This week's round-up is brought to you by Dishonored and XCOM, one or both of which is presumably going to envelop you this weekend. Between sneak-stabbing people wearing weird hats, and sneak-shooting people of entirely the wrong species, you might not have much time left to sample this week's crop of browser games. That would be a shame, because this round-up is also brought to you by Second Wind and Guilded Youth, two of the best webgames we've come across yet. Read on for a series of often hilarious random encounters, and the spookiest house since 1313 Mockingbird Lane .
Second Wind by Squidly
Squidly's Second Wind is a dungeon crawler – without the dungeon. It's also a roguelike, only without the environment, or possibly even a J-RPG. It takes the meaty, gamey bits of those genres – the combat, the shopping, the interacting with colourful characters – and strips them of all context, instead linking them with a single line of text. What the game is really doing is loading the next random encounter – and they truly are random, moving from a chance meeting with J.C. Denton to a fight against some lichen to a priest trying to sell you on religion.
You don't know where you are. You don't know where you're going. But as you win battles, upgrade your items, and slowly increase the prowess of one of many character classes you get the feeling that you're heading somewhere special. Encounters repeat, but as the game senses your power growing it begins to throw different, deadlier monsters in your way. Death is inevitable, in roguelikes, real life, and Midsomer Murders, but Second Wind includes a nifty, er, Second Wind feature that revives you once upon death.
It's hardly needed. You'd have come back anyway, to try out a different class, to probe J.C. Denton about whether he asked for this or not, or to take vengeance on the orc that did your rogue in. Second Wind is rather exciting, in other words; a role-playing conga line that manages to be both linear and freeform at the same time. Give it a second look, you won't regret it.
Legend of the Void 2 by Violator Games
After Second Wind, Legend of the Void 2 seems like a rather bland affair, but this top-down, turn-based RPG just about makes up for it with its well-oiled combat and surprisingly expansive campaign. The story and dialogue and odd puppety people will wash over you, or intermittently freak you out, but there's something to be said for a game that, while doing nothing original, takes an old idea and buffs it to a smoothly polished sheen. Despite the occasional Facebook nag – entirely optional, thankfully – and, again, that hideous art style, this is the kind of game you can idly sink into at a moment's notice.
Physics Symmetry II by Eldzhin
More puzzle games should feature endlessly looping, earnest piano music. It tricks you into thinking you're playing some kind of art game, rather than another bastard-hard puzzler. Physics Symmetry II invites you to balance both sides of the screen, by clicking on and removing red shapes until the playing area is as symmetrical as an OCD clinic's waiting area.
Our old friend Mr. Physics is on-board to keep things interesting, which here means 'to ruthlessly punish your mistakes', so of course it's not as easy as it sounds. Eventually, that earnest ivory-tinkling becomes the mocking soundtrack to your own rank stupidity, much like a Jools Holland song. Physics Symmetry II is an evil, horrible, terrible game, then, and obviously one we recommend.
Guilded Youth by Jim Munroe and Matt Hammill
Submitted for the Interactive Fiction Competition – the same one that brought us last week's Living Will – Guilded Youth is an evocative, brief adventure, (mainly) revolving a creepy old house. While the story could easily stand alone, the game shows what can be achieved with just a light sprinkling of artwork, in this case from the talented Matt Hammill.
I won't say much more, because I don't want to spoil it, but this is a wonderful piece of fiction that gave me the same sense of nostalgia for the early days of the internet as Christine Love's exceptional Digital: A Love Story . That should be all the praise you need to give Guilded Youth a go, even if you've never played any Interactive Fiction. Actually, especially if you've never played any IF.
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Tom loves exploring in games, whether it’s going the wrong way in a platformer or burgling an apartment in Deus Ex. His favourite game worlds—Stalker, Dark Souls, Thief—have an atmosphere you could wallop with a blackjack. He enjoys horror, adventure, puzzle games and RPGs, and played the Japanese version of Final Fantasy VIII with a translated script he printed off from the internet. Tom has been writing about free games for PC Gamer since 2012. If he were packing for a desert island, he’d take his giant Columbo boxset and a laptop stuffed with PuzzleScript games.