Following Freeware: July 2011 releases
This month you can play a dead cyborg or an undead cheerleader. If you fancy a bit of stealth you can sneak into a research institute to rescue your stolen cat or become an inept thief breaking into a museum to steal a diamond. Science fiction adventures range from the down-to-earth tale of a young reporter starting out in a futuristic city to the outer space perils of a luxury space-liner controlled by an insane computer. Finally, you can look back on the past with an introductory instalment to a new series. All these await you in this month’s roundup of freeware releases.
Chance of the Dead
When the dying have left things undone, it is the responsibility of the Unfinished Business Departedment to give them a chance to put things right. Normally that opportunity is given in the final moments of their clients’ lives, with all details handled by the departedment’s operatives. In the case of Janet Burdie, some lost paperwork resulted in something of a delay. Called up from her grave five years after her demise, Janet is offered the rare opportunity of a second chance to clear up her unfinished business herself. All she has to do is ensure her Triple Layered Coffee Cloud Cake comes to the attention of the leading judge in the Campus Cake Competition, guaranteeing her the first prize she always wanted. But as zombie cheerleader Janet sets out on her quest, she may find that it is not just she who has a second chance at stake.
This game from Ghost deserved its first place finish in the July MAGS competition (theme of “Second Chance”), even though it didn’t have to face any challengers to achieve it. The graphics are reminiscent of the lower-resolution style of the early LucasArts games, with clear detail and good use of colour to make even smaller items fairly easy to locate and identify. The game is also well animated, especially the undead protagonist, who has one foot that drags when she walks and a highly toothy grin when she is pleased with her actions. Sound effects like the gurgling of a coffee machine are well supported by a dramatic soundtrack. This background music serves to make the relatively mundane cake-making activities feel like a great heroic undertaking.
As may be gathered from the story, the zombie protagonist does not make this a horror game; its humour quickly coming to the fore. But there is also a more serious story, with Janet having the chance to set right something that went wrong after she died. In the short space of the game, both stories are brought to a satisfying conclusion. In your quest for culinary excellence, you will use your own bones in unusual ways and have to deal with a strange appliance support line. Control is point-and-click, using a small verb list including the zombie-specific “Bite” action. Most puzzles revolve around inventory, though there is also a clever riddle based around someone else’s secret recipe. For the more culinary gamer, the game files also include the cake recipe for those wishing to emulate our departed heroine in real life.
Chance of the Dead can be downloaded from the AGS website.
Stealing the Diamond
Henry Stickmin has not had the most successful of criminal careers. His attempts to rob a bank met with repeated, painful failures. His subsequent attempts to escape from prison met with similarly uncomfortable consequences. With such a woeful history, you would expect him to put his nefarious past behind him. However, when a large Tunisian diamond is exhibited at the local museum, Henry proves he isn’t the sort of stickman to let his unfortunate past put him off. The time has come for more hair-brained schemes, unreliable gadgetry and terrible consequences, as Henry once again tries to pull off the heist of the century.
Puffballs United’s third episode in the story of a stickman thief provides a surreally funny game, where failure is as much sought-after as success. The graphics are line-drawn cartoons with simple shading. Whilst the bodies of all the characters are stick-like, the circular faces include simplified but highly expressive features. In addition, many characters have limited clothing and other items, such as the hats and walkie-talkies of the exhibit guards. These characters are also all fluidly animated. As well as a variety of sound effects, the game is fully voiced to a good standard. At appropriately dramatic moments, music also plays, often aping the style of game that is being parodied at the time.
Whilst there are three ways to win, what makes this game a real joy are the forty hilariously unique ways of losing. Equipment malfunctions, or on occasion works too well, and many of the available actions have disaster written all over them. Whenever you fail, you get the option of reconsidering your last action, stepping back to the sequence before, or simply starting over. As a result, any replays of particular sections should simply arise from the player wishing to view a particular section again. Depending on the approach you take, some actions require moderately quick decisions, but the retry system should allow most players to get past these. Control is mostly point-and-click, with keyboard used on a couple of occasions. Whilst the game features some references to the previous episodes, playing them is not needed to enjoy this one.
Stealing the Diamond can be played online at Stickpage.
Dead Cyborg: Episode 1 – The Beginning of the Death
In a run-down military base, you wake up in a cryotank. The tanks around you are broken-looking and empty, and the rest of the base doesn’t look like it has fared any better. Logs and computer warnings indicate a terrible exchange of weaponry has occurred and the base is flooded with radiation. As you desperately search the corridors for help or medication, you find decay and destruction everywhere. What happened here and exactly how were you involved in it?
This first game in a proposed series by Endre Barath puts the 3D Blender Engine to good use. The game is presented in first-person view, with full panoramic panning in all directions. The base is rendered in high detail, with rusting panels, the flash of malfunctioning door locks and broken but sometimes functional robots. When a light source is behind you, you will also see your shadow, its shape hinting at something not entirely human. Operational machinery is fully animated, casting its own shadow when appropriate. Whilst having dramatic opening theme music, sound within the game is restricted to that of your surroundings. Broken cables crackle with electricity and falling pipework rattles against the metal floor. There are also occasional voices for robots and computer warning messages.
The keyboard is used for movement, while the mouse is used to look around and interact with the environment. Whilst those who suffer from motion sickness would be well advised to avoid this game, others will find this episode to be an impressive debut. The grim science fiction setting is well realised with a huge amount of detail. This detail can work against the player, as vital objects can be hidden away in corners, though there are clues to the locations of smaller objects. A small inventory is put to good use, but interacting with the environment whenever possible is also highly important. Even when you can’t immediately proceed, interaction will often serve to give you a clue or fill in backstory. As well as the green log cubes scattered around the base, there are also bar codes on the walls which contain robotic messages, providing a mechanical perspective on the situation. This episode is split over four levels, with passwords provided at the beginning of each level acting as a save system.
The Returning of the Quantum Cat
Over a decade ago, you were a highly regarded hacker. But you quit that life, turned your back on technology and settled down to be the warden of a remote forest. Now, with only your cat Barsik for company, you patrol this snow-filled waste, keeping an eye out for poachers. Then, on a routine trip to the local store with your feline friend, a mysterious man kidnaps Barsik. Tracking him to a nearby scientific research institute, you determine to use some of the more physical skills you picked up in your hacking career to break in and rescue your furry companion.
Using the INSTEAD engine, this game from zavnvatvi brings the text adventure up to date for modern audiences. Four-fifths of the screen is taken up by a background mimicking the appearance of a paper scroll. At the top appears a pencil sketch of the current location, with links to available locations offered just below it. The remainder of the scroll contains feedback on your latest action and a description of where you are. This description includes highlighted words for objects and people you can interact with directly by clicking on them. The remaining fifth of the screen, on the right-hand side, contains the text-only inventory and game controls. Clicking inventory items selects them for use on links and each other. Along the way, the soundtrack plays synthesiser music that is somewhat reminiscent of ‘80s movies.
For those brought up with text adventures, the presentation – if not the interface – will feel very familiar. Whilst your character will refuse to take actions that would lead to your death, the feeling is that the institute is an extremely unsafe place for you to be. The puzzles will also feel familiar for text alumni, with timing puzzles involving making a certain number of actions and some repeated sequences of movements. As this game was not originally written in English, there are occasional odd phrasings, but none are severe enough to make the meaning unintelligible. The refined interface removes the word-guessing problems that plague some text games, but you will still need to use your brain. Simply clicking on each link in turn will not be enough to advance in most cases.
The Returning of the Quantum Cat can be played online at Kongregate.
Last Flight of the Starship Hindenburg
The spacebound cruise ship Hindenburg has fallen victim to some unknown calamity. There is no response on any channel and the ship’s high-velocity course is aiming it directly at Earth. As the nearest representative of the interstellar “Coast Guard”, you are despatched to find out what went wrong, but an accident while boarding leaves you stuck on the runaway craft. When you find that a deranged AI is in control, intent on crashing into Earth, can you save the ship and yourself from disaster?
Though this is KodiakBehr’s first foray into adventure development, it is an impressive debut. After a detailed cartoon slideshow opening, the graphics switch to a moderately detailed, semi-realistic style. The initial scenes are minimalist engineering sections, but beyond these are areas ranging from cramped third class quarters to lush first class cabins. There is a slight mismatch between the lower resolution main character and the backgrounds, but this is not jarring enough to prove a severe problem. Animation is well done, including background movement such as the robotic bartender polishing glasses. There are a number of short sci-fi musical themes played on first entering areas, but sound is mostly restricted to effects, such as the ping of elevators or squeak of the mouse infestation in third class.
This darkly humourous game is described as a cross between Starship Titanic and System Shock, and the influence of both games can be felt here. The insane AI is very similar in attitude to SHODAN, though she seems happy to keep the player around to have a human witness to her plans. Meanwhile, the luxury space-liner setting is highly reminiscent of Starship Titanic, right down to the unhelpful robot staff. The tone and difficulty of the puzzles also feel like they have been influenced by Starship Titanic, including the need to upgrade your status to access higher class areas. Despite these similarities, the puzzles themselves feel unique, using dialogue, inventory and environmental interaction, as well as code solving to progress. Control is point-and-click, as holding left-click brings up action choices and right-clicks access the inventory.
Last Flight of the Starship Hindenburg can be downloaded from the AGS website.
From the small town of Little Hatbury, Cedilla Parks has come to the big city with dreams of becoming a reporter for The Carrier Pigeon. To start her new career she just needs to find her contact, who is supposed to be waiting for her outside the station. But for a small town girl, the big city is a strange and confusing place, and locating her contact may not be as easy as it should be.
Though the current version is only a demo, this new production from Ben304 is a pleasing short game in its own right. The graphics use the Day of the Tentacle-era style similar to the developer’s previous games, with the same reasonably proportioned human characters. Once again, characters all have eyes of a single solid colour, but this futuristic setting adds a new twist, as technology allows some to change their eye colour at will. Blues predominate in the night-time setting with orange lights illuminating the way, character shades changing as they pass from light to shadow. The graphics are smoothly animated, including background motion such as passing trains at the transit station. A gently haunting piece provides the audio backdrop and fits both the night-time and science fiction settings.
Whilst only set over five screens, this game manages to create a feeling of a much larger setting. This is partially achieved by the backgrounds, but is enhanced by little details such as the news stories on a free terminal and the technology available such as the eye-tinting “neuro app”. There is just enough to make this an intriguing adventure location, giving great hope for the larger planned game in the future. Control is point-and-click, with left to interact and right to examine. The puzzles involve inventory and dialogue, though there is a wealth of optional content to be discovered as well. Players taking time to look around and investigate a bit should find an intriguing opening that I hope to see expanded into a larger game in the not-too-distant future.
City can be downloaded from the AGS website.
Mountview Creek (The Prelude)
After ten years away, a young girl returns to Mountview Creek. As she looks round her bedroom there, she recalls the last time she was here, when she and her friend Robbie looked into some strange disappearances that happened in the area. As objects from that time spark memories, she recalls those long-ago events and the results of their investigations. Is this all truly in the past, or do these events have a relevance in the present?
Using the 3D Unity Engine, neo187 has created an introductory episode to what promises to be a larger series. All scenes in the game are rendered in full high-resolution 3D with a realistic look. In the present, the view is in first-person but the flashbacks, most of which are also interactive, are presented in third-person. In both, the animations are handled well, though the changes of camera angle in the third-person sections occasionally make navigation tricky. Whilst atmospheric, this is further complicated in a scene where the only light is a hand-held torch. The first-person sections feature full panoramic viewing, with a crouch button to enable you to look under low objects. There are plentiful sound effects, from the footsteps of the character to the background noise of bird song in the nearby woods.
This game serves as the introduction to a larger story, with the protagonist discovering that the events of ten years ago may not be as much in the past as she thought. The present day scenes are restricted to her brightly lit bedroom, but the past sequences include a run-down old house that is dark and foreboding. The contrast between the two works well, serving to show that even in this bright place, darkness is not necessarily far away. The details revealed in the flashbacks provide enough backstory to make solving this episode worthwhile, whilst still feeling like the setup to a larger story. Control is handled through a combination of keyboard and mouse for both movement and interaction, while the puzzles are fairly simple, revolving around exploration with a small amount of inventory use.
Mountview Creek (The Prelude) can be played online at Kongregate.
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.
Secretnet by 31eee384 – When a reporter infiltrates a black market IRC chat room, how far will he go to get a story?
Star Sky by Marten Jonsson – A midnight stroll can lead to all sorts of wonders, if you just take time to pause once in a while.
Prime Minister’s Questions: The Game by Mark Richards – Take on the role of UK prime minister David Cameron as you try to fend off questions from the opposition.
Reincarnation: The Evil Next Door by B Group Productions – Retrieve another escaped soul in this micro episode of the long-running series.
Red Space by BeGamer – Explore the horrors of Red Space when you follow a lost scientific mission.
Totally Odd by GameszHero – Help a claymation man negotiate a series of hideous death traps.
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!