This week's best free PC games
There's something almost eerily timeless about the best point-and-click adventures: despite showing its age on the surface, Broken Sword: The Shadow of the Templars still feels fresh and interesting once you get past certain elements of its presentation. It's 15 years old now. Can you believe that? Elsewhere, this week's pick of free games includes a Twin Peaks game that wishes it were on the Atari, a Tycoon game about kidnapping people and forcing them to join your cult, and an interactive fiction piece that sees the final dress rehearsal for a play going disastrously wrong. Read on to find out why you should play them...
Broken Sword: The Shadow of the Templars (Director's Cut)
Revolution Software. Grab it from Good Old Games.
All these years later, Broken Sword remains a twee but relentlessly charming point-and-click adventure, telling the story of George Stobbart - an American tourist whose Parisian holiday is cut somewhat short when the cafe at which he's drinking decides to blow up. And a clown flees the scene of the apparent crime. I feel as though more games should start like this.
However, this isn't the start of the Director's Cut, which adds a good half hour of playable content onto the beginning of the game. This - as well as other new sections throughout - focuses on secondary character Nicole Collard, an intrepid French reporter searching for her big break in the journalism game. The new content helps to flesh out her personality, and works well with what was there before - even if the seams are a little obvious at times.
A couple of the puzzles are showing their age now, but nothing is eminently frustrating - and while the twisting, globe-trotting story of the Knights Templar might seem trite in the age of Dan Brown novels, it's worth remembering that Broken Sword told it first. This is still a lovely adventure game, and now that Good Old Games are carrying it for free, you'd be silly not to play it if you haven't already.
Super Cult Tycoon 2: Deluxe Edition
Robert Yang, Eddie Cameron. Grab it via Yang's website.
From the creators of two artful Half-Life 2 mods, Radiator and Tedium, comes something altogether sillier. It's called Super Cult Tycoon 2: Deluxe Edition, and is in fact the first Cult Tycoon game they've made, despite the Super, 2 and Deluxe Edition affixes. In the game you take control of a cult leader, and it begins with you escaping the FBI's claws in a white Transit van. Your ever-obedient daughter suggests, politely, that you might want to turn right and start a new settlement in the forest. So you do. And you begin to recruit.
This means either going into town - a risky business, as the FBI are looking for you - or heading to nearby farms. And, uh, "persuading" people to join you. Which, in actual fact, means kidnapping them. Once you've converted these people you can put them to work brewing Kool Aid, or in a PR firm to bribe investigators, and watch the money steadily tot up. That's the idea, anyway. More likely, the FBI will eventually track you down and break down your defences, causing you to flee. It's delightfully silly, and while it needs polish (and, desperately, a zoom function), this is by no means the finished product, and I can't wait to see it in a more final state.
Black Lodge 2600
Jak Locke. Download it from the game's website.
The 1990s TV drama Twin Peaks, by David Lynch and Mark Frost, remains one of the most baffling, brilliant and relentlessly strange things I've ever seen on the telly, and Black Lodge 2600 - a new free PC game, but one that pretends to be an old Atari title - does a good job of continuing the Twin Peaks trend toward the surreal. Your protagonist, as in the TV series, is FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper, and at the start you'll find yourself in the red-curtained room that many still associate with the show.
What follows, though, is a game in which you must locate the secret exit of a collection of similar rooms without being caught by one of the other characters. Various Twin Peaks types rear their heads, most removing points from your score if they catch you. But bump into your doppelgänger who occasionally appears out of nowhere, and it's game over.
The website suggests that, as with all Atari games, you should read the manual before you begin. You should, otherwise nothing makes any sense. Even with your newly acquired knowledge, the visual motifs and utterly unnerving sound effects make this as downright bonkers as its source material.
Deirdra Kiai.Play it online.
It's nice that interactive fiction continues in a world of fancy graphics engines: there's something about a good IF game that's really invigorating. Especially when you don't have to wrestle with irritating parsing systems to get the game to understand what you want to do. Enter The Play: a genuinely amusing and heartfelt piece that's delivered through a helpful, hyperlink-based user interface. It affords you the opportunity to shape how the story plays out, based on the decisions you make along the way.
What decisions? Well, your character is the director of a theatre performance. But with just one night to go until the show opens, everything is going wrong. The props have just arrived, and people keep tripping over them. One of the actors has pulled out last-minute, and their replacement is awful. Meanwhile, there's the underlying issue of a sexual harassment case, which isn't overtly explained to begin with, but which seems to be on everyone's minds. How you deal with the situation is up to you - but it might change how the play turns out, and affect your reputation as a director.
It's fun, silly and decently written. If you enjoy a good bit of IF, but aren't exactly thrilled by the prospect of typing random verbs until you get the right one, I'd say give this a shot.
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