This week's best free PC games
This is a good week for those of you who like Pac-Man. Two new interpretations of the classic arcade game lie nestled below - about as far apart in style as you can imagine, but both an inordinate amount of fun. Elsewhere, there's a first-person shooter that has no right to be as enjoyable as it is, and a first-person puzzle game that I'm sort of breaking the rules for. Because it's a game from Valve, and one of my favourite games in the world. You understand, right? Read on for this week's freebie picks...
Valve. Get it from Steam. But hurry up!
I never thought for a minute that I would get the chance to write about Portal in this column. But by way of sneaky half-rule-breaking, I do. Because one of the greatest PC games ever made is now free - not forever, but until Tuesday, which is enough days away from the time of writing that I've decided it still counts.
You know the score, surely. It's a first-person puzzle game in which you fire one portal to jump through and another portal to emerge from. In doing so you'll learn to overcome a variety of increasingly complex environmental obstacles, and Valve's expert level design means that while you'll scratch your head on a number of occasions, you'll always experience the most beautiful moment of realisation when you work out how to apply your existing knowledge to a new scenario.
It's made even better by a fabulous story, one that starts with refreshing subtlety but builds, slowly, suspensefully, before releasing in a phenomenally climactic final hour. It's one of the most dazzling, innovative, smart and hilarious computer games ever made, and if you haven't tried it yet, you now have absolutely no excuses. Grab it before the 20th, and three of the most special gaming hours you'll have are yours to keep forever.
RWSB Games. Grab it from IndieDB.
Digmaan is a game made in First-Person Shooter Creator, which always sets alarm bells ringing. It's fixed-resolution, blocky, doesn't like widescreen formats, and textures occasionally clip and overlap with one another. One time an enemy fell out of the game, and another time one got stuck in a wall. It's an ugly, broken mess, carried by a story so flimsy it might as well not be there: the aliens are invading, and via some sort of unexplained teleportation and regeneration science you're taking them on... while your army buddies stand around doing not very much at all.
But my goodness, there's the basis of something good here. Your extra-terrestrial foes attack from a distance with pinpoint laser accuracy. At first I thought it was just awful game coding. I kind of still think that. But it works. This is a game where it only takes a hits of bullets to fell a foe, just as it only takes them a few shots to down you. It's extremely rare to be able to get close enough to see an enemy in all its gruesome glory - most of the time, you're crouching behind cover, sprinting from place to place, popping up every now and then to take a pot-shot in the hope of landing a bullet where it needs to go. You'll die a lot, but you respawn nearby with the world as you left it, BioShock-style, so it never gets too frustrating (unless you completely run out of ammo, with no way of finding any more, which caused me to reload an earlier save a couple of times).
It's hideously unpolished, in the way that all FPSC games are. But it's also got more of a spark, more tension and atmosphere, than any I've played before.
Royal Paw. Download it from the dev's website.
It's an absolutely brilliant idea. Pac-Man, reimagined as a roguelike - a version in which you can take your time, eat one pellet at once, plan your moves, and utilise inventory items on your quest to rid the levels of foes.
And it is a proper quest, too. There's nothing in-game to explain it, but the readme file comes equipped with a big story, explaining why you're here. You're an explorer, searching for the revered Mace of Four Winds. And you've finally laid your hands on it, at the bottom of a massive network of caves. The only problem is, having stowed it away in your backpack, you've realised it's haunted. And that's why you're in trouble.
Amusingly, there's even combat, in the most perfunctory sense: you simply move into a ghost to battle it, and the game tells you how much damage you're doing to one another with each press of an arrow key. This is a really smart reinterpretation of a classic. I think you'll like it a lot.
Nyarlu Labs. Download it from the developer's site.
Another interpretation of Pac-Man, Forget-Me-Not is about as far removed from its slow, careful pace as it's possible to get. This is Pac-Man reimagined as an even faster-paced arcade game, one in which a whole load of other game mechanics come into play.
Originally released on iOS, Forget-Me-Not sees you shooting your way around procedurally-generated levels that fall apart under the strain of your blasting. As well as collecting pellets, you'll automatically fire at anything in your way - which sounds simple enough until a bit of the map breaks off, forms a wormhole that loops it back round behind you, and you suddenly realise you're about to die because you've been shooting your own behind for the last ten seconds.
Power-ups can be exploded for extra goodies, and they keep appearing for as long as you'd like them to, so it's tempting to stick around in a level past the point where you could move onto the next one. Take too long, though, and everything goes dark, a ghost appears, and it's a race for the finish line before you're doomed.
I'm almost certain that, in my half-hour or so spent becoming hopelessly addicted to the game, I haven't seen anything close to every secret it has to offer. You can even have a go in two-player mode. It's fabulous. Thanks eternally to Phil_Lapineau for pointing it out in last week's comments thread.