The Best Free Games of the Week
This week's column was 13 years in the making, or at least it felt that way late last night. Read on for indie gaming's Duke Nukem Forever, a Brendon Chung space bounty hunter game (!), one of the most joyous, inventive, text-free interactive stories I've come across (!!), Homebase's most misguided wallpaper advert ever, and a gothy philosophical platformer about following or not following orders. Exercise your free will by obeying this instruction to join me after the break.
Brendon Chung (Thirty Flights of Loving, Quadrilateral Cowboy) has made an open world bounty-hunting adventure for the Space Cowboy Jam, and while graphically it's a bit placeholder, Expat is chock-full of Chung's typical jazzy charm. It's a game of two halves: in-orbit space exploration and automated ship combat, and planet-based clue-gathering and bounty acquisition. Expat does a lot with a nice colour palette and font, not to mention some evocative text – the fact that it's set in 1970 set my mind racing.
A new, mostly visual way of telling an interactive story: with no text, and still with a satisfying amount of player participation. Jazu is a very short tale about a guy talking to two different people at a bar. To flap your gums, you hold the Enter button; to switch conversations, you press Space. When buttons are held or pressed, the low-key jazz soundtrack is accompanied by a blast of sax, which proves to be a perfectly timed, inventive replacement for speech. This beautifully illustrated story culminates in an ending you'll want to stick around for – just be sure to pay attention to the conversation panels at both sides of the screen.
Amon26's Gyossait is an obvious inspiration for Carrill Munnings' philosophical platformer, but I feel this scratchily-pixelled game about free will and avoiding bullets has enough of an identity to recommend. It's a game where you're constantly being given orders by two omniscient voices – do you ignore one, ignore the other, or try to shut both voices out and go your own way?
Charlotte Perkins Gilman's terrific, unsettling short story has been recreated pretty faithfully in this Public Domain Jam game, which fades between scenes of wallpaper-tearing madness, and moments where your mind or spirit or maybe even body is physically trapped within your bedroom's garish walls. It's a neat, well-executed take on a classic, but I feel there should be more escalation – the pacing feels a little off as is. You'll get more out of this if you've read the original story first, so go do that.
Ben Swinden's seemingly Space Cowboy-free shmup is the place to be to encounter weird organic enemies in otherwise peaceful environs, but it is a teensy bit brutally unforgiving that you're thrown right back to the start upon death. It's worth perservering, or at least not being crap like what I am, because there are a lot of things to gawp and make 'Ooooh' noises at here.
An indie game 13 years in the making – or to put it another way, an indie game from 13 years ago. That's evident in the non-standard control scheme (which thankfully can be altered), in the awkward physics and gawky pixel art, but there's something undeniably powerful to the act of playing someone's labour of love (or alternatively, the millstone round their neck). Tobias is more of a puzzle-platformer (with enemies and bosses, natch) than a modern trendy Metroidvania – the sort of ambitious project you might have started yourself with Klik N Play back in the day, before abandoning to try and learn the guitar. Tobias and the Dark Sceptres is what happens when you keep going, determined to one day finish your magnum opus. As an artefact of sticktoitiveness it's almost incidental whether Tobias is any good or not, but thankfully for me, and for this column, there's a lot of novel and inventive zeitgeist-free design here, along with a certain homemade charm. (Via Pixel Prospector)
Adam Butcher's short documentary about the game, and his experiences making it, is absolutely worth a watch too: