July's best free PC games

Lewis Denby at

Sanctuary 17
Twofold Secret. Play online.

Sanctuary 17 is low-fi, simplistic and slow. On the surface it looks excruciatingly dull. But I absolutely love it.

It's an impressively atmospheric top-down survival horror game, which sees you exploring an abandoned cave network in some unspecified sci-fi universe. There are great stretches of pitch-darkness with nothing much going on, only for you to suddenly wander into an unexpected enemy trap. Interesting, challenging and genuinely frightening at times, Sanctuary 17's dark story is one that's absolutely worth unravelling.

Not the most exciting screenshot, but this is what the game looks like most of the time.

Moonbase Alpha
NASA. Get it on Steam.

It's a game made by NASA. NASA! How awesome is that? They've explored the deepest of outer space, and now they're making computer games. Free game of the month, for that alone.

Moonbase Alpha is a game about being a repairman on the moon. Which... isn't quite the most exciting premise for a game set on the moon, granted. But it's also a co-op game. And with friends by your side, there's actually a lot of fun to be had - even if it's simply in jumping around and cracking jokes about how you're "over the moon" that NASA has decided to branch out into game development.

Impressively, though, it does actually control a lot like I'd imagine being on the moon would feel. It's delightfully floaty, intentionally sluggish, and really rather like trudging through low-gravity. Either like that or playing The Path, anyway.

Like going to the moon, except less hassle.

The Silver Lining - Episode One
Phoenix Online Studios. Download it here.

That this has been released at all is a wonderful achievement for its amateur development team. This fan-made King's Quest game was crushed by the big stampy legal boots of Activision earlier in the year, after eight years in development. This is after the team had already been given the official go-ahead by Sierra/Vivendi, who are owned by Activision and are original intellectual property holders of the franchise.

It was an inexplicable act of ludicrous proportions. There's not been a King's Quest game in 12 years, for example. And Pheonix Online had not intended to profit from the IP, either - The Silver Lining was always to be a free download, its creators making it out of their love of King's Quest and of game development.

But! Activision relented, and a deal was struck. And now the first episode of The Silver Lining is out, and is an incredibly, extraordinarily professional effort. Those eight years of hard work have paid off, and it's such a tremendous achievement for its tiny developers: not only have they released a game, but they've released an excellent game, against the mighty will and legal gusto of one of the world's largest publishers. Hats off to you, Phoenix!

Yeah, take THAT, Activision.

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