There are two things in this life that I love: Great games and free things. Usually the two don’t coincide with each other. Most great games come with a price tag and those that don’t eventually sucker you into microtransactions or a subscription. It is incredibly rare to find worthwhile games that are completely free that provide a full gaming experience that you can sink hours into and feel satisfied. As a service to those of you who are strapped for cash or just looking for a great game to play, I scoured the corners of the internet for fantastic free games. I sorted through all kinds of shovelware and viruses, but emerged with a precious handful of gems. Here are the unsung wonders that I found, enjoyed, and whole-heartedly recommend.
The first of two games on this list that spawned as a result of tinkering with RPG Maker software, Exit Fate, created by Dutch indie game developer SCF, is a gigantic love letter to old-school RPGs like Suikoden II. Random encounters with enemies make up the bulk of this title’s gameplay. Combat takes place in a traditional, turn-based style with the player’s party consisting of up to six characters arranged tactically over a 3x3 grid. To spice up the combat, SCF included a relationship system where characters have certain attitudes toward one another that affect their stats in combat if they are both in the party at the same time.
There are 75 recruitable party members each with their own sidequests, personalities, relationships, and abilities.
There is more to Exit Fate than grinding through enemies for experience. Occasionally the game will allow players to flex their strategic muscles by presenting them with large-scale battles. These play out over sweeping grids as armies take turns maneuvering troops. The player’s army can be customized depending on which characters have been recruited. There are several different kinds of troop units to master including: infantry, cavalry, scouts, and sorcery. These sequences serve as a welcome interlude between missions and offer a nice challenge for even veteran strategy gamers.
However, no RPG can stand on its own without a compelling storyline to keep players interested. On this front, Exit Fate delivers one of the more original RPG stories I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing. Players are put in the role of Daniel Vinyard, a Colonel in the Kirkgard Army. Kirkgard and the nearby Zelmony Union, though technically at peace, have been at odds with each other for years over the ownership of Helman Island, a point neatly between the two nations. Kirkgard has assembled an army in secret and plans to take Helman Island and use it to stage an invasion of Zelmony. As the fighting begins, something goes horribly wrong and a twist of fate places Daniel on a course to meet his destiny.
The fact that this incredibly solid game was crafted by one person should intrigue anyone interested in game development or indie games. The amount of time and detail that went into creating Exit Fate is staggering. The average runtime of a full playthrough of Exit Fate clocks in at around 40 hours. You are never left without something to do, there is always one more party member to recruit or secret boss to defeat, and the story keeps throwing out enough political intrigue, memorable characters, and plot twists to keep the average player engrossed for its entirety. Exit Fate is truly excellent and I highly recommend it to anyone who wants to play a refreshing old-style RPG.
You can download Exit Fate for free over on SCF’s personal website. For more information and strategy guides, here is a handy fan-made website dedicated to the game.
Note: This is an RPG from a bygone age. Bosses are difficult and there can be long stretches without a save point. If you find that you have gone a significant period of time between saves, go out of your way to save your game and always have a backup save so you don’t get stuck in an impossible area.
Wing Commander Saga
For people unfamiliar with the Wing Commander series, this will be a bit of a gaming history lesson. The original Wing Commander released in 1990 for the PC and focused on a conflict in the 27th century between the human race and a cat-like alien species known as the Kilrathi. Players took on the role of a starship pilot using a variety of space fighters to engage the Kilrathi in large-scale space wars. It turns out that this kind of thing appealed to gamers (who would have guessed?) and the game was a huge success, eventually getting ports to several other systems.
Wing Commander proved incredibly popular from 1990 until 1996 when the series went dormant. The core Wing Commander entries are famous for their extensive use of FMV cutscenes to convey their stories with well-known actors such as Mark Hamill, Christopher Walken, and John Rhys-Davies.
Though Wing Commander has been gone for nearly seventeen years, fans of the series have by no means forgotten it. A group of enterprising and talented people who had enjoyed it during its heyday got together in 2001 to begin working on a tribute to the games they loved. After developing Wing Commander Saga for more than a decade, the team finally released their labor of love in 2012.
Wing Commander Saga stands as fully-fledged campaign called Darkest Dawn which takes place during the events of Wing Commander III. This amazing product of dedication contains fully voiced dialogue, beautifully rendered cutscenes, and engaging in-game squad chatter. Players take on the role of a fighter pilot, call sign Sandman, stationed on the carrier-class starship Hermes. Gamers will be treated to lengthy missions involving eliminating Kilrathi fighters, bombers, capital ships, enemy carriers, defending human vessels, and general awesome space-shooting-explosions kind of stuff.
A word of warning for new Wing Commander Saga players: plug in a controller or joystick and tailor the controls to be a bit more playable. The keyboard control scheme is convoluted at best and extremely unintuitive for newcomers. Mapping the controls to a controller feels much more familiar.
You can download Wing Commander Saga from the official website.
Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be a space marine fighting the forces of evil from a top-down perspective with randomly generated levels and turn-based movement? If you answered yes, you’re in luck! Doom Roguelike is a remake of the original Doom, but placing it within the wildly different roguelike genre. Players select one of three initial classes: marine, technician, or scout. Each class has different starting stats and abilities that affect the way players can best approach the challenges that await them. Movement through levels occurs one tile at a time, slowly revealing darkened areas that are out of the character’s line of sight. Monsters that appear within character’s visual range begin attacking, either by closing in for melee attacks or by firing lethal projectiles. With each enemy neutralized, characters receive experience points which go toward unlocking new skills that will help players progress further. Numerous secret arenas are scattered throughout the 25 levels of the game world that push player abilities to the limit, but provide new weapons, upgrades, and healthy chunks of experience. The main hook of Doom Roguelike is the implementation of permadeath; if the player’s character dies, the game restarts at the beginning. Permadeath and the randomized elements in each of the levels result in a unique experience every play session.
As a nice treat for fans of the classic Doom, enemies retain their original artwork and sound effects.
Overall, Doom Roguelike isn’t a terribly nuanced game. However, it succeeds in providing an original twist on a classic gaming formula. Doom Roguelike feels like a well-designed breath of fresh air. As a free game that can run on practically anything, Doom Roguelike is definitely worth your time.
You can download the full game on chaosforge.org.
Star Stealing Prince
Using RPG Maker VX, a person under the name Ronove created a surprisingly refreshing RPG experience. Clocking in at about ten hours in length, the mechanics, puzzles, beautiful hand-drawn artwork, and most of all the story never once left me bored or unsatisfied.
In terms of gameplay, there is more depth than you would expect. Combat occurs in a traditional turn-based fashion, with characters gaining experience and leveling up to increase their stats. New skills are learned by finding magic tomes and determined by the weapons and armor characters have equipped. While magic skills use MP, skills that come from your equipped gear can be accessed when a character has built up enough TP by attacking or being hit by enemies. Outside of combat, exploration is almost always rewarded with a new piece of armor, weapon, or useful item. The crafty and entertaining puzzles that crop up from time to time were an unexpected pleasure. One riddle in particular takes place during a tense boss battle and requires you to brush up a bit on your astrology knowledge.
The best way to describe the story of Star Stealing Prince is to equate it with a fairy tale. Like a fairy tale, Star Stealing Prince isn’t overly complex and there isn’t an overabundance of characters, but it doesn’t need those things to tell the story it wants to convey. To sum up the basic premise of this indie gem: On a remote island there is a kingdom shrouded in perpetual winter ruled by a prince named Snowe. The prince’s parents died when he was small, but they left behind a great many pieces of magic. One of their most powerful spells binds all of the citizens of the kingdom to the prince, making them feel what he feels. If he is happy, they are happy. The spell also shields the people from the cold, keeping them warm and dry in a land of harsh winter. After being wracked by a strange nightmare, Snowe discovers his parents trapped a girl within a tower for an unknown purpose… And so begins the gripping adventure of Star Stealing Prince.
If I could only recommend one game out of these four, it would be Star Stealing Prince. It is a short, rewarding and game that has a lot to offer if you take the time to download and play it. It feels intensely personal and real. When you play Star Stealing Prince you just know that someone was putting a part of themselves into it, which isn’t a feeling you get from many AAA experiences. Since this game is free, you have no excuse not to play it.
Do yourself a favor and download Star Stealing Prince over on the official site. I suggest that you download it with RTP if you want it to function properly on your computer.
Honorable Mention: Candy Box
I can’t really explain Candy Box without ruining what makes it so great. Just follow this link, leave it open in a tab for a few minutes, forget about it, and come back. Then your descent into obsession epic quest for glory can truly begin.
On Monday, Maxis and EA announced that The Sims Studio, the dedicated Sims development team, was currently working on The Sims 4 for both PC and Mac. The next official entry in The Sims franchise is scheduled for a release sometime in 2014.
Only a few scant details are known about the upcoming title. Gameplay will resemble previous Sims games, while adding the ability to share player creations with other Sims 4 gamers. For those of you worrying about another always online debacle like Maxis’ SimCity, never fear. The Sims 4 is promised to focus on the single player experience and will have no always online requirement.
If you are a Sims super fan and want the latest updates on The Sims 4, you can head over to the official site and sign up for their newsletter. Or you can keep reading Extra Life. You know which one you’d prefer (the second one, obviously).
The Walt Disney Company, the owner of all things Star Wars, announced today that they had chosen to contract EA to create new Star Wars video games for the foreseeable future. EA announced this with pride over on their official blog, adding that the future of Star Wars includes tablets, mobile, and other devices as well as the traditional console and PC entries.
While I am sure that many gamers out there are curious as to what this means for old Lucas Arts Star Wars games like First Assault and 1313, EA has declined to mention details on any specific titles. However, they stated that they had top studios such as Battlefield developer DICE, Visceral, which created the acclaimed Dead Space franchise, and BioWare, who previously created one of the greatest games of all time with Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, working on Star Wars related projects. All games coming out of these studios will be powered by the Frostbite 3 engine.
While EA promised that all of the content coming out of these and other EA affiliated studios would be original, I wouldn’t mind if they dipped into the deep and relatively untouched well of past Star Wars series to give them a new life. A DICE developed Star Wars Battlefront or Rogue Squadron would be incredible. If Visceral took up the reins of 1313 or created another Star Wars Republic Commando I would be ecstatic. And if BioWare is working on a single player Knights of the Old Republic III, I would definitely disappear for a week when that releases.
Any one of those hypothetical games would win me over to this new deal between Disney and EA, but for now we have to sit tight and wait for more news.
What Star Wars titles do you want to see coming out of EA?
Minority Media, the Canadian developer behind the critically praised indie title Papo & Yo, is gearing up for its next game titled Silent Enemy. Like Papo & Yo which tackled issues surrounding domestic abuse and alcoholism, Silent Enemy will also deal difficult subject matter: Bullying.
The teaser reveals a few tantalizing details about the game. Silent Enemy is set in the Great North of Quebec. It tasks players with finding springtime, while crows try to impede player progress. The teaser places a heavy emphasis on character design for the crows (which you can see above), the representations of bullies within the game. A few seconds of gameplay footage imply that action will take place from a top-down perspective. The protagonist of Silent Enemy will be the team’s first Aboriginal main character, though they promise it will not be their last. While no official platforms have been announced, there is a shot in the teaser of an Xbox 360 controller, leading to a certain degree of speculation that the title will be coming to Xbox Live.
Given that Papo & Yo was originally a PSN exclusive, it is highly likely that Silent Enemy will also be released on the PlayStation Network. The teaser makes it abundantly clear that Silent Enemy comes out of a deeply personal place and carries importance to everyone involved with its production.
If you played Capcom’s open world, monster-slaying adventure and are planning to revisit the world of Gransys by playing through the New Game Plus mode or via the recently released Dark Arisen expansion, you may want to back up your save data. A recent game patch had the unintentional side-effect of rendering some player’s save data unloadable or unable to be saved from the last point the game was saved.
Capcom suggests a temporary solution for those who have yet to update their game:
“To prevent the possibility of permanent loss of your data, please copy your existing save data (whether it be Dragon’s Dogma or Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen) to an external storage device or cloud whenever possible--especially if you are picking up the game for the first time in awhile or switching over to Dark Arisen for the first time.”
They go on to apologize to affected players for the inconvenience and state that they are furiously working on a solution to remove the glitch from the patch and to restore any lost save data that may have resulted from the patch.
Footage from the upcoming PS3 title from Quantic Dream, the creators of Heavy Rain surfaced on YouTube yesterday. The game aims to offer a serious dramatic narrative and was showcased at the Tribeca Film Festival. The plot revolves around Jodie Holmes, a young woman who was born with an inexplicable link to a powerful spiritual entity named Aiden. The game will take place over a span of 15 years with players witnessing Jodie's growth from youth to adulthood. Ellen Page provided voice work and motion capture for Jodie and she is supported by Willem DaFoe, who plays a government scientist named Nathan Dawkins.
In the large slice of gameplay, you can watch a digitized Ellen Page cry, play guitar, beat up street punks, help deliver a baby and rescue people from a fire.
Next month on the 21st, Microsoft will be holding a special press conference in Redmond, Washington to reveal their long awaited follow-up to the Xbox 360. The unveiling will begin at 10 AM PT/1 PM ET. If you aren’t lucky enough to be invited to the event, you’re in luck! Microsoft will be livestreaming the conference to Xbox.com and Xbox Live, while also broadcasting on Spike TV in the US and Canada.
According to Major Nelson, the event will focus almost exclusively on the new hardware and Microsoft’s plans for the future. The new system’s launch line-up will be discussed 19 days after the console reveal during Microsoft’s presentation at E3.
What features/games/services do you hope to see Microsoft announce? Do you think that Microsoft may have made a mistake planning a console reveal so close to E3, the largest industry event of the year?
There are fans, and then there are FANS. Scattered throughout the rich world of BioShock Infinite, there are audio recordings contained within devices called voxophones. After playing through Irrational's fantastic follow up to the original BioShock three times, one intrepid and creative fan decided to make a voxophone of his own. You can see two videos showing off his creation below in different stages of completion. Each one includes music and songs found in the game.
The device isn't entirely working on the same principle as its in-game counterpart. The spinning disk makes use of a computer fan motor, creating too many rpms to accurately be read by a gramophone needle. This means that the home-made voxophone makes use of an internal MP3 player to store music. Still, the effect remains undeniably cool. Perhaps we will see more refinements on the design going forward.
Whenever people complain about the abundance of overly dark, washed-out post-apocalyptic settings and the lack of strong storytelling in video games, one game has always stood out as incredibly overlooked and underappreciated by the gaming community: Enslaved. In an age where brown, gritty visuals have become the norm and players are craving strong characters with compelling story lines, there exists a small group of gamers who have played Ninja Theory’s colorful reimagining of the 16th century Chinese novel by Wu Cheng’en, Journey to the West. Like any game, Enslaved has its flaws, the combat can be bland and the story treads some familiar ground, but what it does right, it REALLY does right. If someone is looking for textbook examples of solid art direction, riveting storytelling, engaging character development, or perfect pacing, Enslaved is their game.
One of the hugely refreshing aspects of Enslaved is the vibrant and imaginative world it envisions. Many people have expressed frustration over this console generation’s obsession with realism and how that usually seems to translate into grey-brown shooters with explosions and feelings of despair. Enslaved eschews all of that (okay, it does have explosions), in favor of a colorized apocalypse. Though the game takes place 150 years in the future, the world has been destroyed for generations when the narrative begins. The time that has passed since the end of the world is beautifully reflected in the environments. The scenery embraces spectacle with truly magnificent vistas full of green foliage, crumbling structures, eccentric robots, and fantastical machinery around every corner. The depiction of a world in which nature reclaims mankind’s cities and dangerous future technology lies rusting and weathered is inviting simply through the originality of the visual design. This approach to visual aesthetic engages the player with the novelty of the experience. Not knowing what new fantastical sight could lie around the next twist in the path can be a huge motivator.
Enslaved opens with a daring prison escape from an airship as it crashes from the sky into the remains of New York City (Edit: If that previous sentence doesn’t catch your attention and immediately get you interested in this game, I don’t know what will). During the harrowing escape, protagonist Monkey meets a young woman named Trip and the two nearly kill each other attempting to leave the rapidly descending vessel. Monkey, knocked unconscious while clinging to the outside of an escape pod, awakes to find that he has been enslaved by a headband Trip put on him while he was unconscious. If he disobeys one of her orders, if he wanders too far away from her, or if she dies, the headband will kill him. Trip agrees to remove the headband once Monkey returns her home. The arrangement clear, the two set off on a pilgrimage across the ruins of America in search of Trip’s village. As is to be expected from a story that was novelized in the 16th century, but existed in legends long before that, the story can seem a bit formulaic at times. However, there are enough twists, especially one toward the end, that keep the game compelling for its relatively short duration.
Strong writing and performances elevate the story into something unique. Over the course of their adventure, Monkey and Trip gradually learn about each other and develop a strong, yet platonic, attachment to one another. Part of what makes their relationship relatively unique in the video game industry is that their interaction stays firmly rooted in friendship. Trip might be the only female character in the game, but she is never relegated to being the tired and overused role of damsel in distress/love interest. Too often video game characters are written to fulfill some stereotypical role that remains static for the remainder of the game. Monkey shows his rage at being forced into slavery, while Trip visibly shows her remorse at having used the headband in the first place, yet maintains that it was necessary to survive. These feelings change over the course of their time together in what feels like a natural progression.
Writing and performances that make the characters believable as human beings set Enslaved apart. The authenticity the two characters display is largely due to the solid vocal and motion capture work from leading man Andy Serkis (best known as the actor who for playing Gollum in the Lord of the Rings films) and leading lady Lindsay Shaw (who might be recognizable from her role as Paige McCullers in the television show Pretty Little Liars). Both actors really steal the show and create the emotional bond that seems so absent in many games with larger budgets.
Ninja Theory was careful to avoid falling into stereotypes and lazy writing with Enslaved. It was somewhat shocking that the team didn’t make Trip an obligatory love interest. Most games would have written her as a piece of eye candy who Monkey eventually has to save from some generic villain because he “loves” this person who he met a day or two ago. Instead, Ninja Theory took the time and effort to give each of the characters motivations and personalities and then threw them into strange scenarios. Ninja Theory even avoids cheapening the thematic elements of Enslaved like friendship, free will, and memory. Players are shown how Monkey deals with his enforced servitude through his interactions with Trip throughout the game. The result is a stronger, more effective narrative that allows players to connect with the characters and care about what happens to them. It would have been so easy for the writers and designers or the marketing department to tweak the originality out of Enslaved, but somehow Ninja Theory got the game through development while keeping what made it great intact.
Enslaved represents almost perfect execution when it comes to pacing. Both the story and gameplay are perfectly timed so that you are never really doing the same thing the same way more than a few times. For example, there is a recurring boss robot that first appears early in the game. Each time players encounter this boss they must use a different tactic in order to proceed. Sometime you have to run, other times you have to fight or solve puzzles while avoiding its powerful attacks. When one enemy can recur and each time it feels new because different skills are in play; that's good game design. As previously stated, the combat in Enslaved isn't the deepest or most interesting, but Ninja Theory designed and paced Enslaved in such a way that players don’t lose interest in fighting the various enemy types. Well-timed set piece moments and the introduction of new abilities like projectile stuns and plasma blasts break up what could have easily been a lackluster experience and create something great. The story moves along at a good pace where nothing feels rushed and you aren’t left to grow bored with what is happening.
Here is the TL:DR version – Enslaved: Odyssey to the West does so much right, that it is a crime that not many people bought it when it released or have played it since. The visuals are unique and interesting. An extremely competent narrative provides a few great water cooler moments. The character development between Monkey and Trip should be the standard for non-romantic video game relationships. The pacing is so well done you could probably power through the entire game in one sitting and feel like you never repeated a scenario more than once or twice. I’d strongly encourage anyone who is interested in game design or development to pick up a copy of this game.
EA Sports launched their second annual Cover Vote initiative for their flagship hockey series yesterday. After last year’s staggering 25 million votes cast, EA has brought back the hugely successful contest. Fans can vote as many times as they’d like for their favorite players to be featured on the cover of NHL 14. As an added bonus, up to 10 entries per day count toward the Cover Vote Sweepstakes. Winners of the sweepstakes will receive a trip to a 2013 Stanley Cup Final game.
There is no current release date for NHL 14, though it will likely come out toward the end of the year. View the trailer for the perennial hockey title below.
There will be several rounds of voting to narrow down the field of candidates from 60 to determine a single face for the annual game franchise. Below you will find the schedule for each of the voting rounds:
Round of 60 – April 22-28: Teammate vs. teammate. One representative from each team plus two wild card selections advance.
32-Player Leaderboard – April 29-May 5: Fans vote for their favorite 16 candidates; top 16 vote-getters advance.
16-player Bracket – May 6 - May 26: Weekly round-by-round, single-elimination playoff bracket decides finalists.
The Finals – May 27- June 2: Winner takes the NHL 14 Cover.
To cast your votes and see the initial 60 candidates, head over to CoverVote.nhl.com.
Naughty Dog’s acclaimed PlayStation 2 trilogy about a young, pointy-eared man named Jak and his companion Daxter is coming to PS Vita. The collection includes Jak and Daxter: The Precursor Legacy, Jak II, and Jak 3. While the graphics won’t be as high quality as the PS3 release of the collection, the graphical quality will be on par or better than the original PS2 releases. Several new features have been added into the Vita release including touch screen functionality for some mini games and a full list of trophies that will be different from the PS3 version.
For those unfamiliar with the series, the Jak and Daxter titles are action-platformers that tell the story of Jak and his battle to save the world by utilizing his ability to manipulate an energy source called Eco. Throughout the games, a core part of the story revolves around the partnership between Jak and his best friend Daxter, who is transformed early on in the first game into an Ottsel (a fictional and adorable otter-weasel hybrid). The series takes place over a number of years with players watching Jak and Daxter grow up and mature as the series progresses. Likewise, the storytelling techniques mature and the scope of the duo's adventures expand.
The Jak and Daxter Collection for Vita will be released sometime in June and will retail for $29.99.
In a Nintendo Direct video, which can be viewed here, Reggie Fils-Aime, the president and COO of Nintendo of America, shared that a direct sequel to the classic top-down Legend of Zelda adventure is coming to the 3DS. The new title will make use of the 3D features on the handheld to incorporate vertical levels and the ability to transform into a 2D wall drawing into its puzzle solving mechanics. We are incredibly excited to see more details on the title which are likely to be revealed during E3 in June.
The press announcement also included a slew of information regarding previously announced titles. Satoru Iwata touched on the story details of Mario & Luigi: Dream Team (3DS), the wireless features of Mario Golf World Tour (3DS), the changes New Super Luigi U brings to the New Super Mario Bros. U (DLC for New Super Mario Bros. U on the WiiU), the differences between the Wii version of Donkey Kong Country Returns and the remake coming to 3DS, and a new flying pikmin type in Pikmin 3. Other new game announcements were made as well. A new Mario Party title, a downloadable Mario vs. Donkey Kong game called Minis on the Move, and a third installment in the Yoshi’s Island series (which is well worth being excited about as well) were announced for 3DS.
Mr. Iwata discussed the console update for the WiiU. The update will improve load times, allow users to transfer data between two hard drives, automatically install software, and allow gamers to download and install updates even when the system is turned off. The WiiU Virtual Console will launch the day after the update goes live next week. When the service launches, classic titles like Balloon Fight, Mario Bros., Punch Out, Super Mario Bros. 2, F-Zero, Super Metroid, Excite Bike, Kirby Super Star, Super Mario World, all of which can be played on the WiiU gamepad. Iwata added that Nintendo is working on bringing Game Boy Advance and N64 titles to the WiiU virtual console. Most importantly for Virtual Console fans, Iwata announced that Earthbound will finally be making its way to Europe and North America in response to fan outcry at the Japanese only release of the title in March.
Bill Trinen from the Treehouse branch of Nintendo then came on to demonstrate gameplay from the upcoming Game & Wario, discuss features in the newest Monster Hunter, and showcase a 3DS sequel to Lego City Undercover. Trinen also announced that numerous Japanese releases are being brought overseas for 3DS. Among these titles are Square Enix’s Bravely Default Flying Fairy (see image below), a wide variety of Level 5 titles such as Professor Layton and the Azran Legacy, The Starship Damrey, Bugs vs. Tanks, and Attack of the Friday Monsters! A Tokyo Tale. Atlus also announced an incredibly lavish Shin Megami Tensei IV release for the 3DS this summer.
For more information, you can watch the Nintendo Direct press release here (if you are only interested in the Legend of Zelda announcement, skip to 35:10).