The name of this game is also its objective: Stop The Darkness. A pitch-black nothingness rapidly encroaches from the edges of the screen, and you have to build and upgrade structures that can fend it off. Better be quick – you only have a few minutes before the land is consumed altogether.
Stop The Darkness was created for Ludum Dare 42. Visually, it betrays its time-limited development but look past this and there are some interesting mechanics to discover. Maps are randomly generated which varies the challenge, there’s a tricky resource managing element, and structures can be built in certain configurations to provide bonuses.
Hoo boy, that’s some title, right? Bear in mind that Dr Langeskov was directed by William Pugh of The Stanley Parable and you’ll perhaps understand both the lunacy with which it was named and what it has in store for the player.
Dr Langeskov is a first-person story that’ll take you less than 20 minutes to complete. A ‘whirlwind heist’ is accurate in not only the time it takes to play but the non-stop wacky and hilarious situations you’ll experience in that short time. It’s a genuinely funny game, with some brilliant voice acting that solidifies its personality. The fact you won’t have to pay a penny makes it a no-brainer.
Spaceplan starts simple. You have a barely functioning spacecraft system at your disposal and no idea of where you are or what’s going on. “Use your kinetic generator button,” the machine instructs. A few clicks and things slowly start to whirr into life. Then you can begin repairing your solar panels and more processes boot up, one by one. Now you’re getting somewhere.
At its core, Spaceplan is a clicker game. The more things you build, the more energy you generate, the more things you build, ad infinitum. Whereas you can pay a small sum for a revamped version of the game or its mobile app, Spaceplan Prototype is a free browser version that’s still very entertaining in its own right. Most notable is its daft sense of humour which involves using potatoes for everything from powering the ship to sending probes out into space.
17. My Friend Pedro
There’s no doubting how much of an influence Max Payne had on the action genre with its slow-mo bullet time and movie-like shooting acrobatics. My Friend Pedro is clearly inspired by the classic shooter, making these components the core of its gameplay but in a 2D space. Oh, and you take orders from a floating, talking banana, because of course.
You may have seen the dramatically souped-up sequel which is due to release commercially later in 2019, published by Devolver Digital. Now is the perfect time to try out where this mad concept of blood, bullets and bananas was originally conceived.
Gamers are going nuts for free-to-play shooters right now, from Fortnite to Apex Legends to Warframe. But whereas these are based on an economy of microtransactions, SCP: Secret Laboratory is truly free. It’s also bonkers, and nothing like the above on practically any level.
Secret Laboratory spawns you onto a procedurally generated facility map as one of a selection of classes. You might be a lab scientist, or a mobile task force soldier. Depending on your role, you might have to escape the facility, help others to escape or capture and/or kill anyone you come across. What truly sets it apart, however, is the fervent roleplay community surrounding the game. Play a few matches and you’ll likely stumble into RPers. Our advice? Join right in.
VVVVVV is a classic amongst indie platformers and widely available across all platforms for reasonably cheap. VVVVVV: Make And Play Edition, however, is completely free, released by Terry Cavanagh to give open access to the game’s level editor and large selection of community-created content.
While you can’t access the original campaign in this stripped-back edition, you’ll not be short of levels to play – the community really went to town. Beware, though – some are seriously elaborate and challenging, really testing the limits of what is possible. But what have you got to lose, other than a little sanity?
14. Cry Of Fear
It’s surprising how many huge, fully-fledged games started as mods of other titles. Take PUBG, DOTA and Counter-Strike, for instance. While not reaching the same immense levels of renown as these, Cry of Fear is a high-quality psychological horror game that had humble mod beginnings.
After initially being built into Half Life 1, Team Psykskallar made the decision to release Cry of Fear as a standalone release. It’s a remarkable offering with high production values, featuring a bare minimum of 8 hours’ gameplay, a large arsenal of weaponry, multiple endings and an unlockable bonus campaign. Even better, you can play through Cry of Fear with a friend so you don’t have to face it alone.
13. Emily Is Away
Isn’t it alarming how quickly technology moves on? While chatting to your friends on your Windows XP PC using dial-up internet and AOL Instant Messenger seemed revolutionary at the time, it’s now a hilariously archaic idea. Emily is Away lets you relive those simpler times in an IM chat with someone from your high school.
Emily is Away reaches its conclusion within an hour, but over that time it covers five years of your life and multiple narrative routes defined by your choices. It’s a heartfelt story told excellently by its retro medium. To really get in the mood, you can even customise your screenname, user profile and font colour. Groovy.
Take one look at Unturned and it’s clear that it was part of the post-Minecraft surge of visually-similar games. But Unturned crafts its own identity, going all-in on the survival element and pitting you against hordes of zombies as well as human opponents in PvP. Like its formerly zeitgeist-defining inspiration, it was also made by just one person, Nelson Sexton.
What’s impressive is that for a free offering, Unturned is full of content and things to do, and is still regularly updated four and a half years after its initial release (and that’s not counting the years of beta before that). Constructible strongholds, fleets of vehicles, multiple maps, NPCs and quests are just a taste of what’s available, and with mod support the content is never-ending.
11. A Dark Room
A Dark Room is a limiting experience, to begin with. Starting with a blank screen, your first and only option is to light a fire. Then you just have to keep that fire going, motivated by nothing more than descriptive text and a thin bar that slowly recedes and grows again.
But this is a text adventure that develops over time. You can gather resources, craft and hunt animals like in many survival games, and this leads to drawing more people into your base. A Dark Room’s success comes not only from this engaging gameplay loop of constant improvement but also its similarity to a good adventure book, stoking the imagination just as the player stokes the fire at the beginning of the game.