February's best free PC games

Lewis Denby

The-Silver-Lining-thumb

February's been an interestingly finance-based month for free games. Two of the five picks below involve some sort of economical consideration as their core mechanics - though, in fact, they could hardly be more different. Where one revels in silliness and invites you to try to make a million dollars, the other attempts to show us how easy it is to lose everything and become homeless. A bit like being a games journalist, then. Which is interesting, as there's a game about that, too. Read on for our February picks.

American Dream

Increpare/Terry Cavanagh/Jasper Byrne/Tom Morgan-Jones . Play it online .

This is undoubtedly the most exciting screenshot you'll see on PC Gamer all month.

This collaborative title, created by a host of indie gaming legends, is about as bizarre as it is hilarious. You play, ostensibly, as a dude with a job on the stock market - albeit a very strange interpretation of it - and your task is to make a million dollars within a month.

Instead of the latest and greatest corporations, you'll be buying stock in a selection of yesteryear's celebrities. It might also be an idea to kit out your house with all the latest trimmings with the money you earn, as you're told you're expected to have a party once you're filthy rich. It's a straight-forward game, distilled right down to its central mechanics, but it's still strangely invigorating, and well worth investing (ha!) some time into.

Spent

McKinney/Urban Ministries of Durham . Play it online .

Yeah. Prove it. Exactly.

Well, this is depressing. Spent is a game about how none of us have any money, are having to work in rubbish jobs, and how the outlook is pretty much bleak in today's day and age. Tremendous.

The idea is to demonstrate quite how difficult it is to be a low-income worker in the United States, and how easy it can be to slip into an inexorable spiral towards homelessness. It was developed in conjunction with a charity called Urban Ministries of Durham , a charity organisation which works with the homeless. It's not particularly entertaining in a typical game-like way, but it is eye-opening, and it's worth seeing just how well you can survive. Try it out.

The Silver Lining - Episode 3: My Only Love Sprung From Hate

Phoenix Online Entertainment . Download it from the official website .

Oh, hey, look. That's your mum.

After a number of years in development and a legal battle with Activision, this extraordinary fan tribute to King's Quest continues with its regular episodes. The lengthily titled My Only Love Sprung From Hate takes things down a slightly darker route than before, but it's more of the same traditional adventuring that we've now come to expect from the series.

That means, I think, that it isn't going to convert anyone. It's of an impressive quality for what is essentially an amateur creation, and anyone with an interest in point-and-click adventures or, especially, the original King's Quest games would be barmy not to pick these up. However, I suspect that if you haven't got into The Silver Lining yet, this third installment isn't likely to change your mind.

Beacon

randommine . Download it from the dev's website .

One man's journey to the well of orange squash.

Beacon was technically released last month, but it wasn't quite as good back then. It's since been updated and polished, so allow me to shoehorn it into February's picks. This is another in the current trend for exploratory non-games on the PC freebies scene, and follows an astronaut after his spaceship crash lands on an unfamiliar planet. According to everything he's been told, it's a planet that's never been inhabited - but the super-enormo-building he quickly stumbles upon suggests otherwise. Ooooh ...

This isn't quite the best exploration game I've played recently, but there's a real compulsion to continue as you press onwards beneath the planet's surface, uncovering its secrets. It's surprisingly touching, as well. It'll only take you 15 or 20 minutes to play through, so you should probably go and do that.

Games Journo Story

Brendan Caldwell . Get it from his blog .

Caption goes here

Disclaimer: Games Journo Story's developer, Brendan Caldwell, is an acquaintance of mine. Don't read too much into that, though, as I'm fairly certain I'd be singing its praises regardless. This is an exceptionally clever, witty and candid tale, created in RPG Maker, which documents an aspiring games journalist's trip to a large expo where he hopes to make a name for himself among more established writer-folk.

There are a lot of in-jokes. Understanding one of them means having witnessed a particular moment at a particular bar at a particular expo last year. It's probably a lot funnier if you were at that expo, or if you've ever been in a similar position yourself - but I think it's worth playing even if you weren't, or you haven't.

That's because it feels, more than anything, like a cuttingly honest portrayal of what it's like to leave university, knowing what you want to do with your life, but feeling like it's constantly that little bit out of reach, no matter what you do. For all the jokes, the impression it left me with was a slightly melancholy one.

But the writing is exceptional, and Brendan clearly knows a thing or two about what he's doing, so hopefully he'll realise his ambitions.

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