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Following Freeware: January 2012 releases

Following Freeware 18
Following Freeware 18

This month, a hugely popular series gets another two additions, with both a prequel and a sequel. Those wishing to undertake quests a little closer to home can play a geek pursuing love, a vampire seeking vengeance or an ordinary farm boy looking for a legendary artefact. Elsewhere, a were-bunny wishes to reverse his transformation, a rock fan wants to get to a concert and a hero just wants his quest to save the kingdom officially approved. Alternatively, you can travel into the past to thwart a nefarious cat, view events in reverse order to understand a brutal murder, or simply try to escape a mysterious manor house. All these await you in this month’s round-up of releases from the freeware scene.
 



Space Quest: Incinerations

by Rob Murrant

After 15 years of floating largely in the nether reaches of space, everyone’s favourite intergalactic janitor Roger Wilco returned in January for his third and fourth adventures in the last two months! First up is Space Quest: Incinerations, developed over a period of six years by Chris Ushko, who also helped create last month’s Vohaul Strikes Back. Incinerations is an original title that fits nicely into the SQ canon should you choose to overlook (or just not know about) a few pertinent details from Space Quest IV.

 

Incinerations has an interesting storyline that begins with Roger aboard a space cruiser that has just been attacked. When he finds his way to an escape pod, Roger recounts the tale of his unfortunate split from girlfriend Beatrice Wankmeister, who fell in love with someone else whilst he was off on another adventure. After a disastrous attempt to reconcile on the space station Aries 6, a broken-hearted Roger accepted this job, and only three weeks later now finds himself in his current predicament. During his escape, he learns of a plot to destroy the universe by a General Havoc, who just happens to be Beatrice’s new love interest, so Roger must make his way to the planet Halon in order to save the day again. Even that is only scratching the surface of a complex storyline. The plot takes several twists and turns along the way, but it never becomes overly convoluted and is well-paced throughout.

What I enjoyed most about Incinerations were the well-conceived puzzles and the superb 45-plus minutes of cinematics. The quality here is amazing, especially for a fan creation. Puzzles are logical and nicely balanced, becoming progressively more difficult as you progress. It starts out with some light puzzles such as making coffee, then ramps up to the likes of taking out a bathroom cleaning robot and eventually knocking out a hornet's nest of technical operators in a military base (which requires some very creative thinking). Most puzzles are inventory-based, but you won’t always use every item, as there are a few red herrings thrown in for good measure. The interface is familiar to SQ5 (though not exactly the same), using point-and-click controls that offer functions such as examine, pick up, talk, walk and use objects.

Characters are cel-shaded and look superb, while the backgrounds are often colourful and rendered in a 3D style that resembles a cross between SQ5 and 6, presented here at a rather limited 640x480 resolution. Unfortunately, there’s currently no voice pack, and for a game which otherwise offers so much cinematically, this is a disappointing omission. Hopefully this will be remedied in future, as for now the game just doesn’t feel entirely complete without it. Some of the background music is a matter of personal taste, at times sounding more like the motivational music for the local sports carnival than compelling sci-fi accompaniment. Production-wise the sound quality is good, however, so the issue is more a case of blending mood with music, which seems to be mismatched in places.

Putting aside these minor criticisms, Space Quest: Incinerations is one of the best fan made adventure games out there. Had it been released in the late ‘90s, it could easily have been a commercial spiritual sequel to Space Quest 6, with its top notch visuals, clever puzzles and an intriguing storyline that keep you coming back for more.

Space Quest: Incinerations can be downloaded from the developer’s website.


Donna: Avenger of Blood

Travelling in an unnamed Middle European country, Donna and Stephen have arrived at the capital. They stay in their town centre hotel room during the day, only venturing outside at night. All goes well until a gang of heavily armed thugs burst into their room, slaying Stephen and making Donna fall out of their high-storey window. But Donna is a vampire, and it will take more than a long fall to finish her off. Fleeing the scene, Donna vows to seek out and take revenge on those who killed her lover. It is a quest that will take her into the dark underside of local politics, and the reasons Stephen brought her to this place.

 

Blaze Dzikowski has created a noir horror tale that never fails to grip. The whole project has the appearance of a black-and-white film, with apparently real locations and people used. The perspective is third-person, with character animation for Donna and others smoothly accomplished. Insets are also used to provide close-ups of certain events, such as Donna baring her fangs to attack. The black-and-white presentation, together with the run-down appearance of many locations like the seedy motel where Donna hides out, serve to create a grim noir feel. Background sound is restricted to noises appropriate to the scene, such as the chatter of crowds or the rattle of a moving train.

Control is point-and-click, with a verb list and inventory at the bottom of the screen. There are also some minor role-playing elements in the form of three meters which rise and fall with player actions. The most important of these is blood, which is required for Donna to use her supernatural powers of hypnotism, superior strength and speed, and mind-reading. Your initial challenge is escaping the attack, with the daylight setting and complete lack of blood both hampering this task. This scene, as well as others later in the game, requires you to act with moderate speed. After this, the game moves more to an investigative style as you seek clues to your attackers. This involves dialogue, careful examination of inventory and code deciphering in order to find further information and unlock new locations. The tone is dark and the adult themes, including nudity in the opening, make this unsuitable for the young or faint-hearted. Death is possible, but with an immediate restart before the fatal action available.

Donna: Avenger of Blood can be downloaded from the developer’s website.


Nurse Quest: Love Hurts

There are many ways to find a partner. You can find someone with a common hobby. You can sit next to someone on a long-distance flight. You can even use a dating service. A much less recommended method is to electrocute yourself attempting to repair a gaming console and wind up in hospital. But for Geoff that is exactly how he came to meet the delectable nurse Julia. Discharged from hospital, he must now seek a way back in that will attract her attention and win her heart. After all, there is no way that deliberately inflicting painful personal injury could go wrong, is there?

 

Robot/Lizard have created a hilariously adult game of inadvisable actions in the pursuit of love. A high quality, semi-realistic cartoon style has been employed, with a wealth of detail in the background and full expressions on the slightly over-sized heads of the characters. Locations range from the hero’s messy flat to a joke shop and the local biker pub. All characters are fluidly animated, and background animations are equally effective. Background music is provided by a mellow soundtrack which, whilst of modern audio quality, is reminiscent of classic console game music. The new task sound effect also harks back to early console gaming, though other sound effects such as the ambulance siren are rendered more realistically.

The game is set over several chapters, each representing a new attempt at winning the fair nurse’s love. Control is simple point-and-click, with an on-screen button providing access to the inventory. A task manager is also available, which shows the main aim of the chapter, together with any secondary objectives you encounter to achieve this goal. There is also a hint button which provides a progressive series of clues for the next action. If you exhaust these you get the option to advance to a walkthrough written in the style of the lead character recounting his adventure. Dialogue and inventory are the main means of advancement, along with a couple of minigames, one of which requires a moderately quick mouse finger. Having been made for adult swim, this is definitely not a game for the young or those shocked by sexual humour.

Nurse Quest: Love Hurts can be played online at adult swim.


^ _^

Julian has an unusual problem. A strange spirit, seeking to change the world, has turned him into the first ever were-bunny. Stuck with stilted speech patterns, a wild temper, and a desire to bite and head-butt everything, Julian just wants to return to normal. Unfortunately, the only person who could lift this curse is the local witch, and she isn’t coming out until someone catches and returns her ambulant hair. If Julian is to go back to his former life, it looks like a little hunting is in order.

Taking place in a single scene, this latest production from Ben304 once again proves small packages can contain big adventure. The graphic style uses the early LucasArts look that will be familiar to anyone that has played his previous offerings. The nighttime scene is a grassy hilltop, and the only building in evidence is the witch’s tall distorted house. The game is decently animated throughout, especially the protagonist, whose look is reminiscent of Max from the Sam & Max games. The game is unvoiced but shouting is simulated by using a larger font and having the screen shake with the force of the words. Music is provided by an in-game source, a gramophone on the hill with a number of records available for it, including jazz and classical styles.

The gramophone serves more than one purpose, as locating and playing the different records are key to many of the puzzles. You will also converse with both the witch and some less obvious player characters. The were-bunny propensity to try to bite and head-butt everything also comes into play, as does the angry shouting. In addition to the gramophone records, you will acquire a small amount of other inventory to use and even decipher a spell. The writing is humorous throughout, and even actions that don’t advance your quest result in funny observations.

^_^ can be downloaded from the AGS website.


The Several Journeys of Reemus: Chapter 4 – The Beastly Blackhole of Bureaucracy

After many years trying to achieve the fame of his older brother, Reemus the Exterminator thinks he may finally have found a way. He and his blue furry companion Liam have stumbled across a race of death slugs from outer space. These alien beings have taken control of the vicious Gygax, and are even now sailing across the ocean to threaten the kingdom. If he can put a stop to this invasion, his place in legend is secured. The six-month waiting list to get this heroic endeavour approved by the Department of Heroic Quests could prove a problem, however.

 

The latest free Reemus instalment from ClickShake pits the comic fantasy hero against the wheels of bureaucracy rather than a mightier foe. Adopting the same bright cartoon style as previous episodes, the look will be instantly familiar to series fans. The art style may also be familiar to players of other games involving zeebarf, such as The Visitor, where the threatening death slugs originated. The characters are smoothly animated and background movement like lice crawling on an unclean stall keeper are equally well done. Sound mainly consists of effects appropriate to player actions, such as the thudding of fists, though the quest office has muzak playing.

To apply “on-line” and bypass the waiting list, Reemus and Liam have to undertake various small quests to gather the required submission material. These include getting endorsement of their hero credentials and providing a sample death slug to demonstrate the danger. Each of these challenges play as separate mini-quests, with a handful of locations each to explore. You will be faced with Rebus puzzle clues, inventory challenges and an ingenious challenge requiring the clever mixing and application of potions. As should be evident from the story setup, this is a satirical fantasy setting, with a light humorous tone, with no risk of death from even the most dangerous situation.

The Several Journeys of Reemus: Chapter 4 – The Beastly Blackhole of Bureaucracy can be played online at the developers’ website. The first commercial adventure for Reemus can also be obtained from the same site.


Back to the Cubeture: Era 2

Having previously followed him through time to the Wild West special agent Cuboy is once again in pursuit of the villainous cat, Esquire Padrino. Now the time warper has dropped them both back in ancient Greek times, in the vicinity of mighty Cubathens. With the time warper stolen by Hades and Padrino using a stolen communicator to help install himself as the Emperor’s new advisor, things look bleak for Cuboy. But with a cheery song and an ego that knows no limit, he’s not the sort of chap that will let such setbacks keep him down for long.

Edible Castle’s ongoing adventures of the cuboid hero prove as bizarre and outlandish as ever. The isometric cartoon view proves an unusual style, with everything from people to plants presented in a cubic fashion, the whole display resting on a large cube projecting from the bottom of the screen. Whilst this look is far from ordinary, objects and characters are clearly recognisable even in these distorted forms. When a new scene is entered, all scenery and characters fly off the top of the screen to be replaced by those appropriate to the new location. Locations include the noble Cubathens, as well as the gladiatorial arena and the forbidding underworld. Background music is subtle, largely consisting of simple a capella rhythms. The game is fully voiced to a good standard, with captions and a headshot of the character speaking appearing at the top of the screen.

Given a feline villain with a Spanish accent and a hero whose supply of jollity is surpassed only by his enormous ego, this is clearly not a game meant to be taken seriously. Using the mouse for movement and interaction, you will search Cubathens for the means to stop Padrino, retrieve the time warper and return to your own time. You must make use of inventory and the environment in your quest for success. You can also unlock outfits for Cuboy to wear, many of which give you special abilities or otherwise open up new interactions vital to progress. These range from his fairly normal default shirt and tie to a surreal “mouse-with-man-arms” outfit. There are also some minigames like a ship-fighting game that require a certain amount of timing and dexterity. Failure simply results in being thrown out of that minigame with the option to try again immediately if desired.

Back to the Cubeture: Era 2 can be played online at the developers’ website.


Enter the Realm

All you wanted to do was go see your favourite band, Iced Earth, in concert. You had the ticket; you had the clothing. You were all ready for a big night out. Then your parents decided to ground you, taking your ticket and locking you in your room. But no true fan would let a little setback like this keep them from their rock heroes. Time to engage in a little lateral thinking.

 

This game from Macedonian studio Rainbow Entertainment shows that even everyday situations can be catalysts for adventure. The presentation is a first-person slideshow format with photographic stills of the various locations. These include your room, a local cafe bar and a fortune teller. Some inventory items have been painted onto scenes with mixed results, while other times two photographs are used, one displaying an item followed by one without when the object is acquired. The game is fully voiced in decent English, though with noticeable accents, supplemented by subtitles throughout. Background sound is appropriate to the location, with rock music and voices at the cafe and a more mystical tune at the fortune teller’s.

Control is simple point-and-click. The cursor changes its look over a hotspot, becoming a pointing arrow when a new scene is available in that direction. Clicking hotspots simply results in an appropriate action or comment, with no secondary action selection required. Inventory can be moved onto the screen or other inventory items and a map button appears when more than one main location is available. Puzzles mainly revolve around locating and using inventory, often obtaining items at another character’s request. You also need to solve a combination code and seek assistance through dialogue. All the while, the tone throughout is light and gently comedic.

Enter the Realm can be downloaded from the developers’ website.


Space Quest -1: Decisions of the Elders

by Rob Murrant

In contrast to the visual luxury of Incinerations is a game that resembles the earliest Space Quest adventures, though it’s really a prequel to all of them. Space Quest -1: Decisions of the Elders utilizes a retro lo-res presentation which is consistent with the original 1980s games and stars Jerry Wilco (Roger’s father), though it’s thankfully controlled with a point-and-click interface rather than the traditional text parser of the time. While many remakes now adopt VGA or better as a standard, here the aesthetic seem to sit somewhere between the original versions of SQ2 and 3, removing some of the more garish visuals of the former but in keeping with its rather minimalistic art style. Usually I’m against the use of CGA-style pixel art in modern games, but what’s here has been nicely presented, especially when a filter is applied from the set up options.

Decisions of the Elders starts with Jerry Wilco and his bride-to-be Julia searching for a planet where they can get married when their spaceship suddenly malfunctions and forces them to abandon ship. Jerry and Julia become separated as they’re beamed to an unknown nearby planet, and Jerry must spend his time searching for his better half. That won’t be easy, however, as he finds himself trapped between the top of a cliff plateau and a fast moving river. Jerry’s only company is himself (unless you count the termites he steps on), as there are no characters to meet. Unlike Roger, Jerry Wilco seems a little less… goofy in comparison, and a bit more like a normal adventurer rather than the bumbling hero that his future son is destined to become. With only five screens to explore and no character interactions, we don’t learn much about the protagonist just yet, but this game is only the first episode of Jerry Wilco’s ongoing adventure.

Despite its limited scope, this is a short but tricky game. The puzzles themselves are fairly elementary, and for the most part you spend a lot of time just trying to figure out what to do next and making your way through a few relatively straightforward challenges that involve collecting inventory and using them on the environment or other items. The difficulty comes from finding certain key hotspots, which require Jerry to be standing very near to them to use, making their purpose somewhat misleading if you’re too far away. You also will need to search high and low to find some concealed items, and although there are clues to uncovering them, you are more likely to find hidden hotspots by accident rather than through any process of deduction.

Where there is a musical score present (and there are only one or two occasions), it’s employed to nice effect using some classical sounding piano arrangements and melodies. Sound effects come into play when collecting items or solving puzzles, usually with a reward chime to underline your achievement. Ambient effects are of good quality and resemble those in some of the later Space Quest VGA games. Play time can last anywhere between ten minutes to an hour, depending on how easily you find the hotspots and can decipher the rudimentary puzzles. Overall, whilst not perfect, I quite enjoyed my half hour with the game, which gave me a fun nostalgia buzz for the rest of the evening.

Space Quest -1: Decisions of the Elders can be downloaded from the developer’s website.


Rew

A deformed figure flees the scene of a vicious murder, leaving behind an old woman brutally beaten to death on the bed. What could have brought someone to commit such a horrible crime? The only way to find out is to rewind time to see the events leading up to this deadly scenario. Perhaps the past will hold the key to what brought the participants to this unpleasant conclusion.

 

In this reverse-order adventure, Fast Games and BeGamer have created a tale where all is not as it first appears. The graphics are done a simple cartoon style, with characters largely depicted in silhouette. Enhanced detail is only included for facial features and to make important items identifiable. The background of all scenes is a blurred and disturbing purple mist, fitting the horror tone of the story. The game begins in the house where the murder takes place, with later scenes including a rooftop and a deep chasm. The animation is as simple as the graphics, though effective in conveying the action. There is a disquieting background tone, with an equally unsettling bouncing noise when a scene is completed and the player hops back in time.

Using simple point-and-click controls, the game is effectively a series of very short chapters. As these segments play in reverse chronological order, the objective in all but the first chapter is to create the situation as it appeared at the beginning of the previous scene. There is no inventory, and the player, though ostensibly controlling the murderer, is sometimes able to directly move things outside the character’s reach. The resulting puzzles are fairly simple, with the pleasure of the game largely derived from unlocking the truth behind the crime as you come to understand what triggered the player character’s actions.

Rew can be played online at Fast Games and BeGamer.


The Dwarven Dagger of Blitz: Chapter 2

Sent out to seek fame in the world by the mysterious North Star, Trevor Lostpick has wound up at the base of Kriegson Castle. Within lies the fabled Dwarven Dagger of Blitz, an artefact that will surely aid him in achieving his goal. His investigations have led him to a secret entrance to the castle, though a magical barrier still bars the way. Focused on his personal mission, little does Trevor suspect that greater forces might be at work around him.

 

The second chapter of Miguel Santos’s tale marks a definite upgrade from the first chapter. The most obvious improvement is in the graphics, with the slightly crude look of the original replaced with a smooth line-drawn style here. Trevor is now a properly proportioned and detailed young man, with backgrounds still presented in a cartoon style but also rendered more realistically. Trevor starts off at the secret cave entrance, but by the end of the game has penetrated to the grand halls of the castle itself. Background music has a light fantasy tone, with more dramatic music played during appropriate scenes.

This instalment continues where the previous game left off, though a text review of events to date means there is no requirement to play its predecessor. Trevor meets characters from the first chapter, such as the mysterious Benny the Invisible, and you learn more about the overall game world this time around. Using the standard AGS four-cursor interface, you will use a small inventory and solve a strange riddle to enter the castle. You must also face the castle wizard in a magical combat challenge that mimics insult sword-fighting. There are occasions when death is possible, so regular saving is advised. The tone is largely serious fantasy, though there are lighter moments of dialogue throughout.

The Dwarven Dagger of Blitz: Chapter 2 can be downloaded from the AGS website.


The Endless Night

For travelling bard Gintvilas, the remote manor house seemed his only chance for rest and shelter from a raging storm. Gaining entrance, he finds the place devoid of life, though signs of recent occupancy abound. He may soon wish he had stayed out in the storm, as the manor proves to be reluctant to let him leave. Using his wits and knowledge of tales, Gintvilas must strive to engineer a way out, or remain trapped here forever.

 

Made in 48 hours for Global Game Jam, this production from Fallen Feather Studio shows what can be achieved in such a short time. The graphics are low-res but effective, with good lighting effects such as the glow of candles in the main hallway. Locations are limited to the handful of rooms within the manor itself, with good use of textures to create a wood panelling effect on the walls. The main character is also decently animated. The music is a simple melancholy guitar piece that suits the abandoned feel of the manor, and there are a handful of sound effects like footsteps on the wooden floor.

Control is mouse-driven, using left-click for interacting and right-click for looking. Examining items carefully is vital, as necessary clues are often included within descriptions. Gintvilas soon discovers a magic portal that seems to offer a way out, and puzzles revolve around activating this portal in different ways, using inventory, discovered spell words and some clever lateral thinking. The tone is serious fantasy, with Gintvilas becoming increasingly frustrated with his predicament at each failed attempt to escape.

The Endless Night can be downloaded from the AGS 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.

Stray Whisker – A cat must find its way back across town to the girl who loves it in this game made in 48 hours for Ludum Dare.

Orpheus by Mitchell Brien and Finnian Millour – Experience an artistic retelling of the classic Greek myth, reminiscent of Loom.

Escher by Mike West – An old man alone at home on a stormy night has a strange experience. Made in 24 hours for Ludum Dare.

King William’s Chocolate Challenge by Historic Royal Palaces – Deliver the royal frothing spoon so King William III can enjoy his hot chocolate.

Return to Jimmy Nest by Games2P – A mouse caught by humans goes to great lengths to return to his home.

/follow by 01101101 – Getting some time to yourself is not easy when you have a 24 hour bodyguard.

Indiana Jones and the Passage of Saints by Screen 7 – Journey to Greece and beyond with Indy in this short from the developers of Indiana Jones and the Fountain of Youth.
 



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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