As of today, Vivendi's F.E.A.R. Combat is now available as a free download. (The price of "free," of course, is filling out a short questionnaire with your standard contact information and a marketing survey about the game.) The game is an updated multiplayer-only version of last year's impressive PC shooter. Servers will no doubt be jammed by a deluge of eager downloaders in these first few hours, so it's a perfect time to check out our updated Gratis Gaming feature, which highlights more than a dozen of our favorite PC gaming downloads that you can get for free.
In addition to F.E.A.R. Combat, we've added Abuse, a classic 2D side scroller. With the exception of America's Army (which has always been a freebie), all of the other games on the list were once available commercially, in one form or another. But there was a long list of second-stringers that didn't quite make the cut, for one reason or another: convoluted setup, noncommercial beta, or often just too old. Rather than keep the "B team" locked away on our hard drive, however, we figured we'd list them here. After all, what's a moldy oldie to one person can be a retro classic to another. (Links below are to files on CNET Download.com where possible; otherwise, the links are to the respective publisher's Web sites.)
BioMenace: This sidescroller is an early title from 3D Realms, the creators of Duke Nukem and Prey.
Elder Scrolls Arena: Morrowind fans can see where the saga started; just be sure to download the DOSbox utility that's needed to run it in Windows.
The Cinemaware Vault: These vintage-1980s graphical adventures and sports games were state-of-the-art back in the day:
Defender of the Crown
It Came From the Desert
The King of Chicago
Lords of the Rising Sun
Sinbad and the Throne of the Falcon
The Three Stooges
TV Sports: Basketball
TV Sports: Boxing
TV Sports: Football
TV Sports: Baseball
"Free" MMOs--with strings attached
Anarchy Online: You can play this MMORPG for free until January 15, 2007, but you won't have access to the expansion-pack areas.
Planetside: Like AO, this online shooter is open to the masses until March 24, 2007, albeit with restrictions.
Knight Online: This fantasy-based MMO offers free areas, with pay-to-play upgrade options.
Second Life: It may be a stretch to call this online virtual community a "game," but it is free.
There: The Second Life caveat applies here as well.
Nexuiz: Despite originating from self-proclaimed "amateur developers," the latest iteration of this deathmatch-centric shooter offers impressive graphics and bot-based single-player action.
Penumbra: This first-person horror adventure serves as a demo of Frictional Games' physics engine.
Tremulous: This open-source game mixes elements of first-person shooters and role-playing.
Interested in more free games? We drew this list from a variety of online sources, including: Liberated Games, Remain in Play, Mega Games, and Wikipedia's entry on "abandonware." If you find any gems that aren't listed here or in the main feature, be sure to share them.