Review: Consider free games a viable alternative, just keep the task manager open

By ALEXANDER MARQUIS

Sometimes, the best things in life are free, and games are usually no exception. 

While paid games dominate the market for good reason – after all, most people make games to make a profit – there’s a whole world of demos, free games, and all sorts of interesting things out there. 

After playing quite a number of free games, some good and some bad, I feel that free games are better than some may expect, and in fact are often goldmines for new perspectives, small ideas, and inspiration. While they have their drawbacks, free games are generally one of the most interesting parts of the genre  and are great for beginners to video games overall. 

Free games have many advantages over paid ones, and should be considered a viable alternative.

Before proceeding, a word on vocabulary: “free” here doesn’t mean “free to play,” as in games that are free, but have optional or occasionally “optional,” in-game purchases. Some of these can be extremely fun or interesting to talk about, and will be here hopefully, but these aren’t the subject of the article. So, for sake of clarity, “free” means anything that doesn’t expect any payment from you: “free” games are free, be they demos, full games, or just little side-projects pushed onto Steam.

While scouring Steam at night for free games to play (I had, and still have, little money to buy games) I saw this obscure little game about something that sounded silly, a game called Dark Egg. After seeing it was a text adventure game “with a map,” the author thought to put it in a list with all the other free games and demos they found interesting, and thought not much of it. A few games later, I decided to give it a go. The moment the in-game character – which had not even been given a name, face or description outside a few lines of text – stepped into a rain-soaked town, it was obvious it was something special. 

A few hours later, over the course of a night and morning, I had found a game that not only mastered surrealist writing, but gave an entirely new perspective, a new well of ideas and moods to draw from and create. It only used text and a clear map of where to go, along with a barely present combat system, to immerse oneself in a world permanently wreathed by fog and snow, of monolithic ruins, and of genuine humanity in places least expected. 

Is it perfect? No, hardly. Some puzzles take forever to solve, the combat is little utilized and some of the characters feel repetitive (through the course of the game, there are TWO old men who miss their families, with much the same reaction if you discover said families’ ultimate fate), and just generally obtuse logic at times. However, it made me realize the value of free games.

Of course, not all free games or demos are Dark Egg – most are as one would expect. Some are like Kach. It’s easy to see Kach’s heavily stylized, extremely pixelated 3D environments, and get intrigued. An hour or so later, everything was extremely confused: what had just happened? The plot, as it could be understood, is that there is an older brother to a younger sister, who has a habit of hiding in haunted houses. After plodding along one, and finding out something about “morphosis,” the apparent method of transforming things into other things to heal them, at the cost of making them extremely aggressive, the player stumbled into a room to discover sister was dead, except she wasn’t, and the thing ended on a cliffhanger. Inspiring? Not exactly, even if there’s always appreciation of the work that this takes.  

However, be them great or bad, like the examples before, the point to be made here is that both of them are worth talking about. Even a bad game has something to say, something to repeat to friends, even if its just because of how stupid that something was. They’re both free, too. All it takes is storage space.

So what do good free games have to offer over paid games? Well, free games tend to offer an unique experience over a short period of time. These are typically used to explore smaller, more experimental stories, novel gameplay ideas, or generally new things. Some may explore the creator(s)’ life story, some may be developed over a day as a challenge (a practice known as “game jams”), some may be just to test a concept and some may be demos, but all of them offer something interesting.

Along with that, some of them are electrifying. Free games can be a major source of inspiration and new ideas, beyond what playing a paid game might have. Being able to play a lot of them over the course of a single afternoon due to their short playtime means one can blend together ideas and get a wide range of concepts. Often, the best approach to creation is to draw from a wide, wide variety of sources: free games can provide just that. 

However, there are some noticeable shortcomings. Free games rarely provide week-long epics that leave one stunned and overcome with emotion, or constantly rewarding multiplayer experiences. Their free nature means that they’re more amateurish, so optimization of space and performance is no guarantee: many of these games are perfectly fine to play, but some may be surprisingly taxing on the system. Always have the task manager open, just in case. 

FEATURE IMAGE: Keyboard and controller (NADIA CENICEROS/ Ethic News photo)

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