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Top 10 Free Linux Games

Date: September 19, 2006
Author(s): Rob Williams

If you think that there are no great games for Linux, think again! We are taking a look at 10 of some of the most popular Linux games… that just so happen to be completely free!


If you use Linux as your primary OS, then you already understand why it is so great. But, do you game on it? Ever try to convert your Windows friends to Linux? More times than not, the dreaded first question is, “Can I game on it?”

For some reason, there is a constant mindset that there are not many games for Linux when in fact there are many. I don’t mean the small ones that are included with GNOME or KDE, but full blown projects that deliver captivating and deep game play experiences. There are even a few good commercial games out there for Linux, but that’s not the topic of today’s article.

Instead, we have put together a top 10 list of free games you should have installed. With the help of the Gentoo and Ubuntu forums, we have thrown together what I believe to be a solid list of 10. Shouts out also to Michael of Phoronix and Susan of Tuxmachines for their help also!

So how does a game make this top 10 list? Well, from 10 – 1, they have all been listed according to how many votes the game received. Though there were around 50 games total that were brought up in forum posts, most only had a single vote. Even our #10 had only four votes, so it’s obvious that the top games are there for a reason. In order to qualify for the list, the game had to meet these requirements:

We can learn a lot from this simple top 10. First, a game doesn’t have to have incredible graphics in order to be fun. That’s well known by many already, and proven by this list. Puzzle games are some of the easiest to get into, so they prove quite popular. For a more immersive experience, FPS games are a top genre, especially for online multi-player fun. Actually, FPS games proved so popular, that 4/10 of the games listed today are just that.

One thing that really stood out to me here was the fact that 8 out of all 10 of these games, are also available for Windows and other platforms. That says a lot. Most of the games were first developed for Linux then ported over to Windows/Mac OS X. It would be great to see the opposite effect happen though. Even with the large amount of games available for Linux, the total count would be scary to look at when compared to Windows.

You may wonder about the lack of images on this page… that’s because this is a top 10 list and I didn’t want to spoil any ‘surprise’ that could possibly come from this list. So, without further ado, let’s check out #10 and #9. Also… don’t check out the drop down menu unless you want all of the titles revealed to you early :)

#10 KMahjongg, #9 America’s Army

#10 KMahjongg

To start things off, we have a classic Chinese puzzle game at number 10. Classic in the sense that it’s well over 100 years old! After creation, the game quickly spread out of China and become popular the world over. Like Solitaire, it can be played by yourself, which is a huge draw.

KMahjongg is one of the many games that are bundled with KDE base, so if you have KDE you will likely already have it. It can be played through other desktop environments in addition though. The game is not pretty to look at… very circa 1997, but it has the core elements you’ve come to expect with the game of Mahjongg in general.

If you personally have not lost hours upon hours to this game, the idea is simple. All of the tiles are arranged according to some preset template, which are many. You progress by matching a tile with another. However, both of the tiles must be exposed on the left or right side. That is to say, that the tile does not have another tile blocking both sides. As an example, you can check out the first shot below. On the Eastern and Western side of the board is a piece with seven small bamboo sticks on it. Since both pieces have an exposed side, these can be removed from the board.

Each game is timed, although that’s more for personal records. The goal is to complete the board as fast as you can, really. Though you don’t have to… it’s up to you whether you want a relaxing game or a frantic one. There is an assortment of various layouts and tilesets here, but they are limited. Overall, this is a core version of Mahjongg. If you wish for better graphics, there are other variants available.

In the end, KMahjongg proves to be a winner. It’s a small game, and simple, but can be enjoyed by anyone. Setting personal goals of trying to beat a round as fast as you can, can make you feel smarter. I know I’ve stared at the board for five minutes when a move was clearly there. I am not a quick responder :-)

So if you like Mahjongg or tile games in general, make sure this is installed!

#9 Americas Army

It’s not too often you can say you are playing a game put out by the United States Government, but Americas Army is just that. This began not only as a game, but a tool to train future army recruits. The US Army probably didn’t expect the game to quickly explode into a popular online stature though.

The game follows a rather serious theme due to its original and current goals, but it’s also a blast for players who have no desire to join the army. Other similar games on the market cost money while AA is free. But there’s a catch. As of version 2.5, AA was discontinued for Linux and Mac OS X, although it doesn’t seem to affect the training missions or playing with other 2.5 clients. So, this makes it great for a Linux AA clan, or a LAN party.

The game is based on the Unreal 2.5 engine, so you can expect some great graphics and sound. If you have played Counter-Strike, then you already have a good feel of what AA is all about. It’s you, against the terrorist. There is no deathmatch mode, as that is not exactly the goal of the game ;-)

Of course, moreso than Counter-Strike, there is a lot of strategy you must execute to be successful. The game is based off what could happen in real life, so it’s not going to be easy. Splinter Cell could be a name brought up, as the stealth in that game would prove useful here. As you can guess, the game is focused around realism, and so you cannot jump in and expect a Counter-Strike or Unreal Tournament gameplay. You must shoot accurately if you want to kill… spray and pray doesn’t really work well here.

This is a great game, no two ways about it. It’s just too bad the developers decided to halt Linux and OS X support.

#8 Armagetron Advanced, #7 Cube

Who doesn’t love Tron? Admit it, you do. Tron is a prime example of killer gameplay that doesn’t need superb graphics to be fun. Armagetron Advanced does nothing amazing to the Tron-like style games, but what it does do, it does well. The game doesn’t have good graphics, although they are very clean in high resolutions. The sound is nothing major either, but works well with the Tron theme.

You may think I am bashing the game, but far from it. The game focuses on simplicity, and fun. It does both well. For those unaware of what Tron is.. it’s a game that takes place on a massive grid, with all characters on speed bikes that leave behind light trails. The trails left are solid so it’s effectively a wall. The goal is to get the opposing player to run into the wall created, by caving them in. Simple idea, but it can get hectic once the room starts filling up and you are left with little space to move around in.

Armagetron Advanced includes local play, LAN play and even online play. I joined a server within half a minute and was playing a few seconds later. There was no lag to speak of at all, and of course I was the first one to lose. There are a few different modes of play including Deathmatch, Team DM, Fortress and Sumo. So, there is some actual depth here, despite the simple look.

There’s just no sense in getting too in-depth describing this game, because I’d have to start making things up. Though simple, this is a great game and should be in your menu for quick access ;-)

#7 Cube 2 (Sauerbraten)

One thing you will notice with this top 10 list, is that four of the games are FPS. It goes to show that these are some of the most favored out there, and it’s no surprise given the graphic and online capabilities. Cube is one of these, for multiple reasons. First, it’s a game that’s incredibly quick and easy to get into. After running the start script, you are literally standing in the game ready to go, within seconds.

For whatever reason though, you are begun with a low resolution, but that’s easily changeable. In addition, sound will work right off the bat (hopefully) with little or no configuration. I have not run into a single problem with running this game in the past, and that’s almost a rarity in Linux gaming.

One thing to note though, is that Cube is actually the game engine, but has a game strapped to it. Or so it seems. If you enjoy what you see here and are a game developer, you can grab the engine and create something with it. It’s a rather solid engine also… reminiscent of the Quake 1 engine, but more feature-rich. As you can see by these screenshots, the graphics are gorgeous, and runs extremely smooth.

Sauerbraten is for the most part, an online deathmatch style FPS, but has a single player experience in the works. So when you first enter, you can join an online DM session, or play the SP mode which is denoted with a (WIP) label. So, it’s directly meant for deathmatch at this point in time.

In progress also is a Cube 2 based RPG game, which is sure to have great potential. It will be a single player experience, and by the screenshots thus far, it could prove to be a winner.

What I enjoy most about Sauerbraten, is that while low on actual SP content and the like, it’s a well put together package. The graphics are great and so is the sound, although some of the effects are somewhat bizarre. Aside from that, there is some tight gameplay here. I compare this game more to Quake 1 than I would with Nexuiz because of its smooth, fast and accurate gameplay. However, I discovered quite soon after jumping into the online arenas that I suck. So… maybe you will have better luck than I ;-)

#6 Pingus, #5 Neverball

Puzzle games have proven to be one of the most popular genres around, so it’s no surprise that the market is littered with such games. Not only that, but some of the true classics, we have seen recreated and updated time and time again. Not only by the official companies, but by fans also. Pingus, if you cannot already tell, is based off the ultra-popular Lemmings game. When it originally came out in the early 90’s, I am sure the developers did not expect it to catch on so rapidly!

Pingus is a true recreation and retains all of the core elements. It has pretty graphics and great sound… it’s a well put together package. Of course lemmings won’t do in a Linux game, so we have mindless penguins to deal with!

You have a bunch of penguins on the loose that really don’t know how to think for themselves. So, they run into walls, walk off cliffs, et cetera. You must tell them what to do, whether it be dig or float. The goal is to safely guide all of your penguins into the exit, which just so happens to be an igloo. Sounds simple, but it gets challenging quick. In order to succeed, you must use strategy and actually ponder your moves. You cannot just jump in and randomly click, or you will lose.

The game looks great, it really does. It has a fixed resolution of 800*600 though, which I found to be way to small for this game. I found myself having to mouse around the entire screen often, and it just became a chore. 1024*768 would have been a lot better.

If you get bored with the ~20 included levels, there is an included level editor to allow you to create your own, and to share. Many levels can be downloaded from this unofficial resource. So, it’s no doubt this game has some longevity. Many of the downloadable levels use new graphics and textures to keep things interesting. If you are a fan of Lemmings or any strategic puzzle game, you will want to check Pingus out.

#5 Neverball & Neverputt

If you enjoy playing with balls, then Neverball should be right up your alley. The game is quite similar to Super Monkey Ball for the Nintendo Gamecube, so if you’ve played that, then you know what to expect here. The game premise is simple… you have a ball and are required to move it around the level collecting a set amount of coins. Once done, you must make it safely to the finishing portal. It sounds simple, because for the most part… it is.

The game is divided into three difficulties, the first being the easiest. It really is… because you can storm through all twenty levels there in good time. Once finishing that difficulty, you are left with the “Hmm this game is not so hard.” mindset. Of course, that’s until you begin the next difficulty, then you suddenly realize that this is a game that tests your coordination, and patience.

Each level has a time limit, so you can’t just dilly dally around and watch the level beat itself. The game is entirely controlled by the mouse as you can imagine, and the camera view is constantly close to the ball. I hoped to have an option of zooming out a tad, but there was none. You are however, able to edit the configuration file to your liking. It would have been nice to have this accomplished through in-game options though.

You are also able to save and replay your runs, for personal reasons or for a clear way to brag to your friends. As you can likely tell by the screenshots, the game has incredibly clean graphics, full of eye candy. So, you will need a decent video card and CPU if you wish to play the game at its smoothest.

Neverball is almost like two games in one though, because Neverputt is also included. It runs on the same engine, but is a mini-golf game. It supports two players, so it’s some great fun with a friend. Overall, Neverball is a classic that’s quick to get into whenever you need a quick break.

#4 Nexuiz, #3 Enemy Territory

Nexuiz proves to be one of the most popular open source FPS games on Linux, and for good reason. The game engine used is DarkPlaces, which is a heavily modified Quake 1 engine. That’s evident in the graphics. If you’ve ever played Quake 1 deathmatch, then you are aware that it was one of the pioneers in what it did. Jump in, have some quick fun and log oback out. Personally, it was the first game that I played online quite often. Nexuiz tries to go back to those roots, and delivers for the most part.

The first thing you will notice about the game is that it’s gorgeous… the graphics are amazing, considering the engine it’s based on. It includes a lot of eye candy… even HDR! So, this is one game that will actually take full use of your high-end graphics card if you have one.

The premise of the game is simple. Jump in, kick some ass. Rinse and repeat. There is a large array of levels included, even some low-grav specific ones. The game actually reminds me quite a bit of Quake III… with the level design and weapon selection. All of the weapons look different than most of what you’ve seen before, but all act relatively similar. For instance, you will start off with a standard blast gun, but can also pick up a shotgun, rocket launchers and even a rail gun… which does a LOT of damage.

Though the game is deathmatch based, you don’t have to play online if you don’t want to. There is a single player campaign, though it lacks a story mode of any sort. As you progress through the SP levels, they get increasingly more difficult. The first few you will not have to repeat, but once you make it up a little ways you may need to replay the level a handful of times before beating it. Although you have to unlock the levels in SP to play them, all of the levels are available online at any given time.

Nexuiz is a game that grabbed my attention for a few weeks… I had a blast. However, it can’t be compared to Quake or Unreal Tournament in terms of gameplay, because there are modes missing and the control is not near as ‘tight’. However, Nexuiz is a prime example of what great open source software is all about. The game is packed with deathmatch action and will keep you going for a while. Heck, it may even take you an hour to just deal with the graphic settings ;-)

#3 Enemy Territory

When Return to Castle Wolfenstein was first released, it was hailed quickly by online gamers. It was a blast to play and had great graphics and sound to boot. Shortly after this, Enemy Territory, originally slated as a commercial expansion pack, was released entirely for free. In early 2004, the source code was released making it easier for modders and those working on total conversions to get things done.

While there are many online FPS games for Linux, this is by far one of the most in-depth and realistic. This is a standard Axis and Allies fare, with five different classes to choose from. The game includes six official maps, but there are far more than that available online provided by the modding community. This game, in a sense, is like Day of Defeat for Windows, and also Counter-Strike. It’s like DoD because of the standard gameplay, but CS in the sense that once you die, you stay dead until the round is over or until the timer hit its mark.

Since RTCW was released in late 2001, you can expect graphic capabilities from that time period. Though five years old, the game looks great at high resolution with all the eye candy enabled. The sound, from what I remember is great to match. Now, I was unable to give this game a good test on my rig, because the sound ceased to function for whatever reason. I didn’t look too deeply into it, but it seems to be a semi-common problem.

ET has a sequel on the way, Quake Wars, which will be a commercial game and obviously not be free. It should reflect a lot of what made ET so popular, but improve on all gaming elements. The screenshots from the game look like it will be completely revamped in every way. It will be based on the Quake IV/Doom III engine, and will likely be available for Linux at the time of launch.

So, if you are craving some good Axis/Ally online action, ET will fill your stomach with all of its tasty goodness.

#2 Frozen Bubble, #1 Battle for Wesnoth

If there ever were a popular puzzle game for Linux, Frozen Bubble would be it. Based off what we have seen with Bust a Move, Frozen Bubble is a rather simplistic puzzle that that requires some sort of strategy to succeed.

The game board is filled with multiple colored balls, and it’s your goal to match three or more of the same color to get rid of them. Sometimes the game board begins with more than three coupled together, but they don’t just go away on their own. What color ball comes next is completely random, so you must use some strategy to make sure that you are not going to get caught in a dead end. If you do take too long for a move, it will tell you to hurry up. After so many throws of a ball, the mechanism on the top will push all of the balls down a notch, making things more difficult.

As far as I can tell, once you make it to a certain level within a game, you can continue trying it over and over again until you finally do beat it. Or, if it becomes too much of a challenge, you can just quit. When you finally do quit, you will be placed in the high scores list, showing you which level you made it to, along with how long it took.

I have to say that this is one addictive game. I started it up, and an hour flew by before I knew it. It’s amazing how addictive some very simple games can be, really. I am impressed with the game as a whole, but wish that you could adjust your resolution. It’s set to 640*480, so it doesn’t look at that sharp. My only real complaint would be the lack of mouse support. Personally, I would find it much easier to control the dial at the bottom with the mouse, but the keyboard is the only option.

In addition to the single player game, you are also able to play against a friend on the same PC. If you happen to get bored of the included 100 levels, you can easily create your own, or even edit the ones that are default.

Frozen Bubble is meant to be a quick jump in and go type of game, so there is no real depth. There are only 7 different colors also, and none are added in later levels. So, it does lack some things I’d like to see, but it’s still quite a fun game overall. It successfully sucked an hour out of my day, so that speaks for itself ;-)

#1 Battle for Wesnoth

Here is a game that was constantly being noted as a great game, but I have never even heard of it until recently. Wesnoth is a fantasy turn based strategy game that is truly cross platform. It’s not only available for Linux but also Windows, BeOS, Mac OS X, FreeBSD and others. David White, the creator of the game, based it off a few Sega Genesis classics. He wanted the game to be rather simple to play, yet have strong AI. He strongly believes in the “Keep it Simple, Stupid” analogy, so you can’t expect deep gameplay that will drag you away from real life for hours at a time.

You can start off the game with a tutorial, which is rather well done. Your ‘master’ teaches you how to do things, and within minutes you are off killing. In the end, you can build a huge army of different fighters throughout different classes. Each of your units have various stats that build up as they level. You can go into each panel and view their weakness, and even see how their defensive abilities differ depending on which type of terrain they are on.

The game is based around factions… six in total. Depending on which you choose, the races vary. If you choose Knalgan Alliance for instance, you will be dealing with Dwarves, which are powerful but slow. As you would also expect, there are campaign missions to be had, each with three levels of difficulty. You can even download more through the game, most of which are user-created.

Like some other strategy games, Wesnoth is build on a hexgrid board, so your character can move in one of six ways.

The graphics in Wesnoth are nothing incredible, but they are crisp and colorful. The primary sound in the game is the overbearing music, which I found myself turning off pretty quickly. Not because it was bad, but because the bass was making the rest of the household angry ;-)

I am not a huge RTS or TBS fan, so I didn’t play Wesnoth for any significant amount of time. However, it has a very active development team and a huge fanbase, so you can expect this one to continue on for quite a while. It must be good to hit #1 in our list! So do yourself a favor and give it a go.

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