This month, you can be a travelling storyteller, a demonic servant of the devil or a girl lost in a fairytale wood. Travel back in time to the era of the plague, forward in time to a virtual reality-based future, or backwards and forwards in time trying to fix a strange disaster. Or go adventuring at a palace, revolt in a castle or take flight (sometimes briefly) in two steampunk airships. There’s even an opportunity to take on an old role as a fan-made addition to a popular commercial series gets an important update. And did I mention you can do it all for free?
Broken Sword 2.5: The Return of the Templars
Life has been tough recently for George Stobbart. First he was forced to leave Nico for a year, then his beloved grandfather died. Then, out of the blue, a telegram arrives telling him Nico is dead. Rushing to Paris, his joy at finding Nico alive is tempered by her strange, almost cold, reaction to his return. Sitting in the cafe where it all began, he is accosted by Andre Lobineau, who tells him a disturbing tale of Nico’s recent activities, including a brief disappearance. Could the cult of the Neo-Templars not be quite as dead as he thought?
This fan-made addition to the popular series by indie developers mindfactory (with full support from Revolution) has been available for some time in German with English subtitles. This month finally saw the release of an English voice-pack, allowing players to enjoy the game fully in English for the first time. The production values of this game are on par with the original two commercial releases, with detailed graphics and a full orchestral score. Locations from the first game, such as the cafe only now reopening after the explosion that set George on his adventures, are faithfully recreated. The voicework is competently done overall, though George himself is slightly weak and has a marginally different accent to the actor of the original games. This shouldn’t be enough to put anyone off, however, as otherwise this is a game that looks like it could easily justify a commercial release.
Technobabylon: Part 1 - The Prisoner of Fate
In a dystopian future, unnamed forces seek to isolate and destroy a young woman. Unaware of this animosity, she lies on her bed, immersed in the virtual reality world of Trance, a connection between millions of individuals worldwide. When her apartment is isolated and all connection to the outside world is lost, she is thrown back to the reality of her cramped one-room apartment. With only its sparse contents and the local computer resources she can link into her virtual reality setup, she must find a way to get out.
In both tone and look, Technocrat’s series debut is very reminiscent of Beneath a Steel Sky, and this game actually stands up well to that comparison. In particular, the virtual reality world – with the protagonist’s powerful-looking avatar and physical representations of programs like the security system’s knight – reminded me of Revolution’s classic. In contrast to the full-screen virtual world, the actual apartment sits cramped in the middle of the screen, taking up no more than half of the available space. This visual trick effectively explains why the young protagonist might prefer the virtual world. The contrast is further enhanced by an upbeat semi-techno tune in virtual reality against a doleful piano piece for actual reality. Puzzles involve switching between the two worlds, as actions in one world often open new options in the other. Be aware that, as the included readme states, the save system currently doesn’t work, though the game is short enough that this should not prove a problem.
The game is truly a “part 1”, as a cliffhanger ending gives promise of more to come. Technobabylon: Part 1 - The Prisoner of Fate can be downloaded from the AGS website.
The Trader of Stories: Bell’s Heart
Myosotis is a trader of stories, a traveller who makes a living from gathering and recounting tales in the places she passes. A broken cart wheel forces her to seek help in a small village, and though a lack of funds initially make things look bleak for our traveller, the village has a story to tell. As Myosotis, can you piece together the chronicle of Derrida and the butterfly woman?
Presented in a browser-based slideshow format, this game has a soft pastel look, with a folk music-style guitar tune providing a pleasant backing. The setting is a light fantasy world where magic exists but does not control all aspects of life. Navigation can be slightly confusing at times, especially in one case where you have to climb up a hill to visit a lake in the valley behind you, but the relatively small area prevents this from being a major problem. With the exception of the main quest, most puzzles are inventory-based, with conversations providing hints and direction. The narrative you seek is pieced together from dialogue, items and locations. In a nice touch, it builds up in your storybook not only as lines of text, but also beautifully illustrated panels of the tale.
This is a self-contained sample of an intended larger game by Marek Rudowski and can be played online at Escape Games 24.
Morbid: Chapter 2 - The Cure
It is the time of the Black Plague. Death sweeps across Europe and millions die in agony. But not all the dead rest easy in their graves. Having despatched one of these creatures in the first chapter, as the unnamed protagonist you now find yourself near a monastery that offers hope of a cure. Yet as you search for the necessary ingredients, you find the nearby buildings to be virtually devoid of people. Is this all the work of the plague or was the thing you killed not alone?
This game picks up where the (recently re-released) previous chapter left off, literally commencing in the same location. In keeping with the sombre nature of the story, black and white graphics with a gothic tone are the order of the day. There is the occasional splash of red, but this is reserved for the less natural inhabitants. Whilst improved with more obvious pathways than the previous instalment, the stylised graphics still make it difficult to distinguish hotspots, whether exits or objects, from the backgrounds. Other than that, the puzzles are mostly logical and generally not too taxing. The atmosphere is well-maintained with the graphic style suiting the desolation of the area, further aided by the sombre chime of item collection and other creepy sound effects.
This horrorfest from Pastel Games can be played online at Armor Games.
Next to Evil
Duet is sister to the queen of the Worldwide Monarchy, a family dynasty that rules through their ability to use magic. Whilst Duet wields an unusual power of her own, she worries for the damage her family does to the world. So when a mysterious veiled woman offers her the chance to betray her family, she must choose between loyalty and starting a revolution.
This game was made by Joel Page as part of the regular AGS competition to create a game within one month. The cartoonish graphics are somewhat on the simple side, but are generally effective, and there is a pleasant soundtrack with medieval overtones. Though not fully fleshed out in such a short game, there is sufficient detail from conversations and the musings of the player character to get a decent feel for the world. This is helped by a cameo from the protagonist of A Woman for All Seasons, Page’s entry in the recent One Room, One Week competition. Duet’s ability to split into two presents an unusual twist that affects a number of the fairly sparse puzzles.
Next to Evil can be downloaded from the AGS website.Continued on the next page...