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April 3, 2007

In Case You Missed It—April 3, 2007

In a world where video games are increasingly dominated by graphics engines that require a dedicated nuclear reactor to power, I am often left wondering what happened to those simple—yet undeniably awesome—games of my youth.

As it turns out, there are plenty of them still floating around the Internet. As a special service this week, I’ve combed the vast expanses of the Internet to bring some of the greatest small-time games to light.

All of the following games are completely free and available online. None of them are shady, information-sharing deals that will have you dodging the RIAA.

They’re all legitimate, put out there by small-time developers for your enjoyment.

Flow

Any discussion of online flash games is incomplete without mentioning this little gem. The concept is simple: You are a tiny microorganism fighting to survive in the primordial soup. You have to eat smaller organisms in order to grow and become more powerful, and dodge enemy organisms while trying to survive through the multiple levels.

If this sounds like a rehash of that flash game where you’re a fish in the sea and you have to eat the smaller fish to grow larger so you can eat the bigger fish and grow even larger, you’re only partly right.

In Flow, you can eat anything, provided you’re fast enough with the mouse to dive in and grab the little glowing orbs that count as food. But what really sets Flow apart from other games is that it is unbelievably beautiful.

With simple 2D graphics and an atmospheric soundtrack, Flow somehow succeeds in making a simple game seem like an artistic experience.

Whereas I play other, more intense, games for excitement, I often find myself playing Flow simply to relax and decompress. It is creative, innovative, and really takes to heart the notion that a video game can offer something more than just cheap thrills and violence.

Flow is available online or for free download at intihuatani.usc.edu/cloud/flowing

Savage

This is, by far, the highest-quality freeware game currently on the Internet. Essentially, it’s a simple online multiplayer game, where one side controls the Beasts and the other side controls the Humans.

But there’s a little twist. One player on each team acts as a commander, building structures, researching technologies, and recommending certain actions for the soldiers on the field. The crazy mix of first-person shooter and real-time strategy is confusing and disorienting at times, but overall you will waste a lot of time playing this game and will enjoy it.

The graphics, for a game that is completely free, are pretty amazing and probably on par with mainstream games produced a few years ago.

The gameplay is quirky and takes a while to master, and a lot of it revolves around melee combat, which leads to some serious issues with lag.

The game has its fair share of bugs, and certain balance issues that need to be worked out. It also tends to instantly become frustrating and boring if the commander of a team doesn’t know what he’s doing.

But the game is free, and it’s still a lot of fun, despite some hiccups. Let the record show that I gave you fair warning, though: You will waste hours upon hours on this game.

Savage is available for download at www.s2games.com/savage/downloads.php

Narbacular Drop

I wish my computer could run Half-Life 2: Episode Two. I also wish for a rhinoceros with machine guns grafted to its sides and skin like a tank, but it’s not going to happen. Also, the game doesn’t come out for another few months, and knowing Valve, that means it will be released sometime around fall of 2012.

The game is supposed to feature a new technology known as “Portal” in which the player creates various portals to solve certain puzzles. Narbacular Drop was the baby version of this technology, produced before the people behind it were recruited by Valve.

Fortunately, this incredibly fun game is still available for free online. Use the portal powers to send yourself flying from the ceiling, to the floor, and then out the wall! Create infinite loops that give your hard drive a hernia!

Narbacular Drop is a short, simple game, and is a lot of fun to play with. With just a little imagination, and not that much high-powered graphics-intense wrangling, the designers of this game have done wonderful things with such a simple concept.

Narbacular Drop is available for download at nuclearmonkeysoftware.com/narbaculardrop.html.

There are hundreds of amazing games out there, and many of them are free online; this is only a small slice of the options.

I plan to revisit awesome freeware games in another column later this quarter, so if anyone has any suggestions for reviews, send me a link at bmw940@uchicago.edu.