Thursday, 20 October 2011

Free Steam!

In this thread I decided to take a look at the best free games on steam.

There are various forum and blog threads out there that purport to be an exhaustive and definitive list of free stuff on steam.

This is definitely not one of them.

No, this purely consists of my own opinion, musings, and ramblings about some of the free games I found interesting, with very little basis in reality outside of my own head... 

... so no change there then.

First off I must admit to not showing much interest in the steam site until I stumbled across a thread telling of their time-limited free download of Portal (sadly now expired). 
This was one of those games I kept meaning to play but had never gotten around to. So I downloaded it and got my introduction to the world of Steam! 

Just in case you don’t know, Steam is a PC and MAC based download site somewhat akin to the ‘PSN Store’ and ‘Xbox Live’ services for consoles. Some people may pick holes in this evaluation, but for the most part I think it’s a pretty apt comparison.
Steam lets you pay for games on-line in a minimum-fuss environment and then lets you download them within the nice shiny, and easy to use, wrappings of the steam application’s framework. This also provides you with an easy access point-and-click interface to your downloaded games, and/or other content.
Like the popular console-based offerings it also has a combination of pay-to-play and free content. And it’s this fee content that I’m having a look at here.

Ok, so if you’re still with me, let’s clear away some of that steam fog and see what free-stuff lingers beneath the shiny surface... 

First of all I have to say that, just like the consoles, ‘free’ comes in a few different flavours within Steam. There are the free-demos, which are exactly what they say on the tin... free to download demos of commercially available products. Then there are the time (or otherwise) conditioned special offers. The time-limited free release of Portal is possible the most widely advertised and discussed example of this. And we mustn’t forget the various upgrade, mod, map packs, audio/video files and other general marketing paraphernalia that is also freely available to download. Then there are the permanently free to download games. And this is the category we are going to look at here...

Although at first releasing something that has taken a cost in time and/or money to develop for free may not seem to make much sense, there are good reasons for the existence of this software. You may also think these must all be of low quality ‘bedroom coder’ type programs. And you would of course be wrong. As I said, there are various good ‘business’ reasons for releasing a free game, and just like the console based stores, most of the usual suspects show up in steam. This is why I have split my list up into different sections, although a game being in one section doesn’t automatically mean it will be better or worse that any other. And remember, not all ‘bedroom coder’ or ‘Indi’ efforts are bad games simply because they have not had the money of the major developers thrown at them. In some cases they have love, dedication, and perhaps most of all imagination and ingenuity thrown at them instead...

Enough rambling, on with the list:

Programs Funded by Public Bodies:
These are generally free because funding (or sponsership) has come from a government body or other private-funding institution. These games are generally made free to heighten awareness of an issue or to advertise a product, institution, service, or other body to the public. But don’t panic if this sounds dull, as the whole point is to make the cause concerned seem well un-dull!

1)      America’s Army 3

Blatant advertising, but actually a rather good game in a rather strange way.
This focuses on how a real army works, so the emphasis is on team-work and waiting.
You may not fire as much shots, but played properly is can become very immersive, especially when played with people who know what they are doing.
2)      Moonbase Alpha

A very unusual, but for some reason weirdly compelling, game. It sounds like the title of a shooter to me, but definitely isn’t. There aren’t many games based on real space exploration, probably for very obvious and good reasons. But this does have a certain charm to it. Perhaps not something you would play long-term, but well worth a look for free.

Promotional Games:
These are generally free because they are ether off-shoots of currently successful big-name franchises; which may encourage potential purchases of the current commercial products, or for promotion of future commercial products; or simply as a showcase to promote newly formed publishers or franchises. They can also be older complete games from a recognised ‘name’ or game-series.

1)      Team Fortress 2

The seminal on-line only shooter from the OrangeBox now available for free.
What else is there to say?
If you like this type of game and you don’t have it, you should download it now.
Seriously though this is a very well-rounded game with a large on-line following.

2)      Half-Life 2: Lost Coast

Although it is a self-contained game this is very short. I would say pretty much tec-demo short. But what is there is good.
There are some bugs, but if you don’t go looking for them you probably won’t find them.
The graphics do look good, even on a decent-spec PC
3)      Half-Life 2: Deathmatch 

Now this is more like it. Although it doesn’t have quite as much content as team Fortress 2, this is a very good effort at producing a simple arena based multi-person shootout game based on the half-Life 2 game engine. There are quite a lot of imaginative scenarios out there for this, and it does have a lasting appeal. So why not have a look.
4)      Codename Gordon

A fun 2D platform game spin-off from the Half-Life series. You control Gordon through 2D versions of various areas from the main game. So pick up that crowbar and get jumping.
If you like ‘retro-gamin’ type 2D platforms this one is a must. It’s a good solid game that has a lot of content and increases difficulty at a steady rate.
5)      Peggle Extreme

A ‘special’ edition of the Peggle game, this is essentially a cut-down (10 level) version of the original featuring background themes based on the Portal franchise.

To me, this walks a fine line between freebee and out-and-out demo.
Having said that, it’s still worth a look if you like Bust-a-Move type puzzle games.

6)      Sam & Max Episode 104: Abe Lincoln Must Die!

Max is my hero, and I love all the Sam & Max games. So I may be a tiny-tad bias with this one. Having said that, if you like the point-and-click adventure gaming genre, you could still do far worse than this when buying a full-price off-the-shelf game. As with all the Sam & Max franchise, this is a well constructed and thought-out game with a good, and very funny, story. Definitely a keeper if you like this type of game.

Free-To-Play MMORPG and other On-Line based Games:
Undoubtedly the largest area for ‘free’ Internet gaming, these are generally free-to-play because the authors want to attract people to the product before raising the issue of money.
I’ve tried to be careful of what I included here, as some ‘free’ MMORPGs are little more that glossy store-fronts for DLC and micro-transactions. Generally most, if not all, of these types of games rely on some form of optional membership subscriptions and/or in-game micro-transactions to make their money... so be aware of this going in. You may not need to spend any money to play, but the general idea is to entice you into parting with your cash.

Champions Online:
Free for All
I did have a bit of a palaver tying to sign up an account for this through the web-site, and this is required before starting the game. Once there however I found a slightly unusual and technically proficient third-person battle-based MMORPG. Although I do have to say that I did find the controls for this a bit awkward at first. Over all it’s quite an interesting game and on decent machines it’s comparable to ‘DC Universe’ on the PS3/PSN. Just watch out for those on-line transactions or you may feel your bank-balance becoming a bit lighter.

CrimeCraft: Bleedout

Makes you wan’na be a gangstar...
Well, maybe not. But this game isn’t all that bad. It plays like a MMORPG version of GTA taken to an extreme conclusion. Technically it isn’t brilliant, but it isn’t bad ether, and the theme is unique enough to make it interesting. Again the game-play is more heavily reliant on run-and-gun and much lighter on RPG elements. But that sits well with the general gangs-gone-wild atmosphere of the game. Like most MMOs you have to sign up for an account via the web-site before beginning play. But this time it was a relatively painless experience. Over-all different enough to take a look at, but again – watch your wallet, it’s mean out there in MMORPG land.
ArmA II Free

Unlike a lot of free download stuff this was based on a relatively recent full-price DVD game, not that that makes it intrinsically any better that anything else.
ArmA II Free is a war-based MMO game, with standalone play, but it’s one with a difference. This is very much a tactical shooting game. And where it doesn’t follow the same degree of gritty realism shown in America’s Army 3, it is a lot less gung-ho than most in the genre. Perhaps it’s not for everyone but interesting...
Much more free on-line and especially MMORPG type stuff is available on Steam, and these games are just a few that I found the most interesting. This subject could easily take up a post of its own, but I’m not going there right now...

Mod-group ‘bedroom-coder’ and community released Programs:
This is a strange one. On one hand you can simply have games released by an individual (or small team) directly into the public domain. On the other you can have large multi-national development teams, often linked to an existing community, that have official sanction to release games based on commercial work. The reasons behind these types of releases can be a bit of a mixed bag, although there is generally some form of promotion, even if it’s just a secondary thing. Then there are some good games people simply release so others can play them, yes individuals and groups like this do exist.

1)  Alien Swarm

I admit I wasn’t sure where to place this at first, but this seems the most appropriate place. Alien Swarm is a very decent top-down fore-player on-line shooter. It is well up to standard for this type of game and has been sold at a cost on other formats. If you like your ‘retro-styled’ top-down team-based shooting with a hint of strategy you could easily pay good money for far worse than this free offering. Technically this is an Unreal Tournament Mod, for those who are interested in such things.
2)  COIL

Ok, time for the weird indi stuff... and this one definitely won’t be to everyone’s cup-o-tea, but I tend to like this type of ‘freeform’ stuff.
What do you do in COIL? Well you sort of float around and make it up as you go along really.
Technically this is quite a good implementation of this type of concept. So it’s worth a look, if you are interested in this type of ‘art’ or ‘concept’ game. On the other hand, if you are a die-hard blast-em-up FPS aficionado then perhaps this isn’t for you.
So that’s some of the stuff I found interesting. What do you think? Have I missed out any gems? Or do you think my selection sucked botty?
Feel free to let me know...

No comments:

Post a Comment