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This week, we’ve been extra busy covering Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2. GamesRadar’s own George Walter called it “this year’s must-buy first-person shooter” in his Super Review, and we expected nothing less from developer, Infinity Ward. But there’s another sub-genre of shooters that, too often, goes unnoticed by mainstream gaming publications. We’re talking about free and free-to-play shooters. You’ll rarely see the games featured below on magazine covers or promoted on the front page of major gaming sites. But despite the way that gratis games are constantly pushed to the periphery of editorial game coverage, they’re here to stay. That’s because if you make a great online game that’s free, people will play it - and there are tons of excellent titles out there with robust communities that are delivering full-priced fun for no money down. Here are some of our favorites along with links to download them.
Hardcore shooter fans may scoff at free-to-play games like Combat Arms. But that hasn’t stopped over three million registered users from enjoying this incredibly solid military shooter. Combat Arms offers all the options and game modes you’d expect. Traditional free-for-all, team death match, and capture-the-flag rounds, are all available - and with so many people playing, it’s easy to jump right into a game. As you continue playing, your character will level-up and earn points, which can be used to purchase new weapons or cosmetic items to alter your appearance.
Above: Keep playing, keep killing, and earn points to purchase new gear for your character
But Combat Arms isn’t an everyday military shooter; it has too much personality. While most shooters reward accurate aimers with headshots, Combat Arms openly embraces the “Nut Shot.” Players receive accolades for aiming below the belt and get to see their opponent fall to the ground as they moan and clutch their groin. If you think tea bagging a fallen foe is fun, you haven’t had the pleasure of crouching over some stranger’s face while their avatar writhes in pain with his legs tightly crossed.
As with most free-to-play titles, Combat Arms continues to add new modes and features to keep the game fresh. They recently released a new game mode called Quarantine, which pits human players against zombies. Zombies can move quite fast, and if one manages to swipe a human with their claws, the human will become infected and join the zombie team. It works like a frantic game of tag and is quite popular amongst players who prefer specialized custom matches over traditional modes.
Above: Quarantine Mode won’t be replacing Left 4 Dead anytime soon, but we love that Nexon keeps adding new maps and modes to Combat Arms
But the best game mode we found was Fireteam. It’s a co-op mode that pits a group of players against hordes of NPCs on an objective-based map. One mission charged us with rescuing a prisoner of war, gathering stolen intelligence, and blasting our way towards an evacuation site. Even though storming rooms, clearing alleyways, and mowing down waves of brainless NPCs will feel familiar, it’s still great fun. Plus, it’s free. So any complaints we’ve heard about enemy AI or the game’s slightly dated look fall on deaf ears.
Above: Nexon also organizes special themed events and items for their users. Here’s bloody coffin backpack, which was introduced with their Halloween update
With an in-game micro-transaction store called the Black Market. The items for sale are mostly cosmetic, like special character models or cowboy hats. Weapons sold for real cash on the Black Market don’t give the user much of an advantage over players with equipment purchased with regular points earned by playing the game. In fact, we’ve found claims that people just buy their way to the top of free-to-play games to be highly exaggerated.
Another great destination for a free shooter fix is ijji.com. The free-to-play online games portal recently boasted that over 9 million users have registered on their site. Judging by the lengthy list of active lobbies on ijji’s servers, we’d wager that a lot of these users are playing Alliance of Valiant Arms.
Alliance of Valiant Arms is a much more serious military shooter than Combat Arms and feels a lot like Call of Duty in terms of control. When playing free-for-all and team death match games, it falls somewhere between ultra twitchy titles, like Unreal Tournament or Halo, and ultra realistic military shooters, like Operation Flashpoint or America’s Army.
Above: On the visual front, Alliance of Valiant Arms’ graphics look great for a free-to-play title
Escort mode is definitely our favorite. The attacking team must protect a tank and escort it to the end of the map before the time limit expires. Players will need to clear a path for the tank and keep it repaired as they continue to press forward. Meanwhile, the defending team will need to do everything they can to prevent the tank from reaching its goal. It only takes two rocket launch shots will disable the vehicle, bringing it to a halt. But firing off a successful shot while enemies have you in their sights, is easier said than done. Plus, the tank can be quickly repaired to get it moving again. Then again, repairing the tank while enemies rain bullets on your position is challenging too. It’s this constant back-and-forth between the escort team and the defenders that make Escort mode work so well.
Above: Escort mode is great fun. The attacking team must protect the tank and pave a path for it. The defending team must do everything they can to stop it
Above: A trailer that shows off Alliance of Valiant Arms’ Escort mode and gameplay
With a micro-transaction store that sells premium upgrades, like better guns or bonuses to the amount of XP you earn from matches. We like that Alliance of Valiant Arms’ item store is very discreet. Advertisements that link to the online store are kept in the corner of the game’s menu, and the selection of items you can buy is kept to a minimum. We also like that improvements purchased with real cash only last a certain amount of days, which prevents players from buying a permanent advantage over others.
Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory’s graphics may look dated, but the class-based gameplay in this stand-alone multiplayer shooter feels just as solid as it did when it released as freeware in 2003. Players choose to side with the Allies or the Axis, and select a class to play as. Each of the classes has special abilities and different options for weapon load outs. For example, the soldier excels with heavy weapons, like flamethrowers and bazookas. A medic can drop health packs and revive fallen comrades with a syringe. Field ops can mark targets to call in airstrikes, and engineers can construct machine gun nests and anti-tank barriers.
Above: A soldier defends an engineer while he plants a bomb
Even though Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory looks ancient, blasting your way through the battlefield on a server with 40 or 50 other players is still a blast. Engineers hurry to build barricades and machine gun nests for the defensive team, only to see a soldier blow them to smithereens moments later with a rocket launcher. Medics make their way through the frontlines, bringing downed teammates back to the fight. Vehicles whores charge straight for the tanks, while snipers do what they do best: camping and picking off careless roamers. Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory delivers total chaos with a clear sense of purpose, so even if you and your teammates aren’t constantly staying in close communication, the game’s class-based design and clear map objectives keeps everyone on task.
Above: There are lots of custom servers, like this one, which uses a fun big head mod
Above: In this campaign, the Allies must push forward with a tank to destroy an Axis fuel depot, building assault bridges and protecting it along the way
It doesn’t. Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory is completely free. It was originally designed for the multiplayer portion of a Return to Castle Wolfenstein expansion pack. But when plans for the expansion were scrapped, the multiplayer portion was released by itself as freeware.