Free Play [On] vol. 1

You’ve probably heard it said that the best things in life are free.  Any gamer, however, will tell you that’s a load of Pokéshit.  We have to pay for our jollies; Smash Bros and Final Fantasy don’t come cheap.  Or do we?
Now don’t get me wrong here, I’m not sanctioning piracy of any kind.  There are just plenty of other ways to have fun, all of them legal and free.  Sometimes, though, the trick is finding the good stuff, sorting the wheat from the chaff.  There’s an awful lot of junk out there, but it’s worth it to help stretch your gaming dollar.

So here’s part one of what may very well be an ongoing series (because you know how good I am with keeping that kind of thing going).

GameTap – free game collection (with optional pay-to-play games)  
GameTap used to be a pay service, offering collections of games from virtually every console known to man, including PC and Arcade.  Now about 100 of its classic offerings are made available for free, with games rotating in and out every so often.  Most of the free ones are classic arcade and Neo-Geo games, some of which run better than they would on an emulator due to the fact that these have actually been re-coded well.  Some of the games currently available for free (and I remind you, completely legal) are:

Street Fighter II: Championship Edition
Bubble Bobble
The Last Blade
King of Fighters’96
Metal Slug
Commandos 3
Colin McRae Rally 2005
Mr. Robot
Not a bad list, eh?  Really, the amount of games you get for GameTap’s pay service is pretty much worth it, if you don’t have a modern console to drop GameFly or BlockBuster money on.
OpenArena – formally Quake III Arena, fast-paced first-person shooter
One of the heralds of PC FPS gaming, Quake III Arena helped to define the sub-genre of competitive FPSing.  Sure, it didn’t have the impact that Counter-Strike had, but this direct contender to the original Unreal Tournament tied up many a college LAN back in the day.  Now the game’s engine has been released as open source, and the community has responded by turning out OpenArena, which is essentially Quake III Arena… but better.  New maps, new models, and, well, the fact that it’s free make it certainly worth your time.  It’s not often you get a free FPS this fleshed out, not to mention with full support for mods.  Also, although the project is officially halted for lack of time reasons, people are still contributing to it.  Think of it as M.U.G.E.N. for FPSes.  (And we’ll hit M.U.G.E.N. in vol. 2.)
Liberated Games – free game collection, all once commercial, now free
As with Quake III Arena, often a game will have once been a commercial hit, but the production and/or publishing company decides it’s just not worth it to protect their IP any longer (or said company goes out of business).  This is where Liberated Games comes in.  They’ve collected information about a lot of these games, as well as download links, and posted them all for you to grab.  And there are some gems here, including some you’ve probably never heard of.  Here’s some of my suggestions:
Tyrian – vertical SHMUP with customizable ships and hidden levels 
Abuse – 2D 360-degree-aiming platform shooter
Command and Conquer – the original, good luck getting it to work on your XP or Vista machine
God of Thunder – old-school DOS adventure
And of course there’s always the off chance you’ll find something you recognize from the old days that has been released into the wild…
So that’s it for this week.  Next time, it’s flash games and open source engines, and maybe even a free MMO or two…