It is a truth universally acknowledged that if a game’s free, it’s probably not very good – except, as it turns out, that’s not the truth at all. Free-to-play is the model of the future for many studios, and some of the best talent in gaming is working on these titles. However, there is a lot of rubbish out there, and the field can be intimidating to navigate – which is why we’ve done it for you.
These are six of the best free-to-play games across PC, iOS and Android, and Facebook (and even consoles) – the ones that should appeal to gamers of any breed.
iOS and Android
OMGPOP’s quirky sketch-pad scribbler has been riding high in the free-app charts recently, thanks to a simple premise that requires little genuine artistic talent and instead rewards a willingness to experiment and draw an awful lot of stick people. Trying to represent words or concepts of varying complexity via a finger-painting is compellingly difficult and the most entertaining aspect is watching the other player’s efforts unfold as every carefully placed splodge and erased line is recorded and played back to you. (You’ll know how cool this is if you’ve ever played 3DS Letterbox.)
Draw Something is also a game about numbers: from the three drawings per second that players across the globe were achieving on the day it launched, to the three thousand drawings per second it has elicited since. These dizzying stats go some way to explaining why social games giant Zynga bought developer OMGPOP for a reported $210M.
This is a title that raises the expectation of what a Facebook game can achieve. Bossa Studios‘ BAFTA award-winning adventure in city-building and hell-raising takes in elements of strategic tower defence, resource management and real-time PvP as friends defend themselves against the machinations of neighbouring towns and a cute-but-deadly cast of B-movie monsters.
Monstermind represents a finely balanced example of a free-to-play social game, placing interaction with your Facebook friends at the heart of its action, while those looking for a more cerebral, solo challenge can take on the trials of the recently-added campaign mode. Forget passive aggressive Facebook status updates to dig at friends that have irked you and instead lay waste to their town with giant crabs, mutant snails and a 49-and-a-half foot woman.
iOS & Android
It all starts sedately enough as foundations are laid and floors of varying purpose are constructed: a residential apartment here, a recreation block there, and Nimblebit’s most famous creation eases you in to the running of your very own, personalised tiny tower.
Then, as the tower reaches ever upwards, an increasing number of floors require maintenance, specialist VIPs become invaluable and the roles of the irrepressibly charming Bitizens must be juggled to increase their happiness and productivity, resulting in a mesmeric flow of micromanagement. The multitude of randomised floor types ensure that no two towers are the same and Game Center support means the edifices of friends are but a click away, to be viewed, compared and coveted.
PS3 and PC
Proving that free-to-play is not the exclusive domain of mobile and PC, Sony has created a robust MMORPG set in the rich and familiar lore of the DC universe. As an average Joe with recently acquired super-powers, players choose to align themselves with classic DC heroes or villains that act as mentors, providing varying quests, rewards and loot.
Since adopting the free-to-play model in late 2011 DC Universe Online has attracted a wealth of new players, and there have been numerous updates and optional DLC. The game’s biggest toll is the 20 – 30GB of HDD space required to download it.
Built on lore some 100 years in the making, or so the story goes, this BAFTA award-nominated score-attack title rewards creative shot-making and a keen eye. The great British indie-institution that is The Pickford Bros. has created a ball-based puzzle game that’s endearingly rendered and unreservedly generous in its praise of great escapes and lofty achievements and humorously chiding of duff shots and failed attempts.
Game modes vary from the relaxed pace of Classic to the frenzy of Countdown and the necessity to make every shot count in Sardines mode, lest the table become overcrowded. Easy to understand, its depth, stat tracking and soothingly quaint soundtrack encourage frequent re-racks on the way to achieving the perfect S grade required to be inducted into the Hall of Fame.
When Team Fortress 2 launched as part of Valve’s 2007 Orange Box it represented a wry take on the team-based shooter that was sublimely balanced, filled with character and exceptional value. Then, last year, the Seattle-based corporation launched it under the free-to-play business model, instantly making it by far the best FPS to ever cost zero money.
The sheer amount of content on offer combined with the number of community events and frequent game updates ensure players are never left wanting, while the ability to unlock extra equipment and craft new items invites experimentation with each of the nine distinct character classes. Undeniably, nobody does free-to-play like Valve.
Naturally, these are far from the only free-to-play games worth your time – and with big hitters like Planetside 2 and Dust 514 on the way, there’s also a lot to look forward to. To keep on top of the latest free-to-play releases or to highlight your own cherished freebies, check out IGN’s Free-to-Play Games Wiki Guide.
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