Free Android games are crap, most of them at least. Digital detritus, designed to manipulate rather than to entertain. The worst thing about them is that they take something that is good, even innocent, and by charging for elements that should be found, earned or experienced, they turn what is good in gaming into something crappy. By taking advantage of gamers’ desire to play and by charging piecemeal and aggressively for the stuff of play, they not only suck the fun out of our playtime, they slap a price tag on what should be just fun. In short, they suck.
That said, we understand that Android suffers the worst piracy of any gaming platform, making it difficult for developers to earn money the old-fashioned way. What’s more, not all freemium games are rip-offs, most of them, but not all. Among their ranks are a number of decent games, even a few great ones. That’s where Hardcore Droid comes in. HD was created as much to fight the rising tide of freemium marketing as to seek out cool and fun core gaming experiences in the world of Android gaming. So if we say a freemium title is not half bad you can trust that it’s not. Here we’ve compiled a list of the 10 best free games Android has to offer. These are games that do more than get freemium gaming right. Each one does it superbly well.
To be perfectly honest, we are not positive that Contest is exactly the 10th greatest Free Android Game of all time. For one, like any such list or review, this is a subjective assessment. What’s more, Contest’s graphics are not bleeding edge and the gameplay is on the simple side of the fence. Worst of all, they monetize via an ever-and ever-dwindling resource, which is usually the last straw for us. However, they also provide players with a bevy of entertaining things to do while waiting for their stamina bars to replenish, which makes its freemium component OK for us.
Why Number 10? It’s a Marvel superhero fighting game. Injustice Gods Among Us certainly looks better, though the mobile version is a little bug-ridden, at least the iteration we reviewed last year. And anyway, come on! This is Marvel. For the unwashed among you, this is the brand of comics where underwear is rarely seen on the outside. It’s also the home that Stan Lee and Jack Kirby built—the home, I should add, where Wolverine, Silver Surfer, The Hulk and Captain Mofo America were born, to name a paltry few. In what other mobile game do you get to duke it out as Marvel’s best sans strobe light and jack-a-ninny Street Fighter antics? And while the graphics aren’t as sharp as Injustice’s, they are very good and appropriately, if only a hair cartoonish. Sure the fighting is not complex, but it’s still a lot of fun. So, while imperfect, Marvel Contest of Champions is still hands down one of the finest freemium mobile games available today.
9. Into the Dead
Likely the moodiest, coolest looking mobile Zombie FPS in existence, Into the Dead is a first-person shooter/endless runner hybrid that is likely the only endless runner that is sure to appeal to hardcore gamers. Though you can buy IAPs; that is, credits, to buy yourself more time on the field and better weapons and so forth, there really is no need to do so because it is both a generous game, and a title, that is best enjoyed in short spurts, like most endless runners. And while we are on the subject of money, it’s unlikely that you could buy a better tool for waiting on a line, escaping from a boring meeting or taking a few moments to take out a little aggression. And while it’s true that the runner genre is as casual as games get, everything else about this dark and brooding game is very hardcore.
While it is lame that Electronic Arts decided to make this once paid Android game a freemium title, the game’s IAPs are unnecessary and if you don’t mind a stupid ad running on-screen while you are playing, you will enjoy this brilliant strategic tower defense game.
In spite of being both goofy and cute looking, Plants vs. Zombies made a huge splash with both critics and PC gamers when it first appeared on the indie scene back in 2009. And for good reason. The title’s short-shot strategic tower defense gameplay is expertly balanced and is as consistently amusing as it is fun to play. While the controls suffer, as they often do on mobile, every other facet of this title is the PC version of Plants Vs Zombies that kept many a gamer playing long into the night.
At once, a puzzle game, a turn-based RPG and a roguelike, Hoplite is a magnificent amalgam of genres. As the titular Hoplite you are charged with delving deep into a dungeon to kick demon arse and take names. Armed with three abilities: a stabby spear, a bashing helmet and an uncanny ability to hop (because he’s a hop-lite. Get it?), you test your mettle and brain fighting an assortment of dungeon baddies, all of whom wield their own specific fighting abilities. Each floor of the old school hex-based dungeon layout thus becomes a puzzle as you try to figure out how you can stay alive while using your three abilities to eliminate each level’s herd of nasties. Lovers of digital glitz may find fault in the game’s 8-bit-era graphics, but fans of both puzzles and old school strategic gaming, will be in their glory. The game offers up a lot of free play, fairly-priced IAPs, and you can buy all the levels in one shot for a mere $1.99. In essence , you can have your cake and eat it on the cheap.
6. Plague Inc.
The go-to game for sadists and sociopaths, Plague Inc. is one rare bird of an Android video game. It is an abstract pandemic simulation in which you play the role of a virus tasked with obliterating humanity. Originally a paid app, Plague went freemium last year. We had to include it here because it’s a freemium-fair title: the IAPs are mostly shortcuts and the game remains entirely playable for free. Also, Plague Inc. is a hands-down brilliant and highly original simulation that will give you a chance to exercise your inner misanthropic megalomaniac. While the graphics are a rather bare bones affair, it won’t matter a wit to most strategy and sim fans as the game is one of the most nuanced and devilishly addicting simulations available for mobile formats.
When developers at Super Evil MegaCorp set out to make a mobile MOBA, they clearly decided to scale their game back for mobile platforms. Thank God they did. Super Evil Megacorp clearly took into account a number of the inherent shortcomings of smart devices as a gaming platform, both in terms of controls and the breadth and depth of gameplay. What they ended up producing is the living end of mobile MOBAs. In other words, it’s a singularly gorgeous, balanced and fast-paced MOBA with enough strategic depth and kinetic challenges to satisfy both hardcore and casual MOBA fans.
4. Dead Trigger
Usually Dead Trigger 2 shows up on these lists instead of the original. Not here. Dead Trigger 2, in our humble opinion, spends far too much time trying to squeeze players out of their hard-earned cash, to say nothing of its paywall. Yes, you can play the game for hours for nothing, but the point at which Trigger 2 begins to squeeze is the point at which it fails. That said, it’s somewhat simpler and smaller younger brother is a revelation of a free game, and gently rolls into the fair freemium game category. It’s a title which, last check, you can finish without hitting an implacable paywalls or any of the other strain of annoying freemium marketing. On top of that, it remains to this day one of the sharpest, best-looking and hair-raisingly tense FPSs available for Android, and we highly recommend it.
Heroes of Steel developers, the Trese Brothers, invested a ton of heart and effort—to say nothing of the funding from their successful Kickstarter campaign—into this superb indie RPG. And it shows. A squad-based/turn-based RPG with tactical battles and storied campaigns, Heroes of Steel hearkens back in many ways to the golden age of RPG gaming.
Set in the post-apocalyptic world of Steel, where the last remnants of humanity have been forced to try and eek out a living in the vast network of tunnels known as the “Underdeep,” Heroes of Steel put the player in control four heroes as they try to overcome the evil forces that have trailed humanity into the underworld. In addition to the well-told and somewhat unique post-apocalyptic story, the game’s turn-based battles are richly detailed, often challenging and always engaging.
Just as importantly, it is number 3 on this list because Heroes of Steel exemplifies freemium gaming done right. First off, the free game on offer represents a decent-sized mobile RPG unto itself. Much of the IAPs are expansions to the game, each of which represents 30+ hours of gaming. Every one of Steel’s IAPs, whether it is a character, a weapon or a scenario, represents a permanent purchase. If you are looking for a free, superb, story-rich game, Heroes of Steel is the place to start.
I remember some years back reading the term “digital crack” for the first time. Since then the term has become pretty popular among game journalists. For me, it never fails to register as an amusing and somewhat over the top analogy. Funny thing is, that after playing Fallout Shelter for a few hours that’s the term that came to mind. You know I just put my blowtorch down and said: “Now this is digital crack!” Anyway, Shelter is a richly nuanced and elegantly detailed Freemium game that most, if not all, strategy and sim fans will find intensely engaging. Not only that, but it also does freemium right. The game has no paywall to speak of. The IAPs it sells are sold on the cheap, and you can play continuously for hours upon hours without spending a penny.
Fallout fans will instantly recognize Shelter’s graphics as belonging to the Pip Boy cartoons that are part and parcel of the cut scenes found in most Fallout games. Like the 1950s, Cold War-era films they parody, their hokey, somewhat childish stylization creates a darkly amusing dichotomy when held up against the nuclear holocaust subject matter. Interestingly enough, the only real difference between Fallout’s black humor and that found in the source material is that the former is intentional. Shelter even came pretty close to this year’s all time number one spot, but, as our own Steve Dourountoudakis pointed out in his excellent review, Fallout Shelter’s dark humor barely extends beyond its art direction. Also, one might argue that the game is lacking a center, as it has neither a narrative nor an overarching goal. That said, it remains a singularly brilliant and engaging simulation and an easy pick for the second Best Free Android Game Ever Made.
Blizzard’s only mobile outing is a revelation of a freemium title, as it is hands down a brilliant digital card game. What’s more, it is clearly, at present, the last word on such games. Like all Blizzard titles it is a masterwork of craftsmanship.
You can play Hearthstone for a solid year without spending a dime, and enjoy every minute of your time spent. You can also spend a boatload of money buying decks and other IAPs. However, each of those purchases will have bona fide value and will provide you with hours upon hours of entertainment value. Hearthstone is a clear case of Freemium gaming done right. It is also one of the finest pieces of video game craftsmanship you will find on Android. How many video games are there that are so intriguing and meticulously well balanced that they get turned into an eSport popular enough to be regularly televised? We understand if you just don’t go in for eSports or card games, digitized or otherwise. However, even if you don’t, there’s no denying that Hearthstone represents one of the most elegantly nuanced video games ever made, which is why—on a list of the best free Android games ever made—Hearthstone easily snatches the number 1 spot.