Following Freeware: April 2011 releases
This month you can become an ex-policeman in Budapest, a pigeon at a burger bar or a thick line in a child’s doodle. Maybe you’d rather hunt for treasure in a large area of parkland, go on a somewhat unusual knight’s quest or race against time to stop a coronation. Or perhaps you’ll find yourself trapped in a fantasy world, locked up in protective custody or swept up in a major historical event. There are even chances to see how little decisions affect an entire lifetime or experience a small cycle of life-and-death events over and over again. All these opportunities await you in this month’s roundup of releases on the freeware scene.
Technobabylon Part 3: In Nuntius Veritas
Latha Sesame is an addict who has just escaped an attempt on her life. Dr Charles Regis is a member of CEL, a law enforcement agency, who is the target of an unknown blackmailer. Now their apparently separate lives have come together, as Dr Regis interviews Latha about the incident that almost killed her. When he realises how her predicament ties in with his own troubles, he immediately puts her in protective custody as he sets out to track down his tormentor. But being in custody denies Latha access to her addiction, the virtual world of Trance. If getting that access back means she has to break out of CEL headquarters, then that’s just what she’ll have to do.
This third instalment from Technocrat maintains the same qualities of the previous games in the series. The graphics are once again low-res but still manage to be clear, and this game includes more extensive opening and closing cutscenes that present more detailed views of the setting and its protagonists. Control is simple point-and-click, using left-click to interact and right to look. An additional option, Trance, allows Latha limited interaction with devices in the room once you have gained the means to use it. A gentle guitar and piano piece backs up the main action, though more dramatic music is used for some scenes. There is also extensive use of good sound effects.
The storyline builds on previous episodes, and it is highly recommended that you play Part 1 and Part 2 first. Whilst you briefly control Dr Regis at the beginning, for the majority of the game you control Latha. Once again she finds herself trapped in a room, though one that she notes is “bigger and cleaner” than her apartment. Despite the limited setting, a surprising number of cunning puzzles have been crammed into this game. Once you manage to connect to the virtual wold of Trance, some small, self-contained locations also become open to you, one a reconstruction of a familiar location and another altogether more unsettling. These not only provide further puzzles and clues, they also provide more backstory as you meet representatives of an organisation seeking to expose government cover-ups. Inventory puzzles form the main body of the game, with more than one item having a variety of uses. There are also three minigames that represent various obstacles you face, including a Simon-style access code, a Lights Out challenge and a sequence where you issue remote control commands to a robot.
Technobabylon Part 3: In Nuntius Veritas can be downloaded from the developer’s website.
Alone in the Park
When an avid computer game fan receives a mysterious letter offering a real life adventure, she jumps at the opportunity. The letter tells of a treasure hidden in Spiegel Park, and a scattered nine-part treasure map that points to its location. With its sprawling size, littered with hills, mountains and forests, searching the park for the map pieces will be no simple task. Perhaps the other park users can be persuaded to assist in this quest – provided their needs are met first, of course.
This debut offering from Katharine Neil, under the developer name Cheap Drunk Games, is a unique experience. The display is split into three parts: The centre of the screen is where the main gameplay takes place, with the left side used for the extensive texts and the right for inventory. Upon arriving at the park, the centre portion displays a rather sparse tourist map. Control is point-and-click, and the map scrolls slowly around you as you hold the mouse button down and move the cursor to navigate. As you explore, more details are added to the map, such as woods, hills and, most importantly, key locations. Once a key location has been found, a button appears that allows for more rapid transit to that spot. Entering a key location brings up a photographic still, with insets for any objects or people found there. A gentle jazz tune plays as you explore the park and each location has its own background sound, be it the singing of birds or music appropriate to the character located there. You can save at any time, though care needs to be taken as there is only a single slot and no option to cancel a save.
As indicated by the title, this is a humourous game with a dry wit. The park is littered with a strange cast of characters, including a precocious little girl with a very peculiar teddy bear, and a fishing executive whose dialogue is littered with corporate-speak. Whilst there are no dialogue trees, conversations with these characters can be quite lengthy, though they are generally written well enough to warrant the effort to read them. As well as picking up objects, your inventory can also include pictures of people and geographical features you have seen, allowing them to be used as conversation topics elsewhere. This inventory use is the key to most puzzles, which range from simply handing over an object to asking several people about one of the characters so you can trace where she lost her ring. There are also a couple of puzzles that require you to look in an area at a particular time of day, as well as the final assembly and deciphering of the treasure map itself. A small window below the inventory tracks individual tasks you need to complete and an optional hint system indicates what objects can be used when you are at a key location.
Alone in the Park can be played online at the developer's website.
Dinner for Pigeons
Life isn’t easy when you’re a pigeon. All you want is to have a bite to eat, but no-one seems willing to share their food with you. Worse, they seem actively determined to get rid of you. But you’re not going to let something as simple as a bunch of recalcitrant humans stand between you and dinner. With the power of flight and some avian ingenuity, a well-rounded meal will soon be yours.
This short game from Pressure Cooker is set at a burger bar, perhaps not the healthiest choice for our feathered friend. The whole game takes place in a single scene that is drawn in a detailed cartoon style, with plenty of background animation, largely consisting of human customers trying to eat their meals. The pigeon itself is also well-animated, with a convincing flight action that mimics real-world pigeons. Control is point-and-click, though movement is not entirely free as there are only certain areas where you can land, indicated by cursor changes when you pass over them. There is also no inventory as such, with only one instance of an item being carried in the pigeon’s beak. A jaunty tune plays in the background and appropriate sound effects, such as cooing and the flapping of wings when you move, are put to good use.
The game is full of danger both active, such as a cat behind a fence, and passive, like the spikes on the burger bar’s awnings. The pigeon has a five-point life meter, with one point being lost every time it falls foul of one of these hazards. If all five points are lost, the pigeon explodes in a cloud of feathers and you have to start over. With many of the active hazards, you have a short time to react once you become aware of it before it actually harms you. Quick use of the mouse can get you out of trouble in these situations, and this is key to solving some of the game’s puzzles. Otherwise, the game is all about utilising the environment to distract or remove the threats to your well-being, as least long enough for you to grab a beakful of food. A hint button also provides up to three different hints for each puzzle if needed.
Dinner for Pigeons can be downloaded from the AGS website.
Bela Kovacs and the Trail of Blood
Bela Kovacs is an ex-member of the Budapest police and struggling to make ends meet as a private eye. When his niece is brutally murdered, the police are quick to close the investigation and there is no sign of interest from the press. Not willing to see his niece become a forgotten statistic, Bela decides to put his old investigative skills to good use. But with the killer using an apparently impossible escape route and the possibility of a connection to a long string of other cases, is the truth even more disturbing than it first appears?
This Extropia Games production is presented in a noir style, with graphics consisting of high quality still photos. In many cases these cover much more than the current display window, scrolling with the mouse cursor as if the player was looking around. Control is point-and-click, with the arrow cursor changing to a pointing hand when over a hotspot. This limits the amount of pixel hunting required, though a handful of objects are still difficult to spot. In some scenes, such as the opening murder scene, gathering clues also enables Bela to reconstruct events, resulting in ghostly black-and-white stills that permanently superimpose themselves over the coloured backgrounds. The backing music is a dark and moody piece that captures the grim atmosphere well.
As well as being a noir detective mystery, the game also has elements of horror that are unsuitabe for children or the squeamish. The opening chapter’s bloody crime scene should prove enough to determine its appropriateness. Various parts of the game involve some hidden object-style gameplay, though you aren’t given a list of items to find, simply a total number of clues to locate in that scene. As you progress, you’ll also need to crack passwords and combinations, piece together a simple jigsaw and engage in dialogue puzzles to progress. There are also limited inventory puzzles as well. It is possible for your investigation to come to an abrupt end in various ways, but a single click will restart you just before your fatal error. The game tracks completed chapters, allowing for progress across multiple sessions if needed.
Bela Kovacs and the Trail of Blood can be played online at the developers' website.
I Have 1 Day
The prince has captured the Black Wizard that has been plaguing the kingdom. In recognition of his service to the land, the king has decided to step aside, the coronation set to take place this very night. Meanwhile, a young man caught within the castle grounds wakes up in prison at the very start of coronation day. Filled with a certainty that something is terribly wrong, he must escape his imprisonment and get to the castle. But time is not on his side. He has but 1 day.
This game from Cellar Door Studios has a feel that suggests its writers are fans of King’s Quest. The look is reminiscent of Sierra’s early classics, displaying a medieval setting in a somewhat pixelated form. The music also adopts a Middle Ages style, with a different piece playing at each location. Control is simple point-and-click with a small inventory at the bottom of the screen from which items can be dragged. To aid any adventurer that has problems identifying the slightly chunky graphics, hotspots highlight when you mouse over them, along with a description appearing on-screen. A journal tracks both your goals and what you have done so far to achieve them. This also acts as a save system, allowing players to backtrack to any hour of the day.
You’ll likely to need to make extensive use of this journal. In keeping with the Sierra influence, the game is littered with game-over events, presented in a pop-up window with a description of your death. More importantly, to finish the game you must complete all of your goals by the time of the coronation. Many puzzles have different solutions, but these take varying numbers of simulated hours, and using too many long solutions will make you miss the deadline. Cunning use of inventory and careful planning of your travel from location to location will be required to succeed, though quick reflexes are not, as only certain actions advance the game clock. There are also a couple of logic puzzles and one challenge that requires real thinking outside the box. The whole experience is played very much tongue-in-cheek, and even includes a couple of amusing instances of breaking the fourth wall. As well as the true victory and many possible deaths, there is also an alternate “good” ending, where you just miss the coronation but still save most of the kingdom.
I Have 1 Day can be played online at Max Games.
Often when a child should be working on their homework, they are actually spending time doodling instead. Schoolbooks thus become the repository for many strange and even incomprehensible childhood fantasies. But what is going on in a child’s mind when they make these doodles? Do these images spring completely from nowhere or are they inspired by things around them, even the very homework they should be devoting their attention to?
Such is the premise of this game by Christopher Sacchi. In keeping with the concept, the graphics feature the simplicity of a child’s drawings, with most characters depicted only as a single blocky, thick line. With no legs to animate, the player character simply glides across the landscape, while other animations are similarly minimalistic in style. Control is point-and-click with the standard four-cursor options, which generally produce unique results for each of the game’s hotspots. Soft guitar music and singing, including a rendition of “The White Birds” by W B Yeats, provide a soothing background.
As you’d expect of a game based on childhood imagination, the gameplay is lightly surrealistic as you play through the different fantasy scenes. There is only one inventory item used, and other fairly simple puzzles revolve around finding a suitable way to interact with the environment. The mindset of the puzzles and the player character’s observations represent the straightforward views of a child, where monsters can only be unpleasant and a rectangle with a triangle on top is how a house is supposed to look. Rather than having an overarching storyline, the game consists of little scenarios based on individual doodles, such as defeating monsters or brightening up a dull school day. This simplicity means the game is not going to offer much of a serious challenge, but the light tone makes this a pleasant experience.
Dreamagine can be downloaded from the AGS website.
A Knight’s Quest: Quest for Milk
Going on quests to gather great artefacts is part and parcel of the life of a knight. The Holy Grail, the Golden Bird, Excalibur. Such things are the stuff of legend. Now a new knight must undertake a dangerous and challenging journey, to fetch some milk for his mother. In this noble undertaking, he will face his own evil twin, a mysterious witch and the Hair Club for Men. Only a true knight will be able to face such hazards and survive.
This humorous adventure from Juice-Tin and Krulz adopts an RPG visual style, despite being a traditional adventure. The brightly coloured graphics are done in a tile-based format reminiscent of the 16-bit Super Nintendo games, with small characters and slightly block scenery. The characters have limited animation to suggest walking, and there are varied background animations such as dancing flowers and single pixel butterflies flitting around. Control is handled through the cursor keys, with the space bar used to interact with whatever hotspot the player character is facing. A variety of light, cheery tunes provide the background to your quest.
You’ll need to complete a lot of subsidiary tasks before your lactic goal is completed. These are tracked in an always-accessible task log and range from the mundane “Get Gold” to the more bizarre “Become a woman”. Talking to various characters around your village reveals new goals and more information about the area. Whilst there are some dialogue puzzles, much of the game revolves around gathering items. Collected inventory is used automatically when you interact with the appropriate person or object. The lighthearted tone is exemplified by the blatantly artificial hampering of your quest, with the local store called “Everything But Milk” and the guard at the Milk Depot refusing entry because that would make the game too easy.
A Knight’s Quest: Quest for Milk can be played online at Games Free.
Mission US: Chapter 1 – For Crown or Country?
A young farm boy, Nat Wheeler, has travelled to Boston to take up an apprentice position with the local printer, Mr Ede. The year is 1770 and tensions in town are rising between those chafing under America’s rule by England and the soldiers and citizens loyal to the crown. With even his daily tasks affected by the dispute, Nat finds his support sought by both sides in the conflict. As feelings run ever higher, events escalate to a tragedy that will have long-term consequences.
This game from Thirteen is very much of the edutainment variety suitable for kids, covering events leading up to the Boston Massacre. The graphics depict a slightly simplified realism, with fixed views of each location and prominent characters adopting still poses. Conversing with characters results in a close-up, with only mouths animated for speech. There is also some limited animation in cutscenes, though people are mostly shown in silhouette rather than full colour. The game is fully voiced for all major characters, including Nat himself and Paul Revere, though some interactions with minor characters are solely carried out in text. The voice work is competently done throughout, supplemented by subtitles available at all times. The various scenes also have appropriate background noises as well, such as the muttering of an angry mob or the general hubbub of the farmers’ market. Control is simple point-and-click, with generously-sized hotspots revealing a bright outline when you mouse over them.
With its focus on educational aspects, this is not a game that will present a challenge for the hardened adventurer. However, the historical setting is nicely presented and the light puzzling elements will help introduce a new generation to the genre. The puzzles are generally quite simple, usually involving completing some errand on behalf of Mr Ede, such as selling adverts for the newspaper he prints. As Mr Ede is very much for colony, the key to these is often working out who supports which view, as he will be unhappy with you doing business with crown supporters. This would appear to show bias for the colonial side, but Nat will actually meet a variety of people on both sides of the debate. Each side is shown to have both good and bad advocates, and most conversations include response options that take either side or adopt a more independent stance. The result is a reasonably balanced view that allows the player to make up their own mind at the end of the game where their loyalties lie. A separate minigame in the Guitar Hero style, called “Pennywhistle Hero”, provides a break from the main game. There is also a quiz to test what you have learned.
Mission US: Chapter 1 – For Crown or Colony? can either be downloaded or played online at the developers' website.
Jimmy the Troublemaker
Jimmy didn’t really want to have to sort out his grandfather’s attic. The chance of finding anything interesting up there was more than outweighed by the physical exertion required. That all changed when, upon reading from a book he discovers locked away, Jimmy finds himself transported to the fantasy kingdom of Xandia. There the good witch Bruella, whose spellbook he found, has been placed under a curse by her evil sister Josephine, now ruler of the kingdom. If Jimmy is going to have any chance of getting home, he’s going to have to find a way to lift that curse.
Olle Segerback, using the name Victory Creek Productions, created this darkly humorous game. The graphics are done a cartoon style that, despite Jimmy’s in-game protestations to the contrary, shows a decent level of detail with good use of shading for depth. The animations are equally well done, from the laid-back stroll of the player character to the frantic scurrying of an overworked gnome. A decent variety of tunes play in the background, though these seem rather generic and not particularly fitting to the fantasy setting of the game. Control is point-and-click using the standard four-cursor operation, with hotspot names appearing on-screen when you mouse over them.
As indicated by the title, Jimmy is not the most pleasant of characters, adopting a snarky and often downright rude approach to the characters he meets. This makes for a refreshing change from the kind and noble protagonists so often seen in games. Jimmy does convey the same attitude to the player at times, however, so this may not be to everyone’s tastes. His language often includes adult content like sexual references and swear words, so this is not a game suitable for children. Dialogue, inventory and interaction with the environment provide the puzzling challenges. A keen eye is also needed, as brief background animations can provide clues to the effect of certain actions. There is also an optional side quest to locate hotspots that can only be dug up with a shovel obtained near the start. These buried treasures are only located by sweeping the screen, the resulting holes containing items referencing old games.
Jimmy the Troublemaker can be downloaded from the AGS website.
As we pass through life, we are constantly faced with choices. Whilst some seem to have little effect on our lives, sometimes even the simplest choices can have long-term consequences. We can choose to try to balance our lives between many conflicting priorities or dedicate ourselves to a single chosen path. But whatever route we take through life, we must always remember that it is our choices today that will shape our tomorrow.
This the central premise of the simple but meaningful game from Streetlight Studios. The graphics use a minimalist blocky style, with characters in particular rendered as little more than a chunky collection of squares. Despite this simplicity, good use of contrasting colours and clever design mean that everything important is recognisable for what it is. A Kevin MacLeod soundtrack provides an equally simple backing, with a different tune for each of the game’s three sections. Control is done by left and right arrow keys for movement, using the space bar for interaction, including climbing on objects in the first part of the game.
The three sections of the game are childhood, working age and retirement. In the first, played as a baby, you compete against your mean older brother to find the ten toys scattered around your house. In the second, the working world places great demands on you that conflict with your desire to spend time with your girlfriend Melissa. In the third age, the shape of your retirement is based on decisions you made earlier in the game. There are three endings: love, money and compromise. The two extremes both have perfect forms that add a small amount of extra content, but require absolute dedication to the chosen path. There are also a number of optional achievements, mainly related to collecting toys in the first age, that require both ingenuity and moderate dexterity to achieve. With the entire game being relatively short, replaying for these additional endings and challenges is not a major imposition.
Convergence can be played online at Kongregate.
In a near-future train station, a tramp lying under a blanket of newspapers suddenly wakes up. The intelligence guiding his actions is not his own, but an agent sent back to avert a disaster. Terrorists from his time have altered the past, planting a bomb on the next train due at the station, and it is up to him to purify the timeline by disarming the bomb. As the agent in the tramp’s body, you experience repeated cycles of the events leading up to the explosion, but can you gather the information needed to repair history?
Originally made as a text adventure in 2001 (predating the similar sounding film, Source Code), this browser-based version is a streamlined update of Simon Mark’s concept, with the text parser now ditched in favour of hyperlinks. Key words highlight in the descriptions of areas and objects, and choosing one to click on results in further interaction or simply closer inspection. An inventory appears at the bottom of the screen for most of the game, with hyperlinks for each object held. Clicking these provides a description of the object, sometimes including further links for manipulating it, or uses the object if you are in an appropriate situation. A wait option is also available at most times, allowing you to advance the in-game clock as required. The font and text layout make the game relatively easy on the eye, but the writing is not supplemented by any kind of graphics. The game is also entirely devoid of sound. A cookie-based system saves the player’s position at all times.
The inventory also includes a thoughts section, which provides the key to most puzzles. Whilst objects disappear when you start a new cycle, thoughts remain, and clicking on a thought at the correct time allows you to put that knowledge to good use. Initially players are likely to go through a number of failed attempts to stop the bomb, but you’ll pick up pieces of information on the way. In one cycle, you will obtain a vital object too late to use it, though you will now be able to think about that object. Using that thought at the right time allows you to obtain the object at a much earlier point in subsequent cycles. Whilst some interactions may prolong them, the individual cycles themselves are quite short, somewhat allaying the frustration of having to repeat certain actions. There is also some variety in how the same scenes play out, providing something new to see in most reiterations. For anyone completely stuck, there is a hint button that provides progressive clues to the current puzzle.
Vicious Cycles can be played online at the developer's 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.
Zombie Cats by BeGamer – When zombie cats infest the city, one hero dog must go on a journey to defeat them.
Transylvania by FastGames – A sleep-driving incident brings Mr Potato to Transylvania. Navigate puzzling horrors to get safely home.
Mystery of Willow Manor by tenentenen – Uncover the secrets of a decrepit house in this choose-your-path adventure created in 72 hours for Newgrounds’ Game Jam.
Bart Simpson Saw Game by inkagames – Bart has been trapped in Springfield Elementary by Pigsaw. With his worst enemies standing between him and freedom, can you get him out?
Anbot 2 by Pencilkids – Caught by the Work Police, the mechanical Anbot must escape destruction to save his beloved in this sequel with some action scenes.
John Harris and the Treasure of the Pharaoh by Roland Feher – Travel into the desert in search of lost treasure with the intrepid archaeologist.
Rufus Story by BlueAngel – Explore a mysterious island as a caveman waking up from a long, frozen sleep.
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!