This week's best free PC games
Despite a certain tower defense game having gone free-to-play, this week's 'towering achievement' (ha!) is a game about a dog being charged for several counts of murder. Murder Dog IV (even though it's the first game) is exceptionally strange, but once you get into it it's surprisingly invigorating. I love that so many free indie releases seem to fall into that camp. Read on for more information on that, as well as Newerth, Soul King and Alight (In Dreams).
Heroes of Newerth
S2 Games. Sign up on the official website.
Hey, look, Heroes of Newerth is free-to-play now! It's a tower defense/strategy hybrid along the lines of Defense of the Ancients and League of Legends - and, in fact, designed to maintain that game's hardcore attitude. Across a multiplayer arena you'll take control of a selection of 'heroes' as you do battle.
It's tightly designed and often rewarding - if you're good enough. Last time I checked, I wasn't. And people weren't happy about that. HoN's community, historically, has been extremely unforgiving to those who don't know what they're doing. It is not a beginner-friendly game.
Presumably this free version is designed to help mitigate that in some ways. It requires you to purchase tokens to play certain game modes or as certain characters. Pay some money or play for long enough and your account will be upped to 'verified', which means you can play games against only others who have verified accounts - hopefully this will mean the new players can learn in peace while the experienced guys get on with their own fun.
(There's more info on Heroes' free-to-play version in our big ol' interview!)
Jarod Long, Lauren Careccia, Brad Snyder. Play it on Long's website.
Created as part of a development competition on enormo-web-community Something Awful, Soul Tax sees you taking control of a ghost, possessing people and ultimately killing them. This is because you owe eight years' worth of 'soul tax' - although you didn't know it. Since you died all that time ago, you've been happily plodding along doing meagre little hauntings... but now Death has shown up, and it turns out you were supposed to have been harvesting souls for him since the moment you died.
It's kept fresh by the new abilities that your victims acquire throughout the game. Which, of course, means more tricks up your sleeve when you possess them. In what is essentially a very simple game, seeing what's around the corner in this way proves rather satisfying.
Is also knowingly silly, and well-written. I laughed a lot. Maybe I'm just weird, but this is right up my alley.
Alight (In Dreams)
Twofold Secret. Play it on Newgrounds.
In this exploration-platformer, you play through a man's dream. He's dreaming that he's in the house he grew up in, he can smell smoke, and he has wings. He dreams of flying a lot, he says.
Outside, the garden disappears into a void, but platforms lead over to the other side. Naturally, you begin jumping. Your wings don't really let you fly; you can ride on currents, but generally you're limited to a triple-jump system that feels both adequate for what you need to do, and restrictive enough to make the game impressively stifling despite its freedom.
As you explore the world, across a series of levels, the man delivers chunks of monologue which go some way to explaining what on Earth all this is about. The story itself isn't especially surprising, but the writing is always strong and understated, and for a game that's so low-def it absolutely exudes character. Artful but not pretentious, this is well worth a try.
Murder Dog IV: Trial of the Murder Dog
Thecatamites. Download it from GameJolt.
The weirdness of this game cannot be understated. For one thing, it's called Murder Dog IV, but I cannot find any evidence of Murder Dogs I, II or III. And for another, it's a game in which you play as a dog, defending yourself in court as you stand accused of several gruesome murders.
It's obvious you've done it, the game tells you, so it's about generating an understanding of how the court works, and manipulating the evidence to go in your favour.
This is achieved in a manner not entirely unlike the Nintendo DS series Ace Attourney. Only more PC and more indie. You have an interface via which you can use, eat or destroy evidence/jurors/witnesses. But eating a witness probably isn't going to help your case that well.
You'll also be cross-examining people and generally doing what you'd expect a murderous dog in a courtroom to do, I guess. Supremely funny in its own special way - and there's a surprisingly in-depth game lurking below the surreal comedy.