Casual Friday: A Freebie a Day

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Artwork: Chip Taylor
In our ongoing efforts to celebrate slack, I've found a few great new ways to kill what little free time you have this weekend and beyond. Let's get to it!

Freebie Alert

What if I told you about a Web site where you can download free programs that you'd otherwise have to buy? (Did I mention that it's legal?)

Yeah, I thought that would grab your attention. To shine a spotlight on independent developers, Giveaway of the Day cooked up a plan to get people to think beyond the big-budget titles occupying store shelves--utilities, podcasting programs, and video converters, to name a few. You have to act quickly, though, because every day the site offers a different program as freeware.

The site also has a game-centric section, Game Giveaway of the Day, which hooks you up with gratis games (For the time being, though, new free games only get uploaded on weekends). Over the past week, I've played an ice cream tycoon simulation and a Mensa board game (don't ask how I scored on the latter). Though you don't have to pay to play, at least kick a few bucks back for what you like and might continue to use. Consider it computing karma.

Play Ball

In-game heckling doesn't work quite as well. Who wants to read text messages while batting?
While most folks in the office put on their Red Sox rally caps (Go Mets!), I'm heading online to play a World Series against the world. Cal Ripken's Real Baseball  is a whole different ballgame, for a couple of reasons. For starters, it's a massively multiplayer online sports game where your player gains abilities with practice, such as improving his split-finger fastball. (No, you can't buy steroids.) Real Baseball isn't some stat-watching simulation from the cheap seats; you're swinging the bats and throwing heaters down the plate. And it's free. Yep, no strings attached. Just go online, sign up to join a league, and play with eight other boys of summer for a season or two.

Mobile Operations

Solid Snake skulks around while you're between phone calls.
Cell phones pack more powerful processors these days, and we're getting to a point where you can play legitimately good-looking games on them. Exhibit A: Konami's popular stealth action series, Metal Gear Solid, is now sneaking its way to Verizon devices. Metal Gear Solid Mobile is an original--and fully 3D--game that looks great on the LG Voyager and the LG VX8700. That said, it isn't perfect, mostly because you still need to use a cell phone's keypad to control it. Great for covertly goofing off while in a meeting, not so good if you want proper gaming controls. Here's hoping that MGS Mobile will support Zeemote's JS-1 Bluetooth gaming control when it comes out this summer. The game sells for an $11 one-time fee (or you can opt to pay $5 for a month).

Game Picks

Army of Two (for PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360)

I love playing cooperative video games--two pals online (or on the couch) fighting the forces of evil side-by-side. A week or so back, Army of Two shipped in all its gung-ho glory. The hook: Two players, working together, blast through modern-day war zones like some steroidal Tango and Cash while making ham-handed social commentary about privatizing the military. Like any cheesy action movie, it's a fun little "renter." You'll finish it in a day.

Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six Vegas 2 (for PC, PlayStation 3, and Xbox 360)

Bringing new meaning to the 'Whatever happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas' ad campaign.
People seeking a more tactical, less "extreme" experience need to check out Rainbow Six Vegas 2 as it launches this week. Take the lead on a crack antiterrorist squad both online and off. You gain experience, and gear, as you shoot your way through Vegas hotels, side alleys, and the convention center (not during the Consumer Electronics Show, I hope). You can dive into online combat with 11 new maps or have friends join you to battle back tangos in the single-player game.

Hot Shots Golf: Out of Bounds  (for PlayStation 3)

Fore! Hey, where's the miniature windmill?
Not everyone dreams of being Tiger Woods. Heck, unless a miniature windmill is on the green, I'm a double-bogey duffer at best. That doesn't stop me from taking a few swings at Hot Shots Golf. Beneath its cartoony surface hides a deep and easily accessible game of golf. You'll find a good amount of variety here on the fairway, with well-designed courses that will look gorgeous on your HDTV. Play with up to eight friends at home or join huge 50-player online tournaments--it's fun either way. One problem: You get only a handful of courses to master. It's definitely good for a round or two, but here's hoping more courses are on the way.

What do you recommend? Have you found some great gadget, Web site, or game that you'd like to let the rest of the world know about? E-mail me.

Until next week...

Senior Writer Darren Gladstone geeks out over gadgets, games, and odd uses for humdrum tech. In other words, he's a nerd--and he's okay with that.

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