The 100 best free online games on PC

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ADVENTURE

Samorost

Play it online here.

Samorost and its sequel are adventure games as Moomin creator Tove Jansson might have made them. Its patchwork art is made out of photographs of logs, plants, old cans; its white, handanimated main character speaks in whoops and illustrations; and it all takes place on asteroids in space. With no inventory, it’s your job to solve puzzles by poking and prodding this world to reveal charming animations. Its creator went on to make the paid-for point-and-click Machinarium, but I prefer this.

Electric Tortoise

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This Phillip K Dick-inspired tale consists of a short conversation with a robot—it's literally a single scene, told from the perspective of some sort of futuristic, Almost Human-style cop. You're questioning a suspect about a murder, a process that involves little more than selecting options from a menu. Differences from a typical text-based game are slight, but effective: you can look around the room a bit, while selecting responses means literally craning your neck around to the floating conversation window. The game itself is another sort of window, one into a fleshed-out, thoughtful science-fiction world.

The Domovoi

Play it online here.

The Domovoi takes the form of a storyteller interacting with his audience. A friend is giving you the first performance of his latest work—a “new tale, with real heroes” - and asks for help in working out the details. As his folk story unfolds he'll occasionally stop, bringing you out of the fiction to ask what should happen next.

The story is about a domovoi: a hairy house-dwelling creature of Slavic folklore. He's been charged with protecting his master's house, while said master is away fighting to protect the village. It's as he deals with various intrusions that you're asked to interject with the creature's responses and actions. Your responses won't wildly change the narrative, because The Domovoi explores the relationship between audience and performer. And in this tale, that performer has a specific agenda.

Humanoid 47

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It says a lot about a game when you feel compelled to hit the screenshot key every time you enter a new room. It says: 'this game looks freaking incredible', but also 'I'm pretty sure what colour palette my nightmares will be presented in tonight'. So yes—Humanoid 47 is another one of those static, puzzle-heavy adventure games, but it's one of the more striking I've encountered: a garish world of mechanical parts, startled heads, and whatever the hell that thing just was.

All I Want Is For All Of My Friends To Become Insanely Powerful

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All of Porpentine’s Twine adventures are worth investigating, especially the one about Ke$ha, but AIWIFAOMFTBIP walks the middle-ground of her two extremes. It’s part cyberpunk body-horror, part empowerment fantasy, delivered as a stream-of-consciousness tale about an all-invasive feeling of oppression. As always, Porpentine’s clipped sentences paint an evocative world that makes the story’s resolution all the more effective and heartwarming.

Noir

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I've played a few of these 'guess the bad guy' games over the last year or so, and Noir might be my favourite because, well, because of all the noir. It's essentially any bit from Blade Runner where Deckard has to identify a replicant, spun out and squished down into a small-scale, vaguely cyberpunk game. Citizens will clue you in on the location and identity of the skinjobs you're tasked with tracking down, and you'd better pay attention as a single civilian casualty will mean an instant game over. Unlike the other entries in this innovative new sub-genre there doesn't appear to be any random generation at play, but even though you might only go through it once, Noir offers a good few minutes of atmospheric, investigative adventuring.

Coloratura

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A sci-fi horror of sorts, putting you in the role of the creature, something that's been done before in fiction, but never (as far as I'm aware) with this level of thought and imagination. It's a beautifully written game, highlighting once again just how wide the gulf in quality is between even the best mainstream game stories and the cream of the IF crop. Admittedly I did find Coloratura a hard game to settle into, as it puts you in the role of a truly alien entity that shares few of our thought processes, emotions or drives.

Paradise

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The aptly named Paradise is a piece of sandbox interactive fiction: a limitless, user-created space you can wander around, and add to, as you see fit. Starting as a ghost, you're unable to move until you inhabit the body of a nearby object, though this is as simple as typing “become a teapot/fireplace/angry-looking thing” (delete as contextually appropriate), before using that vessel to enter another player-created room. The beauty of the written word—and it's a beauty captured perfectly in Paradise—is that words are slippery, and open to interpretation, so if you want that fireplace to talk or that angry-looking thing to be the entrance to a nineteenth-century carousel, you only have to forge the association while you play. What are words, after all, if not vessels for meaning? Meaning that's always evolving, even as misguided word sheriffs try to keep it fixed.

Cyberqueen

Play it online here.

Cyberqueen vomits you out of a sack into a malignant, sentient ship and gives you your first choice: “flail”, “scream” or “breathe”. There are heavy lashings of System Shock in this superbly written work of interactive fiction that has you wandering the halls of the vessel, trying to escape the machinations of its omnipresent guardian. The Twine interface paces the text to good effect, and it’s more easily navigated than traditional IF builds like Anchorhead. Cyberqueen is an evocative and sinister piece of work that’ll appeal to those who haven’t tried interactive fiction before.

One Chance

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This browser game uses cookies to prevent you from ever replaying it: you’ve quite literally got one chance to see this brief point-and-click adventure through to the end. It’s set in a future where all life on Earth will be extinguished in six days: what you choose to do, who you choose to spend time with, and whether you accept your fate or try to fight it are the questions you’re asked to answer. What could be a cheap gimmick is actually very effective: it’s rare that a game asks you to really live with your decisions.

Will Love Tear Us Apart

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There are few more horrifying prospects than that of being made to re-explore the intricacies of an irrevocably broken relationship again and again. Will Love Tear Us Apart harnesses the theme’s of Joy Division’s hit to create a strange and disturbing experience in which you must treat with a hideous, swollen partner on a hopeless quest for reconciliation. The sparse line art evokes an empty, angst-ridden world as the game evolves from one phase to the next. It’s a human communication breakdown abstracted into an interactive form. A fascinating experiment that demonstrates how fertile human relationships can be as inspiration for nightmarish horror scenarios. It’s free, to, and you can play it in your browser at the link above.

flOw

Play it online here.

flOw’s minimalist appeal and dynamically adjusting difficulty curve has hooked hundreds of thousands. Use the mouse to guide a creature through an evolutionary mire, gobbling up smaller animals to grow, and hitting red blobs to swim deeper. When you eat, you evolve, but you can see large predators moving through the gloom on the levels below, waiting to swallow you whole. Serene yet addictive.

The Republia Times

Play it online here.

You’re the editor of a newspaper in a totalitarian state. Each day you must choose which stories to run and how much space to give them, impacting your paper’s popularity and the government’s approval with the general populace. Smart, cynical, and there’s a great twist near the end.

Life in the West

Play it online here.

What if you lacked self-censorship? What if you posted every stray thought that entered your head? What if you were Kanye West? That's the premise of Life In The West, a short strange HTML5 game by Davey Wredon, creator of The Stanley Parable.

You log into Kanye's Twitter account, then, when "Inspiration" hits, rapidly mash your keyboard to auto-complete such immortal tweets as "I make awesome decisions in bike stores!!!" The quicker you finish, the more Kanye points you're awarded, which can be spent on following new accounts. In the manic rush of keyboard spamming and follower clicking, it's easy to miss the best part of Life In The West. The feed at the side is telling a story about a man's spiralling descent into madness.

Olav & The Lute

Play it online here.

An enigmatic adventure game set in a post-apocalyptic world, with a cracking central mechanic. Rather than combining objects with other objects, you're affecting the world with a (presumably) magic lute, by plucking at its colour-coded strings. It's a bit like Ocarina of Time, and a lot like LOOM; to open a door, for example, you'll pluck a certain combination using the game's moderately fiddly interface. Olav & Lute is a short, stark, striking adventure—it's also one you can download and play offline.