I have been writing about free-ish and freeware games since 2006 and playing them since the 8-bit era and, well, I decided that compiling (and maintaining/updating) a list of the very best would be a mighty fine idea. Especially if it focused on games that never required you to pay anything. Sooo... here it is then:
[Latest update: 15 April 2015]
The Suffering: Formerly commercial, distinctly shocking and always fun. Also developed by the aptly named Surreal Software.
Hydorah: Locomalito's wondrous and taxing shmup; it should have come in a cabinet...
The Cat That Got The Milk: Navigating Kandinsky requires decent reflexes...
Privates: In which excellently rendered, condom wearing soldiers battle those pesky STDs.
Tribly: Art of Theft: Yahtzee's excellently stealthy steal-'em-up.
Fragment: Be stealthy while shattering stuff in a visually glorious offering.
Seiklus: An early indie classic and a wonderful exploration action-adventure.
Scavenger: In its shiny NES-like graphical armour it is simply dashing. Also sports jetpacks and cave (or, well, cave-like) environments.
Paradise Lost: Yes, the same.
Level 2 The Virus Master: Heavy metal shmup fun!
The Ur-Quan Masters: Essentially they undying (not undead) Star Control 2 and thus an amazing action, strategy, exploration, RPG mega-game.
Hide And Seek: Scaaaaaaaaaaaary. Boo!
Deadbolt: Got murder those zombies in this brilliant stealth-and-shoot-'em-up!
The Fabulous Screech: Is fabulous.
The Last Door: Excellent series of highly stylized, deeply atmospheric, well designed and Lovecraft-inspired point-and clickers.
Mudlarks: Supernatural secrets help sustain digitized friendships and create lovely point-and-click mysteries.
Heroine's Quest: The definitive re-imagining of Sierra's Quest for Glory complete with huge, detailed fantasy tracts of land.
Annie Android: Automated Affection: AGS cartoon adventure anyone? It's got a hot mailbot in it, you know.
Sarien.net: Not a game per se, but rather a way to enjoy some classic Sierra adventures online and in a lovably silly multiplayer environment. Larry and Space Quest should be the first ones to try.
Nanobots: Unique point-and-click adventure sporting lovable robots and innovative mechanics.
Space Quest - Vohaul Strikes Back: A fan sequel of sorts and the first full-length Space Quest adventure in over a decade.
^_^: For it silly and crafted by a Ben.
Space Quest: Decisions of the Elders: Over 30 rooms of extensive Roger Wilco shenanigans.
Warthogs: People that not necessarily hate but, well, dislike Harry Potter and love adventure games should probably play this little gem. It's a short, sweet, pixelated, impressively crafted and occasionally sarcastic.
The Book of Living Magic: A wondrous, excellently written, funny and touching offering by Jonas Kyratzes that comes complete with the whimsical art of Verena Kyratzes.
A Postcard from Afthonia: It's by team Kyratzes. You love it already.
The Infinite Ocean: No, I'm not tired of Kyratzes' games. This is a sci-fi one and it's excellent.
The Snakes of Avalon: Takes place in a pub, is smart, funny and revels in alcohol-induced hallucinations.
The Curfew: Dystopian, oppressive and written by Kieron Gillen. Oh, and the FMV in it is simply impressive.
Eternally Us: Point-and-click to love, life and friendship.
Digital: A Love Story: Enter the world of the '80s BBS in this wonderful and actually unique adventure game.
What Linus Bruckman Sees When His Eyes Are Closed: The only adventure game featuring two stories for you to simultaneously enjoy. A triumph of innovation that sadly lacks in the guns department, but makes up for it with its taxing puzzles and super secret ending.
Dead Cyborg: Episodic, fisrt-person, point-and-click adventures in SPACE.
Egress - The Test of STS-417: Horror in outer space in a stunningly illustrated point-and-clicker.
The Rebirth / The Reaper: Two games sharing at least one in-game painting; also, two excellent, short adventures by Ben Chandler and Francisco Gonazlez.
Maniac Mansion Deluxe: Truly excellent remake of Ron Gilbert's classic by the now defunct LucasFan Games.
Forge: Gorgeous, fanmade sequel to Loom.
The Button Affair: More stylish than a particularly stylish thing and an endless runner.
Frets on Fire: The indie version of Guitar Hero (or indeed Rock Band) that sports a ton of available content.
Snow Tale: Inspired by Snow Bros but actually original; wouldn't look out of place in an early 90s arcade.
Forget Me Not: Vaguely reminiscent of Pac-Man, this thing offer quite a bit of shooting and a ton of apparently hand-picked colours.
Maldita Castilla: An utterly stunning arcade adventure by Locomalito.
Dino Quake: Fantastic web-base take on the classic SnowBros formula with some of the chunkiest pixels you have ever seen.
Powerglove: Because the C64 will never die.
Blue Lacuna: The evolution of interactive fiction.
Dead Like Ants: Literary fun with insects.
Masters of Constantinople: Text away in a tale of intrigue, mystery and Byzantine betrayals while the Empire crumbles and knowledge has to be preserved.
Arcadia - pastoral tale: Play it for its rich setting, subtly subversive ideas, whimsical creatures and the sheer quality and quantity of its words.
Behind Closed Doors 5: The latest of the famous Zenobi series of quirky text-adventures, as always sporting a Balrog.
Calm: No genre can avoid the walking dead.
Cryptozookeeper: A huge, polished, well-written and lavishly illustrated piece of interactive fiction filled with weird animals and sporting tons of characters, a lovely soundtrack, odd visuals and quite a bit of splatterpunk-iness.
Fragile Shells: Escape the room; in space.
Zombies & Elephants: Everything can be mixed with everything else if you know how to write. And Verena Kyratzes does.
Love, Hate and the Mysterious Ocean: Imagine if you will a great tower in the ocean. Imagine zeppelins flying around it. Imagine odd scholars and weird language. Now play this.
Weird City Interloper: Unique dialog-based exploration and a wonderfully demented city to explore.
Treasures of a Slaver's Kingdom: Filled with digital feelies this lost text-adventure that never really existed will let you parley with and regard thing in the Viraxian Empire.
The People's Glorious Text Adventure: In Soviet Russia texts adventure YOU!
Rogue of the Multiverse: New mechanics, a fanstastic sci-fi setting and excellent writing by Pacian.
Poizoned Mind: Adult, text heavy, hilarious and smart like a smart thing.
Pac-Txt: Pac-Man meets Zork and things get silly and almost fun.
The Play: Wonderful, polished choose-your-own adventure kind of interactive fiction by Deirdra Kiai in which you manage them loony acting people.
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy: By the great Douglas Adams and Infocom, all polished up and made available for free. Hilarious and downright frustrating.
Facade: The next step in AI development or the evolution of the Sims and cyber-voyeurs? No matter what you think, you really have a look at this innovative almost-gamy piece of software.
Spelunky: One of the greatest games ever. Ever! Also what Rick Dangerous should have been.
Poacher: Metroidvania done by wise game critic and accomplished adventure designer Yahtzee and done right. Also, with a healthy doses of humour and bunnies.
Alphaland: This platformer has the best plot ever seen in a platformer. Also sports some pretty platformy platforms.
Tiny Barbarian: Difficult and short, but this fantasy themed run-and-hack game offers some beautiful pixel graphics, amazing animations and a lovely chiptune soundtrack.
L'Abbaye des Morts: Fantastic production that comes close to besting Jet Set Willy.
Phenomenon 32: Much more than a simple platformer, Phenomenon 32 is a huge, black and white, fully voice acted game with an added strategic layer.
Treasure Adventure Game: Platforms set in a huge open world.
Cave Story: A rather cute indie monument.
La Mulana: Freeware metroidvania straight from 2005 with a distinct MSX aesthetic.
Volcosis: A gloriously confusing platformer that's both 2D and 3D.
Mibibli's Quest: Weird, wonderful and wery, wery big.
Tobias and the Dark Scepters: 13 years in the making with the documentary to prove this.
Gods Deluxe: A remake of the brutal Bitmap Bros fighting platformer.
Beats of Rage: Always thought that Streets of Rage can't get any better, didn't you? Well, think again.
Thrust Extreme: With its lovely entourage of arcadey and neon lighted retro remakes. Obvious highlight said reimagining of Thrust.
Space Quest II - Vohaul's Revenge: Sierra's brutal yet funny sci-fi adventure has never looked better.
King's Quest III Redux: You know you want it; I knew I had to review it.
Ant Attack (ZX81): because nobody, really, expected this.
Hurrican = Turrican
SWIV Decimation: One of the best shmups for the Amiga brilliantly remade.
Oolite: Amazing and highly modular remake of classic space exploration game Elite.
Planet M.U.L.E.: Based on the C64 multiplayer strategic classic, this is a fantastic race for space colonization with beautifully remade graphics and sounds.
Typhoon 2001: An excellent Tempest remake.
Abadia Del Crimen Remake: The Name of the Rose inspired classic, classically remade.
OnEscapee: Obviously inspired by Another World, this is classic arcade-adventure gaming at its best and appropriately a remake/update of an Amiga game now released as freeware. Smart puzzles, difficult fighting scenes, amazing animation and some brilliant art are the chief reasons you have to download it.
Barkley, Shut Up & Jam: Gaiden: A surreal, vast, funny and quite frankly excellent CRPG of sorts.
SanctuaryRPG: Demented ascii questing against kobolds and computer terminals.
Dark Disciples 2: Traditional, fantasy RPG-ing from a top-down perspective.
UnReal World RPG (URW): Incredibly deep and detailed rogue-like graphical RPG that's almost accessible be mere mortals and explores a low-fantasy version of the European Far North.
Lands of Lorez: Because pixelating a dungeon crawler is a very wise thing to do; all unnameable horrors get -1 eyes.
Runesword II: A CRPG designed to appeal to us pen & paper RPGers. The thing features turn-based strategic combat, 50+ skills, races and several full-length adventures & worlds.
Zangband: One of the best and most beautiful roguelikes around.
The Ruins of Cawdor: Sierra's final installment in their online RPG series has now been patched, upgraded, generally messed around with, turned into a single player hack 'n' slash dungeon romp for modern PCs.
86856527: Not exactly an RPG, but it sure is deep, wonderful and confusing.
Avant-garde: A different kind of roleplaying, but not the one involving whips. Lovers of 19th century art will, uhm, love it.
Deepfall Dungeon: It's quite a bit like Eye of the Beholder.
As Was Foretold: Train your hero, be sadistic and evil, yet save the world.
The Elder Scrolls II: Daggerfall: The same.
Maleus Goblinficarium: Dice-based combat of the endless variety. A brilliant rogue-like-like (of sorts and swords)
The Marathon Trilogy: Top quality FPS offerings from the era before HALO and after the Mac was invented. Playable on everything with a keyboard.
Duke Nukem 2.5: Much better than forever.
Traitor: A shmup with an excellently written plot and a huge world to explore. Utterly unique.
Wing Commander Saga: Shooting with a bit of simulation thrown in and it's all happening in the Wing Commander universe.
Left 4k Dead: Just like Valve's zombie shooter only vastly different and in a mere 4kb.
GUN GODZ: Gangster rap on Venus shooting by Vlambeer.
Cube 2 Sauerbraten: It's got its own graphics and physics engine and looks all shiny and lovely. A technically impressive FPS and one that seems to have been created with oldschool gamers in mind. Fast and simple both in single and in multi-player mode.
Elders of Madness: A horizontal shmup sporting a sanity mechanic? Why, yes, thank you. Even Lovecraft would have probably appreciated this one.
8bit Killer: An aesthetically brilliant and quite challenging take on the classic FPS formula.
Naked War: The brilliant two-player strategy game the Pickford Brothers developed finally got itself a free play mode.
UFO Alien Invasion: Deeply tactical and inspired by the classic X-COM / UFO series.
American Dream: Sort of a life management sim, only this time around you'll be able to buy an in-game ZX Spectrum.
Battle for Wesnoth: Ever evolving turn-based fantasy fun in 16 glorious bits.
Dwarf Fortress: You simply cannot ask for a deeper gaming experience than this. Difficult to grasp, impossible to master, yet a true, procedural masterpiece.
FreeCiv: Remember Civilization? Well, FreeCiv isn't as polished, looks dated and relatively simple, but it's free and quite excellent. And it is Civ (FreeCiv, but still...).
Twitchy Thrones: Very simply real time strategy ludum dare thing I simply cannot put down. Well, metaphorically.
Compact Conflict: Incredibly addictive, abstract turn based fantasy that proves how easy it is to cram a glorious board game in 13k.
Gravity Bone: A rather more novel use of that ageing Q3 engine. Brilliant, beautiful and innovative.
Masq: An interactive story for grown-ups.
Enviro-Bear 2000: The outrageous winner of the TIG Source Cockpit competition and the only game to ever let you play as a bear.
Unmanned: Thoughtprovoking, wildly innovative and humane.
Oiche Mhaith: By Terry Cavanagh and Increpare.
At A Distance: Another utterly unique game by Terry Cavanagh; ideal if you live in an expo centre.
You Shall Know The Truth: Politics, Wikileaks, Surrealism.
Leaky World: Molleindustria managed to turn political theory into game mechanics.
Liberal Crime Squad: Because satire cannot fit into genres.
Will You Ever Return Trilogy: Beyond bizarre and at times delightfully unsettling.
Opera Omnia: Still waiting for someone to explain this to me.
Experiment 12: By Terry Cavanagh, Jack King-Spooner, Ian Snyder, Zaratustra, Richard Perrin, Michael Brough, Robert Yang, Alan Hazelden, Benn Powell, Jasper Byrne, Jake Clover and TheBlackMask.
Maze Walkthrough: Walk through (well known) sci-fi corridors. Get lost. Repeat.
Space Gardener: Because digging in space is as relaxing as watching a flower grow.
Orbiter 2010: The most realistic and cost-effective of exploring space available to the modern gentleman. Also works with ladies.
ICBM: A wonderful '90s game set in the '80s and promptly released in 2015. Nuclear war has never been this pixelated.
An American Dream: Well, it does simulate stuff and is a game by Terry Cavanagh.
Sweatshop: Food for thought.
Every Day The Same Dream: The ultimate and utterly depressing life sim.
trAInspotted: This, reader, is how you program trains. Seriously.
Love Hotel: Simulating a dream job with chunky pixels.
Atom Smasher: Making atoms collide is a ridiculously involved affair apparently. Oddly enjoyable too. And with lovely graphics!
Please consider supporting my work on Gnome's Lair and indie gaming in general via Patreon. Just buy me one lemonade a month and I'll be ecstatic!