “My Taste For Bloodshed Remains Voluminous” – The Murder Dog
    thecatamites’ back catalogue contains some of the richest gems in gaming. Absurdly comic and often violent, they’re wonderfully expressive pieces of writing that deconstruct gaming conventions. Importantly, they’re not simply parodies, however, instead using the structure of point and click gaming in a way reminiscent of an absurd playwright’s use of the artificial nature of the stage to communicate meaning. Murder Dog is silly, inventive and bizarre, but it’s also startlingly clever.
    What else should I be playing if I like this: Everything else thecatamites has ever made, starting with Goblet Grotto, Space Funeral and Crime Zone.
    Where can I play it: Game Jolt, Official site


    N’s single-screen levels have umpteen methods of tearing apart your tiny stick-figure ninja and sending his parts flinging across the level. What makes it worth persevering with is its physics, which are a joy to learn to manipulate. Whether it’s air control, wall jumping, bounding up ramps just so in order to launch yourself to greater heights, N is precise and rewards your practice with a graceful replay of your ultimate success.
    There’s more variety here than in many paid-for alternatives, too, owing to the game’s menagerie of different enemies types. Sliding electroshock droids, slow-targeting lasers, heat-seeking missiles, squashing blocks, mines, and many more; there’s more to learn to master in N than simply spikes to avoid.
    There are paid-for versions of the game available, N+ and N++, with better presentation and music, but the free N2.0 still has hundreds of levels, the ability to watch replays of other player’s fastest times with the click of a button, and all the satisfying platforming a person could want.
    What else should I be playing if I like this: N++ was released recently for monies, and its music and presentation and new levels are very nice. Otherwise, the original free Meat Boy is great, too.
    Where can I play it: Official site


    I was working in an office in 2008 when QWOP was released and it turns out the game is a spectator sport. As players desperately tapped at Q, W, O and P to individually pump thighs and calves and try to propel their sprinter more than a few feet down the track, crowds would gather behind them to laugh, to jeer, to holler. Now there are dozens of games offering slapstick physics – Gang Beasts, Human Fall Flat, et al – but QWOP is still one of the few to elicit that response over and over. That’s because where other comparable ‘control the limb’ games are outwardly silly, there’s a semblance of dignity to your QWOP athlete. He wants to be upright. He wants to run. He’s just forgotten how to use his legs, is all.
    CLOP is extremely similar, which is why we’ve cheekily paired them together here. You’re still using the four letters in the game’s name to pump legs, but now they’re the four legs of a unicorn trying to climb a gentle incline. It is a delight.
    What else should I be playing if I like this: Bennet Foddy’s GIRP, which casts you as a shirtless rock climber where G, I, R and P correspond to locations where your hands and feet can connect with the wall you’re climbing. Beware of the bird.
    Where can I play it: Official site

    Robot Unicorn Attack

    Canabalt is the slicker, more polished infinite runner, but Robot Unicorn Attack has a robot unicorn, stars to collect, boulders to dash-attack, and Always by Erasure playing on repeat as you try and try to beat your high score. If any of those things make it sound like a novelty, then go, play it, and see if it doesn’t grip you. The music is repetitive, but it puts you into a kind of trance. The art is crude, but colourful and relaxing and fun. The variation in the position and distance between platforms feels occasionally unfair, but bursting through those boulders is more satisfying even than Canabalt’s windows.
    What else should I be playing if I like this: Canabalt, obviously, if you’re looking for another endless runner. CLOP if you’re looking for another game about a unicorn. Any other song by Erasure on Spotify, if you like Always.
    Where can I play it: It was picked up by Adult Swim at some point, but the official page doesn’t seem to work anymore. Play it here instead.


    Released in 2003, Samorost is a point-and-click adventure that forgoes many of the normal trappings of the genre. There are no dialogue trees, no inventory items, and you don’t directly control its main character. Instead you solve its puzzles by playfully clicking on scenery in order to discover the path forward, and the joy comes from the beauty, strangeness and gentle humour of that world. A world in which character’s inhabit planets built from tree roots, which can be travelled between by piloting soda can rocketships, and where progress might be achieved by getting a man stoned or by unfurling a proboscis into a tree’s mouth.
    Samorost’s texture and pace is unusual, and it holds more in common with old, strange children’s fiction like the Moomins than it does the other games on this list. There have been two bigger, prettier sequels that you can buy, but the first Samorost game is still wonderful 12 years after its release, and you can play it for free in your browser right now.
    What else should I be playing if I like this: Samorosts 2 and 3 obviously, but also Amanita Design’s other games, Machinarium and Botanicula. The former is a more traditional point-and-click adventure about a telescoping robot and the latter is a weird world of plants, seeds and dark spiders, with a soundtrack by Czech band Dva.
    Where can I play it: Official site


    This list isn’t in order anymore, but Spelunky – Spelunky! Spelunky. Spelunky. Spelunky. Spelunky – was in the top spot when it was. If there was still a top spot to be had, it’d still be there now.
    Spelunky isn’t just the best free game ever. It’s also probably, maybe definitely, the best game ever. And it’s not because of its procedural level generation, or the mixture of roguelike and platforming that spawned a genre of imitators, but because of the design of its items, traps and enemies. Spelunky is a tightly wound machine, precision-engineered to create moments of anticipation, drama and comedy.
    Anticipation. You’re stood upon a ledge looking down at two spike traps, a caveman and a man-eating plant. You know that you should drop calmly atop a spike trap, jump on to the other, and then over and away from plant and man.
    Drama. You make the leap and immediately overshoot it, missing the surface of the first spike trap and instead grabbing onto its side. You are moments away from being spiked to instant death.
    Comedy. You leap away from the spike trap just in time, but in your panic dive directly into the mouth of the waiting plant. You are dead.
    Or maybe you carry out this simple challenge perfectly but some levels later are floating towards an exit when you are defeated by an inanimate rock. It leaps up off a bounce pad and hits you on the head, knocking you unconscious. Before you can wake, it hits you again. And again. And again. You are dead.
    Or maybe you get much further, gather the tools needed to reach the city of gold, and gently set down your just collected Scepter while you bomb through a wall. But the splash damage of the bombs propel the scepter backwards, over a ledge, and directly onto your head. You are dead.
    Spelunky doesn’t have the brighter high definition art of its paid-for remake, Spelunky HD, nor its co-op or daily challenge modes. But it is still a masterclass of game design; a perfect loop of rules for creating infinite fun situations. And free!
    What else should I be playing if I like this: As always, the paid-for release. Dungeons of Dredmor, for a similarly accessible take on old roguelike formulas. Or Binding of Isaac, for something as deep and as rewarding.
    Where can I play it: Official site

    Super Crate Box

    Vlambeer are known today for Nuclear Throne. And Luftrausers. And Ridiculous Fishing. But before they became the reigning kings of “game feel”, they proved their skill by releasing Super Crate Box, a free, single-screen shooter. It has two rules: one, enemies flow along platforms from top to bottom, and if they fall into the firepit at the end, they re-appear at the top in faster, angrier form; two, you score points by collecting the crates that drop at regular intervals, but each crate also randomly replaces your weapon.
    These two rules, when combined, create a game which is frantic but tactical. You’ll be battling to keep the crowd under control, but while one moment your melee weapon will require you to get close, the next you’ll have a rocket launcher and be trying to keep out of the blast zone. It’s an exhilarating score attack game – and yes, it feels great.
    What else should I be playing if I like this: Nuclear Throne takes everything Vlambeer know about gun feel and applies it to a top-down shooter. It costs money but it is also Quite Good.
    Where can I play it: Steam, Official site

    The Grow Series

    The Grow games are one of the proudest relics in the enormous, mixed bag of Flash gaming. In each, the title of the game is also the objective and sole instruction. Make things grow. The ‘things’ in question vary from one game to the next, and as the setting and objects alter so does the apparent genre of the game you’re playing. Perhaps it’s a God game in which you’re creating a world or maybe an RPG in which you’re guiding a hero through a series of quests. Whatever setting and theme they tackle, the Grow games are perfect little toys, in which the mouse cursor and a series of clicks are tools for creation.
    What else should I be playing if I like this: Vectorpark’s games, Windowsill and Metamorphabet, are similarly charming and surreal.
    Where can I play it: Official site

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