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.Continued on the next page...