Action games may come and go, but the best among them remain playable to this day. Thanks to open source development, dedicated fanbases and timeless gameplay, a few of these classic titles are among some of the best games any gamer will ever get to experience. From a list of dozens of titles, I’ve selected the cream of the crop—the top five free action games for the PC.
I wouldn’t be exaggerating if I said that Tribes and its sequel were two FPS titles that needed players to be at the top of their game. From launching discs at moving targets hundreds of feet in the air, to capturing a flag at breakneck speed, the Tribes games rewarded players for their skill.
Sierra made a mistake by sacking the game’s developers and churning out Tribes: Vengeance. It had been a vastly unpopular game, which drew more influence from console shooters than its series predecessors. The fanbase did not take kindly to its release.
Fans were up in arms about their perceived ransacking of the Tribes franchise, and spread word of the game’s lackluster quality, ensuring its failure in the marketplace. The game’s creators, Irrational Games, went on to make Bioshock—a much better game.
Despite the debacle of Tribes: Vengeance, the Tribes community stayed loyal to Tribes 2. Sierra couldn’t give less of a damn about the community and eventually shut down the WON matchmaking service that was used to host Tribes 2 online.
The fanbase devised a way to continue playing the game with the development and release of TribesNext, a fan-made matchmaking service that offers Tribes 2 players the ability to play online, with fully integrated accounts.
The best part in all of this is that Tribes 2 is now completely free to play.
Dividing my time between Subspace and Diablo was a perpetually choice I had to make as a teenager. Every session of these games was a break from the monotony of school and homework.
Subspace, a top-down shooter, was like multiplayer Asteroids. Played online with hundreds of other players, one could blast their way through opponents, often in heated dogfights. One could even earn kills by firing blindly and killing players all the way across the map.
Playing styles could be further customized by the fact that players can choose between a variety of different ships, which vary by armor, speed, damage, and the types of bullets and bombs they can fire.
Many advanced players found themselves in dedicated squadrons who roamed throughout the zones (servers), claiming dominance over turfs, while others preferred to duke it out as lone wolves in the Chaos Zone.
Subspace may be a part of my youth, but the fact that I can return to the game—which is now free, in the form of Continuum—is a fantastic fact.
Two decades ago, the shoot-em-up genre was among the most popular. Most titles in the genre were bland, sci-fi themed shooters and simply early versions of the “bullethell” games that now grace the PC. The Bitmap Brothers’ Xenon II came along and introduced the concept of currency and ship upgrades to the genre.
A few years later, Apogee developed Raptor: Call of the Shadows. It took the genre to the next level with its high quality graphics, 16-bit music and large variety of weaponry.
It wasn’t long before the genre found a successor in Tyrian, released in 1995. The game delivered more than just a rudimentary RPG system that allowed the player to upgrade their ship—it had a story, told through datacubes scattered throughout the missions, as well as branching missions.
Spread across five episodes, players traveled throughout the galaxy, players earned credits to purchase new equipment, upgrades, and even entirely new ships.
Aside from its full story mode, the game came with an arcade mode that supported two players, replacing the game’s RPG mechanics with in-level ship upgrades, inspired by arcade shoot-em-ups like Raiden 2.
Tyrian has since been released as OpenTyrian, after the source code for the game was licensed to a small group of developers to rewrite it for modern computers. It can be downloaded and played for free, and remains one of the most enjoyable shoot-em-ups to ever exist.
#2 Alien Swarm
â€¨Alien Swarm was originally developed as a total conversion, or modification, for Unreal Tournament 2004. It delivered Gauntlet-like gameplay to a science fiction setting, set aboard a derelict spaceship overrun by alien creatures. Players could choose from four distinct classes with unique skills to survive and escape the ship.
Alien Swarm, now developed on Valve’s Source Engine and released for free on Steam, is an attempt to deliver the carnage of the original title to a modern audience. Inspired by Aliens and developed by the original team (who now work at Valve), Alien Swarm is a four-player multiplayer cooperative game, the aim of which remains the same as in the original—eliminate waves of aliens while trying to find a way off an asteroid colony.
Players choose between eight characters, who are divided into four different classes: the Officer, Special Weapons, Medic, and Tech. Players can then equip their character with a variety of weapons and equipment to further customize their style of play.
Much like Valve’s other game, Left 4 Dead, Alien Swarm could be played on a variety of different difficulty levels, which increased the amount of cooperation players had to perform to make it through each level alive.
The game isn’t anywhere as popular as Valve’s other titles, but it remains a fantastic option for players who want some quick, cooperative action.
#1 Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory
Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory was developed as a standalone multiplayer add-on for id Software’s WWII first person shooter, Return to Castle Wolfenstein. Originally planned as a commercial expansion pack, the studio decided instead to release it for free in 2003, creating a blooming online community that remains active to this day.
Like other team-based competitive shooters, players are split between two teams (the Axis and Allies) who must defend or destroy various objectives on the map. Originally limited to six official maps, the game now provides players access to dozens of different historical campaigns which are a part of most popular servers’ map lists.
What sets Enemy Territory apart from other shooters is its experience point and class systems, which rewards players for completing objectives and killing enemies, granting them access to new classes and weapons for the duration of a campaign, which usually spans to three maps.
Players can choose between five different classes to play, although each map may be limited to a certain number of players within that class—for instance, the Covert Ops, or sniper class can only be used by 2 players in the Omaha Beach map, forcing players to take on the roles of front line assault classes—to encourage game balance and prevent stalemates.
Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory may be an older game compared to Team Fortress 2 and MAG, but it remains active thanks to its dedicated user base, and the fact that it’s free to play.