Free Play Friday: Cave Exploration, Turn-Based Strategy, and Tanks!

Looking to play something new without spending any money this weekend? Justin Calvert recommends games and demos that you can play for free.

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Spelunky
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World of Tanks
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Outwitters
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Just two weeks into this feature highlighting stuff that you can play for free, I'm convinced that working on it is going to save me a small fortune. It's true that these games often end up costing me a few dollars here and there when I decide that I like them enough to buy into their premium offerings, but canceling two of my three MMO subscriptions will save me more than enough money to cover that. (The Secret World is the one that I plan to keep going for the moment, in case you're curious.) When I wasn't leveling up in Funcom's latest, these were the free games and demos I was playing this week:

Outwitters (iOS)

Released for the iPad and iPhone just yesterday, Outwitters is a turn-based strategy game that pits sea creatures (free), robots (premium), and "adorables" (premium) against each other in battles that are deceptively deep. After playing for just a few hours I'm not ready to declare that Outwitters is the new chess or anything crazy like that, but I will say that it demands much the same skill set as Kasparov's game of choice. I've learned that the hard way; I didn't give moves in my first few matches nearly enough thought and ended up losing to some very well organized offensives.

Outwitters' premise is simple: Two players (or two teams of two players each) face off against each other on hex-based battlefields and attempt to destroy each other's bases. You have six different unit types at your disposal, and there's a resource cost anytime you move, attack, or add another unit to the game. Heavies, medics, snipers, runners, and soldiers make up the bulk of your force and work in exactly the same way regardless of which of the three factions you're playing as. Your sixth unit type if you play as the free "scallywags" sea creatures faction is a hermit crab that transforms into a mortar cannon. The other faction-specific units have very different abilities, but none that come close to making this feel like a pay-to-win situation.

Games of Outwitters can be won or lost very quickly or take dozens of turns to end. I've lost games in around five or six turns and managed to win games after more than 25. One of the things I like most about Outwitters is that there are so many different strategies you can employ in each match, even if you play all of them on the same map. You might choose to create cheap, fast units and have them claim all of the bonus resource tiles, for example. Or you might prefer to play defensively with snipers and soldiers while you save up enough resources to build Outwitters' most powerful units.

After playing enough friendly battles to figure out my units' respective strengths and weaknesses, I'm now in the process of playing five league placement games so that I can be matched against similarly skilled opponents in future ladder matches. None of this has cost me a cent thus far, but I'll almost certainly have purchased Outwitters' premium content by the time you read this. The robotic "feedback" team and the fluffy "adorables" team sell for $1.99 each right now, and both come with two additional two-player maps and one additional four-player map. For just $2.99 during this launch window, though, you get not only both of the current premium teams, but also every premium team that's ever released in the future.

If you decide to download Outwitters, please feel free to shoot me (justicecovert) a game invite through Game Center. I have plenty of games on the go already, but the more the merrier I reckon--particularly since some of my current opponents are making me wait hours before they play their turns.

You can queue up Outwitters for download using the following link:
iOS: Outwitters for iPad/iPhone

World of Tanks (PC)

It wasn't that long ago that I reviewed World of Tanks, so logging in for the first time in a while I wasn't expecting it to have changed all that dramatically in the meantime. The team at Wargaming.net has been busy releasing updates though, and the new content goes way beyond just adding more maps and tanks to a game that has always had plenty of both. To go into much detail about these additions is beyond the scope of this feature, but among them are two additional gameplay modes, over 20 new crew skills, loads of UI improvements, and several optional camouflage patterns for each nation. There's also a colorblind setting for those of us who have trouble telling red (enemies) and green (friends) apart, which dramatically improves the game for me personally.

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World of Tanks was the first free-to-play game that I ever chose to spend money on when I started playing it last year, but it's a game that you can enjoy and make progress in indefinitely without spending a cent. I didn't drop $50-plus on a premium tank or anything like that, but spending a few dollars here and there allowed me to optimize my favorite tanks more quickly by training the crews and researching new parts. I also bought additional garage slots so that I wouldn't have to sell my low-level tanks anytime I was able to buy more-powerful ones.

Other premium options include things like more-powerful ammunition and consumable items that afford you temporary stat bonuses. While these might technically qualify as pay-to-win items, I don't get the impression that many people use them. Wargaming.net is making its money on this stuff somewhere of course, but playing in the lower tiers (which you inevitably will at first, and where I still choose to spend most of my time), I've never felt like I'm at a disadvantage because an enemy spent money when I didn't.

It's a testament to how well World of Tanks handles its premium content that if you don't wish to spend any money you won't even think about that stuff once you start playing. You're not bombarded with opportunities to buy or spend gold; even when you visit the in-game store, most of the items can be bought with credits earned in matches. The only thing you really need to concern yourself with is playing and having a good time.

World of Tanks can be downloaded for free using the following link:
PC: World of Tanks for PC

Spelunky Demo (X360) & Original Spelunky (PC)

Originally released for the PC in 2008 (that version is still available as freeware), Spelunky finally landed in the Xbox Live Arcade this week, and along with a few other GameSpot staffers, I've found it hard to put down ever since. Immediately after watching Tom McShea play through a couple of levels while working on his review, I knew that I wanted to give Spelunky a try, but it wasn't until I played it myself that its satisfying blend of randomly generated cave exploration, trap negotiation, and treasure hunting really won me over. Consider this fair warning that should you choose to download the trial version, you'll almost certainly want to drop 1200 Microsoft points for the full version at some point thereafter.

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Given that there's an achievement up for grabs if you can play through Spelunky in its entirety in under eight minutes, you might be shocked to hear that you can derive a good deal of enjoyment from the trial version. When you download the trial, not only do you get to play through the requisite tutorial in its entirety, but you also get to explore levels 1-1 through 1-4 alone or with up to three local friends and play in four of Spelunky's eight Deathmatch levels. Levels 1-1 through 1-4 never play the same way twice, and the extent to which they can differ on each playthrough might surprise you. Play through them several times, and you'll encounter different enemies and traps, recover different treasures, and even get to use different weapons and power-ups that may or may not include a camera, a teleporter, a freeze ray, a jetpack, or a machete. You might even find yourself having to use a torch to light your way through an entire level on occasion.

One constant is that, even in Spelunky's first four levels that are included in the trial version, you should expect to die. Frequently. I made it to the end of level 1-4 without a scratch shortly after downloading the trial, but on multiple subsequent attempts I've failed to even reach the end of the first level. When that happens, I simply hit the "Quick Restart" button as quickly as possible and start over, wondering what randomly generated surprises Spelunky might have in store for me next.

You can queue up Spelunky for download using the following link:
X360: Spelunky on XBLA

Or, if you prefer, you can download the original freeware PC game with this one:
PC: Original Freeware Spelunky

Previous Free Play Friday

June 29, 2012 - F1, Battlefield, Magic, and Space!

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