The 100 best free online games on PC

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ADVENTURE: PART TWO

Westerado

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And now for something completely different, and totally ace. Westerado is a beautiful action/adventure/gratuitous western game, and stop me before I wax lyrical about the era-appropriate instrumental soundtrack. After banditos kill your family, you have to track down the responsible parties - or, instead, you could just shoot everyone in the face, foes and family alike. Westerado gets bonus points for making you unholster and cock your gun before you fire (and a million bonus points for letting you shoot the hats off bad guys). Little things, but they add a lot to the surprisingly fluid, sudden, tense combat. Between shootouts you'll solve problems, ride your horse, and stand in the breeze admiring the astonishing soundtrack. Westerado—play it now.

Fishy Waters

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Not every game has to contain spikes and grisly death, and I may have found the polar opposite of Maddening Relapse in Fishy Waters, a delightful adventure that has you plundering a lake of its piscine inhabitants in order to honour the memory of your departed father. (He was gobbled up by a whale in the opening cutscene.) You'll roam the waters on a small fishing boat, collecting and selling fish in order to upgrade your equipment or to access new parts of the lake. It's not quite a game you'll give yourself over to, but Fishy Waters should make for a calming comedown after you've skewered yourself on a spike pit or fallen down a hole for the umpteenth time.

Jaws: The Text Adventure

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Spielberg's seminal film classic Hook Jaws makes for a pretty good text adventure, as it turns out. He (or she, I can never remember) is a simple beast, so you don't have to remember a ton of different parser commands while you swim around an island searching for damp fleshy humans. The main one is EAT, understandably; as in the films, Jaws is an especially hungry sort, the aim of this terrifically nostalgic adventure being to fill its vast stomach with bits of meat.

Gods Will Be Watching

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Of all the survival titles doing the rounds these days, Gods Will Be Watching seems like the least selfish of the lot. By which I mean it's not a game about keeping one person alive but rather a whole group—which is a lot harder, and more strategic, than one guy scrabbling around in the dirt. In this beautiful one-screen adventure game, you have to survive for 40 days on an alien planet. Luckily you have a doctor, a soldier, a psychiatrist, an engineer, a robot and a dog with you—imagine if you'd been stranded with the intergalactic equivalent of Made in Chelsea. Survival is ruthless—at any moment you can choose to kill anyone at the camp. Well, there is rather a lot of meat on a human being. Er, so I'm told.

Guilded Youth

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Submitted for the Interactive Fiction Competition—the same one that brought us last week's Living Will—Guilded Youth is an evocative, brief adventure, (mainly) revolving a creepy old house. While the story could easily stand alone, the game shows what can be achieved with just a light sprinkling of artwork, in this case from the talented Matt Hammill.

I won't say much more, because I don't want to spoil it, but this is a wonderful piece of fiction that gave me the same sense of nostalgia for the early days of the internet as Christine Love's exceptional Digital: A Love Story. That should be all the praise you need to give Guilded Youth a go, even if you've never played any Interactive Fiction. Actually, especially if you've never played any IF.

Daymare Town 4

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The main Daymares are more traditional adventure games, set in a surreal, beautiful world and with no handholding in their puzzles whatsoever. You'll need patience to overcome 4's obscurity, but you'll be rewarded in spades with yet more atmospheric, mysterious scenes and memorably unusual characters. An HD, full-screen version of Daymare Town 4 can be yours for $5—it's a bit of a pixel hunt, so if you enjoy the game, that may be worth a look.

Journalière

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A beautiful, bleak, surreal adventure set in one of the most architecturally interesting game worlds I've come across. No Future contest entry Journalière is silent and wordless, universal and alien—it also has a dancing minigame. Reminiscent of Jack King-Spooner's stuff—and if you haven't yet had the pleasure, please rectify that immediately.

Anchorhead

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Horror games owe a significant debt to one Howard Phillips Lovecraft, and not just because he's long dead and his work is out of copyright. Plenty of games have included references to his unique brand of cosmic horror, but Anchorhead is more inspired than most, drawing from several of his novels and stories to tell the tale of the a married couple who have inherited an old mansion in a creepy New England town. The sedate exploration of the game's opening segments eventually give way to tense, turn-limited puzzles as you struggle to stop an ancient, possibly world-ending ritual from being completed. No pressure then.

Relive Your Life

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In my first life I was humiliated by an albino bear for the benefit of a jeering Vegas crowd. My second life looked more promising. I was rich, popular, admittedly a bit of a tool, but still a success. That all changed when I missed a drive-by high-five with Kramer from Seinfeld, and wound up being tormented by an old pervert.

Relive Your Life is an interactive narrative punctuated by some incredibly basic minigames. From mashing the X key in a sperm fight to decide your gender, to typing out sentences or matching button prompts. None of them are taxing, but crucially you'll want to go back and deliberately fail them.

A Grain of Truth

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A Grain of Truth is a browser-based HTML5 point and click adventure that stands out because of the fantastically weird world that developers the Rudowski brothers have built. You play as Myosotis, a story trader travelling the Endless Plains to hear the tales of the enigmatic Wiseman.

The plains are a lonely and atmospheric setting, in which you'll encounter a handful of characters and strange locations. A pirate ship mounted to the back of a giant beast catches clouds to make bedding, boulders hover in the sky, and a huge cracked rock holds the promise of intriguing discoveries.

Depression Quest

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Depression Quest is a moving Interactive Fiction story about the difficulties of living with, and attempting to deal with, depression. Created with Twine, you're given a series of common scenarios, and a selection of possible actions to deal with each. Depending on your character's current level of depression, certain actions—inevitably the most healthy or social ones—will be crossed off, often forcing you to make knowingly destructive choices for lack of alternatives.

As a way of putting yourself in the mindset of someone battling the illness, it's a startlingly effective idea. Attempting to make even the most minute progress towards lightening your anxiety is a real struggle, and the smallest of things can fuel a heartbreaking downward spiral.

Bee

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Bee is an interactive tale by Emily Short, about a home-schooled girl who hopes to become the national spelling bee champion. Rather than the standard interactive fiction text parser, Bee is in the style of a choose-your-own adventure book. You pick from a selection of actions or thoughts, then watch the story unfold along the path that you are shaping.

The strength of the format is that you're always aware of the person at the centre of the story. Rather than the lead character acting as a cypher for the player, the choices you're presented with are always through the filter of her own preconceptions, with you as the nagging voice that questions, or reaffirms, these beliefs.

Moonlight

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Moonlight is an interactive short story by Jonas Kyratzes. It starts at a party, and a conversation you have with Stephen Fry, before your choices escalate into some wonderfully weird locations and encounters.

The writing is excellent. It's frequently whimsical, but pulled off with such a light touch that it never becomes annoying. The offhanded surrealism creates frequent memorable sentences, like the brilliant “Doctor House is a very grumpy building that walks with a crane and heals other buildings by diagnosing their structural weaknesses.” Also, Alan Davies is a strobile.

Endless, Nameless

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Adam Cadre’s back after an 8 year absence from the Interactive Fiction community. His previous text adventures, including the excellent 9:05, have been great starting points for newcomers. Endless, Nameless is not that. It’s deliberately old-school, both in setting and delivery. You begin in a tavern in a fantasy town, and soon get put on a quest to kill a dragon to the south. There are trials, fights, spells and a difficulty curve that makes it easy to write your way into a corner.

There’s a reason it's (seemingly) so hard. Endless, Nameless is also about the fictional bulletin board that hosts the game, and through a couple of unexpected turns, it creates a deep adventure that’s fair, even when it’s not.