Monday, August 2, 2010

Free and Worth Every Penny - Issue 53: Nostalgia Wave - Colony of Gamers

Take a look at the following great, old games out now as freeware.  I didn't post the original, that would be Ravenlock at Colony of Gamers:

Free and Worth Every Penny - Issue 53: Nostalgia Wave - Colony of Gamers
Let me get this out of the way up front: this is not a post about abandonware. This will not be a thread about abandonware, either. I know that there are umpteen sites where you can go and download DOS and Windows classic games for the low, low price of $0, under circumstances that some folks consider A-okay and others consider more dubious. This is not the place for that argument, or links to those sites. We all have Google and know how to use it, yes? Okay, cool.

That said, though, sometimes publishers give us the gift of a piece of our youth - repackaged, or just as it was - free of charge. Over the last few years we've seen several instances of this: Rockstar with their Classics Collection and Mektek's recent re-release of Mechwarrior 4 come most readily to mind. It was recommended by NotJeff (thank you!) that I do a writeup of the free Star Control 2 remake The Ur-quan Masters, and I decided I'd do one better and just do a round-up of all the totally legal, totally free old games I could think of. So brace yourselves, it's a...

#1. The Ur-Quan Masters

Let's start where NotJeff suggested, with the open-source remake of 1992 classic Star Control 2. Bringing the galactic adventure of Star Control 2 into a slightly more modern era, The Ur-Quan Masters is essentially an enhanced port blessed by the original developers that's been underway since 2002. Version 0.6.2 was released in 2007, and adds online multiplayer to the already considerable content of the original game.

If you aren't familiar, it's a little bit of a 4X game, a little bit adventure game, a little bit top-down combat, and a whole lot wacky. I didn't get to play a lot of Star Control 2 as a kid, but what I remember is the extremely strong characterization of the alien races - you will laugh at some, and tremble at others - the fun of hunting for minerals on planet surfaces, and the great music. All of that has been preserved here, including optional updates to the music if you prefer them.

If you fondly remember Star Control 2, it's all waiting for you just as you remember it. If you've never tried it, now's a great time to give it a whirl.

#2. Sierra Adventure Games

Next up, some games that I do have a much deeper personal connection with - Sierra adventure games. These were quite literally my introduction to gaming, playing King's Quest I through IV on a Tandy 1000 EX in the mid-80's with my parents. A fair bit of noise has been made (and rightly so) about the long-awaited successful release of The Silver Lining, but those guys aren't the only ones who are keeping Sierra's legacy alive.

For starters, AGD Interactive has been lovingly re-creating Sierra's adventures for years now - I first remember coming across their work on the original King's Quest sometime in college. They've now done three full games - the first two in the King's Quest series, and Quest for Glory II - and the scope of their work is difficult to overstate. Entirely new VGA graphics, music, voicework for both of the KQ games... truly, I think of these as the definitive versions of the games I loved as a kid. It's wonderful work, and if you have any love for adventure games, you need to check it out.

Quite apart from them, Infamous Adventures released a similarly complete graphic, music and speech overhaul of King's Quest III back in 2006, and while I confess to not having played it myself yet, it certainlylooks excellent. Between AGD and Infamous Adventures, revisiting memories of Sierra games is easier - and better - than anyone could reasonably expect.

#3. ScummVM Adventure Games

Let's stay on the adventure kick for a moment and point out how great ScummVM is. If you've never used it, it's basically a modern player for all the classic SCUMM adventure games, of which there were a metric ton. Almost every classic LucasArts adventure (Monkey Island 1 and 2, Sam & Max, Loom, two Indiana Jonesgames, The Dig, Full Throttle) can be plugged into ScummVM, which runs on damn near anything, and they'll run like a dream. Many of the classic Sierra games will work as well. Of course, those games you need to legally own before playing them in ScummVM, so that's not the purview of this article, but there are three classic adventures you can download completely free that will work right out of the box.

Remarkably, this image with monkeys in pirate hats is not from a LucasArts game. I was shocked too.

Beneath a Steel Sky, Flight of the Amazon Queen and Lure of the Temptress are all now freeware, and areonly a click away. BaSS is a classic post-apocalyptic tale of a man on the run (and in addition to being a great game has the distinction of being animated by Dave Gibbons of Watchmen fame). Flight of the Amazon Queen, pictured above, is a much more light-hearted Indiana Jones-style jungle adventure. Lure of the Temptress I'm not familiar with, but is apparently fantasy-themed. But hey, it's free, so if you like adventure games, hop to!
#4. Rockstar Classics Collection

I feel like there isn't a whole lot to say here, because it's GTA, right? I mean, we all know what GTA is about. If you've never played the first two, it's hard to say that they hold up tremendously well in a world where GTA IV and its expansions can both be had for well under $20 in a sale, but they're still pretty good top-down fun and perfect for gaming on a laptop if you're on the go. They also had great multiplayer longbefore the 3D GTA games figured out how to do that.

Wild Metal, I confess, I have not played. It won't cost me anything but time, so maybe I should get on that? If you've played it, leave a comment and let us know if we should.
#5. Mechwarrior 4

This one probably isn't news to you, since it was a big deal a few months back, but MekTek has releasedMechwarrior 4 for free, one assumes at least partly to drum up interest for their new Mechwarrior game, which is coming... someday.

That's the good news - and don't get me wrong, it IS good news. Mech 4 is a pretty great game and not a whole lot of people played it at release (myself included). The bad news is, MekTek kind of stealth-bundled the whole thing with their own Impulse-esque delivery service, MTX, and that didn't go so well. A lot of people weren't able to download the game at all, and those who were able still sometimes had problems with MTX as a launcher.

MekTek promised quickly that they would release a downoad free of MTX, but as far as I can see they have not yet done so. The community has come up with workarounds, which you can feel free to try if you're so inclined, but it's unfortunate that this game comes with a side of either a lousy delivery client or required back-end tinkering.

#6. A Whole Lot More

We're only scratching the surface here, really; for all that we PC gamers complain (and rightly so) about restrictive DRM and fear of not being able to play our games down the road, there are still a lot of publishers happy to create goodwill by giving away older wares. The original Railroad Tycoon is free now, if you feel like building trains across the country. If you want to play through the predecessors to Halo, all three Marathongames are completely free. For strategy buffs, Command & Conquer Gold can be had gratis, and one of my favorite strategy games as a kid, Defender of the Crown, is free now too. M.U.L.E. has been completely overhauled and is available with online multiplayer, and the classic text adventure version of Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy is playable as a webgame provided by the BBC.

And there's probably a lot more I don't know about. If you do, leave a comment and share it with us. And here's hoping that more publishers in the future go through their back catalogs and choose to donate some of their older work to the public good. These games aren't just good for nostalgia, after all; they're part of our history, and helped build the industry we care so much about. It's great to see them kept alive.

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