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Linux gamers are understandably excited to have access to Steam, awesome titles courtesy of the Humble Indie Bundle, and other places to buy games. For years, mainstream games passed over the open source desktop. Players had to settle for whatever the free software community produced (or even playing inside a terminal), and the quality was often lacking.
That’s not to say there aren’t some real gems out there, if you know where to look. The games below aren’t new, but if you’re coming to Linux for the first time, you may not know that they exist. All of these titles are as easy to find in your package manager as AbiWord and GIMP.
I’m a fan of turn-based strategy games, so I’m starting with The Battle for Wesnoth. With varied unit selection, challenging battles, numerous story campaigns, online multiplayer, and a map editor, there’s plenty to keep you coming back.
The Battle for Wesnoth may be free, but it comes with more content and longevity than many commercial titles. If you like Fire Emblem or Final Fantasy Tactics, do yourself a favor by downloading this game.
2. 0 AD
This real-time strategy game is a work in progress, but it has some of the most promise of any entry on this list. Set in the distant past, you play as one of several empires existing between 500 BC and 500 AD.
Right now 0 AD is in alpha, but the game is already in a playable state. You can challenge the A.I. to single player skirmishes, or you can set up multiplayer matches. Single player campaigns aren’t ready yet, but they’re bound to increase the longevity of this game once they do.
If you’re going to play, be sure to check out the developer’s tutorial videos on YouTube.
Xonotic began as a fork of Nexuiz, a shooter popular enough to eventually spawn a console remake. The game is similar to the likes of Quake and Unreal Tournament. Battles are fast, fierce, and twitchy.
Players will bunny hop to avoid shots, boost themselves with rockets, and deploy other classic tactics to avoid getting shot. I’ve never been particularly good at this type of first-person shooter, but if you’re big into the genre, this is the place to start.
4. Alien Arena
Alien Arena‘s gameplay isn’t all that different from Xonotic‘s, but the retro sci-fi theme sets it apart. Aliens run around with oversized heads shielded by glass domes. Consider this a change of pace when you’re ready to inject some variety into your frag addiction.
Plus the graphics remain some of the most impressive you will find in an open source game.
I wouldn’t blame you for thinking deathmatch-centric shooters could use a bit more depth. You pick a gun, you run around, and you shoot. Hopefully you’re not the one left looking at a respawn timer afterward.
Tremulous spices up the genre by injecting a hit of real-time strategy elements. You pick a team: humans or aliens. Unlike in Alien Arena, the two sides aren’t effectively the same. One lets you take control of spiders and bite your way through the other team.
Whichever side you join has you building structures as your team gains ground and tries to come out on top. The community isn’t nearly as large as Xonotic‘s, but sometimes that’s a plus.
Linux has no shortage of shooters, but many of them are first-person shooters. If that’s not your cup of tea, the list gets much shorter. You may get more amusement out of Teeworlds, a game I would describe as a bunch of angry Kirby’s with guns.
A multiplayer side-scrolling shooter with all the chaos and violence of more serious looking fare, Teeworlds features many varied environments to do battle in, and you can create your own maps to keep things fresh.
Worms is one of the most classic strategy games to grace the gaming landscape. Yet as adorable as those limbless creatures are, they’re not essential to the experience. Cute little hedgehogs are just as capable of blowing themselves up.
That’s what you get to do in Hedgewars, the free software alternative where you still have a great time landing carefully aimed shots from wacky weapons. The experience is so similar to Worms 2 that you’re more likely to laugh or coo than feel guilt after landing a direct hit with a rocket launcher.
Linux gaming offers plenty of ways to hop online and shoot at other players. For whatever reason, this is often done in space. But for those times when you rather pilot a ship than wield a gun, M.A.R.S. is your chance.
This is a top-down shooter with 360 controls and particle effects galore. While it’s not quite as comical as Hedgewars or Teeworlds, there’s something amusing about space ships that bounce off planets like bumper cars.
M.A.R.S. making you dizzy? Would you prefer a more straightforward top-down shooter? Try searching for Astromenace. This is an old-school shooter with waves of enemy ships.
What sets Astromenace apart are the 3D visuals that, while aging, set the game apart from some of the more unpolished 2D options you may have come across. With the ability to customize your ship as you progress, the game may have you coming back to approach each level a different way.
Tron was one of the most popular sci-fi films to hit theaters in the decade before Linux was born, so it should come as no surprise that a developer would grow up to create a game that replicated the light cycles from the film. Thus we have Armagetron Advanced.
The game is a multiplayer game of snake where you avoid other racers’ light trails while hoping they crash into yours. The winner is the last cycle left standing.
Ready to Play?
A new commercial game comes out every couple of weeks. Free software title aren’t so commonplace. But games in the open source world are often living, breathing entities. The experience may be much better in 2016 than it was 2009, thanks to a slow but steady stream of contributions. So even if you’re very familiar with most of the games on this list, it may be time to pay one another visit.
And since most of these games are multiplayer, it’s worth pointing out that you can also find copies for Windows and Mac OS X. Your friends don’t need to be Linux users in order for everyone to have a good time!
It’s not hard to install Steam on Linux, but you may find that you don’t even need to.
What are your favorite Linux games? Have you stumbled across any gems in your package manager? Do you still search the repos now that you can fire up Steam? Fellow gamers are waiting in the comments below!