One of this week's picks - The Night Circus - might be a social game and almost entirely text-based, but its whimsical storytelling and elegant writing had me captivated from the outset. As well as playing this, I've also spent my week collecting raindrops to be scientifically analysed, charging headfirst through scary monsters in tunnels below the Earth's surface, and attempting not to be squished by moving walls while being irritated by a story. Guess what? You can spend the next week doing the same if you read this week's selection of PC gaming freebies...
The Night Circus
Failbetter Games . Play it on the official website .
A word of warning from the get-go: this is both a social game that requires you to log in via Twitter or Facebook, and essentially an advert for a soon-to-be-released novel. You're never forced to share anything on either social network (the game makes a point of mentioning how reasonable it is about this) and the fact that it's promoting a product didn't bother me. But I know some people are funny about that.
It's a card game. But it's also a sort of choose-your-own-adventure title. At any point you'll be able to deal yourself between one and six cards, each leading to a different area of the Night Circus and a different strand of the story. Within each situation you'll be afforded various other decisions which affect your path through this world.
It's almost entirely text-based, but the writing is strong, the storytelling well-paced and intriguing. You'll find yourself held back unless you allow yourself to be a slave to the social functionality, but it's perfectly playable - if a little more sluggish - if you don't.
Luke Todd. Grab it from TIGSource .
As oddly shaped space debris falls to Earth, your job is to collect the rainwater that comes with it. You're a scientist, you see, and it appears to have fascinating properties. The weather's gone crazy, and it's up to your character to work out why.
Of course, this is a fast-paced arcade game, so you'll not be doing much laboratory analysis. Instead, you'll be running around the environment, avoiding the falling rocks and collecting the water as it plops down from above, ready to be analysed during the short dialogue sections that arrive between each level.
It isn't a long game, but it is decent fun, and a title whose level of challenge ramps up nicely as things progress. The forecast's good for this one.
Connor Ullman . Play it on JayIsGames .
In this platformer, filled with short levels of intimidating obstacles, you'll step into the skeletal shoes of a small chap who's got stuck in the depths of the Earth. The levels are masked by darkness, only the immediate area around you lit up, and you'll face a variety of troublesome foes on your way.
Hollow likes to throw some hefty challenges in your direction - insta-kills are frequent, but it's okay, as you're never set back very far. The twist is that jumping on your enemies' heads won't do a thing to stop them here. Instead, you've to use your own head to smash through them at high speeds. This causes a bit of damage to your character, though, so if possible it's always best to run away.
Its pleasing art style would lead to an atmospheric title were it not for the hideous music. Turn it off instantly before it makes everyone in the room want to kill you.
Refrag . Play it on the Ludum Dare website .
Victory is, according to its developer, "a simple puzzle/platformer that attempts to discuss the compulsion towards achievement, pressures of modern life and one's need for escape." What this translates into is a fast-paced and increasingly action-packed title in which you must reach the top of a platform-filled level before big white walls at each side close in on you and crush you to death.
It starts out simply, but introduces more complexity as it progresses, asking you to create variously sized boxes to hop upon when the jump you need to make is too high. The level design, too, increases in difficulty, and by the end you'll be button-bashing at extraordinary speeds to escape your environment before the timer runs out. It's stressful stuff, in the best possible way.
There's also a story that appears in fragments alongside each level. I didn't find it to be an especially interesting or profound one, which is fine, as long as you don't get the impression that the game thinks it is. Which I sort of did. It's also a bit annoying to try to read the text before starting the level, especially later on when you're asked to move at breakneck speeds. That could've done with a little more thinking through.
Oh, hey, did you notice how the names of the last two games I wrote about spells 'Hollow Victory'? I quite liked that.