Following Freeware: March 2011 releases
This month you can host a party with some unexpected guests, celebrate ten years of a popular series with a little MacGuffin hunting or return an escaped soul to hell. Perhaps you’d prefer to investigate a brutal murder in a modern setting or a strange assault on a long-standing character in a shared world. Alternatively, you can travel back into your own past, into another, darker dimension or try to save a world where one of the normal dimensions has been lost. You can even enjoy the West as it never was in a new release from a popular developer. All these await you in this round-up of March releases from the freeware scene.
Zee and the Alien Machine
When his boss comes up for retirement, Zee sees an opportunity for promotion. The only thing standing in his way is that inheriting the position is reliant on getting votes from his fellow shift members. Throwing a great party seems like an ideal way of getting them on board, and Zee sets about doing everything he can to show them a good time. Meeting the widely varying demands of his colleagues is a tough job, but he is determined to succeed. Nothing can divert him from his goal, not even the insistent alarms emanating from his flatmate’s alien invasion detector.
Clickshake’s new adventure blends the relatively mundane task of throwing a party with the fantastical challenge of thwarting alien invaders, to comedic effect. The puzzles start off simple, with all but one of your guests giving you a precise drink order to fill. Once these requests are satisfied, talking to them again reveals more difficult quests to provide each with what they think makes a great party. At the same time, the invasion detector’s activation provides another dilemma for you to solve. Most of the puzzles are dealt with through use of inventory, though a certain amount of environmental interaction is also required. The graphics are a crisp cartoon style, with backgrounds drawn in a semi-realistic fashion. The characters are in normal human proportions except for their heads, which are oversized and feature large, fully expressive faces. These allow you to tell at a glance how much each of your co-workers is enjoying the party, serving as a visual reminder of whose needs you have satisfied. All the characters are well-animated, the NPCs wandering about freely and even dancing if you can find some music they like. The soundtrack is initially a gentle background jazz tune, but two other music styles are available, once you’ve worked out how to get them on your in-game stereo. With four endings and an additional four optional achievements, there is also a certain amount of replayability to this title.
Zee and the Alien Machine can be played online at Games Nitro.
Jeremy once had dreams of becoming a great artist, but those days are gone. Now he spends his days slaving away at a boring office job. When he falls asleep at his desk, he finds himself back in his old apartment being confronted by his younger self. As he explores a world that seems not quite as he recalls, he must face up to his past and the dreams he once had. Examining what once was, will he be able to remember that which he forgot?
This short adventure from Domithan is as much a meditation on our aspirations and what causes us to sometimes leave them behind as it is a game. You’ll travel from your old apartment through snow-filled streets to the community centre where your artistic urges once bore fruit. The graphics are simple but effective, with good perspective and a colour palette largely consisting of greys to suit the down-beat feel of the story. Sound effects like the howling wind on the streets and a low moody soundtrack serve to maintain the atmosphere. Control is point-and-click using the traditional four cursor options, plus a fifth added for this game, Think. By thinking about hotspots, you evoke Jeremy’s recollections about an object, often revealing new items or information vital to your quest. Besides thinking, a handful of inventory-based challenges are presented. There is also one instance where you need to be moderately quick with the mouse button, though failure has no negative effect other than being unable to progress past the obstacle in question.
I Forgot can be downloaded from the developer's website.
The Wild West. A place of hard-bitten cowboys, scalp-hunting natives and sleazy saloons. To survive in this outlaw land, a man had to be tough and ready to face any challenge that came his way. At any moment his head could float away, his tattoos could start dancing to the sound of a harmonica or he could find he’s been challenged to a deadly game of ping pong. Wait…what?
Fans of Amanita Design will be pleased to find that they have not been resting on their laurels. This brief offering, part game and part interactive music video, very much follows the surreal legacy of the classic Samorost. Whilst there is no overarching storyline, its varied scenes all have a Wild West theme and transition nicely from one to another. It would be fair to say, however, that the transitions are often as surreal as the interactive portions themselves. The graphics are done in Amanita’s trademark style, blending photographic images with colouring and cunning animations to create a world that’s simultaneously realistic and outlandish. The animations are smooth, a close-up of a real-looking tattooed arm being especially impressive. The game is entirely point-and-click, with the player doing nothing more than searching each scene for items to interact with. Actions (and their results) are often unpredictable, but fortunately the cursor changes to a pointing hand when positioned over a hotspot, and they are comfortably large enough that pixel hunting should not be a requirement. As well as trying to advance to the next scene, most screens allow you to add and subtract parts of the background music by clicking various on-screen items. This gives the opportunity to fully appreciate the “psychedelic country music” created by the Czech composer friend of the Amanita team, Šimon Ornest.
Osada can be played online at the developer’s website.
The Day That Nothing Happened
It’s been a thousand years since the town of Reality-on-the-Norm was founded, and great celebrations are planned. But historical research for the event by the zombie mayor Gower and his faithful aide, Death, has turned up a worrying prophecy. It is foretold that on the dawning of the one thousand and first year of Reality’s existence, all will fall. The only way to avert this disaster is if some brave soul can unite the Majestic MacGuffins. Rather than face this ordeal themselves, the pair enlist Mika Huy, intrepid reporter, for this momentous task. Will she be able to save Reality from its foretold doom?
This game from Creed Malay and Denzil Quixode was the winner of the monthly AGS competition in March. The theme was “Celebration”, with the stipulation that the game had to be based around Reality-on-the-Norm (RON), a shared AGS setting that reached its tenth anniversary recently. The graphics make extensive use of the freely available archive of ready-made characters and locations with the original RON look. As a result, many of these, and the cartoon style in which they are rendered, will be familiar to fans of the series. But whilst familiarity with the RON world undoubtedly enhances the experience, such background knowledge is not vital to play this game. The game uses the standard four-action point-and-click controls, and the quest for the MacGuffins is a humourous one with inventory use, dialogue and a mildly confusing but navigable maze marking the path to success. There is also a whack-a-mole-style minigame, though high accuracy appears not to be required to pass it. Perhaps unsurprisingly for a game put together so quickly, sound is limited to a few appropriate effects.
The Day That Nothing Happened can be downloaded from the RON website.
Reincarnation: A Taste of Evil
If you’ve ever thought fast food was evil, now there is proof. Someone has escaped from hell and been reincarnated as a fast food worker. As in the previous games of this black comedy series, Lucifer tasks his small purple minion to the job of retrieving this wayward miscreant. It’s time to order up a soul to take away.
Whilst this latest release from B Group Productions is one of their shorter “minis” rather than a full-blown episode, it still maintains the established production values of its predecessors. The cartoon graphics show the same attention to detail as always, from the sinister purple demon that you control to the not-much-less sinister individual he has been sent to retrieve. Animations are smooth, including background movement such as rotating air vents and idle animations like the demon blinking. The game is once again fully voiced, with the demon sounding as nasty and evil as in prior games. The other voices are equally well done, including an easter egg conversation found by experimenting with the in-game telephone. A suitably ominous background musical piece tops off proceedings. The puzzles are fairly simple, mostly involving inventory use, with only a single case that requires an action to be well-timed.
Reincarnation: A Taste of Evil can be played at the developer’s website. Links to all prior episodes in the series appear in-game.
The Affair of the Weirdo
When the town weirdo visits PI Max Griff, his ravings about someone trying to attack him fall on deaf ears. That night, the weirdo is actually assaulted, and with the police tied up on a big case, the mayor calls Griff in to investigate. Soon evidence comes to light to suggest that there may be more to the weirdo’s claims than first thought. But why would anyone be interested in his broken jukebox, and does this attack have anything to do with the artefact stolen from an archaeological dig?
Like The Day That Nothing Happened, this game from helios123 is set in the Reality-on-the-Norm world. Again, no knowledge of RON is required, but the enclosed Readme file lists games that are referred to in this instalment for those wishing to follow the backstory. The RON resource archives are extensively used, though this game uses the later, more detailed shared sprites for its characters. Supporting the setting is a fitting soundtrack, though music does not play at all locations, and decent sound effects. The overall tone of the game is that of a serious detective story, though the RON humour still comes through when appropriate. Searching for clues and talking to the town’s inhabitants opens up new lines of investigation, often making new locations available to visit. You can also enlist the help of the police crime lab in examining evidence you find, such as a bullet casing with fingerprints on it.
The Affair of the Weirdo can be downloaded from the RON website.
Any gamer knows how easily science can go bad. If it isn’t manufacturing zombie viruses or killer robots, it is trying to master forces beyond man’s comprehension, with predictably unfortunate results. Such is presumably the case in Antimatiere, where a freak accident has rendered almost every person and thing in the world two-dimensional. As the last remaining three-dimensional being on the planet, and thus the only thing still able to move freely, it is up to you to try to reverse the effects of this technological mishap.
Thus begins the adventure made by a team of students at Enjmin, a French game and interactive media school. As you may have gathered from the backstory, a truly surreal experience awaits. Whilst rendered in first-person 3D using the Unity engine, everything in the game consists of flat panels, with pictures of people and items displayed on them. These objects are drawn in a simple stylised design with a limited colour palette, making this far from the most beautiful game out there. Sound is limited to background noises appropriate to the current level of the game, such as the birdsong you hear in the forest. Whilst it would have been nice to have more detailed graphics, the simplicity is necessary to make the game’s central mechanic possible. By clicking on a square panel of wall, floor or low ceiling, players can swap it with whatever they are holding at the time, allowing them to move objects and terrain around. You can power a fax machine by moving it next to a rendition of a socket, or gain access to new areas by moving doors to different walls. This forms the basis of the game’s puzzles, as you rearrange the environment in whatever way is necessary to accomplish your goal. Clicking on two-dimensional people gives you text-based clues to the current task and fills in new details of the story. This is not a suitable game for anyone suffering from motion sickness, however, as the free cursor movement and limited graphics can prove disorienting.
Antimatiere can be played online at Kongregate.
What began as a normal school day for Leon soon turned into a nightmare. A moment of day-dreaming finds him thrown into the bizarre alternate world of Aura. In a twisted version of his school buildings, with an unearthly light passing through the windows, Leon just wants to find his way back. But Aura may have other plans for young Leon, and passage back to his own dimension is not going to be an easy prize to win.
This grim horror fantasy from Kindigo is rendered in a moderately detailed anime style. The opening school setting is dark and oppressive, and the later areas are no more cheerful, though occasionally more open. The game is presented in first-person slideshow format, but still displays decent animations such as flying birds and a giant swinging pendulum. The background music is a slow, oppressive piece that is predominantly choral in nature and definitely adds to the unnerving atmosphere. The puzzles are largely inventory-based, with a keen eye needed to spot some smaller items. In addition to the inventory puzzling, Leon gains two companions on his journey, whose special abilities prove necessary in completing some of the game’s challenges. One has the ability to break barriers and the other can enter small spaces. Once they have joined Leon, a button for each appears on-screen, allowing them to be selected for use on the environment. There is also a pair of fight sequences near the end that will require the player to be quick and accurate with the mouse.
Anti-Cast can be played online at Game Pirate.
Case File 1: Everyone Heard Her Scream
Helena Watson, voiceover artist, has been brutally stabbed to death in her apartment and found by her journalist husband, who was interviewing a hot dog vendor on the street outside when her screams were heard. The crime initially looks like a break-in gone wrong, and it’s up to you, as the inspector assigned to the case, to gather evidence and bring the true perpetrator to justice.
This game from harshhsrah is heavily focused on keen observation and investigation as you hunt down the clues you need to prove your case. The graphics are bright cartoon stills, and a piano piece provides the backing soundtrack, though the sample used is a little short for prolonged listening. When you select an area to examine more carefully, a close-up framed in a magnifying glass gives a more detailed view. In some cases you can zoom in still further, such as looking under a chair and then examining an object found there, allowing for multiple levels of close-up views. Initially starting at the crime scene, your investigations soon turn up other locations to investigate, as well as suspects to interrogate. Discovered evidence can be looked at again later to refresh your memory and interrogation subjects are always available once relevant evidence is on file, but the game requires you to record all evidence by photographing it or analysing it forensically before you can proceed to the end-game. As well as locating evidence, you will also need to piece together a shredded message and locate some hidden combinations. Once you have gathered all the evidence, the final part of the game involves matching the clues together and ultimately choosing who you think committed the crime.
Case File 1: Everyone Heard Her Scream can be played online at Kongregate.
AGS Awards 2010
The Adventure Game Studio awards ceremony for games released in 2010 was held in March. This event was attended by a stellar cast of characters from classic adventure games, as avatars representing AGS community members. The whole setup was made possible by AGS regulars Wyz and Dualnames, with a “game” that linked into the AGS awards IRC channel. The overall Best Game winner was The Journey Down: Over the Edge, which also went on to dominate many other categories. The other contenders for Best Game, each with multiple nominations in other fields, were:
For a full list of nominations and award winners in all categories, check out the official AGS Awards site. If you want to try out the awards “game”, which now links to the normal AGS IRC channel, it can be downloaded from the AGS 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.
Yuki in Winterland by Addicting Games – Travel through Winterland to deliver cookies to your grandmother in this child-friendly escapade that includes some simple action sequences.
Milk Quest by Fast Games – Direct a small kitten on an epic quest to find some milk to drink.
The Sagittarian 2 by Hyptosis – Continue your struggle to survive the zombie apocalypse in this choose-your-path sequel with multiple endings.
Pathos by Bit Battalion – A short but surreal and disturbing tale, made in 48 hours.
Sneak Thief 3: Triple Trouble by Pastel Games – Steal some high technology from an underground lab in this bright cartoon game.
Wayfinder 2 by Hyptosis – Investigating a distress call, you find an abandoned spaceport that may not be all it seems.
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!