Casual Friday: Top 10 Free Games

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I'm all for celebrating slack on a weekly basis here at PC World, but there's something more tangible that I like just as much: free games. Now a little confession before I go any further. In my past life as a video-gaming journalist, I was a bit of a freeloader--that is, I'd be ferreting out freebies that were just addictive fun. And today, I'm giving you my personal Top 10 free games that I'm playing right now--with a bonus eleventh game, to boot--and links to hundreds of others).

The Best Free Games (This Week)

One of last year's hits, Portal, had a simple concept: Shoot a warp hole in one wall and create the exit point in another. Easily one of my favorite puzzle-solving games in years, it was brilliant, but waaaaay too brief. To keep me going, I've played Portal: The Flash Version on lunch breaks but that still isn't enough. Ready for another 40 levels of brain-bending puzzles? These days, I'm making my way through P:TFV Mappack, which plugs into the original PC version of Portal.

Jimmy's Lost His Toilet Paper--and you have to recover it.
This next game is really the touching story of a boy and his toilet paper, which has rolled away from home. So what's a kid to do? Follow it all over town, apparently. In the appropriately named Jimmy's Lost His Toilet Paper, it's up to you, playing Jimmy, to run through a series of levels and try to collect all the loose tp and, according to the instructions, "find love and meaning to his life on the way"--and maybe a free stall. 

Shift-3--can you navigate through all the rooms to the exit door?

In the same way that I got a kick out of playing Portal: The Flash Version, two other site-based games keep me coming back to play. The first is Shift-3. The general idea is that you've got to navigate rooms and make it to the exit door. You do that by hitting your Shift key to invert the world and change your perspective on each puzzle. Trust me, you'll want to play it. The other is a platform game called....wait for it...Platform. You play through 33 levels of running and jumping to reach the end. It's a little old, but I still come back to it on occasion.

Sometimes you don't need an elaborate story to enjoy a game. You just want to tune out for a minute. In that case, allow me to introduce A Game About Bouncing. You control a ball and need to bounce off other balls while avoiding ball-seeking missiles. It's actually a little hypnotic once you start getting into it. If you dig that, also explore the creator's site for a taste of Chain3, his iPhone game that will launch at the iTunes store in July.

Streetwise--you have just 2 minutes, using the spacebar, to get past obstacles.
Hit the spacebar. Do it again. And there is your walk-through of how to play Streetwise. This goofball game is one big timing puzzle. The object: You have 2 minutes to see how many cutesy obstacles you can get past. That's it? Yep, and those 2 minutes will seem like the longest of your life.

Dirty Split--a murder mystery game in cartoon style.
As a huge fan of classic graphic adventure games, I loved playing Dirty Split. Only problem for me is that while trying to crack this murder mystery, I got too distracted by how professional this freeware game looks. It has tons of style (it looks like a mod 1960s cartoon) and even has great voice acting while you interview suspects. The real crime here is not trying this game.

Once upon a time, there was this classic game series called Star Control. It was an action game, a space-trading and exploration game--and then it was gone. The Ur-Quan Masters is a full recreation of that classic experience, and now playable on just about every platform. If you've ever fancied yourself as the next Captain Kirk (or Picard, or whatever), you need to try this one out.

Clffall - Treasures of the Lost Cave will give you Atari 2600 flashbacks.
If you don't get Atari 2600 flashbacks the second you start playing Cliffall - Treasures of the Lost Cave, I don't know what to tell you. While the game is a lovingly low-fidelity tribute to the ancient Pitfall, there's enough new polish here to enjoy swinging through this digital jungle.

Then there's Combat Arms from Nexon America. It's a competitive, online-only first-person shooter game squaring off two squads with modern gear. And it won't cost you a dime. Well, at least if you don't want to pay. Nexon, the company behind Combat Arms, has made a business out of making gratis online games and then charging a little here and a little there for items (see its MapleStory or Kart Rider). Oh, sure, plenty of other great free FPS games are around, like Return to Castle Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory, F.E.A.R. Combat, or America's Army. But Combat Arms just happens to be in open beta right now. That means you can get in early and learn all the maps before every other gaming savant shows up on the scene to master it.

8bit Killer--an old-school throwback to the early first-person shooters.
Don't need the high-end graphics to have a good time? It may not look like much, but 8bit Killer is an old-school throwback to the birth of first-person shooters. Collect a variety of weapons across several levels; open doors and shoot anything in your way. Now mind you, nobody's confusing this blocky FPS with Crysis, but it's got enough style where it counts. So go forth and shoot pixelly bad guys while grooving to chiptunes.

303+ More Free Games

Only ten? Yes, there are easily hundreds of equally great games out there if you know where to look (click this link for an amazing head start). I mean, the above-mentioned titles are only the games I've been playing this week. Also, I wanted to get you all warmed up for a couple more hot summer games that didn't make our initial list--namely, the pending free releases of Runescape HD and Battlefield Heroes.

RuneScape has been around for ages. Its hook: you can play a free MMO in a browser or pay $5 per month for the full experience. Starting next Monday (July 14), the game gets a graphical overhaul with RuneScape HD. Among the big-deal promises: full-screen gaming and procedurally generated graphics that could fly on most modern computers. That still isn't exactly high-end graphics, but it will at least bring the game up to this millennium. Not too shabby for a browser-based game.

Battlefield Heroes, on the other hand, launches a little later this summer, and I, for one, can't wait. The game offers amazing cartoony graphics and great team-play action--kind of like a cleaned-up version of the original Battlefield. The difference is that the new version requires no money to get in, but you can pay for some upgrades and extras along the way.

Okay, I've got a plane to catch. Casual Friday will be taking a week off--but not because of summer vacation. Stay tuned as Senior Associate Editor Danny Allen and I brave the wilds of LA to bring you the latest developments from the gaming world at E3, the Electronic Entertainment Expo.

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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