Free MMO roundup

As the holiday season approaches a lot of us will have some free time on our hands. And what better way to celebrate than with some free games! I’ve collected a list of the current free-to-play and freemium titles that can be played, either with a client installation or on a website, leaving out those that are in Beta or pre-release. As I get time to playtest I’ll add reviews to the links.

A:

  • 4Story – a fantasy-based PVP game with client.
  • Ace Online – a 3D sci-fi Shooter game with client.
  • Age of Conan – I actually played this one in Beta and at launch and it was HORRIBLE. Apparently they have now fixed the bugs, but not soon enough for it to be relegated to a freemium title. The free version is fairly crippled  – subscriptions are still available to unlock the rest. Of course, this is a fantasy game with a rather large client.
  • Aika Online – a fantasy adventure game with client.
  • Alganon – a fantasy RPG with client.
  • Allods Online – a sci-fi fantasy RPG with client – extremely popular.
  • Anarchy Online – an oldie, but still a goodie. A sci-fi RPG with client.
  • Angels Online – an anime-inspired fantasy RPG with client. Published by IGG, who has a ton of other small client-based MMOs shared under one login.
  • ArchLord – a fantasy RPG with client, heavily concentrating on PVP and seiges. Published by Webzen, who offers a range of other games with a shared currency that can either be earned or purchased.
  • ARGO Online – a steampunk fantasy RTS RPG with client. Heavily quest-based.
  • Atlantica Online – a fantasy RPG that uses turn-based combat, similar to Heroes of Might and Magic. Client based. A strong emphasis on player-created economy and crafting.

B:

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Driver: San Francisco play review.

I was a big fan of the original Driver. I played it when it was first released, as well as the second installment, which was a bit of a disappointment. While waiting for Driv3r I even resurrected an old PC to play the original again. Driv3r hit the markets and got my attention for a full 30 minutes before nausea and horror made me uninstall it in a hurry. I skipped Parallel Lines purely because I did not want to live through the torture again.

Then Driver: San Francisco came out and, against my better judgement, I got it.

Once you start with the actual game you immediately begin to realise that everything’s not quite what it seems. Things get even stranger when you realise that you’re not quite who or what you think you are. Then the crows arrive and things get really freaky. The story is well put together, something rare in what’s essentially just a driving game. The storyline evolves well as you play through, with nice features like “Previously on Driver: San Francisco” when you load a saved game. It really lets you feel like you’re watching a story instead of playing it.

The game’s starting (and for the rest of the game for that matter) cutscenes are well done. It really gives you insight into what’s going on, with a bit of mystery, grit and WTF thrown in. Graphically it’s superb, with that 70’s movie feel to it. The city itself is well laid out, with a good mixture of obstacles, interesting pieces of road and the occasional off-road adventure. Driving through the city you can clearly see the transition between beachfront property, dense urban areas, slums and countryside. The buildings, road width, traffic density and vehicle types all zone really well.

Also new to the game franchise is properly licensed cars, with a stunning array of 140 vehicles to unlock and purchase – including trucks, beetles, class B rally, vans, supercars and everyday runabouts. The handling is exceptional, probably the best I’ve experienced outside of a racing simulator. The cars all handle like you’d expect their real-world counterparts would if you were a pro driver, and the fact that they seem to do awesome slides, jumps and traffic weaves as if by telepathy gives you more time to concentrate on the various scenarios that the game puts you in. The “special abilities” like boost and ram also feel quite intuitive and seems a much better model than having every car fitted with NoS.

Shift mode - it changes everything

Then there’s the feature that makes this title stand out from all the others – the Shift mode. With Shift you can jump from car to car as you drive through the streets, and later even quickly shift to anywhere on the game map. This adds a new dimension to the missions you’ll be doing. While doing a race, will you concentrate on trying to get the best time, beating the opponents with skill and your special abilities, or will you jump into oncoming traffic and try to take out your opponents before they can cross the finish line? Shift really changes the game.

Shift out and you're greeted with a bird's view of the city.

Now for the bad, which isn’t really that bad to be honest. The story is extremely linear. You have no say in the direction, and the story only progresses on the successful completion of your main missions. On the other hand, this is a driving arcade game, so expecting RPG-like choices and outcomes may be a bit too much. The other thing is that the side missions quickly become stale, it’s a basic repetition of about 5 themes. The Driver and Movie side missions are quite fun though.

Since installing this game, I’ve managed to unlock and buy 138 of the 140 cars, and done about 80% of the Driver and Movie missions. I’ve also finished the main storyline, which was long enough to keep you interested without being so long as to bore you. Altogether I honestly enjoyed this game more than any others this year, hence it deserves a full 5 stars and my recommendation for arcade game of the year.