Following Freeware: August 2013 releases
This month you can become an accountant debating philosophy, an accident-prone space captain, or a historical character from a famous series of books. Foodie adventurers can attempt to thwart a pizza apocalypse or investigate strange goings-on at a carnival of cheese. Those who prefer less jolly tales can try to avert a disaster by gifting ten seconds of life, or escape a deranged killer in a decrepit surgery. Alternatively, you can go cave-delving with a intrepid young adventurer. All these await you in this month’s roundup of releases from the freeware scene.
Socrates Jones: Pro Philosopher
Socrates Jones, accountant, never thought of himself as that good a debater. His daughter, the philosophy student, was always much better at that sort of thing. But having driven off a door-to-door salesman, he allows the success to go to his head and fails to pay attention to the road. The resulting car accident propels both him and his daughter into the Intelligible Realm, the last resting place of all philosophers. He has but one chance to return them to life. If he can find the nature of morality, then he can pass back to the mortal realm. But with so many philosophers willing to share their views on the matter, this will prove no simple task.
With echoes of the Phoenix Wright series, this game from Chief Wakamakamu shows just how intelligent a game can be. The graphics are presented in a third-person style with fully expressive characters. Socrates himself appears on the left of the screen, with other characters popping in and out on the right as he converses with them. The graphics are not animated as such, but the poses of the characters change to reflect their mood at the time. The philosophers represent real historical characters, such as Euthyphro of Athens, or Immanuel Kant, and are drawn in a way to make them recognisable. The music mimics the Ace Attorney games, with simple repeated themes changing to a frenetic pace as debates heat up. There is also limited voice work.
Control is handled via a panel of options at the bottom of the screen. Each philosopher that you meet will put forward their view on the nature of morality, and it is up to you to critically examine their argument for flaws. You can ask for clarification, backing or relevance for any statement, sometimes resulting in statements changing. The goal is to seek the flaw in each argument, challenging with an audible cry of “Nonsense!” instead of “Objection”. There are several chapters, each with a different philosopher, and each chapter has multiple sections as the philosophers refine their arguments based on your challenges. The game auto-saves as you finish each segment, both keeping your place and allowing replay of completed sections. Whilst the game deals in serious intellectual discussion, the tone throughout is light.
Socrates Jones: Pro Philosopher can be played online at Kongregate.
Captain Disaster in “The Dark Side of the Moon”
When you’re prone to sleepwalking, the last place you should really think about taking a nap is next to an intergalactic stargate. Captain Disaster doesn’t abide by such logical thoughts and soon finds himself transported to the eponymous dark side of the moon. Undeterred by the lack of oxygen, he sets about to fix the power to the broken stargate control so that he may yet return back home. Of course, things are never easy and the road to restoring power is mixed with a series of dangers and oddities. The Captain soon encounters everything from crazy shining diamonds to giant monkey heads to ripened roddenberries through to the remnants of the malevolent Bjork race in a blatant homage to '70s rock, sci-fi TV and classic adventure games.
The Dark Side of the Moon is Team Disaster’s first foray into a larger planned series, and at times the low-budget production values do show through this initial effort. Though the game runs fine, the pixel art style is blocky and the animations can become a little warped, particularly when moving. The point-and-click controls are simple but effective, requiring players to traverse the over-world in order to find scattered items that have somehow found their way onto the moon’s surface. Left-click is used to move your character and interact with objects, whilst right-click can be used to provide a detailed description of any item. There’s no voice acting, but the background music bears a clear infatuation with the wailing, psychedelic sounds of Pink Floyd and provides some pretty catchy licks.
Captain Disaster holds little pretence about the kind of game it aims to be, mirroring its gameplay closely to classic Sierra and LucasArts adventures. This means that you'll follow the simple formula of picking up items, combining them and using them with other things whenever appropriate. It also means that the game provides a healthy dose of light-hearted humour throughout. Puzzle solutions are rarely arbitrary and solving them remains fair, despite some pixel hunting later on. Overall, this proves to be a rather basic game, but the dialogue and constant quips about its inspirations ensure a certain charm.
Captain Disaster in "The Dark Side of the Moon" can be downloaded from Game Jolt.
Killer Escape 2: The Surgery
When you escaped from the Burner’s underground lair, you thought you were safe. But instead of emerging out on the streets you find yourself in a strange and bloody dental surgery. Ambushed, you wake up strapped to a chair and facing horrible torture at the hands of a mad dentist. Then a sudden blackout gives you an unexpected opportunity to escape. But just who undid the straps in the darkness? Was it the mysterious Observer, and if so, do they really have your best interests at heart?
Psionic Games's horror series continues, with a fresh psychopath ready to do away with you. The graphics use the same first-person slideshow format of the previous episode, though the setting this time is a macabre surgery and mental hospital rather than an abandoned basement. There is a similar mix of wide-shot rooms, with varying levels of close-ups as you move in to examine items such as a sheet-covered cadaver. Animation is limited, predominantly being used for background effects such as flickering lights, though there are a handful of close animations to take you by surprise. After the opening horror theme tune, sound is largely restricted to ambient noise, such as buzzing electrics or an echoing water drip. There is also some spoken dialogue from your deranged tormentor.
This is once more not a game for the young or faint-hearted, with the setting alone being fairly horrific. Using standard mouse controls, you will initially only be able to access the room with the chair. Inventory use and unlocking a nearby computer will get you further into the complex. There is a repeated puzzle required to unlock the exit lift that will need moderately quick reactions, as will a single fishing puzzle. The game also includes some optional collectibles in the form of newspaper clippings. The proximity of this episode's killer to the antagonist in the previous game is given some explanation, though the adventure ends with your current conflict resolved but much left unexplained.
Killer Escape 2: The Surgery can be played online at Kongregate.
Memories of a Snake
Do serpents dream of electric sheep? This is a question Memories of a Snake never quite addresses. What it does instead is to offer a story inspired by the world of Harry Potter. It tells the story of Salazar Slytherin, the son of a prestigious family, heir to the Slytherin of Norfolk and, as Harry Potter fanatics may know, one of the four original founders of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Taken as a prequel of sorts to the novels, Memoires d’un Snake (to use its original French title) explores the history of the Harry Potter universe, providing a host of references to J.K. Rowling’s novels within a tale all of its own making.
According to the game's creator, Marion, much of the artwork has been borrowed from other games. The backgrounds have been taken from old Sierra titles such as King’s Quest and Quest for Glory, whilst the characters have been made using Ultima Online character viewer. The result is detailed pixel art which looks like a throwback to the '90s but does well to construct a medieval atmosphere. The environments can be interacted with, such as an early moment when you find yourself trying to pluck out a ring from beneath the murky depths of the swamp. The music ranges from booming orchestras to the more joyful sound of a lute.
Overall, the game plays largely like a Sierra title set in J.K. Rowling’s literary universe. It has a simple point-and-click interface, with left-click used to interact and move the character around each screen whilst right-click offers descriptions of items or people. There is an inventory at the bottom of the screen which is used to store items collected throughout the adventure. Text pops up when a character speaks that is written in a fancy old-style font, and there is a choice of a dialogue options to pick from. The characters are appropriately fitting for the Harry Potter universe, including a house-elf called Venom and Slyther, a frightening-looking snake whose job seems to be guarding the front of the Slytherin household.
Memories of a Snake can be downloaded from Adventure Game Studio.
10 seconds to save the day
In a misty afterlife, a young man finds he has died in a terrible laboratory accident. Nano-machines, developed to be a boon to the medical profession, escaped confinement and wrought havoc. Knowing there was nothing he could have done to prevent the disaster, one chance remains to save the day. If he can find a suitable candidate, he can give them his last ten seconds of life in the hope that they can avert this catastrophe. With so many lives at stake, and the choice irreversible, a terrible conundrum faces him.
Made by StormAlligator for the 48 hour Ludum Dare competition and its theme of "10 seconds", this is a compact but satisfying tale. The graphics are minimalist, with the characters composed of fairly simple line drawings without animation. This presentation fits with the theme of the game, the characters feeling like ghostly spirits. Your quest begins in the cloudy realm of the dead, but will also take in the complex where the accident happened and a monument to the dead. These are also rendered in the same simple style, justified as being based largely on the fallible mental images of the dead. Sound is restricted to a simple piano piece for the afterlife, with some minor additional instrumentation in other locations.
Control is done by keyboard, using arrows to move and space to interact. Initially the protagonist cannot remember who he is, so you need to converse with other spirits to solve this problem. The remainder of the game involves searching for clues to what really happened in order to find a way to change events. This involves limited exploration of new areas as they become available, plus an examination of objects, though there is no inventory. You are also able to have some interaction with the living, though only through simple conversations. The story builds over the course of the game, ultimately coming to a satisfying conclusion.
10 seconds to save the day can be played online at Kongregate.
Alexia Crow: Cave of Heroes
Hands down, one of worst thing about friends is that they never want to wait up for you to tie your shoelaces. They rarely even bother to consider that by trying to catch up with them afterwards, you stand the chance of inadvertently falling into an ancient Greek cave. If this has never happened to you, consider yourself lucky but have a little sympathy for the eponymous protagonist of Alexia Crow: Cave of Heroes. Plato may not turn up to question the nature of truths, but Alexia may well wonder what she’s getting herself into as she finds herself in a land that time has simply forgotten.
A short adventure game from Zibbo, Cave of Heroes is controlled from a first-person perspective, the camera panning slightly as you move the cursor around the screen. Left-clicking collects and connects objects and moves about puzzle pieces during a few select challenges. The mouse is used for practically everything in this game, which leads to some problems when trying to access the inventory and inevitably having the character look down instead. The background images aren’t of particularly high quality but they suitably reflect the ancient Greek setting. There are temples in the background, ancient waterwheels, sunlight peering in from above and overhanging statues of gods to name but a few culturally relevant elements which add an authentic sense of atmosphere to the game.
Alexia is an obvious stand-in for a teenage Lara Croft, and the game’s mix of puzzles and mythology is a dead giveaway for the developer’s influences, though there's no combat or acrobatic platforming here. Your aim is to traverse the labyrinth-like cave, collecting items and solving puzzles which are usually hidden among the backgrounds. You move freely from room to room in the underground labyrinth. But owing to the static slideshow format you cannot move around in any of the individual rooms beyond tilting your gaze left, right up or down. If nothing else, Alexia Crow: Cave of Heroes is a light-hearted romp through ancient Greece, alluding to infamous myths and legends along the way. It ends on a cliffhanger so this debut seems poised to be the first in a longer series.
Alexia Crow: Cave of Heroes can be played online at Zibbo.
Harry Quantum 3: Cheese Carnival
Ever-cheery private eye Harry Quantum has a new case. His old friend, the big-brained alien, has noticed that visitors to a nearby Cheese Carnival have been mysteriously disappearing. With the aid of his trusty robot helper, Graeme, Harry sets off to save the day once again. What could possibly be going on at this innocuous fun fair? Why is the Battle Royale tent strangely metallic? Will he be able to find some of that special green cheese the alien likes so much?
The third outing of Turbo Nuke’s avuncular investigator is as surreal as its predecessors. The same detailed cartoon graphics of the previous instalments are used here. Harry himself continues to have a grin plastered across his face throughout, and other characters, such as the alien, also make a reappearance. As well as Harry’s familiar office, you will visit the stalls around the carnival, as well as the more foreboding interior of the main tent. The graphics are all as smoothly animated as before. The background music is a cheery private-eye-style piece that is also similar to previous instalments.
It is not vital to play previous games in the series to enjoy this one, though it will help in understanding the use of certain recurring objects. Exploration and investigation is the key to success, as you try to track down clues to the kidnappings. You will use your inventory, including Harry’s trusty camera, and will need to operate some mundane and alien devices. There is also a sequence set in a virtual world as you try to hack a computer system, in which a maze represents encryption and the firewall is entirely literal. This section also includes a tricky sliding puzzle, though there is an option to skip this. As in previous games, there is also the optional quest to collect Personal Investigation Points, awarded for performing certain unusual actions in-game. These are solely for bragging rights and have no effect on the main story.
Harry Quantum 3: Cheese Carnival can be played online at JayIsGames.
When a game creates its own portmanteau for its title you know it means business. Pizzapocalypse 20XX is Grooveman and Wicked's recent entry for the 27th Ludum Dare competition. As you may expect, this is a game based on the end of the world which prominently features pizza. The cataclysmic scenario in question: that the world’s pizza supply is going be turned into rotten meatloaf by the evil Neuromancer. It’s a terrible fate that would have Ninja Turtles up in arms if only they were available. A quirky, imaginative and very off-key visual novel, the game labels itself as ‘the ultimate in retro-future dramatic roleplay’ and it’s hard to argue with such a tongue-in-cheek description.
Appropriately for a game that features two hip, highly-strung fashion-conscious urban teenagers as the lead characters, Pizzapocalypse’s graphics are cartoonish and laden with bright colours. There's little to criticize about the effort put into the graphics, but it’s a definite fashion-don’t. The music is equally bodacious, incorporating '80s synth-rock and '90s hip-hop alongside a few choice chip-tunes. There are few animations included, though the game is made up mostly of a few static backgrounds with characters occasionally moving around in the foreground in order to convey their emotions.
Like most visual novels, Pizzapocalypse 20XX largely involves reading text and making choices in order to progress the story. The tale is comic and over-the-top, similar to the zany style of '90s cartoon, even incorporating a villain who could have come straight from the Powerpuff Girls. One of the key aspects of the game is making a decision every 10 seconds. This isn’t done in real time but each of the decision moments is supposed to reflect 10 seconds passing in the game’s world. There are fail states, but if you do make the wrong decision you are taken back to the beginning after having your downfall explained. Unfortunately, there is no auto-save feature but there is a manual save-load option available. As the game only takes around 10 to 15 minutes to complete, it’s easy to quickly skip over any text if necessary.
Pizzapocalypse 20XX can be downloaded from the Ludum Dare website.
Other new releases
Not all games are created equal, and freeware games especially come in all shapes and sizes. Not to be overlooked, the following list might also be of interest, though these games may be significantly shorter or less polished, more experimental titles than those detailed above, some perhaps only borderline adventures to begin with.
Betrayal by bulbapuck – Explore a dark mental world in this One Room, One Week game entry.
Obama in the Dark 3 by inkagames – The president travels to Slaughter Gulch in this third instalment in the Alone in the Dark tribute series.
Pom Gets Wi-Fi by Me Patra – An internet-obsessed Pomeranian ends up in dog heaven after a fire. His sole goal: to find a wi-fi signal so he can surf again.
The Golem by Yepigames – Help golem achieve its goal of becoming a real human being.
Letter for Mimi by knch - Delivering a letter is no simple task in this spoof of retro RPG questing.
That’s it for this month. Think we’ve missed a gem or want to tell us about your own game? Then pop in to our Adventure forum and tell us about it!
Stephen Brown and Mitchell North contributed to this article.