It is a puzzling day when such an impressive, interesting, expansive and customisable game is released free of charge. That's why everybody needs to play Metal Gear / Super Meat Boy hybrid-em-up Stealth Bastard immediately. And in a week of lovely free games, there's also a vampire-centric adventure, a pole-vaulting multiplayer game, and a puzzler in which one of your characters appears to be a staff member on PC Gamer UK. Put Skyrim down for a minute and read on for this week's picks...
Curve Studios . Download it from the official website .
Unrelentingly stylish, mischevious and brutally challenging, Stealth Bastard is one of those games that's difficult to put down. It's also one of those games where, after playing it for just a few minutes, you scratch your head and wonder why on Earth it's free.
The elevator pitch is sort of 'Metal Gear Solid reimagined as Super Meat Boy'. You'll navigate a series of areas you must infiltrate, avoiding being spotted by security cameras and robots. You'll also have to deal with the countless insta-death traps that litter the game world. There's a leaderboard for high scores, some of which are just astonishing. Already, it's clear that a lot of people have spent a long time playing Stealth Bastard.
Making this delightful game even more impressive is the in-depth level creation suite that accompanies it. It's overwhelming to begin with, but once you figure out how it works you can develop your own maps and share them with others online. Already there's a decent community blossoming.
And it's just so professionally presented. Which shouldn't come as a surprise, given that this arrives from a studio responsible for several commercial games, including five Buzz! titles for Sony's PSP. That Curve Studios aren't charging for this splendidly drawn, epically soundtracked and impressively huge package is perplexing, but it's something of which we should be grateful.
Byte of the Draculator II
The Swarm . Download it from Big Blue Cup .
What do you get if you take the contributions of a huge range of Adventure Game Studio developers, then lump them all together in a single game. Something along the lines of Byte of the Draculator II, it would seem. In this short point-and-clicker you play as a half-vampire, half-robot hybrid, which should be all you need to know to understand that this is a very silly game.
With full voice acting (or variable quality) and a fairly rich stream of dialogue (of varying funniness), it's quite an impressive achievement, even though it's not the longest adventure game you'll ever play. The puzzles are generally smart, too, in the way that makes you groan as if you've just heard a terrible pun.
The Draculator himself begins to grate after you've heard him repeat the same line a hundred times in his ridiculous voice, but if you can stomach that, it's well worth a go.
Currant Cat . Play it on the website .
The Convergence is a love story. It follows a bespectacled young lady and a gentleman who looks a little bit too much like Rich McCormick as they defy gravity in a way that only lovers can. In this puzzle-platformer, which takes more than a little bit of inspiration from VVVVVV, the aim is to get the boy and the girl onto two opposing platforms so that their desire for one another may blossom.
This is an early build. There's no sound yet, and there are extra levels to be added, so says the developer. Ordinarily I'd leave something like this until nearer the finished version before writing about it, but already I've found myself hopelessly addicted. It's not hugely challenging, but the process of bringing these two young whippersnappers together is a rewarding one. It's also a pleasantly drawn game, blocky and colourful, and a great afternoon distraction.
Bennett Foddy . Play it on Foddy's website .
If you know of Nidhogg, an absolutely delightful two-player game, then Pole Riders will seem quite familiar in its back-and-forth goal-chasing with a competitive multiplayer edge. Where that was about fencing, though, the idea here is that both of you play as a pole vaulter, aiming to vault upwards and kick a ball towards your opponent's castle. Obviously, your opponent will be trying to do the same back.
Pole Riders, though, comes with a floppy twist. Those who've played Foddy's previous games QWOP and GIRP will know that he enjoys playing around with fiddly, loose controls, incorporating them into his games as a mechanic in their own right. And with a pole vaulting game, these mechanics absolutely come into their own. This is a splendidly fun little game, made all the better by the gleeful, pizzicato strings sound effects that accompany the silliness.
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