The best free PC games

59. VA-11 Hall-A: Prologue

Developer: Sukeban Games | Link: www.waifubartending.com

Valhalla

Phil: As a former barman, I can empathise with the events of VA-11 Hall-A. Not the cyberpunk setting, obviously, or the sci-fi chemical drink mixing, but rather the way that an increasingly inebriated clientele offer up miniature snapshots into the fears and worries of their lives.

The game, which the developers call a "booze-'em-up," is being made with the help of former PC Gamer contributor Cassandra Khaw. In it, you play the server of the titular bar – known colloquially as Valhalla – mixing up drinks for some unusual customers.

This prologue is the first part of a planned full release. Early on, it's revealed that you'll be serving the employees of a canine toy company – a company that is itself staffed almost entirely by corgis. Or rather, intelligent, English speaking corgis.

Each drink that they order must be created from a set of five basic ingredients. The game tells you the ingredients, and any special instructions for mixing, then leaves you to put it all together. At various points, you can even tweak the customers drink. The designated driver might ask for something non-alcoholic, but slip a dash of Karmotrine in and he's more likely to open up – further expanding out the details of the homogeneous corgi corporation.

58. Lost Constellation

Developers: Alec Holowka, Scott Benson, Bethany Hockenberry | Link: www.bit.ly/LostConstellation

Lost Constellation

Phil: Lost Constellation is a 'supplemental' chapter to the upcoming adventure game Night In The Woods. It takes the form of a tangential bedtime story between two of the latter game's cat characters. That story is of an astronomer's attempt to reach a frozen lake.

Along the way, she meets a variety of unusual characters, gets involved in ancient forces she doesn't understand, and builds a snowman or two. You play this all out by exploring the frozen forest, and performing actions for the inhabitants. It's surreal and charming, and helped along by an excellent soundtrack.

57. MiniDayZ

Developer: Bohemia Interactive | Link: www.dayz.com/minidayz

MiniDayZ

Phil: DayZ recently received an update allowing players to 'collect' and consume human flesh. When people refer to a dog-eat-dog world, it's rare they mean it so literally. If you too find the prospect of being a cannibalistic role-player's tasty treat terrifying, maybe MiniDayZ will prove a much-needed break. It's a top-down retro-styled demake, originally created as a fan project before being sanctioned and hosted by Bohemia Interactive. More importantly, it's entirely singleplayer, giving you some respite from the casual sadism of the full game.

As in DayZ, you wake up on the shore with no food, water or weapons. Status bars show whether your character is hungry, thirsty, cold, or rapidly losing blood. Your job, at the most basic level, is to stop each of these bars from bottoming out. Doing so requires travelling inland, and scavenging for supplies.That, in turn, requires facing off against a small horde of pixelated zombies.

The zombies are more difficult to deal with than in DayZ. It's not that they're any tougher, or more deadly, but they're harder to avoid. You'll find plenty hanging around towns or villages, and they're hard to take down without sustaining a major injury – at least until you can find a good melee weapon. They are, at least, extremely dumb. Break line-of-sight by, say, running around the corner of a house, and they'll stop undead in their tracks. By carefully shepherding them around, you can buy yourself the space to safely search houses for clothes, food and weapons.

It's still a challenge. Over multiple playthroughs, I've died in almost every conceivable way. Most harrowingly, I starved to death while nearing hypothermia after tearing up my shirt to bandage a near-fatal wound. Another time, I died of thirst because I hadn't noticed that my backpack full of drinks cans had been irreparably damaged while fleeing a village full of zombies. Then there was a time I was shot dead by a bandit. While there are no other players, the NPC humans are just as deadly.

56. The Expendabros

Developer: Free Lives | Link: www.expendabros.com

Expendabros

Phil: There should not be a good game based on The Expendables 3. There definitely should not be a good, free game based on The Expendables 3. This has nothing to do with the film and everything to do with the fact that movie tie-ins are bad. It is their default state. Just as The Expendables 2: Videogame was a crime against functional control systems, polish and game design, so too should any computerised version of the series' follow-up be equally atrocious.

That it isn't is initially bizarre, but makes sense when you realise that it's Broforce. In an ingenious crossover, The Expendabros takes the characters and – to use the term loosely – plot of The Expandables 3, and stuffs them into a condensed version of Broforce's all-action assault of guns, explosions and patriotism. It's dumb, silly and hyperbolic, which makes it everything a game filled with aging '80s action stars should be.

It's great, because Broforce is great. At the start of each level you're deposited via helicopter into a hostile environment, and must work your way to the left, killing everything that moves. You're fragile – able to die in a single hit – but carry overpowered weaponry and a limited special attack. Each Expendabro has a different loadout, and, as you rescue the team, you'll be wielding grenade-launchers, miniguns and shotguns. Whether you're playing as Broney Ross, Bronar Jenson, Broctor Death or one of the four other Bro-named characters, you're equally equipped to liquidate enemies and demolish environments.

It's a great showcase for the early access main game. As in Broforce, The Expendabros is best when you're gunning through an enemy encampment, caught in a chain reaction of death and explosions. It serves as a brilliant demo, giving you a sample of the full game's variety, and offering a taste of the four-player co-op carnage.

55. Off-Peak

Developer: Cosmo D | Link: www.bit.ly/OffPeakGame

Off Peak

Tom: Welcome to the weirdest train station this side of Severn Tunnel Junction: a church-like structure home to pizza salesmen, giants, exquisite jazz and reams of abstract art. When you arrive in Off-Peak you're asked to retrieve a scattered train ticket – a search for glowing scraps that leads you to many hilarious, odd and thoughtful conversations, to secrets, to shrines, and to an ending determined by your actions along the way.

There's a great dollop of the unsettling Pathologic in here. It's not a creepy setting, exactly, but it is a place you feel is watching you at all times, as you unlock shortcuts, as you steal pizza and vinyl, and as you restore that ripped ticket to its former glory. There's some stunning visual art in Off-Peak's interactive installation, but it's the soundtrack that impresses most, all fractured jazz and moody ambiance. It's not a game you'll unravel in its entirety, but I very much enjoyed picking it apart.

54. Ronin

Developer: Tomasz Wacławek | Link: www.bit.ly/RoninPC

Ronin

Phil: Ronin is a 2D game about a stealthy guy who breaks into buildings, steals data from computers and then quickly escapes – usually through a window. Also, when you hold down the mouse button, a dotted line extends out from your character showing the planned arc of your jump. If you're getting deja vu, it's because you've played Gunpoint.

Ronin is not Gunpoint, though. It even tells you this in the tooltip that appears when you initiate combat. That's because its fights are turn-based. When you jump into view of some enemies, the action pauses and laser sights are trained in your direction. You need to make your way towards each guard, making sure your next move takes you clear of their incoming fire. This is what keeps Ronin fresh. The battles are an engaging process of careful placement and stylish takedowns. You'll die from a single shot, so the need to stay mobile provides a tactical challenge.

The other difference is your grappling hook. It can be attached to any wall or ceiling – not only letting you easily traverse the game's buildings, but also swing down into a window below. Right now, Ronin is at the prototype stage, but it shows enough promise to be worth checking out.

53. Roguelight

Developer: Daniel Linssen | Link: www.bit.ly/Roguelight

Roguelight

Phil: Roguelikes were already hard enough, what with their procedural generation and permadeath. The absolute last thing they needed was to be shrouded in darkness. Roguelight does it anyway. It's a 2D platformer in which you work your way deeper through a dungeon, shooting enemies and – for the most part – struggling to see where you're going.

Torches are placed strategically through the levels, giving you a basic idea of the route. They don't provide enough light to illuminate an entire area, though, meaning you'll often need to take some exploratory steps into the darkness.

To mitigate the danger of unseen traps and enemies, you've a limited supply of fire arrows to use. Nook one, and you'll have a portable, yet dwindling, source of light. More can be collected from around each level, and there's a strategy to working out the most efficient place and time to light your way.

If they can be seen, the early enemies won't provide too much of a problem. Hooded figures patrol through the level, but only across blocks connected at the same elevation. Flying skeletons are more mobile, but their large size and slow speed make them an easy target. Primarily, you enemy is the unknown – never knowing what's waiting beyond the next jump.

52. Bernband

Developer: Tom van den Boogaart | Link: www.bit.ly/Bernband

Bernband

Phil: Out there on the internet, a battle rages over the exact definition of what is and isn't a game. Is Dear Esther a game? Is Microsoft Excel a game? Is this magazine a game? These impassioned philosophers now have a new maybe-game to add to the list: Bernband. I say we let them get on with it, and instead retreat to enjoy the remarkable world it depicts.

Set in a futuristic alien city, Bernband has no real interaction beyond that of walking to a place and looking at a thing. What makes it worth trying is the number of things to be walked to and looked at. There's a feeling of life about the city. While the streets are often empty, many contain rooms that bustle with activity. You might stumble across a jazz concert, an art installation, or a night club. Or you'll simply step through one of its maze of elevators and emerge on a bridge – flying cars swishing above your head.

The sounds are all diegetic – emanating from the place you'd naturally expect them to, and thus giving an extraordinary sense of place to the lo-fi pixellated environment. It won't take long to find most of what it has to offer. It's still worth taking the time to do so.

51. Expat

Developer: Blendo Games | Link: www.bit.ly/ExCowboy

Expat

Phil: Thirty Flights of Loving developer Brendon Chung took a break from making the upcoming Quadrilateral Cowboy to participate in the Space Cowboy gamejam. It's exactly what it sounds like: a competition to make the most Firefly of games. Chung's entry, Expat, fits the bill perfectly. You're a lone bounty hunter, taking on contracts and searching through backwater planets to find your target.

On selecting a bounty, you're given a list of former associates, and must text them for clues to potential hideouts. Armed with a last known address, you can search through the local bars and shops until you stumble upon their exact position. At this point, a shoot out begins. It's rendered simply – you must stay within the target's radius to chip away at their health, avoiding their bullets and hoping they don't come across an abandoned ship. If they do escape, there's a small window in which to disable their vehicle, as they'll be lost forever should they make it to an open warp gate.

More valuable targets are harder to take down, but there's also a social aspect to the game. Spending time and buying drinks at the galaxy's spacebar will unlock new contacts, who can be called in to help you catch those tougher quarries.

50. Moonbase Alpha

Developer: NASA | Link: www.bit.ly/mbaseg

Tom: Staying alive on the moon is a logistical nightmare, as Moonbase Alpha's publishers, NASA, know only too well. As an astronaut founding the first lunar structure, you and up to five friends must deal with the aftermath of a meteor strike that's knocked out millions of dollars worth of sensitive space kit. A perfectly good reason to ride around in a fancy lunar bus, build your own repair robots and utilise the low gravity to perform huge, slow-motion chest bumps when things go right. You're timed, and awarded points based on the efficiency of your repairs, so good teamwork is essential if you're after good leaderboard standing.

49. Ending

Developer: RobotAcid | Link: www.bit.ly/14NfIAz

Chris: You move a single icon in on an grid, solving tile-based combat challenges to progress to the next stage. What makes Ending stand out from innumerable other puzzle games is its randomly-generated roguelike mode, where you explore a dungeon that works on the same principle.

48. UnReal World

Developer: Enormous Elk | Link: www.unrealworld.fi

Graham: Roguelikes are traditionally about delving into mysterious dungeons in search of treasure. You can play UnReal World that way, or you can play it as a realistic hermit-simulator. It's set in ancient Finland, so you're as likely to die of cold and starvation as from attacking enemies. So fish, hunt, and practise your hideworking, and hope you can survive the long winter.

47. The Republia Times

Developer: Dukope | Link: www.dukope.com

Chris: You're the editor of a newspaper in a totalitarian state. Each day you must choose which stories to run and how much space to give them, impacting your paper's popularity and the government's approval with the general populace. Smart, cynical, and there's a great twist near the end.

46. Space Funeral

Developer: TheCatamites | Link: www.bit.ly/spacefuneral

Phil: You can learn a lot about this game from its opening menu, which takes the obvious RPG Maker buttons – New, Load and Quit – and replaces them with the less comfortingly familiar 'BLOOD', 'BLOOD', and 'BLOOD'. You play Phillip, a depressed boy, who, with the help of his trusty Leg Horse (a pile of severed limbs), cries his way through a thoroughly caustic and deliberately unpleasant JRPG pastiche.

45. Space Station 13

Developer: Something Awful | Link: www.bit.ly/station13

Tom: Everyone has a role to play in this anarchic multiplayer space-disaster sim. As the ship's AI, or the captain, police officer or engineer, you'll have to complete your duties to stop the station from falling into chaos, but you might just be given a traitor role and told to assassinate the captain, or spawn as an alien monster. Even before these antagonists are introduced, the requirement for mass cooperation between internet strangers creates an entertaining state of utter shambles. Expect to explode. A lot.

44. Realistic Summer Sports Simulator

Developer: Crackerblocks | Link: www.bit.ly/rssports

Phil: Each of RSSS's 15 minigames is a selfcontained challenge of QWOP-like flailing (see 60). You must click and drag on your athlete to score in the crude 2D representations of each sport. What do you click? Where do you drag? RSSS never tells you, leaving your experimentation to collide with its basic physics. People, horses and scenery go flying, and every failure is ridiculous enough to raise a laugh. But beyond the basic comedy lies a proper challenge, each event a satisfyingly tricky test of precision and patience.

43. Meat Boy

Developer: Team Meat | Link: www.bit.ly/pcgmeatboy

Chris: It lacks its paid-for older brother's flashier features, but the original Meat Boy is a chunk of PC platforming history. The series' fantastic controls – at once crisp and squishy, ping-ponging Meat Boy bloodily off the environment with each leap and slide – got their start here, and the first set of vertically-scrolling levels offer a stiff challenge. Very much worth upgrading to Super Meat Boy once you're done.

42. flOw

Developer: Jenova Chen | Link: www.bit.ly/flowgame

Tom: flOw's minimalist appeal and dynamically adjusting difficulty curve has hooked hundreds of thousands. Use the mouse to guide a creature through an evolutionary mire, gobbling up smaller animals to grow, and hitting red blobs to swim deeper. When you eat, you evolve, but you can see large predators moving through the gloom on the levels below, waiting to swallow you whole. Serene yet addictive.

41. Kingdom of Loathing

Developer: Asymmetric Publications | Link: www.bit.ly/11IycEl

Tom: Scratch all the layers of polish and visual fluff away from your favourite RPG, and you'll find Kingdom of Loathing underneath. You create a stick-man hero and spend daily adventuring points to raid sketched-out dungeons, kill strange monsters and level up. Your actions resolve instantly, so this is a game about making decisions rather than honing twitch skills. An irreverent sense of humour keeps the grind from getting boring. Be a Disco Bandit! Fight Sinister Fudge Wizards with your Disco Ball! It's a winning formula.