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Following Freeware: September 2011 releases

Following Freeware 14
Following Freeware 14

This month you can travel to the icy wastes of the frozen north or to the legendary Dragon Peninsula. Horror fans can look into supernatural murders, pursue a dark force across the Wild West, or investigate a haunted house. For lighter, more surreal fare, you might travel to another dimension with a well-known series, find the truth about the Unfolding Spider, or go on imaginative adventures with two children’s cartoon characters. Alternatively, you could enjoy a dark take on a classic fairy tale, or control the life of a young woman trapped in a secret facility. All these await you in this month’s roundup of releases from the freeware scene.
 



Nick Toldy: Legend of Dragon Peninsula

Nick Toldy has travelled to the legendary Dragon Peninsula, determined to achieve fame and fortune as a brave knight. But all is not well when he arrives. The inventor McAlec appears to be up to no good and there are even rumours that the dragon at the top of the mountain may be no more. If Nick is going to find the recognition he craves, he will have to get to the bottom of these mysteries. Yet he won’t even be leaving the entry port if he can’t prove himself worthy of the knight permit needed to explore the wilderness beyond.

 

Red Herring Labs have definitely demonstrated the influence of Monkey Island in this tale of a young man seeking to become a mighty knight. You’ll start off in the docks and subsequently travel across barren moorlands, through the big city and ultimately into the caves of Dragon Mountain itself. The character graphics are line-drawn figures with simple shading while the backgrounds have a more detailed, pastel-drawn style. The characters are smoothly animated, though the more detailed backgrounds remain static, even when scenery such as a windmill might be expected to move. The music is a variety of jaunty tunes, and the cutscene at the start of the game is fully voiced.

This game not only has the look of Monkey Island games, but the feel as well, with strange characters and sometimes surreal solutions. The quest to obtain a knight permit involves passing three challenges. Completing these challenges requires a certain amount of trickery, as they cannot be achieved by entirely honest means. In acquiring a stallion, you will also meet a horse seller whose hand-waving may seem oddly familiar. Inventory, dialogue and spotting combinations hidden in plain sight all have their role in the challenges players face. Whilst the similarities to its inspiration risk tough comparisons, the humour is also handled reasonably well.

Nick Toldy: Legend of Dragon Peninsula can be played online at GamesGames.


You Led Me Here

In a secret underground structure, a young woman lies imprisoned in a darkened cell. Elsewhere a mysterious figure powers up a complex console. The lights flicker on and the door to the cell opens. Though fearful of what she may find beyond, the woman hesitantly ventures forth. Is this the beginning of a journey that will see her escape to the surface, or simply another torment thought up by her captors?

Whilst Alex Marmo’s game may not be entirely original, it is still an impressive piece of work for a solo developer. The Unreal 3 Engine has been used, allowing for fully detailed 3D modelling throughout. The look of the underground base is dark and dismal, with more than an air of neglect about it. Despite this slightly decrepit look, the machinery within the complex appears fully functional, from the cell door to some mechanical pistons. Both machines and the unfortunate prisoner are fluidly animated. This is all quite graphics-intensive, so a reasonably powerful video card will be required to run this game smoothly. There is no musical soundtrack, though mechanical noises back up most of the action.

The operator of the console turns out to be none other than the player. The left-half of the screen is taken up with the console, full of unlabelled controls, with the right half occupied by a monitor with a row of buttons beneath it. The buttons allow you to switch between cameras whilst the console controls allow you to operate various mechanisms around the complex. Clicking on the monitor also allows you to zoom in on the camera view, though the console controls are unavailable in these close-ups. Most of the controls will only operate when the camera view shows the machinery affected, so switching views and experimenting is necessary to find out what each control does. On occasion it is also necessary to use a control in one view and switch to another quickly to operate a separate mechanism within a short space of time.

You Led Me Here can be downloaded from the developer’s website.


Brother

On a set of remote arctic islands, a family lives happily together. Happy, that is, until the day when a freak wind blows all but one of them off the island where their home cave is located. As the last remaining member of the family, one man must embark on a perilous quest to unlock the secrets of the local archipelago and recover his lost relations.

 

In keeping with its simple premise, Luke Thompson’s game also adopts simplicity in its presentation. The graphics are artistically stylised, with both scenery and characters made up of solid-blocks of colour rather than shading. The only exception is the sky in the far background, which has a white misty quality near sea level. This look effectively conveys the starkness of the polar landscape, without detracting from the feel of the game at all. Whilst their heavy winter clothing mostly masks their bodies, the characters are smoothly animated, as are the various mechanisms you will need to operate on your journey. Outside, the whistling of the arctic wind provides the background to your quest, replaced by a light and pleasant piano piece for the cave interiors. There are also appropriate sound effects for mechanisms and certain actions.

The gameplay is similarly simple, with a one-click interface and inventory being used automatically when required. Magic campfires are scattered around which, once lit, allow instant travel to any other lit campfire. There are no dialogue puzzles, as short conversations consist of a series of pictures exchanged between characters. The only text appears in hints available by clicking an on-screen “?” for most challenges. Apart from locating inventory, puzzles consist largely of trying to work out the functions of various machines scattered across the island. You’ll need to operate a lift system, put together a broken passageway and fling large steel balls across an abyss. For the most part, puzzles can be solved in any order, reducing the chance that players will get stuck with nothing else to do.

Brother can be played online at the developer’s website.


Murran Chronicles Episode 3: Lifedrinker of Lansdowne

Once a desk jockey, everything changed for FBI agent Ken Murran when he found himself involved with the mystery of the Jersey Devil. Recruited into Project Lamplight, the FBI department dedicated to supernatural cases, he subsequently had to deal with mythical cattle-devouring monsters. Now he and his new partner, Tracy Turner, have travelled to the Boston suburb of Lansdowne to look into another strange case. Two men have turned up dead, both aged far beyond their youthful years. With the lead suspect a dark-haired woman with the power to cloud memory and a flock of unearthly glowing goats stalking the night-time streets, this could prove a tough case to crack. Worse, the nightmares bedevilling his sleep could mean that Murran himself is in danger.

This third case in the tales of a very special FBI investigator provides a much different look and a larger challenge than Weggieware’s previous episodes. Where the prior games mixed photographic backgrounds with hand-drawn characters, this episode has switched to an entirely hand-drawn style. This eliminates the jarring contrast that somewhat marred the look of its predecessors. At the same time, the look of some scenes indicates that photographs have been used as the basis for the backgrounds, such as Murran’s hotel base. This would also appear to be the case with the character portraits used for conversations, Murran’s own appearance matching the photograph used in previous games. Animation is performed reasonably well, both for characters and faces during conversation, though there are occasional mismatches with character movement. The music provides a fairly simple background for the most part, though some specific locations have a more appropriate soundtrack, such as the rock that plays in the music store.

Given the lead character, it is unsurprising that the focus of the game is investigation. Using the standard four-cursor point-and-click system, you will move around town, interviewing the locals and looking for clues to what is happening in Lansdowne. Conversations usually open up new lines of enquiry, often pointing you in the direction of other characters that may be able to assist you. To help guide you across town, you have a GPS system which allows instant transport, though rather oddly for a GPS, only to places you have already been. Any time you discover something important, an automatic entry is made in your portable computer, allowing you to review what you have learned at any time. Later in the game you will find yourself getting more involved in the world of the supernatural than planned. This section includes at least one action sequence where the player will need reasonably quick reflexes.

Murran Chronicles Episode 3: Lifedrinker of Lansdowne can be downloaded from the AGS website.


Legends of Ooo

Rummaging around in a discount bin at a yard sale, the Ice King came across a wondrous book of Ice Magic. Never one to turn down a new opportunity to make mischief, he used the power of this book to freeze three princesses, Hot Dog Princess, Slime Princess and Princess Bubblegum. The spells in that same book are the only way to free the princesses from their icy incarceration. It is therefore up to two brave heroes, Finn and Jake, to break into the Ice Castle and steal the mystical tome.

 

Based on characters from the Cartoon Network series, Adventure Time, this is an ideal game for a genre introduction for the next generation of gamers. The graphics replicate the simple cartoon style of the original, with bright colours and simple line-drawn design. The two main characters’ exuberant running style is fluidly animated, with other characters having more limited animations generally fixed in a single location. The background music is a jaunty guitar piece that is also reminiscent of the TV music, though the character voices from the series are not used in the game.

With its children’s cartoon origins, this is not the most difficult of games. The simple point-and-click interface and generously sized hotspots mean that finding and using objects is an easy task. The puzzles themselves revolve around finding objects and either giving them to other characters or automatically combining them, such as creating Finn and Jake’s junk princess disguise. Dialogue will usually give a clear indication of what characters want, with the two leads themselves providing clues at certain points. There is also a hint system, with the limited hints available at the start being increased by collecting snails scattered throughout the land. Fans of the series will also have a chance to meet recurring characters such as wild but friendly Marceline the Goth rocker and the wicked Ice King himself.

Legends of Ooo can be played online at the Cartoon Network website.


RON: Alternate Reality – Note to Self

Next to the river Norm sits the famous town of Reality. Far out in space, in an entirely different dimension, sits Reality Station. One night, all crew members of this station have a strange dream involving a man they think looks like a well-known physicist. That man is none other than the magician Davy Jones, who has used his magical abilities to cross dimensions with a terrible warning. Back in his home town, the Baron’s experiments with the Orb of Ab-Normality risk tearing all realities apart. The only solution is for Elandra to send the Sorrow of M’roww across dimensions to her Reality-on-the-Norm counterpart, with instructions on how to avert disaster. But with incompatible technology, instructions will require pen and paper, which are difficult items to track down on such a technologically advanced vessel.

With this adventure, helios123 takes the long-running RON series in a whole new direction. The character models will be familiar to long-term fans of the series, almost all of them being alternate world counterparts of the series originals. This allowed the characters to be taken straight from the RON archives, with the familiar look and smooth animations built up over the years. The backgrounds will be less familiar, being a space station of metal corridors and space-viewing portholes. Whilst moderately low-resolution, these background graphics are effective and a good match for the character graphics. The music is generally space opera, though some locations have their own tunes, such as the muzak version of Linkin Park’s “Crawling” playing in a store.

For fans of the RON series, this game will prove both familiar and strange. Futuristic versions of many of the normal town locations appear here, such as the Y Brand store. The characters are similarly altered, with the Baron being good rather than evil, the Bum running a successful night club and Percival not having been shot dead by a vengeful chicken. Whilst this game operates in a standalone version of the RON universe, the cross-references make it at least advisable to play some of the previous games. To assist new players, the readme file includes a list of games specifically referenced. The tone maintains the slightly surreal humour typical of the series as you converse with the other people on board, trying to track down the items you need to send your vital message.

RON: Alternate Reality – Note to Self can be downloaded from the AGS website


Aurora 2

Since you escaped Red Hill Town and the mysterious show of Aurora that was to take place there, you’ve been trying to find out what happened. Travelling the Old West, your search for answers has only met with derision, others dismissing you as just another loon with a wild tale to tell. Now the Pinkerton Agency has tracked you down. Having lost a man in that ill-fated town themselves, they are equally eager to find out the truth. Hiring you and pointing you in the direction of their only lead, they hope you can get to the bottom of this mystery. You both might end up regretting what you find.

 

Pastel Games’ western story picks up where the previous episode left off. The look of the game is the same as its predecessor, with watercolour renderings of a dusty and at times broken down Wild West. These pictures are full of detail such as the collapsed timbers of a decaying house. Although welcome in setting the scene, this detail can lead to pixel hunting for the limited inventory items. Animations within these scenes are limited to inventory use, such as a bribe slipping into someone’s pocket. A mournful wind blows in the background, with an equally mournful guitar piece playing in most scenes.

A simple point-and-click interface is used, with inventory items being dragged onto the background or each other for use. Inventory application and exploration are usually the way forward, with dialogues serving as triggers for story events rather than puzzles in their own right. This is a horror game, as some actions result in the screen briefly fading into a far less pleasant version of the current location, often containing disturbing messages scrawled on walls. The slow fade between scenes does prevent them from causing any jump scares, however. It is highly recommended that you play the first episode prior to this one, as little of the story will make sense otherwise. Even with this, it would be fair to say that this episode does not bring the story to a full conclusion, sometimes raising more questions than it answers.

Aurora 2 can be played online at Game Nitro.


He Watches

When he first went missing, Sarah MacDonald was not initially worried about her boyfriend Oliver. It would not be the first time he disappeared for a few days without warning. Now, after being absent for a week, she has set out to find him. As night falls, she finds herself in the driveway of an old manor house, with no clear recollection of how she got there. Sure that the only reason for coming here was the pursuit of her quest, she ventures inside. The rooms are dark, voices whisper in the walls, and upstairs... upstairs, He watches!

This first playable chapter of a proposed larger game from WHAM provides a truly unnerving experience. The graphics are of moderate resolution, but once inside the house itself, the rooms only take up about half the screen, creating a claustrophobic atmosphere that suits the game well. There is very little light within the house, resulting in most rooms being dark and shadowy, though the contents are recognisable despite the darkness. The horror tone is further enhanced by the background of whispering noises, occasional sounds of crying and subtle but disturbing music.

The story is not for the faint-hearted either. The graphical and sound presentation is disquieting enough, but it gets worse once you start having text-only conversations with the whispering voices. These regularly refer to the presence waiting for you upstairs known as “He” and encourage you to go to him as soon as possible. The gameplay focus is on exploring this forbidding locale, with only a small amount of inventory use needed to progress.

He Watches can be downloaded from the AGS website.


The Unfolding Spider

You wake up in a grimy gas station bathroom, and you remember everything. You are on the hunt for a serial killer. Unless you aren’t. You are Robert Harrisford of Milk Drive, Waterbird County. Or maybe you’re somebody else. You’re certain of one thing though. You are out on a quest for revenge. Or was it redemption? Did I ever tell you the story of the Unfolding Spider?

 

True to their studio name, discordance have produced a game that is deliberately surreal and confusing. The graphics are pared down to the basics, mostly consisting of simple line drawings against a plain black or white background. Locations like the gas station are made up of distorted though recognisable shapes, and the people are simply bulked-out stick men. This creates a dark and disturbing atmosphere, making the handful of coloured scenes feel bright and refreshing, though the solid blocks of colour do not represent a great deviation from the general art style. The majority of the game has a sombre piano backing, with a lighter piece playing over the coloured scenes. A night club scene also includes dance music.

This is a game more to be experienced than played. The story twists and turns, with no guarantee that it will be clear even after the game is over. As such, this may not be a game that will appeal to all, as the deliberately tenuous links between plot events may leave some frustrated. For those with a taste for something unusual, the bizarre nature of the narrative can prove strangely fascinating. Progress through the game is linear, with the obstacles almost entirely overcome through dialogue choices between politeness and violence. There is also a very small inventory, used automatically or through dialogue. A rating is given at the end, based on how much the player used violence, but these ratings are as odd as the rest of the game.

The Unfolding Spider can be downloaded from the AGS website.


Hood: Episode 1

A girl has gone missing in the woods. They say she is a witch and has congress with one of the shades. They say she hexes all she passes and has a heart full of darkness. Thus I am called to investigate these accusations. Usually such things prove to be false; tales thought up by superstitious villagers. As I travel to the small village that is home to these stories, I pray that the same will be true this time around.

Hyptosis has taken the old tale of Red Riding Hood and given it a macabre twist. The art style will be familiar to players of the developer's previous Alice is Dead series. Played in first-person, the hand-drawn lines with good use of coloured shading paint a depressing picture, be it the alchemist’s shop or the fog-shrouded woods. This dismal tone is accented by an effect used to make the graphics appear like an old film. There is a gentle flickering throughout, with the picture occasionally jumping or even developing brief burn marks as if from a handful of damaged frames. The fairy tale basis of the story is well served by an eerie music box waltz for the background.

This game provides the same sort of twisted take on the classic fairy tale that the previous series did with Lewis Carroll’s story. The village is a grim place, with most of the local populace denouncing the hooded girl to varying degrees, only one being ready to defend her. Using basic point-and-click, your investigations involve talking to all of the inhabitants until you’ve pieced together enough information to venture out into the forbidding woods. This last step requires gathering inventory that will sometimes be difficult to locate, especially given the small size of the playable area. It is worth persevering, however, as the cliffhanger ending promises an interesting ongoing tale.

Hood: Episode 1 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.

The First Hero by FastGames – Go on an ancient Greek odyssey outwitting mythical creatures of legend.

The Rudest Party Guest by alllen – A debauched party receives an unwelcome guest in an adaptation of Poe’s The Masque of the Red Death. Requires the Unity plug-in downloadable from the game page.

To Hell and Back by Kayamon – Take a brief journey into Hades in this game made for the 48 hour Ludum Dare competition.

Homer Simpson Saw Game by inkagames – The villainous Pigsaw is at it again, this time assigning the Simpson patriarch the job of rescuing his family.

Edgestone by Flonga – Penetrate the secret facility of Edgestone to find the alien being held captive there.
 



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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