Updated: June 28, 2010
Best is subjective. My best may not be your best. Still, I wanted to share with you my perception of the best Linux games you can have installed on your machine, in year 2010, Gregorian Calendar. These games offer an unrivaled mix of storyline, attention to detail and a balance between realism and plain ole fun. These are more than just games you will play for a few minutes and then toss away forever. These are games that you will keep returning to, even if they sit abandoned on the digital shelf for a a few months or even years. They are special.
What makes them special? Well, for me, it's a combination of legacy, reminiscence and nostalgia combined, plus damn good fun. Some of these games are reincarnations of childhood titans, games that have kept me plastered to the chair and playing, playing, playing until pixels ran out. Then, all of a sudden, you get a mega-upgrade, however unlike movie sequels that come a decade too late, these were a tremendous success. The rest are just plain good games, as simple as that. Fun, with a good mix of solid gameplay, system requirements and graphics.
All of these games are free for personal use, with one small exception: one of the games offers some extra with a premium account. Another used to require original files from the legacy version of the game, but this has been solved. If you can live with that, then read the article. My best games, in no particular order.
Savage 2 is a fast-paced, unique First Person Shooter slash Real Time Strategy. While the game is primarily a First Person Shooter, it incorporates elements of strategy into the game, making it more akin to Tremulous or Wolfenstein than, say, OpenArena.
Apart from choosing a faction, you can also select from one of the several combat units, including pure fighters, spell casters, builders, or even an artillery team. Each has a unique role, different from the rest. It is important to understand the strengths and weaknesses of each character and use them accordingly, helping your team win. For example, as an engineer, you will avoid direct combat and focus on repairing defensive structure. As a magician, you will heal your teammates and cast spells from afar. Choosing the right strategy is the key to playing well.
At first, you can only choose several basic units, but as you fight and gain experience, new characters are revealed to you and made playable. Furthermore, your existing characters become stronger and faster and develop new magical abilities. Since you play with an online account, your statistics are saved at the end of each match, allowing you to retain your hard-earned abilities and carry them on to the next match.
On the combat map itself, you fight, either in the first or third-person view, cast spells, perform beautiful combat stunts, build useful structures at your base, earn gold for your achievements, trade in souls of your dead enemies, and summon hell creatures. And all this happens in a frenzied combat with tens of players all around you, with magical torrents of fire, lightning and meteors raining around you.
Savage 2 has beautiful, rich graphics and is designed with care and attention to detail. The balance of elements is just right. Fighting for the sake of fighting is not enough - you have to think. On top of this, the colorful storyline and the asymmetric warfare make for a perfect, challenging treat. All combined, you get a chaotic, compelling gameplay. You have no choice; you will be sucked into the magical world of Newerth. I have reviewed Savage 2 in my sixth Linux gaming thread, so feel free to read the longer review.
UFO Alien Invasion is a remake of the legendary DOS-era UFO: Enemy Unknown, truly the finest turn-based strategy game ever made. Rather than being just the old game made compatible with modern systems, UFO Alien Invasion is a beautiful, fully fledged 3D strategy.
Like the original game, you have to establish bases where you research future technologies, train troops. Your bases also have alien containment cells, large stores of ammunition and tools, hangars for your aircraft, and sleeping quarters for your soldiers, engineers and scientists. Just like the original, the game takes place on two levels.
There's the 2D Geoscape world view, with a realistic sinusoidal day-night line covering the terrain and moving with Earth's revolution - or if you prefer, you can use the 3D view. Then, there is the Tactical battle view, where you fight aliens in turn-based action. The Tactical view also lets you step into individual soldier characters and enjoy some FPS-style action. The game runs on id Tech 2 engine, which infuses the combat with realism and style.
Still, it's goes beyond the rather impressive 3D graphics. The game has it all. A genuine legacy to the original title, a well-developed, progressive storyline, the attention to detail, the balance, the well-played out combat against aliens, the careful research of technologies and the upgrades of your defenses on Earth. You live the dark, somber atmosphere and you relish the long, difficult fights, the discovery of new technologies, the messy work of protecting your planet, with never enough troops or money or weapons to feel comfortable. The mix of ingredients is just right, with a bit of strategy for RTS connoisseurs, a bit of FPS for shooter fans, research, management, all wrapped in a unique, unusual turn-based world.
In general, Linux gaming lacks in-depth, complete, complex strategy games, but UFO Alien Invasion makes a very big exception. The latest stable release is 2.2.1, with 2.3 in continuous development. It's a promise to keep the legacy of UFO alive and with it the tremendous impact it has made on the gaming world. I have reviewed UFO Alien Invasion in my seventh gaming compilation. Please have a read for more details and a plenty of screenshots.
Urban Terror is a First Person Shooter based on the Quake III engine, focused on realism mixed with fun, introducing a handful of new, unique features that you do not normally encounter in similar titles.
First, Urban Terror aims at being realistic. To this end, it occurs in the real world, with humans of both male and female persuasion killing each other ever so happily with real-world weapons on maps named after authentic places (cities, regions, countries) like Austria, Casa, Riyadh, and others.
Second, Urban Terror introduces fresh, new elements of physics into the game, branching away from the standard Quake stuff you may be used to. In Urban Terrors, players can power-slide, jump off walls, grab ledges, and climb over obstacles like fences. These somewhat un-human elements are smartly contrasted by stamina fatigue and injuries you may suffer, whether from over-enthusiastic jumping or enemy fire. Wearing a Kevlar vest will limit your acrobatics and make you tire much more quickly, but it may save your bacon here and then. On the other hand, if you're hit by bullets, you may call for help from your fellow teammates, who will then administer basic medicking to your wounds. They should make haste, too, because bleeding can be fatal in Urban Terror.
Third, maps are beautiful, neither too small nor too big. They are well made, both aesthetically and strategically, without giving any one party a major advantage when fighting. The maps are maze-like circles, allowing a player to go around without retracing his/her steps. Thus, there are no dead ends or "surprise" corners where a camping-happy player could hide forever, turkey-shooting the enemies. You should expect your foes from any angle at all times, but this only makes the fights more exciting and interesting. Many maps are open, which is not typical for FPS titles. You can also import maps from other Quake-based games, like Padman, which adds variety and crazy style to the repertoire.
On top of these, great, real-life weapons, a torrent of online servers worldwide teeming with players, and even gaming leagues for the seriously inclined. Never a dull moment with Urban Terror.
Urban Terror is rapidly growing in popularity. When I started playing the game, there used to be about 600 servers available at any given time. Today, approx. a year and a half later, there are double that number and rising. Urban Terror has everything you need: it's a complete mature product with decent graphics and modest requirements, a fast-paced gameplay, a vibrant online community, tons of great maps, a handful of real weapons, and the perfect balance between Tom Clancy and Steven Seagal, realism slash arcade in harmony.
While online shooters can become tedious after a while, Urban Terror escapes this fate. It's just what you need after a long, hard day of work. Whether you fancy some long-range shooting action playing an open, airy map with a desert setting or hunting foes round an Olympic pool with a loud-banging AK-47 or perhaps flying like Superman and sniping with a suppressed PSG-1, Urban Terror has it all. I have reviewed Urban Terror in my second FPS article. If you're interested, take a lot. Some of the text you see above comes from that piece, plus there's more and a fat collection of screenshots.
OpenTTD is a remake of the original Transport Tycoon Deluxe, the mother of all business simulation games. Back in 1994, when Chris Sawyer released the game, he probably did not know he was forging an immortal legend that would outlast the operating system it was made for. Today, OpenTTD runs on anything from Windows to FreeBSD and shows no sign of relenting. It's a game than any self-respecting DOS gamer will play now and then.
What makes OpenTTD so great is a culmination of factors. Transport Tycoon Deluxe was constrained by a few glaring limitations of the underlying operating system. There was a point where you simply could not build any more vehicles. The train stations had a fixed size. There was a small choice of available airports, which became chokepoints as your game advanced. It was meant for your own good, because there was so much activity DOS could take. But with modern operating systems, none of this is a concern anymore and the limitations are gone. And so, apart from rekindling the glory of its past and bringing the fame of Transport Tycoon to Linux and Mac users, OpenTTD released a whole new dimension of building possibilities that did not exist in the old version. More train types, new, futuristic airports, an unlimited number of vehicles, a multiplayer mode, all the things DOS could not give you. If anything, OpenTTD reaffirmed its tight grip on the geeky souls of DOS fans worldwide.
For those who have no idea what Transport Tycoon is, here's a teaser intro, partially taken from my review three years ago. Anyhow, Transport Tycoon is game where a player has to build
his/her own transport kingdom. And that's about the only rule.
You start a game as a young and eager entrepreneur (yes, it's an ugly word) with a small loan. You invest your money in transportation infrastructure and services for your world map cities and their industries. The idea is to build well facilitated networks of roads, railroads, airports, and docks that will transport people and goods between cities, in return for revenue that depends on the amount of transported (delivered) goods, the travel time and the distance. As the manager of your firm, you may or may not have to face competition from other AI players, who will vie to defeat you. Sounds boring? Not at all.
The game is simply compelling. At first, your business undertaking will most likely start as a local bus or mail service in one of the smaller towns. You will need to build a garage where buses and trucks will arrive periodically for scheduled services. You will need to build stations for people and goods to board. And then, you will have to assign your vehicles to run between these stations, collecting and dropping passengers and crates of goods.
To maintain a successful and profitable service, you will have to build roads that connect between the stations and make sure a sufficient number of vehicles frequent the stations. Stations with low rating will reduce the overall impression a local authority has about your company, and this may negatively impact their willingness to grant you future building permissions. Although you can always spend money on advertising campaigns, or even try to bribe the officials.
And so it begins, your ascent to business domination. You want every transport service in the world to bear your company name. Whether it's a magnetic levitation bullet-train crossing the continent, the postal service in a laid back little town or the teeming international airports, oil shipping, ferries, buses, they should all be yours. Whether you play by yourself, against fellow humans or the computer bots, you will try to force them to sign Chapter 13 Bankruptcy. Your goal is to annihilate your opponents in a vicious, merciless battle of capital. Buy them, outbuild them, outservice them, just make sure the rails and roads and airplanes fall under your dominion.
Up until version 1.0, the game required that you reuse the old graphics and music files from your original game, either the DOS or the Windows version and copy them over into the OpenTTD installation. I've even written a tutorial how to do this. However, since the epic 1.0 release, it is possible to use the alternative free graphics and sound data files instead. Which reminds me, this game needs a fresh new review. Coming soon, promised.
On a side note, you're more than welcome to peruse my Reviving old games section for many more tips on how to resurrect old games on modern operating systems. I've played this game for some 15 years or so, accumulating probably a whole year's worth of real life building stuff in Transport Tycoon Deluxe. And it never gets boring. Even when they had to physically drag me off the chair for being too cramped to move. Simply splendid.
Scorched 3D is another remake of an epic, monumental, age-changing game called Scorched Earth, aptly dubbed the Mother of All Games, the game that separates men from boys. Scorched Earth was rudimentary in graphics and gameplay - although it looked fantastic in Windows 3.1. And for exactly these reasons, it was so compelling and addicting. It had a bit of everything - 256 colors that were a real treat in those days, a bit of cash management for financially inclined, a bit of logistics for quartermasters at heart, a bit of warfare for the male among us. You had a huge number of weapons to choose from, and each one offered a unique visual effect. It was perfect.
And how does 2D perfect become perfect-er? Well, you make a 3D version. Scorched 3D is essentially the old game adapted for modern systems, with LAN and online multiplayer modes, fancy new weapons, beautiful graphics and explosion effects, anything an inner child inside each one of us craves so.
Scorched 3D comes with a plethora of goodies, including beautiful maps, funny avatars, several game types, with drastic differences in weapon loads and destructive outcome, as well as varying game difficulties from plain dump, non-firing bots to Deep Blue thinking killing machines. The choice of weapons is also very rich, so you have a plenty of new, inventive ways of mutilating your foes.
While there's a decent element of nostalgia involved, even people unfamiliar with Scorched Earth will quickly fall in love with the game. Scorched 3D is good, all-around family fun. It's a no brainer laced with sophistication and humor. It's a perfect, timeless title for when you're in a mood for some wild action. I've reviewed the game some time ago, so have a read, if you fancy. I also have a collection of new screenshots recently taken on a Linux machine; I could share those if email pleas exceed a critical mass.
There you go, the finest quintet of free games for Linux that will make you happy and addicted. In my not so humble opinion, these five games are the best choice currently available. It's the combination of many factors, including the availability, ease of use, stability, the graphics, the gameplay, a bit of emotion, everything. I know it's a bit hard to explain to someone born in 1994 what it was to play Transport Tycoon Deluxe back then and how magical it felt, but it does not diminish the timeless importance of this monumental game.
Emotions aside, if you're looking for games that will keep you amused for more than a day, then my collection seems like a good start. Each has its own unique facet of magic. Whether it's a titanic community of hardcore players, stunning graphics or the fear factor, these games will leave a lasting impact on your soul. Naturally, you may disagree.
Anyhow, I hope you've found this article useful and enlightening. While you've already seen all of the above already written before, it's a good idea to refresh the memory once in a while. What remains is that you download these games, try them, get hooked, and never stopped playing. Enough said.