Even the most diehard Linux lover must admit that, when it comes to supporting popular computer games, their chosen operating system has proven problematic — to put it mildly. These weaknesses have been so persistent that even Microsoft Windows, an OS generally plagued with stability and security problems, is still the first choice among hard-core gamers, as well as the game publishers.
Gamers hoping to use Linux or one of Apple's operating systems on their personal computers, have also faced the difficulty that the lack of games tends to be self-perpetuating: Windows has always possessed the largest market share in the consumer computer arena, inducing game manufacturers to devote the bulk of their development and marketing efforts towards that OS, neglecting the others. This in turn causes gamers to choose Windows as their OS, thus prolonging the trend.
For Linux enthusiasts who still want to run Windows games, but without the Windows headaches, one option that is slowly but steadily gaining momentum, is the use of emulators and virtual machines, which allow the Linux PC to run a Windows-only game. But this approach has its unique downsides, especially for the average consumer who does not have the technical wherewithal to cope with the usual installation and configuration challenges.
Fortunately, there are some quite entertaining games that run just fine natively on Linux, and I will examine some of the most popular ones.
Penguins with Pistols
Tux, the friendly-looking penguin mascot of Linux, may not be pictured with a bandoleer strapped across his plump stomach, but that doesn't mean Linux would be a poor choice for anyone who would like to enjoy playing a first-person shooter (FPS) game. In fact, there are more well-executed FPS games available for Linux than would be guessed by your average Linux fan.
If you don't mind shelling out some money in order to launch an imaginary war within your computer and start shelling the enemy, then there are several outstanding commercial FPS games from which you can choose. The current leading Linux game publisher, id Software, offers Doom3, Quake 4, and Unreal Tournament 2004. Another commercial option is Enemy Territory: Quake Wars.
If, on the other hand, you wish to stick with the open source ethos embodied by Linux, then you should be pleased with the wide range of shooter games available free of charge. Nexuiz bills itself as a 3D deathmatch game, and features fast gameplay and excellent graphics. Sauerbraten, a.k.a. Cube 2, allows both single- and multi-player action, with greater emphasis upon dynamic mapping.
Warsow features outstanding graphics and gameplay that is both fast-paced and quite challenging. Tremulous is geared more toward team play and strategy than the aforesaid ones, and also includes more resource development — similar to MMORPGs. Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory is a free predecessor to its commercial counterpart.
There are two major categories of strategy games: turn-based and real-time. When playing a game in the former category, all game action stops until each player has had an opportunity to choose his or her — or its, if playing against the computer — next move, without the pressure of imminent slaughter as found in FPS games. Those in the second category are naturally the opposite, quickly separating the quick from the dead.
In the turn-based category, you find Battle for Wesnoth, a fantasy adventure game that runs on almost every major operating system, and even a couple minor ones. Benefiting from years of refinement, the game supports matches over the Internet, and almost three dozen languages.
FreeCiv is like a no-cost version of the remarkably popular commercial strategy game, Civilization. Similar to Battle for Wesnoth, FreeCiv's notable quality owes much to its long development history — starting in 1995. It is a solid multiplayer and multi-language strategy game, and runs on Linux, Windows, and Mac OS X, with precompiled binaries available for those last two platforms.
Playing the Role
Linux, similar to Windows, supports a large number of role-playing games. Some of them, such as Guild Wars and World of Warcraft, do not have native Linux versions, but generally work better within emulators than do less popular games.
For anyone who wishes to avoid the uncertainty of emulation, there are still plenty of native Linux games. Crossfire is described as "an open source, cooperative multiplayer graphical RPG and adventure game". It also runs on Windows, using a GTK client. What it lacks in sophisticated graphics, it more than makes up for in story richness, program stability, and a long development history. Daimonin is a variation on Crossfire, with alternative visuals and music.
Dofus, as the name suggests, is the most lighthearted entry in this roundup, but offers video game-like tactical play that is enjoyable enough to attract more than 3 million enthusiasts. Eternal Lands is a free MMORPG that is in beta, as of this writing, but still offers plenty of enjoyable action, and is especially appropriate for PCs with limited resources.
Regardless of what type of game you would like to play on your Linux box, the future of Linux gaming is looking brighter all the time.