The 50 best free PC games
There might be no such thing as a free lunch, but there is certainly such a thing as free lunchtime entertainment. Over the following pages you’ll find a list of the best free indie games on PC – from 20-minute diversions to weekend-consuming, endlessly-expanded strategy epics.
All of the games on this list are free in their entirety. That means no microtransaction-supported free-toplay games and no shareware. We’ve also excluded ‘pay what you want’ games on the basis that developers who give you the ability to chip-in would probably like you to consider doing that. That said, there are always exceptions and you’ll find games on this list that sit in a grey area – normally where there’s a substantial free version with the option of also buying an upgraded paid edition. In these cases, we’ve gone with our hearts. Which is to say that we argued about it for hours.
Once we’d assembled our longlist we all voted for the games we liked the most and tallied up the scores to produce the top 50. The top games are the ones that have had the biggest impact on us, but that doesn’t mean you won’t find gems further down the list.
50. Moonbase Alpha
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
Developer: Jenova Chen
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
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.