Greetings, fellow cheapsters. Welcome to another edition of the column that looks around the internet and finds stuff for you to do that won't cost you penny one. If you've got no money, but still want to play games on your PC, you've come to the right place. Even if you've got more than two coppers to rub together, there might just be a little mod action for a game you already own. Follow me now into a dark dungeon full of indie developers torturing themselves night and day, producing only the finest freeware for the delectation of you and you alone (if by alone I mean “anyone with a computer”). Right, I've just about waffled enough to max out the word count for this opening paragraph, so on with the games.
Let's go down the mod route first. Heard of Mount & Blade? It's a little gem you may have heard of or even unearthed a while back, developed by a Turkish studio called Taleworlds. I once interviewed one of their lead designer chaps and he had a wonderfully eccentric beard, but that's irrelevant. Anyway, M&B is famous for its ease of modding-ness, with even the developers stunned by what the community has done with the base engine. Since the release of Warband, a sequel (of sorts) that introduced multiplayer, the mods have been even more impressive, leading to what I'm about to discuss: Mount & Musket: Battalion.
Basically, it takes the swords, archery and knights in armour premise of the vanilla game and changes it all to muskets, whiskers and grapeshot instead. Or, in other words, it turns it into a Napoleonic era game. Memories are instantly evoked of other attempts to make mods like this, like the Battlegrounds ones for Half-Life 2 to name but one example. This, however, has actual official support from Taleworlds, who recently helped set up a massive 60 player-a-side game.
Like any mod, it works when people play it properly and the rough edges are much more glaring because of its ambition. However, you shouldn't ignore this because of a paucity of servers or anything like that. Persevere, be patient, it's worth it in the end when you see your line of human soldiers line up in rank and let loose a volley of musket fire into the enemy ranks. If you want some more info on the game, visit the Taleworlds forum where it has its very own thread.
Next up is a little number called Flock Together, where you enter the strange world of a girl and her sheep. Now now, none of that. Take those thoughts right outside, young man/lady. This girl is strictly affectionate in a platonic way with her furry friend, so much so she attached balloons to it and watched helplessly as it soared off into the stratosphere. The only possible way to get it back down, other than attempting to burst the balloons and send her pal plummeting to a grisly death, is naturally to fire ropes at birds and slowly make her way skywards. It's what we'd all do, to be fair.
It's a bit fiddly to control, with a click of the mouse firing at a bird and the WSAD keys moving you around. The problem lies in the birds sometimes not being snagged by your ropes. Also, it's a tad boring once you realise it's just clicking on birds and moving left and right a bit. Maybe I was just playing it wrong. Oh, and the clouds being white and most other things also being white? Bad move, designer person.
When not flying about in the clouds, there's no place I'd rather be than knee-deep in the dead. Yes, Doom is perhaps the greatest shooter of all time, certainly the one I've put most time into. MooD is Doom backwards, but with more capitals. It's also a top-down representation of the game's universe, with pink demons only being 2D this time (yes, I know they were only bitmap sprites in the main game, and hence were 2D then as well).
It's easiest to describe it as a one-room Gauntlet clone, where you just survive as long as you can and go for points. Occasionally familiar weapons like the plasma gun and the shotgun drop, enabling you to eliminate your enemies quicker. It's good, solid retro fun, with a couple of issues. One is that Sticky Keys keeps coming up because you press Shift to fire, so remember to turn that off before playing. Secondly, it's only possible to fire up, down, left and right, which is annoying. Add in diagonal firing and it'd be much better. If you want to play it, download the old .zip file from here.
Penultimately, we have a game about killing elves with garden gnomes. Say what you see, after all. Gnomes hate Christmas, and elves like to spread good cheer. You, as a gnome tethered to the chimney with a long elastic band (or perhaps a bungee rope) have to smash, crush and generally clobber the green coated scum into oblivion before they deliver presents to the people residing in your building.
Controls are simple – left and right to move your red building around, swinging your gnome automatically as you go. Press Shift to call in an airstrike (this gnome's got powerful friends) and make sure not to hit cats, who grant a bonus when they get into the chimney. It's fast, fun and jolly, perfect for spending time with. It also features Toastie-esque facial appearances when combos are achieved. It's also nice to be on the side of the grumpy curmudgeons for a change too. To play Garden Gnome Carnage, go here.
We reach the end now and it's time for the weekly Freeware Classic bit, where I try to remember a game I thought was good two years ago. This time out, we're going with QWOP, an infamous and incredibly difficult game that's also fiendishly addictive. Warning: don't play this in the office, as you'll almost certainly not do any work for the rest of the day. And you might get fired, unless you let your boss have a go.
You use the Q, W, O and P keys to control the legs of your runner. I seem to recall there's a story about how you are attending the Olympics, but that your country is so poor, you couldn't train for the hurdles properly. Hence your inability to move a yard or two without tumbling to the ground. Anyway, it's a physics-based game where all you have to do is stagger 100 metres down a flat track. Sounds easy? It absolutely isn't. Give it a try, you'll certainly be hooked, before tossing the keyboard away in a rage.