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This month you can play a horror novelist living out a real-life horror story, a Boston detective searching for a serial killer or a paralysed man escaping into dreams. For something with a more fantasy feel, you might penetrate an enchanter’s castle to retrieve a magical stone or wander through the Forest of Eyeballs looking for a book. If tales of siblings are preferred, become a young man researching the life of his estranged sister or two extremely different twins forced to share the same body. Alternatively, you could have a collection of quick adventure fixes in twelve different games, all made in just a week. All these await you in this month’s round-up of releases from the freeware adventure scene.
The Book of Living Magic
Raven Locks Smith lives in the city of Dull in the Holy Corporate Beaurocratocracy of Yawn, a place full of banking institutions and motivational speakers. Much as she wished otherwise, Raven could only see a future descent into a boring life as a good Dull citizen. Then came the day a dream drifted away from Oneiropolis, the city of dreams, and paused by her bedside. It whispered into her ear about The Book of Living Magic and Raven instantly knew she must leave her mundane home behind and set out to recover this fantastical tome. Little did she know what strange beings, mystical locations and dangerous adventures lay in wait for her on this quest.
Once again Jonas Kyratzes has produced a game that is both fun to play and thought-provoking. The graphic style is line-drawn with simple shading. With the bright colours used, the overall effect is reminiscent of a children’s book, a style that suits the fairy-tale setting well. This is not to say that the illustrations are simplistic, as some scenes such as the market stalls contain a wealth of detail. There is no animation but with the storybook presentation, the static display feels natural. The background music consists of bright and cheerful tunes that complement the graphics nicely.
The setting for this adventure is undoubtedly a surreal one. The first scene includes a Gnarf (Half-Gnome, Half-Dwarf) trapped in a bottle as a result of an unspecified incident with a member of the opposite sex. You’ll go on to meet a lizard barkeeper, monkey and duck stallholders, and a cat running a circus full of performing humans.
Control is point-and-click, with inventory items highlighted for use, and almost every hotspot interaction generates a response. This includes individual descriptions for the various “plants” in the disturbingly literal Forest of Eyeballs. You’ll need to converse with the diverse locals to garner clues as well as make good use of your inventory. There is a significant amount of text to read here, much of it not directly relevant to your quest. However, if you are prepared to put in the time to read it all, there are both fun inventions like the terrible Monsterbeast and thought-provoking tales such as the fate of the Demon Eyeball to be found.
The Book of Living Magic can be played online at JayIsGames.
The Far Corners of the World: Chapter 1 – The Book, The Box and The Key
When they were both young, Jeffrey Carter and his sister Suzie had many wild, imaginary adventures together. When he left home he swore that he would keep in touch. Now, many years later, that promise has long been broken and one day he receives a message from a hospital in London. His sister has fallen into a mysterious coma, leaving a cryptic message behind for him. With her strange letter, an apparently blank piece of paper and a peculiar metal coin the only clues to go on, Jeffrey starts investigating Suzie’s recent activities. The things he discovers, however, may have long-term repercussions for his own life as well.
This first chapter in a proposed new series from Wesray is much more than a teaser, being a substantial game in its own right. The graphics are done in a simple cartoon style, though in a realistic setting. Whilst there are some perspective issues, these are not bad enough to make items unidentifiable or significantly affect gameplay. The main character is reasonably well animated and there are also various background movements as well, such as fish swimming in a tank and a child playing with a portable console. The soundtrack varies by location, with a muted tune for the hospital and a more grandiose piece for a museum. There are also sound effects, including a chime that indicates when the player has scored points by solving a puzzle.
Using the standard four-cursor point-and-click interface, this game sets up what promises to be an intriguing story. The background of the siblings’ close childhood serves to provide a compelling reason to get involved, as does Jeffrey's guilt over failing to keep his promise to maintain contact. The search for the titular book, box and key, as well as the unnatural nature of Suzie’s illness, speak of grand conspiracies that will hopefully be followed through in future episodes. Whilst some obstacles like a broken loudspeaker preventing a doctor hearing a call feel a little contrived, the puzzles are generally well integrated as story-based challenges. There is also amusing follow-through, such as the janitor turning up to fix the same loudspeaker only after the player has resolved the issue themselves. As well as inventory and dialogue puzzling, players will have to think carefully to interpret Suzie’s cryptic instructions. A points system gives regular rewards for puzzle-solving, as well as providing an indication of progress through the adventure.
The Far Corners of the World: Chapter 1 – The Book, The Box and The Key can be downloaded from the AGS website.
In a hospital bed lay young twins Bo and Mal. Bo is the embodiment of all that is good and kind, only wanting to help others. Mal, by contrast, is twisted and evil, his only desire to cause misery, death and destruction. These two distinct personalities would probably have ended up living two very different lives if not for the fact that they are conjoined Siamese twins sharing the same two-headed body. Unaware of their father’s dark reason for bringing them there, they just want to enjoy life their own way. As they set out together to try to achieve their own disparate goals, trouble cannot be far away.
In following the “Evil Twin” theme for the August MAGS competition, Duzz created a game of darkly humorous contrasts. The graphics are done in a Day of the Tentacle-era LucasArts style, though without any distorted backgrounds. Despite being relatively low-resolution, the characters are well animated and their faces have distinct personalities. This is especially true of the twins, with Bo’s wide-eyed smiling face and Mal’s wizened scowl. Accompanying the action are suitable sound effects throughout and a simple background tune.
Puzzle-solving in this game is dependent on the differing personalities of the two twins. In any interaction, including use of inventory, left-clicking uses nice Bo and right-clicking uses nasty Mal. Most puzzles require varying combinations of the two approaches to achieve success, whether through dialogue, inventory use or straight interaction. Even outside of puzzle-solving, it is worth trying out both twins on everything in the game for their amusingly extreme reactions. With Mal’s evil ways and Bo’s innocent response to even the most unpleasant of his brother’s actions, this is undeniably a black comedy. Whilst concluding in a satisfying manner, the ending leaves the possibility of longer sequels open.
The Unicated can be downloaded from the AGS website.
A paralysed man spends every day in his hospital bed, his view limited to the sweep of his eyes. The only way he can escape his torment is by descending into dreams. Here, in memories of his past and fragments of futures now eternally denied to him, he is free of his bodily prison. Perhaps by rebuilding his childhood bedroom, putting together a nursery for his baby or simply recalling a present for his beloved, he will find some solace.
This game from GambitSq is a melancholy outing, and its graphics use a stylised art form. The backgrounds are desolate misty landscapes with bare trees often drowned in lakes, and restricted, muted colours. The player character, and the object and people with which he interacts, are slightly more brightly coloured but also more simplified as cut-out animations. The music is a mournful piano piece that suits the tone of the game well. This mood is further reinforced by the sound of the respirator-assisted breathing of the player character.
Variety has been built into this game in two different ways. Firstly, there are three different stories to be played out involving three different aspects of the protagonist’s past. Secondly, the puzzles are randomly-generated rather than predetermined. Whilst this does succeed in varying the game from play to play somewhat, the fact that the objectives are largely fetch quests, with the actual mechanics for each storyline being identical, does limit its effectiveness. However, this is more a game to be played for its emotional impact than its mental challenge, and here it delivers. Played on that basis, it is well worth pursuing all three play-throughs necessary to see each background story play out.
Symon can be played online at Kongregate.
Whilst visiting her sister Jayra in the village of Arden’s Vale, Riel returns to her sister’s home one day to find her collapsed and unresponsive. A dark enchantment has been placed on her, and if it cannot be lifted soon Jayra will die. The only hope lies in a castle many miles to the east, where an enchanter holds a magical stone that can lift the curse. But the castle has long been barred to the inhabitants of Arden’s Vale by a magical force-field. If she wishes to save her sister, Riel must pass this barrier and the other magical obstacles in her way to retrieve the stone.
This Antipus production very much reflects the influence of the Sierra fantasy stable. The graphics are reminiscent of the mid-era King’s Quest games, with moderately low-resolution and decent animations. From the barrier, you penetrate into the enchanter’s castle itself, ultimately gaining access to his treasure store. During conversations there are more detailed character portraits, though there are not many of these in-game. Background atmosphere is provided by some pleasant light fantasy music.
Whilst largely played as a serious fantasy adventure, there are occasional flashes of humour that serve to brighten the mood. Set over only six scenes, a wealth of puzzles have been crammed into this small space. As well as passing the barrier at the start, you will need to circumvent a trapped staircase, fool a guard golem and unlock a magical cabinet. This last standalone puzzle in particular is well thought-out, the principles of the lock being easily grasped but the solution proving fiendishly elusive. There are a handful of Sierra-style death scenes, but these do not come entirely without warning, so alert players should be able to avoid them, though regular saving is still advisable.
Arden’s Vale can be downloaded from the AGS website.
Rizzoli & Isles: The Masterpiece Murders
In the city of Boston, you’re a new detective starting your first day on the job. Called to a homicide, you find a woman with her throat slashed. In a macabre twist, a painting of the crime scene is on the wall. As further murders take place, each with their own crime scene painting, it looks like you’ve got a serial killer on your hands. With the help of your boss Rizzoli and medical examiner Isles, it is up to you to get to the bottom of this case before more deaths are immortalised on canvas.
Pastel Games’ latest production is based on the TNT detective series of the same name. In a suitable twist given the modus operandi of the murders, the graphical presentation is a detailed watercolour style done in a slideshow format. These depict varied views of crime scenes, such as a flat and a doctor’s office, as well as other key locations. There are also recognisable depictions of the show’s title characters when you interact with them. Animation of these scenes is limited to a few key moments and when dragging clues together. The background music is a slow noir detective-style piece.
In keeping with its source, this game is an investigative challenge as you try to piece together the identity of the murderer. You will need to scour each crime scene for clues, as well as interview witnesses. With some clues you can also perform on-site tests like checking for fingerprints, or request more detailed forensic examination. Control is point-and-click, with the cursor changing when you mouse over interactive items. Objects collected, as well as your crime scene analysis tests, are available at the bottom of the screen until you return to headquarters. As you collect evidence, it gets posted on the board back at police HQ, with a central part of the game being linking various clues to open up new lines of investigation.
Rizzoli & Isles: The Masterpiece Murders can be played online at Kongregate.
It is the early 1920s, and J Stanson has built a glittering career out of frightening people with his horror books. When asked the secret of his success, he has always responded cagily. Then one night James Roivas, his publisher and the only other man to know his secret, invites him to a select dinner at his remote mansion. What had promised to be a pleasant evening takes a nasty turn when Mr Roivas is suddenly killed by a falling chandelier. This collapse was no accident, as it appears someone intends to do away with everyone else in the house. Trapped in a nightmare not of his own creation and not knowing who to trust, Stanson must solve this mystery, and its relationship to his own secret, if he is to see another day.
With its remote location, Seb Greaves has created a horror story in the classic trapped-with-a-killer tradition. The graphics are somewhat simplistic but effective enough that objects can mostly be identified without too much difficulty. You’ll start in the sparse but elegant dining room, but will soon progress into the dull grey attic, the bright and vibrant music room, and the many dark secret corridors running throughout the mansion. Character animations are reasonably well done. There are suitable sound effects throughout, backed up by an eerie piano piece, with a more well-known tune available in the music room when a particular puzzle is solved.
This is not a game for the faint-hearted, as much of your time is spent trying to evade a killer who may be more than just a person. Given the premise, it is possible on several occasions for you to die, so regular saving is a must. These death scenes come with a description of your fate, usually including a hint that may help you avoid this ending the next time around. Some of the sections leading to these deaths also require quick sequences of actions, so a moderately rapid hand on the mouse is a must. Control is point-and-click, with a right-click bringing up a menu of actions including inventory and a description of the hotspot clicked when appropriate. Dialogue is mainly used to provide backstory, with inventory use and some riddle-solving making up the challenges provided.
Something Novel can be downloaded from the AGS website.
One Room, One Week Competition
The seventh One Room, One Week competition at the AGS website took place in August. Twelve brave souls took on the challenge of creating a single-location game from scratch in just seven days. The award-winning games this time around were:
Best Game and Best Graphics: Barrier by AJA – With his beloved Mei on the other side of the Great Wall of China, Wu must find his way to her. Unfortunately, all Wu knows is martial arts, so conventional cursor choices are replaced by more violent actions. The result is a surreally hilarious little adventure, with the protagonist kicking and punching his way through puzzles, even to get a bunch of flowers. The setting is the Great Wall drawn in the style of a traditional Japanese painting, with an Oriental soundtrack and martial arts movie-style grunting for sound.
Best Concept/Writing: The Devil Got My Woman by PMartin – Having seriously injured a young woman in a car accident, a man sits constantly by her bedside to aid her recovery. When her fiancée puts in an appearance, conflict arises as relationships old and new come under examination. Whilst the look and sound of the game are relatively simplistic, the central concept and dynamic of the three characters involved makes for a powerful vignette.
Best Sound/Music and Best Programming/Coding: One Room, One Cheese by Radiant – In the beginning was the Cheese. Then the Sausage hid the Cheese. Now one brave mouse must retrieve it. Eschewing the adventure focus of the AGS engine, Radiant made his “one room” a single level side-scrolling platform game that emulates the original Nintendo console games in look, sound and difficulty.
The other entries this time round, in no particular order, were
RapSqLud by Bicilotti
Apple Farm by Cat
Aeterna Duel by ddq
Requiem by DualNames
De_Haunt by FSI
ODR3 by Ponch
Procrastinator by ShiverMeSideways
Office Shenanigans by Tzachs
Entrapped by Wyz
You can download a zip file containing all the games entered in the One Room, One Week competition from this link. Alternatively, check the AGS games database for updated versions of the individual games, given further polish after the competition finished.
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.
Time Killer by FastGames – A disgruntled office worker sets out on a puzzling quest to destroy every clock in town.
Garfield: Crazy Rescue by inkagames – When his girlfriend Arlene is kidnapped, Garfield must put aside his lazy ways to mount a rescue operation.
Dor the Dwarf by Abroy – Join Dor as he heads out on an epic quest to find the Other Ring.
Tanooky Tracks by Michael Benrad – When a group of Tanooky play hide-and-seek in a house, you must unlock the secrets of the cryptic clue book they provided to locate and remove the hidden pests.
Exposed Reality by Willy Picard – With local paper “The Realiser” headed for bankruptcy, it’s up to Mika to scour Reality-on-the-Norm for a scoop that will save the day.
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!