[NOTE: The following was originally written for my Financial Chronicle (Edge) column, but they only used part of it in their games section, so here’s the whole of it.]
Name five gaming classics that can be enjoyed for free? Impossible, you say? Hmm…:
- Wolfenstein 3D: Help BJ Blazkowicz outwit the Nazis and escape Castle Wolfenstein. Released in 1992, Wolfenstein 3D revolutionised the first-person shooter (FPS), but the game isn’t as simple as blasting your way out. BJ has to not just battle Nazi soldiers singlehanded, but find supplies for himself, solve puzzles and even treasure. Wolfenstein 3D has been released as ‘shareware’, where one of the six episodes—consisting of 10 missions—can be played for free. Don’t expect super-cool graphics, but do expect a lot of fun. Download it here.
- Doom: Doom followed on the heels of Wolfenstein 3D by the same makers (id Software) just a year later, and like the latter, part of the game is available for free—one episode consisting of nine levels. You are an unnamed marine stranded on a base in Mars, which has been taken over by monsters. Can you survive, find the exit to the next level and keep the alien monsters at bay? Oh, and it’s not just a matter of killing the big bad monsters — you need to find the right keys and stay away from toxic and radioactive spills if you want to survive and get out. Doom came in for praise for its use of 3D graphics and had one of the best FPS controls of its time. In 2004 it was pegged by GameSpy as the greatest game of all time. Get it here.
- Elder Scrolls: The first two Elder Scrolls games, Arena (1994) and Daggerfall (1996), are available full and free. These classic adventure role-playing games (RPG) are renowned for their open-ended gameplay. Set in medieval times in a place known as Tamriel, the Elder Scrolls offer the player a vast world to explore and complete quests. As is typical of RPGs, character development is a major component, thus making it possible to play the game many times in many ways. Magic has a big role in the gameplay, as does learning skills. An engaging storyline has always been the strong point of the game series, and in Daggerfall one may even choose to completely ignore the game’s story and go off by oneself to explore and ‘experience’ the world. Download both games here.
- Dink Smallwood: [I’ve written about Dink here in the past, but what the heck!] Help Dink the pig farmer become the saviour of the world. Yet another adventure RPG set in a magical, medieval world, Dink Smallwood (1997) does not have the exploration scope of the Elder Scrolls games, but it has an engaging and sometimes irreverent story of its own. Setting out seeking a new life after the death of his mother, Dink gets caught up in a quest to cleanse the world of a nefarious group called the Cast. He gains powers, weapons and magic as he progresses, and finally comes face to face with the most dangerous enemy of all… Get Dink.
- Grand Theft Auto 1 and 2: The first two in the popular — if controversial — series of games, Grand Theft Auto was released in 1998 and Grand Theft Auto 2 followed in 1999. You take on the role of a criminal working for a big city crime syndicate and gain points by performing tasks, including robberies, assassinations and generally creating havoc around the city. GTA also had an open-ended world, and one is free to roam around, steal cars, disrupt traffic and generally be a big-time nuisance. Not surprising that it has it detractors. Get them here.
The DOS question
Of course, some of these games are pretty ancient, and operating systems (yes, even Windows!) have evolved since then. Many of the games were built for the DOS platform and may not work in present-day computers. However, help is at hand in the form of an x86 emulator called DOSBox, which can be used one Windows, Mac OS and Linux systems.
[Which ones have I played?
Well, I’m certainly old enough to have played them all in their heyday! Doom is still a favourite, and I have fond memories of Dink Smallwood too. I have also tried out Wolfenstein 3D, but didn’t get too far. The Elder Scrolls remain on my to-do list, and yes, I have to admit I’d like to try GTA too…]