Gaming is an expensive pursuit.
Not only is there pricey hardware to buy, but PC gamers in particular have to upgrade their systems to keep latest releases looking good — and that's before the cost of the games is factored in.
With that in mind, we've scoured the Internet for a sampling of free games. These aren't pirated copies or otherwise illegal — they are legitimately free. Some are original titles. Others are older games whose code has been released.
This is not a comprehensive list; it's meant as a primer for the thrifty gamer. Many of these are independent releases, so they don't all have age ratings. We'll provide them in cases where they exist, and make an approximate guess elsewhere.
Cave Story (Everyone) — What it is: An action-packed side-scrolling adventure, originally in Japanese but later translated into English. There are loads of weapons to find and upgrade; cute, well-animated graphics; a good story line full of weird characters; and terrific music.
Where to get it: http://agtp.romhack.net/project.php?idcavestory.
Download the English patch file, then follow the link to the Japanese developer's site and download the game and music files in the "2004" row.
Off-Road Velociraptor Safari (Approximately 10-plus) — What it is: A 3-D game that uses a bit of plug-in software to play in a Web browser window.
Players have about five minutes to capture as many raptors as they can with their jeep's spiked ball and chain and drag them into scoring spots scattered about. It's as awesome as it sounds, and it sounds pretty awesome.
Where to get it: www.raptorsafari.com
N (10-plus) — What it is: The predecessor to the Xbox Live Arcade's wicked-hard "N+" is even tougher. This one can be downloaded and installed and uses the keyboard for control — a slightly less precise method than an Xbox 360 controller.
Where to get it: www.thewayoftheninja.org
War Rock (Teen) — What it is: An online shooter in the vein of the "Battlefield" games, only uglier and with no entry cost. Players can choose from five character classes with different roles and weapons, and can use their in-game winnings to buy better equipment. Payers have the option of a monthly fee that grants extra in-game money, store discounts and benefits.
Where to get it: www.warrock.net
FreeSpace 2 (Everyone) — What it is: An open-source release of the 3-D space shooter from 1999, originally developed by the same company behind the "Red Faction" and "Saints Row" games. It can be tricky to set up controls, but the game still looks decent and plays nicely.
Where to get it: www.fsoinstaller.com
MechCommander 2 (Teen) — What it is: The source code for "MechCommander 2," a tactical action game set in the "BattleTech" universe. It's a solid point-and-click tactics game, even if the visuals look a bit rough these days.
Where to get it: Type "mechcommander 2 source" into Google, click the first link and download the file.
Savage: The Battle for Newerth (Teen) — What it is: An interesting hybrid of action and strategy. There are two sides, and most players on either side play from a first- or third-person view. But one player on each team has a bird's-eye view of the map and is able to direct his or her team to produce structures and attack targets, as in a real-time strategy game.
Where to get it: www.s2games.com/savage/downloads.php. This is a BitTorrent client, so an installation of that program also is also required.
Marathon Trilogy (Mature) — What it is: About a security guard on a colony ship and the rampant AIs he has to deal with. All three games are now available for free, though they take a little work to get up and running.
Where to get it: http://source.bungie.org/get. Be sure to download AlephOne as well as the game files — there are Windows, Mac OS and Linux versions.