[From now until mid-January, IndieGames.com: The Weblog will be counting down the best independent and freeware games of 2010, with descriptions, screenshots, and links of the best games in each major category. Previously: Top 10 Experimental Games]

The second of our in-depth 2010 Best Of Features here on the IndieGames.com blog (after the overall Top 10 we did for Gamasutra and the 10 Indie Games for '11 article), we're proud to present ten of the best freeware shoot 'em ups released in 2010.

There's no denying that Locomalito's long-awaited horizontal shooter Hydorah overshadowed the release of all other shoot 'em ups, but luckily enough we're here to brief everyone about some of the more notable games to feature space pilots going up against impossible odds.

Here are the top freeware shoot 'em ups of the year:


10. Action Escape Kitty (Melly) [Flash, freeware]

Action Escape Kitty is a tough side-scrolling shmup. There is no end to the game - rather, you keep on blasting and surviving for as long as possible. The different formations of enemies appear in a random order, so no two playthroughs are the same.


9. Destroy the Brain (Anglia Ruskin University Team) [Unity, freeware]

Destroy the Brain is exactly the type of game you want to wake up to on a Monday morning - a quick and clever arena-style shooter that sees you removing parts from the spinning mass in an attempt to get as close as possible to the brain and destroy it.

The game was created by a group of students at the Anglia Ruskin University during a 24-hour gamejam. Guns fire back at you, but you can't die - hence, they're meant as more of a hinderance to stop you from accomplishing your goal. The idea is to blow up the brain in the centre as fast as possible. Go give it a play, it's a lot more tactical than it sounds.


8. memrrtiks, suashem (Terry Cavanagh) [Flash, freeware]

memrrtiks, suashem is a score-based shooter that plays rather similarly to Terry's other game, Bullet Time. The objective here is to survive for as long as you can while shooting at ghost-like enemies for points. Every time your current score passes the last high score you've achieved, a running number will flash in the middle of the screen as an attempt to prevent you from scoring too much in one game.


7. Steel Storm (Kot-in-Action Creative Artel) [Windows/Mac/Linux, freeware]

Steel Storm is a top-down space shooter with both a single-player campaign and a full multiplayer deathmatch mode. Through a series of missions, you zip around shooting down enemy ships and turrets, and grabbing every collectible you can find. The game is worth grabbing for the single-player alone, so go give it a download.


6. Radial Plus (Spatial) [Windows, freeware]

Radial Plus is a lovingly-polished space shooter with a twist - you can't shoot directly an enemies, but instead you must bounce your shots off a wall and into them. It's a great little journey, made all the better by the high quality visuals - it may be a game made entirely of simple coloured blocks and backgrounds, but there are some lovely effects on show.


5. Chaos Invaders (Bit Battalion) [Flash, freeware]

Chaos Invaders is an utterly mental take on the classic shooter, in which dead enemies can be used as weapons. Shoot an invader down and catch them on your ship, then launch them back at the remaining baddies. There's plenty of variety to be found, with boss battles that fall apart as you fight them, levels baseds around simply catching falling aliens, and strong barriers than need to be blasted apart with aliens rather than your normal fire. All good fun, with great music too.


4. Invaders: Corruption (Manuel van Dyck) [Windows/Mac, freeware]

Nearly everything you see in Invaders: Corruption is procedurally generated, from the main ship to the baddies to the way the baddies move to the backdrops. When you begin the game, you're asked to enter a word - this word determines what your ship will look like. Bad guys spawn all over the screen, and will act differently depending on the characteristics they've been given - some may clump together and hide in the corner of the screen, while others will spawn and immediately surge towards you.

The first minute of play is a little dull, as you're given the bare minimum abilities and don't feel all that powerful. However, once the pick-ups start appearing and the intensity ramps up, it's really great fun. There are online leaderboards to climb too.

Make sure you check this one out - download from the Invaders site for both PC and Mac.


3. Bat Country (Greg Sergeant) [Flash, freeware]

Bat Country is a horizontal-scrolling shooter with four levels to play through, featuring silhouette graphics and imaginative enemy designs that'll keep you on your toes from start to end. The story is about a pilot named Thompson who must fly deep into enemy territory to rescue a group of stranded soldiers, even when the odds heavily stacked against him and his copter is well and truly under-equipped for such a mission.

The bombs that you carry on your ship can be thrown one at a time using the space key, and once they are close to your intended target you can press the same button again to detonate them and cause some serious damage. Mastery of the bomb detonation skill is essential if you're planning to survive past the second area, since the difficulty ramps up quite a bit when bigger and badder enemies are introduced into the equation.


2. Boss Rush (Paper Dino Software) [Flash, freeware]

Boss Rush turns the tables on regular shmups, by putting you in control of the enemy. The huge, over-powered earth-shattering enemy.

Regular bullets can be fired by clicking, while stupidly powerful lazers and spinny things of death can be launched via the 1-4 buttons. Surprisingly, the 'good guy' does a really spectacular job of dodging everything you throw at him and destroying your ship bit by bit. Unfortunately for him, as he knocks parts of your ship off, you lose weapons... and gain even more powerful blasters. Of course, if he completely takes you down it's game over, but you'll find that doesn't happen much until later laters.

Why is being the bad guy always so much fun? Go wreak havoc at BossRushGame.com.


1. Hydorah (Locomalito) [Windows, freeware]

Hydorah is a Gradius-style horizontal shooter that features sixteen different levels to beat, a wide variety of weapons to unlock, and a handful of secrets that can only be found by space pilots who dare travel off the beaten path. There is a progress save option that'll come in handy for practicing and mastering difficult stages, although players aren't allowed to use it more than three times during the entire mission.

The lack of a difficulty setting is going to irk some players, but shmup fans who had been yearning for a decent 2D side-scrolling shooter will be more than delighted with this gem of a game.

[Got feedback? Reasons to disagree? Post a response and we'll do a special 'best of reader comments' round-up at the end of our chart countdowns.]