The PC remains the greatest platform for free games, and not because of The Pirate Bay. Every day, new freebies are added to places like Itch.io and Game Jolt, and we do our best to bring you the most worthwhile examples.
Many are fun distractions that you’ll have forgotten about an hour later, but some will linger in your memory, wheedling their way into your unconscious and demanding much more of your time than you might otherwise have expected. It’s those games that are suitable candidates for our Top 50 list, which collects the very best in freeware entertainment. The following are drawn from decades of PC gaming, and cover pretty much every genre you can imagine, save dancemat-based rhythm games, which remain cruelly under-represented on our platform. We’ve been deliberately all-encompassing, so whether you’re a fan of RPGs, adventures, strategy games or type-’em-ups, you’ll find something here that takes your fancy.
A complex, detailed piece of interactive fiction inspired by the works of HP Lovecraft. Over three days, you have to stop the arrival of a Great Old One by getting to the bottom of a vast conspiracy. No pressure.
Play it: Anchorhead
49. Rhythm Doctor
A smart, funny rhythm game inspired by Rhythm Paradise: a minigame collection where you hit a button to a changing beat. You’re a heart doctor here, healing your patients’ tickers by tapping.
Play it: Rhythm Doctor
48. Ultra Business Tycoon III
This would be a poor sort of list without a Porpentine game. This one is a by turns surreal, sad and funny Twine story. Porp’s game satirises Tycoon sims, and the pursuit of money.
Play it: Ultra Business Tycoon III
This modern godgame plays like a micro-Populous, or that episode of Futurama where Bender governs a civilisation living on his stomach. Your goal is to reclaim and expand your lost tribe across an array of teensy maps, using the awesome power of totems to raise water or lower land. Before long, rival tribes appear and try to undo all your hard work.
Download it: Reprisal
46 Skrillex Quest
This tie-in Skrillex title is much, much better than it should be, given that it’s a game based on a noise-mangling musician with an irregular hairdo. Zelda meets Superbrothers meets [hits mute button] deafening dubstep.
Play it: Skrillex Quest
This is a fast-paced, Quake-style multiplayer shooter, starring a bunch of rocket-launching pigs. That’s surely enough for you to bunny-hop to the website and hit ‘download’ with abandon, but I have a few more details about the venerable pork-’em-up while you wait. Pigs, obviously, are known for their acrobatic nature, so that’s where Warsow differentiates itself from the herd. High-level play involves mastery of its various gravity-defying techniques, including rocket-jumping, wall- and strafe-jumping, and lots of other moves that end in ‘jumping’. Warsow’s been going since 2005, and has a dedicated community that’s still playing today.
Download it: Warsow
Golf mixed with Marble Madness: a combination that works beautifully. Rather than whacking the ball with an assortment of big sticks you simply move it by positioning the mouse and clicking. The physics feels just right, but it’s the isometric course that’s the star: a gorgeous diorama that’s constantly shifting as you work your way across.
Play it: Wonderputt
43. Dungeon Crawl Stone Soup
What to do when development stops on one of your favourite roguelikes? You pick up the baton, obviously, continuing the original creator’s noble work. Stone Soup branches off from 1997 hit Lynley’s Dungeon Crawl, which became famous primarily for its complex skill system. Dungeon Crawl is now one of the most approachable traditional roguelikes out there.
Play it: DCSS
42. Don't Take It Personally, Babe, It Just Ain't Your Story
This is Christine Love’s more traditional visual novel, set in a high school in 2027. It concerns the increasing destruction of privacy in relation to digital social networks, and the conclusion might just surprise you. As ever, the writing is superb, even if some of the youthspeak seems a bit dated now.
Download it: Don't Take It Personally, Babe...
The two main advantages of this open-source version of Transport Tycoon Deluxe are its stability and its sheer size: it supports maps up to 64 times bigger than the original game. A whopping 255 players can manage transport networks simultaneously, while some work has gone into the interface, including the addition of drag-and-drop functionality.
Download it: OpenTTD
40. Alien Swarm
Valve hired the devs of UT2004 mod Alien Swarm to remake it in Source, and the result is a fun, under-appreciated co-op game set in an insect-heavy facility. You have a bunch of different characters to choose from, and four classes: Officer, Medic, Special Weapons and Tech. Tech’s the one to pick if you’re looking to recreate Aliens, as they carry a motion sensor.
Download it: Alien Swarm