What Are the Best Free-to-Play Shooters?
With all the new free-to-play shooters being released these days, it's hard to tell if there are quality games behind the trend, or if free-to-play is just a recent fad. After having played many of the most popular free-to-play online shooters, here are the free shooters most worthy of your time.
Team Fortress 2
Let's get the obvious pick out of the way. Team Fortress 2 was originally a part of a compilation of Valve games named The Orange Box, eventually turning into an individual product, and most recently, a free-to-play title. Team Fortress 2 originally had 6 maps at release, with 9 unique classes, including the tank-like Heavy, the agile Scout, and the stealthy Spy. Since release, though, Valve has added ridiculous amounts of content to it, including new weapons and gadgets for the classes, many new maps, UI changes, balance changes, a full-on trading and crafting system, and more. This was a $20 value at release, but Valves constant updates and improvements have made it a steal, especially for free. There's no incentive to pay, unless you want the quick and easy route to new items. The only problems I can think of are the stubborn server admins who've added a line of code that auto-kicks free-to-play users upon connection. It's not like you want to play with those types of players, anyway.
Battlefield Heroes/Battlefield Play4Free
One of the first games in the online free-to-play trend, Battlefield Heroes is a smaller, simplified, and stylized version of the standard Battlefield gameplay most PC gamers have come to know and love. There are fewer classes, smaller maps, a smaller player count, and fewer vehicles, but it's still recognizable as Battlefield. Players can buy items and accessories for their avatars, and the game sports a stylized cartoony art style not similar to other Battlefield releases. EA has been supporting it since release with updates, and there are still people playing to this day. Not your standard Battlefield experience, but you shouldn't overlook it.
Battlefield Play4Free is technically in beta, but it's in open beta, meaning that anyone who wants to can play it. It's another free Battlefield experience, but it's far more standard than Heroes. There's no cartoony style, and all the weapons are modern-day. It's essentially Battlefield 2, with less content. However, many of Battlefield 2's classic maps make it into Battlefield Play4Free, and since it's multiplayer, there's really no need for too many maps since they're all of a high quality. Want Battlefield 2 for free? You got it.
Taking a page out of Xbox Live's book, Valve released a top-down co-op shooter for their download service, Steam. Set in an alien invasion, Alien Swarm hits all the cues you'd expect from a game with the word "Alien" in the title. The assault rifle sounds appropriately similar to the weapon from the James Cameron classic movie, there are face-hugger-like "parasites," large numbers of aliens to kill, and appropriate atmospheres. You can play with up to 3 other players online, with 4 classes and 8 characters to choose from. As you play, you earn levels, which unlock plenty of weapons and abilities, each with their own pros and cons. It's quite short, with only a few levels, but it's fun to play through multiple times and there are quite a few achievements (some with Aliens references). If you enjoy level editing, Alien Swarm comes with a tile-based map editor and access to the Source engine SDK. A pretty good deal for $0.