I often think that, were one so inclined, you could have a brilliant gaming life without ever spending a penny. There are all sorts of reasons why but in the last few years the Epic Games Store's regular giveaways (opens in new tab) have served up some real classics, and now a personal favourite is available for free: Duskers (opens in new tab).
Duskers is a game about derelict spaceships. Well, maybe not that derelict. This is a strategy roguelike where you explore procedurally generated spaceships with a clutch of remotely piloted drones. The wrecks contain resources like scrap and fuel you need in order to continue exploring and, while all the humans are long-gone, other things lurk in the darkest corners.
If I had to point to one thing as the genius element of this game, it's the interpretation of fog of war. You have a top-down view of the immediate area around your drones, as well as a map view of the wider ship, and in another example of the charming lo-fi space vibe here you control them with console commands. The screen crackles and the ambient, unsettling audio make moving deeper feel dangerous before you've even seen anything, and when you over-reach you'll know in an instant. Duskers is often compared to the atmosphere of Alien or Space Hulk, and that's exactly what it captures: some sense of being not alone, and vulnerable, on a giant piece of debris floating through the stars.
"Duskers is a tense and harrowing experience," wrote PCG's Chris Livingston when awarding it his personal pick for GOTY 2016 (opens in new tab), "and it’s equally satisfying when things go your way and when everything goes terribly wrong. The dangerous alien infestations that can quickly overpower your drones means caution and cleverness are your two most effective weapons, and randomization means every game is a bit different, letting you play again and again, never knowing quite what to expect."
Duskers scooped a well-deserved 86% in PCG's review (opens in new tab) when it released and, if you're into lo-fi horror vibes, I'd even say you could add a few % on top of that. This is a brilliant strategy game with a unique sense of anticipation and fear of the unseen, and for free it's a must-try.