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Following Freeware: December 2011 releases

Following Freeware 17
Following Freeware 17

This month, fans of a popular Sierra series bring us both an enhanced remake and an entirely new episode, while two popular freeware series get a new instalment each. Horror lovers can face a strange disaster in a large city, flee into a house even more dangerous than their pursuer or become a hideous monster from outer space. Those preferring lighter fare can enjoy an educational children’s game about mobile devices, a light-hearted quest for a train ticket or the tale of a mercenary pirate seeking to save his sister. Alternatively, you can pursue harmony among a spaceship crew, explore the wonders of the city of Loondon, or seek an old flame in a decidedly odd hotel. All these await you in this month’s round-up of releases from the freeware scene.
 



Space Quest: Vohaul Strikes Back

by Rob Murrant

If you’ve anxiously been awaiting a new Space Quest instalment since 1995, at long last there’s a brand new adventure to play this month. Vohaul Strikes Back is a fan game that has been worked on for more than ten years by a devout group of developers determined to release their own chapter in the popular saga. VSB takes place immediately after Vohaul’s defeat in Space Quest IV, allowing Vohaul to re-enter the storyline by being backed up to disk up by his minions and sent back through time, just before the destruction of the computer mainframe in which he was residing. Unfortunately for Vohaul, his underlings are the not-so-bright ape men (from SQ2), who restore him in a less-than-orderly fashion. Meanwhile, Roger Wilco is vacationing with his beloved girlfriend Beatrice Wankmeister on the planet Romanticon VII, but when their holiday is rudely interrupted, the two of them eventually make their way to the planet Radon, where Vohaul is currently hiding out.

 

Visually, VSB is like a combination of SQ5 and 6, with the former’s pastel-painted backdrops and rich vivid colours, all done in a higher resolution than any of the original series’ titles. The sprites more closely resemble those in Space Quest 6, feeling somewhat out of place against the backgrounds. Despite the graphical mismatch, once you start playing it’s not off-putting in any way, and once you’re well into the story you’ll barely even notice the two contrasting styles. Combined with an excellent soundtrack and effects, slick point-and-click interface and clever, amusing storyline, there’s little to complain about VSB’s production quality. The only thing missing from the equation is character speech and narration, though the developers have stated their intention to implement this as an add-on at a later stage.

Puzzles are well done, being challenging enough for even the most determined player but gentle enough for novices to make a reasonable amount of progress. VSB continues the parody style of humour found in all the other Space Quest titles, making it feel like it could be an original Sierra extension to the SQ canon. It all adds up to an enjoyable game that gets its hooks into you quickly and doesn’t let go. When compared to other modern titles, all it lacks are cinematic cutscenes, voiceovers and perhaps a slightly more coherent art style, but these are minor issues for a free game a decade in the making. With these things it quite possibly could have passed for a commercial game, and an enjoyable one at that. As it is, Vohaul Strikes Back is an excellent indie release, and one that no Space Quest fan should miss.

Space Quest: Vohaul Strikes Back can be downloaded from the developer’s website.


Space Quest II Remake

by Rob Murrant

If you just can’t get enough Space Quest (and who can?), you can also revisit Space Quest II in an enhanced remake. The original SQ2 really worked as both a synthesis and parody of several major science fiction films, from Star Wars to Planet of the Apes. Thrusting the mop of destiny back into his hands, the game featured lowly janitor Roger Wilco as the protagonist once again, while a humanoid being named Sludge Vohaul – who looks like an overweight Darth Vader with his face mask removed – sought revenge against Roger for foiling his galaxy-dominating plot in the first game. In the sequel, being the nasty piece of work that he is, Vohaul put in motion a plot to kidnap Roger and force him into a life slavery in the off-world mines on the planet Labion, to be followed by an even more fiendish plan to launch an army of genetically engineered insurance salesmen who take their motto “We won’t take no for answer” literally.

Revisiting Vohaul’s Revenge in its original 1987 form now results in a game that is barely playable, with its horrid EGA graphics and a terrible soundtrack played through the internal PC speaker (which has to be emulated through DOSBox), while the keyboard controls and text parser are difficult to use and the main cause of frequent death. Needless to say, things haven’t aged particularly well in SQ2 Thankfully, the indie team at Infamous Adventures have turned their sights from King’s Quest to remake the game with overhauled graphics and sound, an interface redesign to point-and-click, and a few other crucial in-game changes for a much more appealing, accessible experience.

The remake stays true to the original version, whilst improving just about every possible element of the game. The best part about the new version is… well, everything! It includes lush new VGA-inspired graphics, a great soundtrack and effects, and it rids the game of its painful keyboard reliance with its mouse-based interface. The latter significantly improves playability, but also makes the game significantly easier to complete and shortens the time spent playing it. A few other changes have been made, most of them cosmetic, but kept intact are the original dead ends, for better or worse. There’s still no auto save included, unfortunately, which is a bit of an oversight in a game that requires frequent saving with so many ways to die. Still, these are minor issues and for the most part Space Quest II is an excellent remake with a decent set of puzzles to solve and the same great humour as always. And best of all, it’s free!

Space Quest II Remake can be downloaded from the developer’s website.


Captain Zaron and the Trials of Doom

By spilling the blood of the maiden most fair (or possibly the one with the most bears; legends are unclear) the evil wizard Mulduralm plans to rain down destruction on the kingdom of Saint CrabFloss. Unfortunately for the lovely Elsa, she meets both of the necessary criteria and faces sacrifice at midnight. But being as quick-witted as she is beautiful, all is not lost. Using sibling telepathy, Elsa calls on the aid of her brother, the feared pirate mercenary Captain Zaron. He won’t let his sister die if he can help it, and if risking hideous injury and death is required to save her, then so be it.

 

This game from Studio Meristem is a tongue-in-cheek affair with graphics presented in a slightly stylised cartoon style, the characters having large round eyes and bodies slightly out of proportion with their legs. The models are smoothly animated, particularly Zaron’s running movement. The Captain also has an idle animation, where his arms restlessly twitch and his eyes constantly look around him. In conversations you get a close up of the character speaking along with the dialogue. Locations include Elsa’s lush forest home, a trackless desert and the forbidding castle of Mulduralm. The opening cutscene is fully voiced, but after that sound is limited to background noises suitable to the scene, such as waves washing the shore, and action effects like ringing a bell. There is also a tone that plays whenever the player accomplishes something to advance in the game.

The game pays humorous homage to past classics, most notably King’s Quest, though Zork and Myst also feature. The most obvious Sierra influence is the sudden death scenes, though this game includes an Undo button, allowing players to take back the fatal action. Control is point-and-click, with an on-screen button or keystroke cycling through the various action cursors. A Zip mode is available, allowing immediate movement from scene to scene rather than waiting for the walking animation. Early on you acquire a spell book, with collected spells being selected later to perform as actions. Puzzles range from simple inventory application to clever spell use and operating various mechanisms. There are two mazes, the large one including a welcome auto-map feature. You will also engage in simple arcade-style swordfighting and will sometimes need to act quickly. The combat sections have two difficult settings, with the Easy setting allowing them to be bypassed if you fail enough times.

Captain Zaron and the Trials of Doom can be played online at the developer’s website.


Quasar

On the spaceship Quasar, tensions are running high. Cooped up together for long periods in space, the crew are starting to get on one another’s nerves. The latest argument has proved too much, with each of the crew stalking off to different parts of the ship. As the medical officer, you see it as part of your job to soothe tensions between the crew, but bringing these warring characters back together will be no easy task.

Crystal Shard have created a science fiction tale whose restricted setting proves no obstacle to telling a compelling story. The various compartments of the ship are presented in a semi-realistic fashion from an isometric view. Locations include the ship’s sleep machine room and the rather hazardous looking engine room, containing the giant coil that powers the ship. The five crew members all have a distinctive look, making them easy to recognise at a glance. This is further enhanced by the large and detailed character portraits that appear on-screen during conversations, including limited mouth animations for talking. The soundtrack features a variety of dramatic sci-fi tunes, one for each of the characters.

Starting off with only one character available, the object of the game is to bring all of them around so you can redirect the ship for some much needed leisure time. Doing so using a single-click interaction involves paying attention to dialogue and character observations to get an understanding of what makes each person tick. Once you have persuaded someone to help sort things out, a dialogue option becomes available that allows you to switch control to that character. You can also hand objects to amenable characters to move inventory from person to person. Each individual has their own skills and starting inventory, all of which will prove useful in achieving the ultimate goal. The game also features an instant walk feature, with a right-click immediately moving the character to the cursor without waiting for them to walk across the moderately large rooms.

Quasar can be downloaded from the developer’s website.


Digiwoog Disaster

On Woogi World, Jett Woogman is the Woogi you call when something needs investigating. When a strange craft falls out of the sky in a remote area, Dr Wiggenstein calls on this hero to find out what it is. Using the doctor’s jetpack, Jett should be able to get to the crash site in no time. Unfortunately, the good doctor lent his jetpack to his less-than-brilliant assistant Weegor, who has lost the various components. Perhaps the latest hand-held device, the Digiwoog, and the many apps that can be downloaded for it will help Jett piece together the jetpack and solve the mystery.

 

A spin-off from the Woogi World online game, this light adventure aims to teach kids about the joys and dangers of mobile devices. Keeping its target audience in mind, the graphics are done in a brightly coloured cartoon style. The Woogi inhabitants are lozenge shaped with faces on them, floating hands and legs poking out the bottom. The backgrounds are all nicely detailed, be it the futuristic doctor’s lab or the junkyard home of his assistant. The game is fully voiced to a good standard, with the exception of Weegor, who communicates using illustrated signs. Gentle music forms the background, with some tunes proving eerily familiar, such as a reworked version of the Godfather theme at a local crime lord’s home.

As befits an adventure aimed at children the tone is light, with a gentle humour. This simple point-and-click game is intended to be the first in a series, and in this episode you’ll gain a handful of apps for your Digiwoog, all of which prove useful at some point in your quest. You’ll also rescue a hapless Woogi who gave out her password and is now locked out of her own account by a malicious hacker. As well as using the Digiwoog, you’ll solve a dialogue puzzle and some standalone challenges, such as a coin-sorting test. Once retrieved, the jetpack is also used in a simple keyboard operated minigame. The challenge is well suited to young players, though adults may still get some fun from the humour of the setting.

Digiwoog Disaster can be played online at Newgrounds.


Wretcher

On a dark and stormy night, a man flees from a shadowy figure bent on his destruction. Seeking shelter in a run-down house, the man hides from his mysterious pursuer. But his choice of sanctuary may prove even more dangerous than the threat he was fleeing from. Creatures lurk in the walls, mystical symbols are painted on the floor and an imposing stone gate sits at the centre. What lies beyond the gate may make him wish for a quick death.

 

Alan v Drake’s short horror tale proves a truly unnerving experience. The moderately low-resolution rooms and corridors of the abandoned house are lit solely by candlelight, supplemented by occasional bursts of lightning in the windowed rooms, making for a foreboding atmosphere. Many rooms and hallways take up only a small proportion of the screen, adding to the claustrophobic feel. The contents are no less unsettling, with one room in particular presenting a horrific vista as a result of a certain player action. As well as sound effects like thunder, the background audio is less music and more a collection of subtly disturbing noises.

You will navigate this house of horrors using the standard four-cursor controls. Initially you will solely be looking for a way to escape your ghoulish stalker, but once this is solved you will delve further into the strange building you’ve ended up in. Inventory use and combination is the key to most of the puzzles, though a keen eye on the environment to spot useful places to use objects is also a plus. This is not to say the game consists of pixel hunting, as hotspots are distinct from their surroundings and decently sized for interaction. You will also need to use rapid button clicking to escape peril at one stage. There are a few places where your character can meet his end, but an immediate restart is available in all cases. The story has enough to prove satisfying to finish, whilst whetting the appetite for a proposed larger game to come.

Wretcher can be downloaded from the AGS website.


Fribbeldib

Whilst his parents jet around the world, Jarem is content to hang around at home doing nothing. Then he receives news that his rich aunt has died suddenly and her affairs need to be put in order. With his parents unreachable, Jarem is ready to take on the task, with the thought of a hefty inheritance only partly in mind. Unfortunately, without such an inheritance, Jarem is a bit short on the funds needed for the train journey to his aunt’s home in the small town of Dandledare. Looks like Jarem will have his work cut out for him if he is going to address his aunt’s final wishes.

 

60pm has created a game that makes up in charm what it may lack in looks. The backgrounds often have odd perspectives and are fairly low-resolution. Despite this, the majority of objects are generally recognisable, with the look-at cursor option quickly resolving any others. Some areas also appear to have elements scanned from photographs, making for a more realistic look. Characters are highly pixelated, with individual large squares for eyes and blocky outlines. The limited animations work reasonably well with these, as actions like Jarem adjusting his jacket display clearly. The background music is a variety of jaunty tunes that vary from location to location.

What really makes the game a pleasure to play is its sense of humour. Dialogue options are littered with irrelevant but witty exchanges and examining many objects produces an amusing response. Once you’ve found a phone you can not only call any number you find, but dialling random numbers allows you to make a whole series of prank calls. Even simply looking in your mirror produces a funny, breaking-the-fourth-wall moment. This game proves to be just the first chapter of the action, with the suspicious nature of your aunt’s death shown in the opening cutscene not addressed as yet. Instead, you’ll use inventory and dialogue in order to acquire the ticket you need. There is also a tough Sudoku-style challenge, though clues to this are available in-game for the alert player.

Fribbeldib can be downloaded from the AGS website.


The Visitor Returns

In their fictional depiction, aliens often come in one of two types. The first are the benevolent aliens who wish only peace and to share their advanced technology with us. The Visitor is definitely of the second type, bent on gruesomely slaying every living thing it comes across. Worse, it also builds the special abilities of its victims into its own form, making it an ever more efficient killer. Taking the role of this vicious creature, can you lay waste to the locals at a remote trailer site?

This sequel to The Visitor from zeebarf is not for the young or faint-hearted. The graphics feature a semi-realistic cartoon style, with the residents of this planet depicted in proportion and with full expression. The animations are well done, such as the slow slithering movement of the Visitor’s initial slug form and the rapid movements of a raccoon. The Visitor’s attacks are rendered in an extremely gory fashion, entering its prey’s body by some means before bursting out in a new configuration. To back up this horrific action are some suitably squishy sound effects, together with a subtle and disturbing piece of background music straight out of a science-fiction horror movie.

Controlled through a basic point-and-click interface, the Visitor starts off in quite a vulnerable state as a small slug-like being. Players must therefore start out subtly, using the alien’s limited ability to move small objects remotely to distract its prey. As it gains more abilities over the course of the game, like skunk spray and spider-web shooting, it becomes more able to tackle foes directly, though it can still be killed if you are not careful. Fortunately, such deaths result in the current scene simply resetting, rather than a game over event. For most of the game, an appropriate ability is automatically selected when a clicked interaction requires its use. In the final puzzle, where a wide variety of abilities are available, players are given full control over the abilities to use, with six different hideous deaths to be found for its last victim.

The Visitor Returns can be played online at Kongregate.


11-11-11

It’s 11:11pm in the big city when suddenly the power and the telephones both fail. For insomniac high-rise dweller James, this sudden interruption of his music is an incident that merits investigation. But on the otherwise empty streets, a strange dark-suited man insists that he stay inside, and mysterious explosions begin rocking the city. Something very dangerous is wandering about in the dark tonight, and a lack of music is soon the least of James’s worries. With a handful of his fellow citizens, now he must seek safe passage from the city before it’s too late.

 

Screen 7 has produced a sci-fi tale that is dark in all senses of the word. Both the city setting and the characters inhabiting it are presented in full 3D, though with a moderate resolution. The views are displayed in third-person, with wide city vistas for scene transitions and ground-level shots for the more interactive areas. Character portraits during conversations are also 3D, with basic animation to show the person talking. Apart from some sliding when characters move long distances, the animation is reasonably done, with the individuals scaling down as they move further from camera. The audio background befits the dark sci-fi setting, with ominous tones and sound effects.

At the start of the game, the four-cursor point-and-click controls are used to investigate limited hotspots to find out what is going on. As you discover more about the disaster that has struck, you will acquire various companions. These companions often follow you around, occasionally providing hints and insights of their own into the situation. You will also acquire a small inventory, though a sharp eye is sometimes necessary to spot collectable items. This inventory forms the backbone of the puzzles, though some careful exploration is also needed to progress. Whilst the streets are hazardous, the protagonist flees danger automatically, though the game auto-saves anyway. The linear progress of the plot may frustrate some players, but this ensures that the story revelations are revealed in a coherent way.

11-11-11 can be downloaded from the AGS website.


Night and Day

The Realiser, sole newspaper for the town of Reality-on-the-Norm, has received a strange advertisement. With the Grim Reaper long having quit his day job to become zombie Mayor Gower’s right-hand entity, there is a vacancy in the realm of the supernatural. Now it looks like someone is aiming to fill that vacancy, with collection of souls required as proof of ability for the job. When Elandra finds both Davy Jones and Mika have gone missing, she fears the worst. Is Reality in danger?

HandsFree’s addition to the long-running game setting is a worthy addition to the canon. The game makes full use of the RON archive of characters and locations, and the medium resolution graphics will be instantly familiar to fans of the series. You’ll visit many recognisable locations, including the town square, Yahtzeebrand store (now selling Yummy Yaks) and Elandra’s own home. Music is limited to in-game examples, such as the muzak that plays in the store or the more mellow sounds of the bum’s alley-located jukebox.

Using the standard four-cursor point-and-click controls, players must navigate Elandra around town, trying to track down Davy and Mika and solve the mystery of the genesis of the odd advert. In doing so, you will face combination locks, dialogue challenges and an intriguing recipe riddle. There are also standalone challenges, such as spotting three unique and vital volumes in the crammed shelves of the local bookstore. The whole affair is carried off with the trademark surreal humor for which the series is so well known.

Night and Day can be downloaded from the RON website.


Loondon

In a world that has little time for outcasts, Jonah “The Hunch” has only ever known life in a travelling fair. Then one day the wind carried a flyer to his big top home, telling of the wonders of Loondon and the celebration to be held there. Determined to see this wonder for himself, Jonah set off to travel to the legendary city. But with his obvious physical deformity on show for all to see, would he find acceptance in such a place?

 

Flip-n-Tale Games have created an artistic and thought-provoking little game. The look is of an ink drawing, with the uncoloured part in some backgrounds appearing like aged paper. Whilst Jonah and those willing to directly interact with him are shown in full detail, the aloof aristocratic citizens are shown in silhouette, their appearance mirroring that of upper class Victorians. Both detailed and silhouetted characters are smoothly animated, as are the mechanisms you come across. The conversations throughout the game are represented by pictures in talk bubbles rather than words. Transition from scene to scene is handled with mostly black screens styled after silent movie captions. These include a small depiction of Jonah and a rhyming description of that part of his journey. The musical background at the fair is suited to the circus-like setting, with tunes reminiscent of a Victorian music box in most other locations.

With hotpots limited in number and clearly highlighted, progressing through the puzzles will not prove a challenge to the experienced gamer. There is a mechanism that proves quite simple to operate and some limited environmental interaction, though no inventory is maintained. The player is thus free to appreciate the somewhat melancholy tale of Jonah pursuing his dream, and the rejection his physical appearance brings him. This builds to a sad but effective ending, with Jonah’s ultimate fate very much in keeping with the way the world treats him throughout.

Loondon can be played online at Games Free.


Maniac Mansion Mania 40: Trapped in the Cellar

If Dave hadn’t lost the tickets, he and Sandy would be on their way to a Razor gig. Unfortunately, an ill-advised search of the cellar left the couple trapped when the door accidentally locked behind them. With Dave’s absent-minded father failing to hear their calls for rescue, it is up to Razor to save the day and get all three of them to the performance on time.

RayMan brings the 40th episode of this extensive series of fan-made sequels to English-speaking gamers. The graphics include slightly higher resolution versions of the original Dave, Sandy and Razor, though all are readily recognisable for fans of the LucasArts original. This game also includes cameos from familiar characters like Weird Ed Edison, as well as new characters, such as Dave’s bald-headed and absent-minded father Robert. The music covers a wide range of styles, from a gentle in-house piece to a more rocking tune for Razor’s entrance.

Using the verb list carried over from the original Maniac Mansion, Razor must scour the house and surrounding area for a means of freeing Dave and Sandy. Inventory plays a key role in many puzzles, though there is also some dialogue and a combination to resolve. Razor’s comments when interacting with certain items can give some clues on what to do, with other dialogue also pointing the way. Whilst mostly played straight, the game also shows flashes of the surreal humour of its inspiration, especially at times such as a strange discovery in the shower.

Maniac Mansion Mania 40: Trapped in the Cellar can be downloaded from the Maniac Mansion Mania website.


Myosotis: Chapter 1

If there’s one thing a private investigator cannot resist, it is a call for help from a damsel in distress. And if that damsel in distress is an old flame, nothing can hold him back. But when answering that call leads to a hotel with a lift that operates itself, a single guest room and secret passages leading to strange and unsettling locations, maybe this is one call that should have been ignored.

 

This opening chapter of a series from Mark Marin is a surreal beginning. The initial setting has the feel of a noir detective movie, with grey-scale rainy streets presented in a minimalist style. The protagonist appears almost entirely as a silhouette, in trench coat and wide-brimmed hat, leaning forward and walking with a determined stalking motion. Once inside the hotel, while the basic graphic style and colouring is maintained, things take an odd turn as the rooms start to resemble some sort of strange laboratory complex. Text representing the lead character’s internal dialogue appears at the bottom of the screen. This is displayed as if being typed on a manual typewriter, though the speed may lead some players to move to the next scene, missing out on the full comment. A nicely sung but sad song provides the background to proceedings.

Using a basic point-and-click interface, you initially simply have to walk from scene to scene. Once you have entered the only room in the hotel, however, you are faced with a series of challenges to open a door to the next location. These vary from selecting the desired objects from a number on display to working out a combination sequence. The challenges appear largely abstract, and only in the closing moments of the game will you get any idea of what is going on. The story in this chapter is largely limited to reminiscences of the past, though the ending does hold promise of an intriguing ongoing plot to be continued later on.

Myosotis: Chapter 1 can be played online at Cool Buddy.
 



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.

Sneak Thief 4 by Pastel Games – Puzzle your way into an airborne lab in this latest instalment in the series.

Max Strong: Private Investigator by esthetix and bbrusi – Solve a mysterious theft as the eponymous sleuth.

Bart Simpson Island Escape by inkagames – When a prank gone wrong strands him on remote island, Bart must use his wits to escape.

The Wok by BeGamer – When monsters steal the mystical Wok, a quest begins to retrieve the powerful totem.

Obama and Pigsaw’s gift by inkagames – Pigsaw is unhappy about being on Santa’s naughty list, and blackmails the US president into dealing with the problem.

Robot Mom by Fast Games – Join a poor little robot on a quest to find out where he comes from.
 



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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