This week's best free PC games
This week, I've mainly been wowed by wonderful Half-Life 2 mod The Stanley Parable, which I finally got round to playing. Since it's a mod, and it's not from the past seven days, I figured it'd be a bit unreasonable to spend these column inches on that, which is why this week you get a wholly irrelevant introduction. However, read on, and you'll find such riches as: a rabbit that's been turned into a were-bunny, a tin man with one leg, a claustrophobic triangle and a game about setting up a business. Also: play The Stanley Parable.
The Tin Soldier
Tyranus. Play it on the IndiePubGames website.
The fairytale-inspired The Tin Soldier certainly takes its cues from an era when fairytales were dark, twisted stories designed to scare children stiff about the dangers of life. This isn't a game you'd show to a young 'un, most likely: within seconds of its opening, you're met with - well - that scene above.
Relentlessly unsettling, it's something like a cross between an adventure game and a more straightforward puzzler. You'll meet a string of characters, all of whom demand something of you, but none of whom will communicate with you in plain English. You've to decode their visual clues - think something like a more abstract version of Machinarium's 'dialogue' system - before fulfilling their requests and pressing on to the next area.
Its noisy, scratchy graphical style, sepia toned and depressing, works perfectly with the plodding unease of the soundtrack. This is creepy, taxing, and quite lovely in its own emo way.
Richard Hofmeier. Download it from the developer's website.
Okay, so it's actually been quite some time since Cart Life was released, but it was an update the other day that finally brought my attention to it, and it's too smart to miss out. Playing initially as a soon-to-be divorcee who's looking to win custody of her children, you set out to establish a successful business within just a few days, a way of proving to the judge that you're more than capable.
Several other characters are unlocked later, and with each you'll follow a well-written story as you embark on your business enterprise. But Cart Life is a game about much more than simply entrepreneurial strategy. It is, essentially, a vast and expansive life simulator, a game that asks you to manage your personal resources as well as your work ones. Be warned: this is a complicated game. Do thoroughly explore the tutorial, and don't be put off if you need to start again a couple of times.
Developer Richard Hofmeier is supporting his work in a fun way, too. The game itself is free, and you get the full version whichever package you opt for. Paying money for it gets you optional extras, such as a free game, or an extra character in this one. But whether you pay or not, this should be experienced.
Ben Chandler. Grab it from BigBlueCup.
The thoroughly unpronounceable ^_^ is actually a rather apt name for this delightful point-and-clicker that sees you assume the role of Julian, a were-bunny who's somewhat unimpressed with the new form that's been forced upon him. You want nothing more than to become a bog-standard fluffy rabbit again, and in order to do so you'll need to enlist the help of a witch. The only problem is that she won't come outside; she's frightened about what people will think of her baldness, after her enchanted hair ran away.
Yes, it's a strange game, populated by weird characters and written with an excellent sense of personality. Developer Ben Chandler makes about five hundred million adventure games a week, it seems, but this is one of his most characterful yet. Don't be fooled by its cutesy image, though: this is often an exceptionally challenging puzzler, with lots of trial-and-error object manipulation involved as you work your way to a solution. If you're able to twist you brain around the game logic, you'll probably like this a lot.
Cut The Rope
ZeptoLab. Play it on the official website.
You'll almost certainly have heard of smartphone smash hit Cut The Rope, in which you must slice through various bits of rope in order to deliver candy to a small, frog-like creature. This puzzler was, for a time, almost as ubiquitous as Angry Birds, the games' publisher Chillingo rising to mobile stardom in the process.
Across approximately nine billion levels, you'll chop ropes in a variety of arrangements, collecting stars on the way, all to satiate the salivating hunger of a greedy little green blob. It's the perfect mobile game, of course, but you perhaps won't spend quite as long with it on your PC.
This edition's been lobbed online by Microsoft to showcase the HTML5 capabilities of the latest version of Internet Explorer, although of course a variety of popular browsers are capable of doing exactly the same thing, and almost certainly better. Play it in Chrome, enjoy its lovely music, but probably go back to the mobile version.
Dog Game #1
Daniel Blackburn. Download it from the developer's website.
An experimental game that plays with the ideas of windowed play, Dog Game #1 is a surprisingly effective and stifling game about the nagging unease of claustrophobia. Sort of. That's how this interesting little piece felt to me, anyway, as the outer reaches of the play space closed in on the game itself.
The idea: the game exists in a window, which, if you fail to evade the various shapes that are out to attack your small triangle thing, gradually close in as the game window moves around your desktop. You've to strike a careful balance between focusing on controlling your triangle, and focusing on the movement of the window. The result is a surprisingly tense experience.
There's no sound, and the visuals are as bare as they get, but I'd be hugely interested to see what developer Daniel Blackburn could do if he expanded the concept. Worth a go, both despite and because of its simplicity.
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