July's best free PC games

Lewis Denby

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They say you don't get something for nothing. They're demonstrably wrong. For example, in July, you've been able to get at least six somethings for nothing. They're all PC games as well, as it happens. Here's the best in freebie entertainment from the last month, ready to play on your personal home computer video game entertainment systems.

Alien Swarm

Valve Software. Grab it on Steam .

You'd have been hard pressed this month to have avoided Alien Swarm , Valve's free co-op shooter. Announced and then released in quick succession, it's a game that's managed to make quite some noise in the past couple of weeks - and with good reason.

A standalone, Source Engine-powered update to the classic UT2004 mod of the same name, this top-down shooter is a wonderfully polished effort. Occuping a sort of middle-ground of an Alien Breed/ Left 4 Dead/ Team Fortress 2 triangle, it contains a whole load of squad-based fun. Just be sure to hone your gun-toting and teamwork skills: it's not by any means an easy ride.

Big guns, even bigger aliens. What's not to like?

pOnd

The Peanut Gallery . Play online .

pOnd is a little bit special. Interpret the word 'special' as you wish. Here's a web game which rests on an interesting and unexplored mechanic: that of breathing. You're on a relaxing walk in the countryside, inhaling the crisp air deeply. That's your somewhat unusual core mechanic in this quirky one-button game.

To be fair, it's not the most exciting setup. And admittedly, while the opening is interesting, it begins to get somewhat tedious rather quickly. However, it sure knows how to up the ante again towards the end. Make sure you play at least until you arrive at the pond, as there's a properly magical scene awaiting.

Could this be the world's first breathing simulator?

Stream

Rekcahdam . Download it here .

This is a smart and stylish shoot/puzzle-'em-up that combines Braid with P.B. Winterbottom and adds just a dash of classic side-scrolling action. In this black and white world, glowing objects can be interacted with. But many require more pairs of hands than are attached to your macho body. And there's baddies to be fought, as well. Scary baddies with scary guns.

Fortunately you've also the power to open up a wormhole, which effectively allows you to send a helpful clone of yourself through time loops. It's not a long game if you know what you're doing, but some of the puzzles are challenging enough that it'll take you a few goes - not to mention a whole truckload of brainpower - to get them right.

...and they're right. Buh.

Sanctuary 17

Twofold Secret. Play online .

Sanctuary 17 is low-fi, simplistic and slow. On the surface it looks excruciatingly dull. But I absolutely love it.

It's an impressively atmospheric top-down survival horror game, which sees you exploring an abandoned cave network in some unspecified sci-fi universe. There are great stretches of pitch-darkness with nothing much going on, only for you to suddenly wander into an unexpected enemy trap. Interesting, challenging and genuinely frightening at times, Sanctuary 17 's dark story is one that's absolutely worth unravelling.

Not the most exciting screenshot, but this is what the game looks like most of the time.

Moonbase Alpha

NASA. Get it on Steam .

It's a game made by NASA. NASA ! How awesome is that? They've explored the deepest of outer space, and now they're making computer games. Free game of the month, for that alone.

Moonbase Alpha is a game about being a repairman on the moon. Which... isn't quite the most exciting premise for a game set on the moon, granted. But it's also a co-op game. And with friends by your side, there's actually a lot of fun to be had - even if it's simply in jumping around and cracking jokes about how you're "over the moon" that NASA has decided to branch out into game development.

Impressively, though, it does actually control a lot like I'd imagine being on the moon would feel. It's delightfully floaty, intentionally sluggish, and really rather like trudging through low-gravity. Either like that or playing The Path , anyway.

Like going to the moon, except less hassle.

The Silver Lining - Episode One

Phoenix Online Studios . Download it here .

That this has been released at all is a wonderful achievement for its amateur development team. This fan-made King's Quest game was crushed by the big stampy legal boots of Activision earlier in the year, after eight years in development. This is after the team had already been given the official go-ahead by Sierra/Vivendi, who are owned by Activision and are original intellectual property holders of the franchise.

It was an inexplicable act of ludicrous proportions. There's not been a King's Quest game in 12 years, for example. And Pheonix Online had not intended to profit from the IP, either - The Silver Lining was always to be a free download, its creators making it out of their love of King's Quest and of game development.

But! Activision relented, and a deal was struck. And now the first episode of The Silver Lining is out, and is an incredibly, extraordinarily professional effort. Those eight years of hard work have paid off, and it's such a tremendous achievement for its tiny developers: not only have they released a game, but they've released an excellent game, against the mighty will and legal gusto of one of the world's largest publishers. Hats off to you, Phoenix!

Yeah, take THAT, Activision.

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