Saturday Morning Gaming: Gaming Frugally
We’ve all been burned by “Free*” before. Whether it be the conversation we had with our mom about how “it doesn’t cost money, it’s free!” and the life lesson that followed or, more recently, by Farmville or Candy Crush or any number of “Free To Play” games (that were really “pay to win” games), I know that when I see something like “it’s free!” that I need to put an asterisk there after that second ‘e’.
And, let’s face it, even if it is Free without the asterisk? That’s pretty usually a good indicator of quality. You get what you pay for, after all, and if you didn’t pay nothin’ for it, you shouldn’t be surprised that it might not be as good as something you have to actually buy.
There’s also the whole “the first hit’s free!” thing where a five-chapter game gives away the first chapter or two away for “free” (but you have to pay if you want to see the rest of the story).
Well, I know that a lot of people are out there right now with a lot of free time on their hands but they might also be in a place where they have to squeeze every single penny. If these people wanted to game, it would have to be something that was free for real. Not “pay to win”, as that is an exercise in frustration. Not “free (but crappy)”, as that’s a good way to get frustrated too. And why leave somebody hanging if you don’t have to? That’s frustrating as heck all by itself!
As such, I wanna point out that GoG.com has a handful of free, actually free, games available for download for you to play and enjoy. A handful of them are demos and those fall into the “first hit’s free!” category but they have some seriously good, seriously quality, games available for you to download and play and play to the end and actually BEAT for, yes, free.
I think you probably have to sign up…so, yeah, you’ll need to give them your email. (Oh, yeah…that’s the other kind of “free”…) That said, if that’s not too much to give them, go here and see what’s available. (Note: If you aren’t particularly interested in the history of awesome gaming, jump down to the “Beneath a Steel Sky” section and go from there.)
Here are the titles that I find notable:
Akalabeth: World of Doom. You read that date correctly: FROM 1979!!! This is Richard Garriot’s first game. Look at the size of that thing: 18Mb. That means that the art that they’re using to advertise the game at the top of the page is bigger than the entire game itself.
If you play it, expect to play a mercilessly difficult game that doesn’t understand anything about modern gaming conventions. But… dang. That’s one of the giants whose shoulders modern games stand upon. “Ultima 0” is one of the nicknames it has. Wander around, go into dungeons, kill skeletons and gelatinous cubes and die over and over again. It’s not particularly “fun” in the 2020 sense of the word, but, in the 1985 sense of the word? This game was still less than perfectly fun, because we had games like Ultima 1 and Wizardry and both of those built on what Akalabeth made…but Akalabeth moved us from 0 to 1. It’s worth playing for 20 minutes if only because of that.
Okay, let’s jump forward a decade:
Ultima IV. This one is notable because it’s one of the first RPGs that I recall where min-maxing yourself didn’t involve killing, harming, or ripping off innocent people. Ultima 1, for example, had the option of stealing from shopkeepers and that was the BEST way to get the best equipment early on in the game. In this game, you were actually expected to be good. It started with a personality test, of all things, and gave you the quarter-finals of 8 different virtues. Choose between Justice and Compassion. Choose between Humility and Valor. Choose between Sacrifice and Spirituality. Choose between Honor and Honesty. And then go to the semi-finals of the four that remain. Then, out of the remaining two, choose the last one.
And then, based on the virtue that won out, it gave you your class. And then, as you played the game, you had to collect all of the other people who were of a class from one of the other virtues and explore the world and clean out dungeons and meet the king and pray at shrines and, eventually, Become Good.
Now the game is confusing as heck. The best piracy protection available back then was a 40 page manual that would be a pain in the butt for any teenager to copy and so you’d be stuck learning the key mappings for a while… but, if memory serves, you eventually memorized them and playing the game became second nature. Seriously. Give me an Apple IIe, Ultima IV, and a Peter Gabriel tape, and I’d be sitting pretty. Sigh.
This game is free too. Amazing gameplay (for 1985, anyway). If you’ve got a second monitor you’ll want the pdf of the instructions up on it, though. (Or on an ipad or some other second screen. Seriously, the game isn’t really accessible without that.)
Let’s jump forward another decade and get us to something accessible that someone who idly wants something good to play but doesn’t want to experience Bronze Age Gaming.
Beneath a Steel Sky is a game from 1994. It’s a point-and-click adventure game that has an amazing setting, engaging characters, and a strong story. The puzzles aren’t crazy (that is, most people won’t have to cheat to figure out how to beat them…unlike, say, the 7th Guest! “SHY GYPSY SLYLY SPRYLY TRYST BY MY CRYPT”, my aunt fanny) and the humor is strong enough that you’ll laugh out loud a couple of times.
Shadow Warrior Classic Complete gets us to 1997 and this is the first game that someone born after that year is likely to want to try. It’s a first person shooter where you play, yes, Lo Wang. This is a game from the Duke Nukem folks and the jokes are all about that caliber and maturity level. That said, if that’s a joke that made you chuckle, you’ll have a lot to chuckle at when you play this one. Run around, use your sword, throw throwing stars, and, yes, eventually use your shotguns and uzis. It’s one of the funniest FPSes that 1997 had to offer and it still holds up enough at the price point.
Jumping ahead a couple of decades gets us to 2013. Sang-Froid: Tales of Werewolves
is a kind of mix of Tower Defense and Real Time Strategy game. (I actually talked about it back when it came out…we were so young!) You (or your brother) has a day to set up for an attack from the werewolves… and then the werewolves come at night. Set your traps, set up your obstacles, and trust in your axe to make it to the next night. It’s tough and will have you knitting your brow thinking about strategy than gleefully slaughtering hundreds of orcs (like Orcs Must Die! had you do) but, hey. It’s free.
As for games available on Steam, you’re not going to find a better PVP FPS game than Team Fortress 2. Hard to believe that it’s from 2007. It still stands up despite setting the standard. Control point? Yep. King of the Hill? You betcha! Capture the Flag? Oh, mais oui! They’ve got a bunch of different classes, all of which play differently. They’ve got a bunch of awesome maps. They WILL try to sell you hats… but those are only cosmetic. You don’t need to buy them to play. The best part? There are still a bunch of people who love to play it so you won’t be wandering around empty maps.
If you’re willing to engage with the Epic Store, they’ve got two very different games available for free until March 26th (but if you get them now, you can play them for free forever):
The Stanley Parable and Watch Dogs.
The Stanley Parable is a walking simulator and exploration game (mostly…there’s some stuff where you have to outrun bad things but they’re outrunnable) from 2011 and the joys come from the narrator who is explaining what’s going on around you as you go from here to there. There are multiple branching paths and many different ways to explore the environment and the game is startlingly clever at explaining itself to you. A meta-game about game theory, almost. Also about existence in general.
Watch Dogs is a MAJOR Triple-A game from 2014 that was seriously hyped before it came out and everybody complained about after they got halfway through it. It’s Open World with all kinds of stuff to do (mostly hacking) and you’re following a story where you’re a hacker who can hack into everybody’s data around you, steal funds from them when you want to buy something, hack into cameras, cars, electrical systems, and see what people who made the mistake of putting up webcams at their computers are doing RIGHT NOW. I was kinda disappointed at the time but, hey, for free? I would have been delighted. And, yes, it’s got hours and hours and hours and hours of gameplay.
Those are all of the games that are free that I found notable, but you may be aware of more of them out there. Please tell the frugal gamers out there about the gems you know about!
So…what are you playing?