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Following Freeware: May 2011 releases

Following Freeware 10
Following Freeware 10

This month you can begin a secret mission in Victorian-era Algiers, face a dark force on a storm-swept mountain, or confront the simple horror that is joining a new school. If tracking is more your thing, you can hunt down terrorist bombs and monstrous minions of a vampire, or seek out that fantastical hybrid, the ponycorn. Alternatively, you can enjoy time travel as either a teenager trapped in the 15th century or an autonomous testicle on a mission. All these await you in this month’s roundup of new releases on the freeware scene.
 



Nine Hours to Dawn

 

Jack Sinclair just wanted to have a spelunking holiday on Mount Shasta. Caught in a terrible storm as he enters the area, he stops to assist a broken-down car. Moments later, a third car crashes into the back of his, wrecking all three vehicles. With no means to go find help, the vehicles’ occupants reluctantly band together to seek shelter from the storm in a nearby abandoned cabin. But this is a cabin with an ill-starred history, and dark forces are abroad in the woods. With dawn a long nine hours away, will any of the stranded motorists live to see the sun rise?

This game by Cogliostro is a dark tale in all senses of the word. The graphics are a detailed realistic depiction, with 3D models for all characters. When speaking, close-ups of the characters appear on-screen, with animated mouths and some use of expressions to convey emotion. The background noise in the outdoor scenes is largely provided by the sound of the storm, supplemented by sound effects where appropriate. Inside, the storm is replaced by music with a subtle ominous tone that adds to the creepy atmosphere. Control is handled by four-cursor point-and-click, each option incorporating a clear focus point. There is an action section, but failure offers the player the option to replay the sequence or skip past it. The game is split over nine chapters spent mostly controlling Jack, though three other characters become playable for one chapter each.

This is not a game for the faint-hearted. Whilst the initial puzzles are simply about getting into the cabin and getting the electricity running, events take a more unpleasant turn before long, after which the horror tone sets in properly, with well-spaced blatant scares and a feeling of menace. The characters’ personalities are well-developed, from the mellowness of New Ageist Darcy to the much more unpleasant and cynical Sal. A notebook tracks your current main task but most of these require multiple steps involving exploration and use of inventory. Real effort has been made to integrate the puzzles with the story, adding greatly to the immersive feel. There are also several points in the story where different solutions are available, and how you act in these situations will determine which of the game’s three endings you get.

Nine Hours to Dawn can be downloaded from the AGS website.


Sissy’s Magical Ponycorn Adventure

 

Ponies are great. So are unicorns. But which is better? Whilst some might suggest a fight to determine the answer, there is a more peaceful solution. Why not combine the two to create a hybrid beast, the ponycorn? Surely such a combination would be even better. Such is the opinion of Sissy, who “friggin’ loves ponycorns” and sets out on a magical adventure to find some. Her path is not an easy one, as she travels via mystic rainbows and faces foes such as the evil lemon. But with a stable of ponycorns as the potential reward, Sissy will not be stopped.

This point-and-click game from Untold Entertainment has an unusual background. Firstly, it was made as part of TOJam, a three-day independent game design challenge based in Toronto. More importantly, a large part of the design and content was created by five year-old Cassie Creighton. The graphics are her colourful and exuberant drawings, animated by having different versions of a drawing alternate on-screen or by having cut-outs of them move about. This does occasionally mean that items are not easily recognised, but there are no pixel hunts and clicking on objects always elicits a description. These descriptions, along with all the protagonist’s dialogue, are voiced with breathless enthusiasm by Cassie. Her voicework is supplemented by her father Ryan playing the other parts. In all cases the speech is clear, though the game also includes subtitles. The music is also Cassie’s, this time with the help of her sister, and fits well with the magical fantasy tone.

This is undoubtedly not a difficult adventure, though anyone without the mind of a five year-old girl may sometimes struggle with the internal logic. Inventory items like keys are used automatically when appropriate to do so. The game is also fairly short, unsurprising given the short time it was created in. However, the real joy of this title is the escape into a world of child-like wonder. The surrealist situations and joyful enthusiasm of the voicework serve to make this a pleasant respite from the cares of adult life. The simple opening cutscene sets the light tone and the closing cinematic, with its “where are they now” descriptions for all the other characters, rounds off proceedings nicely. Those looking for deep plots and challenging puzzles will need to look elsewhere, but if you’re just looking for something to put a smile on your face, this could well do the trick.

Sissy’s Magical Ponycorn Adventure can be played online at the developer’s website.


15 Minutes

 

The events depicted in the following paragraph take place in real time. Right now, terrorists are planning to plant a bomb in L.A., my mobile phone isn’t where I left it last night, and people I work with are waiting outside my building wondering what the heck is taking me so long. I’m player character Jake Brewer, and this is the most adventurous15 minutes of my life.

This game from Tim Hengeveld won the April MAGS competition, and its similarities to a certain television series is most definitely not coincidental. The black-and-white art style is illustrated realism, with detailed line drawings supplemented by some grey shading. In keeping with its inspiration, the game incorporates split-screen panels to depict people in other locations when appropriate. Action in all panels is smoothly animated. The time pressure is maintained by an on-screen digital clock that starts at 08:00 and runs continuously during play. The background music also matches its inspiration, with tunes that would not be out of place in a television thriller. Control is fairly standard point-and-click, but during conversations you are presented with four choices of approach, with a separate timer prompting you to make your choice quickly.

Whilst obviously made by a fan of 24, this is very much a parody of the series. The opening section includes an action never seen in the TV show, though its absence is regularly queried by fans. An unavoidable delay in gaining entry to the bomb location forces you to engage in small talk with your partner, with many tongue-in-cheek references to series events. This conversation also comically undermines the quick-choice dialogue system, with “Talk”, “Converse”, “Chat” and “Banter” as your options. The puzzles are fairly light, mostly revolving around locating and combining inventory in the first section and a simple bomb-disarming puzzle in the second section. As a result, the 15 minute time limit is unlikely to prove a problem for most players, but this sits well with the game’s light tone.

15 Minutes can be downloaded from the developer’s website.


Treadsylvania

 

Darkness has fallen on the land, with the minions of the vampire holding the countryside in their thrall. Only one place still stands against the forces of evil, the remote village of Treadsylvania. Now two monster hunters have come to this outpost with the intention of bringing an end to the vampire’s rule. To unlock the gateways of his castle lair, the hunters must find and defeat his three lieutenants, each a powerful monster in its own right. With the land in turmoil and obstacles constantly thrown in their path, will the monster hunters be able to bring this reign of terror to an end?

This edutainment title from New Mexico State University’s Learning Lab combines a light horror tale with safety tips for all-terrain vehicles (ATVs), the hunters’ chosen mode of transport. The graphic presentation uses a comic book format, with story panels animating in turn as you mouse over them. Whilst the cartoon style is moderately detailed, the individual scenes use limited colour palettes, each panel utilising different shades of the same colour in most cases. This dominant colour changes from area to area of the map, giving them a slightly different feel. Control is point-and-click, with clicking and dragging used to deal with some challenges. A map showing available locations appears when you leave a main location such as the village. This includes an inset mini-map that highlights areas you can currently reach and those you have already cleared. A spooky backing piece plays throughout, replaced by sudden crescendos and faster paced dramatic music when the action demands it.

A real effort has been made to make the ATV safety message part of the ongoing action of the story. Nevertheless, some players will find the message a bit intrusive at times. Using an imp swarm to force the hunters onto asphalt – unsafe for ATVs – rather than simply attacking them seems an odd choice for the vampire to make. Those willing to look past this will find an enjoyable, if rather light, adventure. Many of the puzzles revolve around safe use of an ATV, but there are also a handful of objects to be collected and used, as well as some standalone puzzles. The latter relate to defeating the vampire and his lieutenants and are moderately easy tests of wits rather than arcade skills. Players do not even need an especially quick hand for the more action-oriented challenges, and failure simply leads to starting over on that challenge. This is most definitely horror-lite, with the easy confidence of the hunters largely dispelling any fear of the creatures you face.

Treadsylvania can be played online at Kongregate.


1899 Steam & Spirit: Chapter 1 – The Leviathan

 

The year is 1899 and British agent Winston Churchill is travelling aboard the submersible, the Leviathan. They are anchored off the coast of Algiers, where he is to be sent ashore on a mission vital to the well-being of the empire. Unfortunately, the diving gear he needs to make a secret landing has been lost, possibly the result of enemy action. If he is to do his patriotic duty, he will just have to improvise a replacement. Assuming he is able to work out where he put the key to the locked door of his cabin first, of course.

Moloc Lab’s new online series has a very retro feel to it, with the graphics done in a blocky 8-bit style. Whilst for the most part items are still depicted in a recognisable way, a handful of small items will be difficult to identify on sight. Fortunately, descriptions of such items are only a click away, and a change in the cursor over hotspots helps identify clumps of pixels as usable items. Within the constraints of the graphics, the animations are well done, including background animation such as smoke from an off-duty sailor’s cigarette. The music is a low sombre piece with a background beep that feels appropriate to the submarine setting. Control is point-and-click, with left-clicks bringing up a choice of look and use icons for each hotspot, or attempting to use an inventory item when selected.

This is an introductory episode, largely serving to introduce us to the characters and premise. The setting has a steampunk feel to it, with the Leviathan itself the most obvious example. In our 1899, Churchill was a 25 year-old coming to the end of his time in the army, making him an ideal choice for a British agent in this era. Despite the relatively small size of the episode, a decent number of puzzles have been fitted in, involving inventory, manipulating the environment, and a standalone puzzle to get the exit chamber working properly. In taking on these puzzles, players get a feel for the world and Churchill’s place in it, as well as hints of the greater adventures in Algiers that await us in future episodes.

1899 Steam & Spirit: Chapter 1 – The Leviathan can be played online at the developer’s website. (Note: Although the game was already deserving of coverage on its own merits, I personally assisted the developers in putting the final polish on the translation after its initial release. That updated version is now the one available.)


Wasted Youth: Part 1

 

Always a troublemaker, you’ve been expelled from many schools. Now you are facing your last chance, as you are shipped off to St Frost’s Academy, a boarding school for people like you. Of course, with a school full of pupils that are used to making trouble, opportunities for trouble-making abound. With a headmaster who is already showing signs of strain, your new school should prove an interesting experience.

GP Studios’ game is a cynical take on life in a modern boarding school. The graphics are reasonably detailed, though scenery is sometimes overly squared to fit in with the grid-based movement system. The characters are slightly cartoon-like, but have sufficient differences in appearance, such as hair colour and style, to make specific individuals identifiable. Control for much of the game is done by keyboard, though the mouse is used for menus and some of the minigames. Background music is simple hip hop or R&B rhythms which, while often on short loops, are subtle enough not to be intrusive, especially as they vary from place to place. An on-screen mini-map shows the surrounding area, with a full map and various other options available from the in-game menu.

A certain amount of gameplay adopts RPG conventions, with players picking up missions from various characters around the school. These missions are split into two types: main missions required to advance the story and side missions that can be completed for extra features like concept art. Whilst one of the missions includes a fighting minigame, completing missions mostly involves investigation and the use of brainpower rather than brawn. The setting is conveyed with a level of barbed satire, and the school is full of different characters, including aggressive Goth Xerxes and a student that needs to be drunk to achieve good grades. With a large number of missions, as well as an ongoing challenge to collect a full set of Piggimon cards, there is a reasonable chunk of gaming to be found here.

Wasted Youth: Part 1 can be played online at Two Towers Games.


Night of the Testicle

 

Lefty McBollock was just enjoying an evening of television when he got a craving for cigarettes. His evening takes a turn for the worse when he finds a bomb has been dropped through the roof of the local shop that subsequently levels the area. Determined to discover who is behind this dastardly deed, Lefty sets out on an investigation. With hidden mines, time travelling toilets and a character from Lefty’s past in the picture, this may prove too much for a simple testicle to handle.

Screen 7 have provided a truly strange experience in their latest offering. The graphics veer between two extremes. Most of Lefty’s home town, as well as Lefty himself, is depicted in a somewhat crude form, roughly drawn as if with the MSPaint paintbrush tool. Other areas, including all locations in the neighbouring town, are depicted in a much more detailed fashion, incorporating photographic backgrounds and 3D character models. Apart from a nightclub scene there is no background music, as sound is limited to appropriate effects most of the time. Control is handled with standard four-cursor point-and-click, and the game incorporates a couple of timed sequences, though you are given the option to retry these if you fail.

Whilst not graphically adult in nature, some of the dialogue and characters, including Lefty, make this adventure unsuitable for children. The game itself is a decidedly surreal experience. All the characters in Lefty’s home town are body parts, including his good friend Andy the hand and a street bum that is an actual bum. This strangeness can make it difficult to determine what to do next, though limited options will often serve to steer you in the right direction. As the title suggests, the game takes some inspiration from Day of the Tentacle, the most overt reference being the Chron-O-John taken directly from that game. Puzzling is mostly a matter of finding the required inventory items, along with some limited environmental interaction.

Night of the Testicle can be downloaded from the AGS website.


Signets of Power

 

In a very familiar scene, teenager Bea is lounging around in her bedroom, fiddling with her mobile phone. In a less typical development, her fiddling results in a new app malfunctioning and transporting her back to the town of Aarhus in the year 1458. When her phone is confiscated by a town guard, Bea loses her only means of getting back home. With her modern clothes and mannerisms confounding the locals, Bea must work to gain an understanding of the era if she is to have any hope of escape.

This is an edutainment title from danmarkshistorien.dk under the auspices of Aarhus University. The graphics are presented in widescreen format with hand-painted backgrounds and detailed cartoon-like caricatures for the characters. These are decently animated, from Bea’s slightly slouching walk to a juggler entertaining on the wharf. During conversations, close-ups of the characters Bea is talking to appear on-screen with their dialogue displayed alongside in text boxes. Background sound is either appropriate to the location, such as the lapping of water at the wharf, or medieval-style music appropriate to the setting. Control is point-and-click, with the cursor changing to an appropriate action with a label when over a hotspot.

With its educational bent, the focus in this game is learning about the workings of 15th century society. As well as more generic characters of the era, you will interact with actual historical figures such as pirate Esbern Jude and Bishop Jens Iversen. Bea must adjust herself and her actions to fit in if she is to succeed in her quest. You will need to talk to the various inhabitants to gather information about who has the authority to return your phone, but many characters will not even speak to Bea while she still wears her scandalous (to their eyes) modern clothes. Whilst most dialogue is in English, there is at least one conversation conducted in German, with only the player’s dialogue translated, though full understanding does not appear vital. Limited use of inventory will also be necessary to proceed.

Signets of Power 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.

Obama: Jurassic Park by Inkagames – The action hero president must once more set out to save his family, this time from dinosaurs.

The Adventures of Red by Rob and John Donkin – A castle of puzzle rooms holds the promise of free muffins for adventurous yellow being, Red.

http://www.wrinkledart.com/theblockedtunnel.html">The Blocked Tunnel by Wrinkled Art – Cucumber Boy needs to deal with a passage problem in this surrealist art game.

The Hamresanden Chronicles II: The Black Prism by barefoot – When the evil wizard Asgrim seizes the powerful Black Prism, arch wizard Magrid must prevent him from harnessing its power.

http://www.bigbluecup.com/games.php?action=detail&id=1425">The Lurking Horror by Diath – Face evil forces in a graveyard mortuary in this April MAGS competition inspired by the Phantasm film series.

Alpaca by Laser Dragon University – Adventure with Al the Panda, then create your own adventure with this new, free flash-based engine.
 



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!


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