The 100 best free online games on PC (Part I)

The 100 best free online games on PC (Part I)

Free games are excellent, especially when you don't even have to wait for them to download and install. Webgames promise instant delight. They can deliver a quick thrill and a punch line and then let you get on with your day. But there are deeper experiences out there as well. Did you know, for example, that you can play Doom in your browser? In fact, you can play whole RPGs, explore intricate works of interactive fiction and wage space-war against your friends. Within, you'll find our hundred favourite browser games—the best free online games in the world. Enjoy.

The 100 best free online games on PC

ACTION

Doom

Thanks to its shareware past, the entirety of the first (and best) episode of the first Doom is playable in your browser. I shouldn't need to give you a rundown of what to expect here: it's Doom. There are demons, doors, switches and keycards, all placed around a sprawling Mars base full of corridors and secrets. The only downside to this browser-based resurrection is that it doesn't support mouse-look, so, on top of a quality FPS, you're also getting a history lesson in how cumbersome shooter controls could be.

SuperHot

The Seven Day FPS competition was created to keep first person shooting interesting. Entrants were given a week to create eccentric, experimental, and high-concept ideas, without a theme to restrict them. It was the perfect breeding ground for a game like SuperHot, which took the tired FPS cliche of Bullet Time and, through a simple twist on the formula, created something completely new. To quote the game's opening, “it's about time”.
The elevator pitch is equally pithy: time moves when you do. Stand still and the scene freezes. Walk, strafe or aim, and it starts back up. Instantly it transforms the focus of the men-shooting genre. Playing SuperHot isn't about reflex and reaction, it's about precision and choreography. It's these same principles that underpin every action film, but that games frequently miss in the panicked throes of real-time firefights. It's short but, thanks to Kickstarter, a full, commercial release is also being worked on.

Dojo of Death

A dojo seems like an eminently sensible place for fighting to break out, although it must be hell getting all that blood out of those nice wooden floors. Dojo of Death, then. It's a one-button, entirely mouse-driven little timewaster about a guy fond of chopping people to bits. Not a butcher, no, but a hyper-quick ninja beset from all sides by enemies. Click in the direction you happen to be pointing at to dart forward with your sword drawn and slash any baddie ninjas into ninja ham. Occasionally baddie bow-wielding ninjas emerge from the adjoining room, who can turn you into fine paste from far away. Dojo of Death is endless, and tough, and like many of the best endless-tough games, your first instinct on death will be to retry. And retry. And retry again. It's unlikely you'll remember it a week from now, but at least it kept you from finishing that super-important spreadsheet—and that's really all you could ever want from a browser game.

The Last Tango

The winner of the New Mexico Game Jam, The Last Tango is a game about rhythm espionage survival. I'd have called it Dance Dance Execution, but the principle remains the same. You play as two spies, dancing through a variety of deadly locations. They'll pirouette past traps, dodge under attacks, and take down enemies with an elegant twirl. And a gun.
Each move is performed to the beat, so as the levels get more complicated, you'll queue up actions and watch as they're gracefully executed. Step right, shoot left, step left, spin, shoot up and to the right, get decapitated by a ninja. As the dance becomes increasingly hazardous, timing and order become essential for success.

Rhythm Doctor

Part of this year's IGF Student Showcase, Rhythm Doctor takes the style and irreverence of rhythm games, but features a much stricter margin of error. Your job—as a trainee doctor for the NHS—is to hit a button on every seventh beat of a patient's heart rate monitor. That button press will only register if it's within 0.02 seconds of the target, so precision is key.
Each patient introduces a different quirk to the rhythmic counting. Certain beats may be silent, forcing you to keep your own time. Other times, multiple blips will appear. To further complicate matters, some patients contain boss viruses. An early one distorts your connection to the monitor, forcing you to keep perfect time as the music warps, skips and rewinds.

SoundDodger

In rhythm games, the music is both your adversary and your reward. That principle is taken to the extreme in Soundodger, where the notes fire a wave of spikes towards your cursor. Get hit and the music distorts—skipping forward a few seconds like a speeding record. You lose points for this, which is a shame, but the greater punishment is destroying the excellent soundtrack, featuring songs from composers like Disasterpeace and Lifeformed. If you like the free game, an expanded version is available on Steam .

Brawlin' Sailor

Major Bueno are back! Brawlin' Sailor is another beautiful/hilarious short story of a game, this time traversing into sidescrolling beat-'em-up territory. There's no challenge to the combat; you're playing for the story, which takes about five glorious minutes to see through.

Silhouette

Like a number of free horror games, Silhouette doesn't rely on high-tech visuals to generate its scares. It's a two-player killer vs. victim game set in a dark house. Control shifts between the knife-wielding killer and their unarmed victim, allowing for turns of real-time movement that shorten as the killer and the victim draw closer together. The increasingly fraught pacing does a great job of inspiring mounting panic in both players, toying with the same manipulative patterns seen across horror cinema, from the Jaws soundtrack to the murder famous murder scenes of Psycho. An effective horror experiment that's worth a go if you can get a couple of horror fans around your keyboard.

My Friend Pedro

My Friend Pedro provides a compelling case for why you shouldn't follow the advice of a talking banana. It's a 2D action platformer with a heavy debt to Max Payne—although mercifully, this hallucinating protagonist is less prone to questioning his worth as a human being. Instead, he leaps, flip and rolls about each level, using his slow-mo ability to avoid bullets and unload an unnervingly accurate volley of return fire. It's a short game, but one packed full of opportunities to show off your balletic bullet time skills.

Ratz Instagib

Ratz Instagib is a browser-based mulitplayer shooter that distills the pinpoint aiming and unlikely acrobatics of Quake and Unreal Tournament into their purest, simplest form. There is one weapon in the game: a railgun of unlimited range that kills anything in one hit. Also you're all rats for some reason.
The setup means that everyone meets on an even playing field. The only guarantee of success is to be better at hitting a small and speedy target than that target is at hitting you. In a map full of FPS experts, lives can last for seconds as you desperately cull as many players as possible before a laser pierces your tiny frame.

Pale Machine

A “playable music video” from Ben Esposito, one of the Arcane Kids, and musician bo en. Interaction in these happy few minutes is limited to tilting objects with the arrow keys or stretching your fingers—well, stretching somebody's fingers—with the keyboard, but it's just enough to make you feel part of this bouncy, brightly coloured world.

Critical Annihilation

Critical Annihilation
Critical Annihilation is a simple twin-stick shooter-style game about killing an endless wave of voxel aliens with guns, rockets and, for some reason, an AC-138 gunship. With all those resources, you think you'd be able to escape your perilous surroundings. Alas, no. You're in this through to the bitter end.

PUZZLE

Pandemic 2

We're always being asked to save the world, so it's nice when we're given the chance to destroy instead. In Pandemic 2 you design and unleash an virus, parasite or bacterium, and watch as it spreads through the world. The trick is to create a disease that can infect as many people as possible without being detected. As soon as there's even the hint of a problem, hospitals will spring into action, borders will close, and Madagasca will become an impenetrable haven for the last remnants of humanity.

GeoGuessr

GeoGuessr builds a compelling game of investigative orienteering by using Google Maps' Street View to drop you randomly into the world, then asking you to locate yourself. Sometimes it's obvious—a sign or street name allowing you to hone in on your temporary home. Other times you'll be stranded in a barren landscape. Sightseeing has never been so competitive.

Ichabot Crane

You're a robot. With a detachable head. And in the ga...well, you get the idea. What distinguishes this wonderful puzzle game from the dozens of similar first-person puzzlers doing the rounds is how you use that head to advance. Left-clicking chucks it out in front of you, at which point the perspective switches to that of the robo-bonce now sitting on the floor. In a stroke of genius, you can head-hop forward with repeated left clicks, while simultaneously moving your headless robo-body with WASD. It's beautiful. It's also the closest I've ever come to being Bender from Futurama—until work on my robot exoskeleton is finished at least.

Wonderputt

Play it online here

Wonderputt
It's minigolf, only taken to a charming extreme. In Wonderputt, you're skipping over lily pads, avoiding UFOs, and putting across asteroid craters. The presentation is delightful. You can see the entire course at the start, but with each successful hole it shifts and alters, revealing new sections and transforming in unexpected ways. It takes the simple fact that mini-golf is fun, and enhances it through a lavish series of cutesy animations.

I Am Level

Oh wow, this is wonderful. I Am Level is a Spectrum-style game with some canny enhancements—there's a Metroidvania-like world structure, alternate costumes and even a leveling system—but at its core this is a ruggedly old-fashioned platformer with one hell of a chiptune soundtrack. The twist here is that it's also a pinball game; you're tilting the levels, and activating paddles, rather than moving the game's spherical hero directly.

Ending

You move a single icon in on an grid, solving tile-based combat challenges to progress to the next stage. What makes Ending stand out from innumerable other puzzle games is its randomly-generated roguelike mode, where you explore a dungeon that works on the same principle.

Kingdom

Holy wow. Kingdom is a tower defence game, sorta - but before you take to your keyboard to moan about that, you should know that it's one of the loveliest I've played in a long time. You're a king on a kingly horse trying to survive for ten nights in a small village/camp in the wilderness. To help you in your quest to continue existing, you can employ wandering vagabonds by dropping money at their feet - then give them a weapon/tool by supplying the appropriate stall. This is all a lot of fun, but I love Kingdom for the astonishing pixel art, sound design and atmosphere, and I have a feeling you'll love it for those very same reasons too.

They Love You

It's adorable top-down puzzle game time. They Love You is another "play as a cube navigating through a maze past some obstacles" game, of which about 300 seem to be released every day. So, what makes this one special? Partly it's the simple but deceptively clever concept. Partly it's the character and charm that exist in the basic shapes. Mostly it's because it's absolutely infuriating.

Desktop Tower Defence

A moreish maze-building game that turns a tiny patch of desk into a warzone. Increasingly powerful creeps swarm in from the left. Slow them with ice rays, blast them with missiles and craft a long intestinal catacomb of death out of gun turrets to ensnare and destroy them.

Ditto

With its clean, evocative art style and strangely ICO-esque ambient sound design, Ditto is a bit of a departure from Nitrome's usual day-glo arcade games. Your catty, triangular little hero has a shadowy doppelganger, who emerges when you're parallel to a big orange mirror thing in the middle of most screens. Said doppelganger mimics every action you take—only in reverse.
Puzzles, as you might imagine, involve keeping track of the goings-on in (at least) two parallel worlds; to succeed you'll need to frequently switch your attention from one to the other, taking advantage of the occasional inconsistency to clamber your way into the next stage. Smart, challenging, atmospheric, bally adorable stuff.

Untrusted

Untrusted is an ascii game about reaching the exit—though there is a little more to it than that. These exits are blocked off initially, the only way to remove or reposition them being to delve into the source code and reprogram the game. If you don't know anything about programming (like, er, me), this bit may prove rather difficult, but even despite my code-hating brain I managed to fumble my way through some of the game. This is not only a seriously clever project, it may also be a great way to get started with Javascript, should you be looking to wade into those codey waters.

Where is my Beard

I generally keep my beard just under, and on, my chin, which makes it easy to find when a puzzle game asks me to locate it for reasons that are best left unscrutinised. In Where is My Beard you have to make a bunch of unbearded shapes more hirsute, by engineering it so that they touch bearded ones—face fungus being contagious, as you know. You do this by dropping them into the scene and pressing the play button; if you've aligned said shapes correctly, they'll bash into each other with PHYSICS and set off a wonderfully beardy chain reaction. Not one for pogonophobes, obviously, but for everyone else this is a lavishly illustrated slice of hairy silliness.

Gridland

Gridland
A Dark Room creators Doublespeak games are masters at making engaging, low-octane games you can play in your browser while doing other stuff, and Gridland cements that. It's a match-3, but it's really a game of building and survival: by day you match bricks or wood or stones or paper, to gather materials needed to construct a little village at the top of the screen. Neat little elements of this phase include the need to match corn to feed your heroic worker, and the way he or she will lug blocks and hammer nails when milestones are met. It's a lightly animated game, but these cute actions act as a lovely reward for matching three or more things together.
When night comes, the colours invert and rats, zombies, skeletons and the like emerge as you connect their relevant icons on the game board. In this phase you're merely trying to survive, by matching swords (to attack), shields (for defence), and using the occasional found potion to supply yourself with an item or to clear the screen of baddies. Either these bits are too easy, or the difficulty gradient is too shallow, but my main concern here was getting back to the building phase in order to finish construction of my outstanding hamlet. Gridland doesn't appear to have quite as many surprises as A Dark Room—and, crucially, it's not a game that will play itself while you check Twitter—but it's an unassumingly lovely and charming hybrid that will eat a good chunk of your weekend regardless. Soz!

Superdimensional

Superdimensional
The theme of the most recent Ludum Dare was "connected worlds". Superdimensional won the competition with its clever dimension-switching structure. Your task is to indirectly guide a ball by using your mouse to expand pocket dimensions. Each has different properties that must be quickly transitioned between to avoid danger.

Cursors

Cursors
Cursors is a multiplayer browser game about cooperation – and frequently, the lack of it. You play as a mouse cursor trapped in a maze filled with other mouse cursors. These are the game's other players, and your progress is reliant on their actions.
A standard level might contain a number of coloured squares; for example, a blue, red and green one. The blue and red squares have numbers on them, the green square is blocked off by blue and red barriers, and each square is separated by a maze. To complete the level, cursors need to make their way to the green square.
The solution is to send one cursor each to the red and blue squares, where they can click the required number of times to lift the barriers – opening the path to the green square for those players waiting in the middle. The problem is that, once opened, the barrier will reappear before the two other cursors can return to the centre.
So what do you do? Stay bullishly in the centre, waiting for another player to take action? Take the selfless path in the hope that someone will later arrive and open the way for you? This is the central question of the Cursors experiment.

Puzzle Script

Puzzlescript
Puzzle Script isn't a game so much as an “open-source HTML5 puzzle game engine”, but it's already been used to make a bunch of interesting games , including a Closure demake, a couple of Sokoban titles, a more cerebral version of Pac-Man and loads more. My favourite so far is Dungeon Janitor , which sees you desperately trying (and most likely desperately failing) to mop up a particularly troublesome puddle of slime.

Companion

You're a square floating in a black void, and there are three types of objects in the environment: stars, which stick to you; cuboid objects which do nothing, and jellyfish-like creatures which move towards you and electrocute you on contact. Then, very quickly, you meet another square like you, only smaller. It's sleeping. You poke at it, and it wakes up—and hoots at you. Hello! He then follows you around, tooting curiously at the objects you find, and experimentally butting at them. Companion is a five-minute experiment—and a successful demonstration—of how to build a relationship between a player and an NPC.

Neptune's Pride

More of a strategy game than a puzzle game, really, but the excellent Neptune's Pride doesn't quite slot into the other sections but still definitely deserves a mention. Essentially, it's How To End A Friendship In One Easy Strategy Game. The action is simple: move ships to conquer planets, then build an economy on those planets. The glacial pace ensures that as you set nefarious plans in motion against your best friend, they have hours to marvel at your cruelty.

Reprisal

Reprisal is an RTS god-game. You hover around a square island, indirectly controlling your subjects by placing waypoints and using totems to control the elements with earth-changing powers. If your immediate reaction is “so, it's Populous then...” well, yes. It's called Reprisal for a reason. It's a stylish pixel art tribute, with a great chiptune soundtrack underneath.

No-one Has To Die

You play as a courier, making an innocent delivery to an almost certainly evil corporation when a fire breaks out. As automated systems lock you alone in the reception, the building's IM chat fills with staff members stuck on the floors above.
Being the only person with direct access to the building's safety controls, it's your job to seal off doors, activate sprinklers, and direct the members of staff away from their certain death.
Here's the thing: despite the title, in every level someone has to die. The crux of the game revolves around that choice—and the narrative-heavy chat logs that precede each mission help you to decide what you want to do.

Ir/Rational Redux

Ir/rational was originally released by Tom Jubert, writer for the Penumbra series and the upcoming FTL, back in 2009. It's now back in reduxed form, which seems to mean it's been given a coat of graphics and sound, and has found its way onto Newgrounds.
What haven't changed are the puzzles. You're presented with a series of statements and must pick logical arguments to fill in the blanks. The trick isn't whether the answer is true (in one early puzzle you prove the existence of god), but to work out why that answer is true, through the twisted circular logic you're given.

You Must Escape

You Must Escape's graphics are representations of sound. When you're not moving, the screen is black. Take a step and lines emanate from your position, bouncing off the otherwise invisible walls. Early on, the puzzle is simple: make noise to map out the level and find the exit—recognisable by its thicker white lines. Hold and release space and you'll send out a louder wave, necessary for tracing a route through more complex levels.
Before long, You Must Escape pulls its most effective trick. Red lines denote danger, either in the form of a static trap to avoid, or a creature that will hunt you. Your problem is that, if you can 'see' a creature, it's because you've sent out lines of noise that let it hear your location.

Naya's Quest

Naya's Quest was made by VVVVVV and Super Hexagon creator Terry Cavanagh. In case you were wondering: yes, it is bastard hard, just less stressful on your reflexes. It's an isometric puzzle-platformer about a girl and her pilgrimage to the edge of the world. As you're walking through the harmless opening screens, you pick up a scanning device. When activated the world vanishes, leaving only a cross section of the tiles directly horizontal and vertical to your position. At first the purpose of the scanner isn't clear. That is, until you reach the dungeon leading to the edge and start walking across an apparently solid bridge. Halfway across, and Naya falls into the void. Damn you Cavanagh!

Lamp and Vamp

Lamp and Vamp was created for the Procedural Death Jam - a competition designed to promote the "Procedural Death Labyrinth", a slightly less hideous term for "roguelike-likes". True to form, it's both randomly generated and contains death, or at least, undeath. You play a vampire trying to reach the safety of his coffin by moving one hex-tile at a time. In your way are patrolling villagers, and holy-water-hurling priests. You'll need to carefully use your abilities to safely make it home.

Nothing To Hide

If you're tired of scurrying into dark corners, away from human contact, Nothing To Hide might be for you. It's an anti-stealth game in which your job is to be seen at all times. Currently a demo, the developers plan to expand it into a full and open source game. You play as Poppy Gardner, daughter to the sinister head of a dystopian surveillance state. Trapped in a state of constant paranoid nervousness, you decide to help your father's social media popularity by running away to Canada. The only problem is that you must stay in state of the autonomous security eyes, or risk being taken down by anti-criminal sleeping darts.

The Very Organized Thief

The Very Organized Thief spawns you in a house that's not your own, carrying nothing but a torch and a list of items. If you hadn't guessed from the title, your job is to rob things. Both the larcenous list and the location of its items are randomly generated each time you play, meaning you'll need to carefully explore the house to find what you're after.
In most cases, it's easy to intuit where the items will be. A blender, for instance, will reliably live in the kitchen. Others are more cryptic, like the gold bar that you're always asked to find. To aid you in your search, you can pick up items, open draws and lift lids. You may be organised, but nothing says you have to be tidy.

MapsTD

MapsTD
MapsTD isn't the best tower defence game you can play, but it's the only one that lets you defend your home. It uses Google Maps as the basis for its levels. Enter an address, and you'll be given a custom battleground drawn from the surrounding streets and roads.
Once you've chosen an address, the game will pick up to four routes leading to it. These are where the enemies will travel—although initially they'll focus on a single path. Coloured pins represent towers, and must be placed and upgraded in strategic locations using money gained from surviving each wave. It's a pretty standard tower defence setup, but the pleasure comes from doing it across real-world streets and locations—whether that's the labyrinthine sprawl of a Somerset city, or the grids and angles of Washington D.C.

Mirror Isles

Mirror Isles
Made in Increpare's PuzzleScript engine, Mirror Isles is a simple but taxing puzzle game by Sokobond's Alan Hazelden. It's a sokoban-style block-pushing game with a teleportation twist. Through the exact placement of mirrors, you can switch places with your reflection – a technique that lets you jump between islands.

PLATFORMER

N 2.0

It's all about the replays. After hundreds of attempts in which your walljumping ninja is sliced by lasers, burst by missiles and crushed by thwomps, you get a replay of your successful run to the level exit, in which you seem to dodge each threat with psychic reflexes. There are hundreds of levels, and thus hundreds of opportunities to feel so satisfied.

Meat Boy

It lacks its paid-for older brother's flashier features, but the original Meat Boy is a chunk of PC platforming history. The series' fantastic controls—at once crisp and squishy, ping-ponging Meat Boy bloodily off the environment with each leap and slide—got their start here, and the first set of vertically-scrolling levels offer a stiff challenge. Very much worth upgrading to Super Meat Boy once you're done.

Pause Ahead

Here's a novel idea: a 2D puzzle platformer with a time-bending twist. Okay, so Pause Ahead might not be original in concept, but it's proficient in execution. You must make your way through the difficult trap filled levels, completing them within the time limit despite a control scheme that seems unsuited to twitch acrobatics. Why it works is that with a tap of the Shift key you freeze time, rendering you unable to course-correct, but keeping your momentum. At the most basic level, that means running towards an approaching buzzsaw, freezing time and skidding past. As long as time's not moving, you'll pass through the danger unharmed. Hit a wall, however, and you'll lose your speed. If you're hovering over an obstacle when you resume, you'll instantly be killed.

Escape Goat

Ian Stocker's excellent Escape Goat is now available in browser form, should you want to play the goat-based puzzle platformer without having to download or pay anything for the privilege. (Of course, you should consider buying the game's recently released Steam version if you like what you see.) Either way, you'll be playing a smart, witty puzzler with one hell of a soundtrack, and the cutest mouse companion you'll ever met.

Shybot

Sometimes I'm in the mood for a silly-physics-based kissing game, an experimental first-person wanderer, an exquisite text adventure—or an unassuming robot-based platformer featuring a Game Boy colour palette and an infectious chiptune soundtrack. I suspect most of the words I've supplied to descriptions of other sidescrolling platformers would apply equally well here, but at the risk of repeating myself, Shybot is a mechanically exact jumping game with an adorable main character, set in a fairly sizeable, open-ended world. There will always be a place in my heart for one of those.

Atum

In Atum, you play as a person sitting at their desk playing a side-scrolling 2D platformer. That desk is littered with detritus; everything from magnets and batteries to cigarettes and the lighter that lit them. Meanwhile, the white silhouette in the screen inside your screen keeps running into a variety of seemingly impassable objects on his way through this extremely meta puzzler.

OWWW

There have plenty of games riffing off Terry Cavanagh's VVVVVV, but OWWW is probably the oddest, and definitely the only one to be set in Terry's mouth. I like to think of it as retribution for VVVVVV's bastard hard Veni, Vidi, Vici section.
You must explore the teeth and atriums (yes, really) of the oral dungeons, flipping gravity to avoid spikes as you navigate to each screen's key and unlock the exit. Each level has critters that move across the screen, but instead of hurting you, you can flip onto them to be carried past hazards. Delightfully weird and expectedly difficult.

Bubsy 3D: Bubsy Visits the James Turrell Retrospective

Don't worry, Bubsy—the '90s gaming C-lister—isn't about to make a comeback. Instead, Bubsy 3D: Bubsy Visits the James Turrell Retrospective is a weird art-platformer by Zenith creators Arcane Kids. It's a punk edutainment game, in which the titular cat-thing takes a trip to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Using a deliberately awkward control scheme, you jump and glide your way across floating platforms, moving towards the museum and receiving hints from the talking frogs.

Spin Spin, Episode 1

It's happened again! Someone's let the indie platformers out of their cage and they've started breeding. Spin Spin plays like the lovechild of And Yet It Moves and VVVVVV, taking the former's world-rotating mechanic and latter's clean, spike-filled presentation.
You play as Spin, trying to get back to his girlfriend after he fell down a hole, the klutz. He can't jump, but can turn the world clockwise or anti-clockwise to navigate through the deadly maze. Crucially, this can only be done once per fall, with the direction locked until Spin lands on solid ground.

ScubaBear

ScubaBear
The winner of the "Beneath The Surface" themed Ludum Dare 29, ScubaBear is a game about exploration, treasure hunting and being a scuba-diving bear. Its a compact 'Metroidvania' – a game about finding collectibles to unlock powers that help you to progress further across its map.
The treasures you'll find are many, and the powers you unlock varied. Less than halfway through my list of required items, I could hold my breath longer, strike enemy crabs harder, and double-jump to clear formerly impassable gaps. For every new ability, new routes open up, which in turn leads to more abilities and, with those, more routes.
There's so much to collect, that I wasn't entirely sure what all of it did. Some items are obvious, but others – like the pokeball – remained a mystery across my time with the game. Confusion aside, ScubaBear remains a clever, paired-down interpretation of the concept. Its compact structure means that backtracking isn't a chore, and its sprawling map ensures there's always something new to uncover.

NEXT >> The 100 best free online games on PC (Part II)




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