This month you can descend into the ruins of an ancient civilisation or rise up from the roots of an old tree. Escape fans can try to get off a runaway subway train or attempt to flee a small room watched over by a masked figure. Cat lovers can pay a visit to a famous feline circus owner, or become a cat themselves in a quest to save its home. Alternatively, you can take a trial run at a job in a bar, or simply find out how strange things can get after a night of drinking. All these await you in this month’s roundup of releases from the freeware scene.
The island republic Britannia has declared war, and a group of Germanian and Slavic archaeologists head for home. All except one, the nobleman Vsevolod Nikolaevich Peremishlov. From his decade-long pursuit of artifacts from Svarog the Creator, he is sure the vaults of the svarostan on Obzorye Island contain what he seeks. Delving deeper into the ruins he discovers ancient technology and magics that may well prove to be what he desires. But some things are better left undisturbed, and Vsevolod may come to regret what he has uncovered.
Svarun Studios’ first release is an impressive piece of work, serving as a prologue to a proposed much larger game. Backgrounds are hand-painted in a beautifully realistic style, from the mountaintop at the start to a misty graveyard and on to the dark vaults below the ruins. These also include animations, such as the sea washing on the beach. The main character is rendered in a marginally simpler style, but is equally well-animated. The game opens with a gentle folk song, sung in English, and outside scenes continue to play music in an East European folk style. Within the underground vaults, a more dramatic, sepulchral tone is heard.
Using a verb coin interface, you will explore the surface of Obzorye Island before delving deep into its interior. The detail of the scenes can make hotspots difficult to locate, though a change in cursor and hotspot labels go some way to offsetting this. As well as the more conventional actions, a sing option – only unlocked near the end of this prologue – gives players the opportunity to learn spells in a manner clearly inspired by Loom. As well as collecting and using inventory, there are a handful of standalone puzzles that involve deciphering the operation of ancient devices.
Vsevolod can be downloaded from the developers’ website.
The Old Tree
Deep within the roots of the old tree lies a storeroom of pods. Within this room, one of the pods stirs, revealing itself to be a small octopus-like creature. The tiny beast must now make its way through the many corridors and chambers of this ancient plant, seeking a route to the summit. Only there can it finally fulfil its purpose in life.
As a taster for an intended series, this offering from Red Dwarf Games proves both intriguing and odd. The visual design is a detailed fine art style that bears some similarities to Amanita’s Samorost games. The bark interior of much of the game has the look of the titular old tree, though such things as fluorescent lighting and the inclusion of a lift show this is no ordinary plant. The animations are fluid, particularly the crawling progress of the player character, who can travel on walls and ceilings as well as floors. Gentle unearthly music plays throughout, supplemented by sound effects such as the squeaking of wheels and the organic splat of the protagonist dropping from ceiling to floor.
As suggested by the setting, this is a slightly surreal adventure. As the animated pod, players point-and-click to progress through a series of obstacles to reach the final goal. Each room or corridor serves as a standalone scenario, so there's no need for backtracking. With no place for the player character to store anything, inventory plays no part in this game. Instead, you must directly manipulate the environment to succeed, sometimes timing your actions carefully with the actions of a room’s inhabitants. Since you are not restricted to objects within the pod’s reach, often you will manipulate items from a distance.
The Old Tree can be played online at the developers’ website.
You wake to find yourself on a run-down subway train hurtling through a tunnel. With no recollection of how you got there and the train apparently empty, you search for clues. Breaking into the control room, you make a terrible discovery. This train is rushing towards a collision and the main control systems are down. Now it is a race against time as you struggle to find a way to save the train and yourself from destruction.
Denis Tambovcev has created a powerful experience that is as much an interactive art project as a game. Using fully-panoramic nodes, the setting is realistically presented. The train has seen better days, with a generally grimy look and the metalwork spotted with rust. The handful of glowing display screens, as well as the few lights dotted about the train, cast a feeble radiance over this miserable scene. Within normal play, sound is limited to effects, primarily the rattling of the train wheels as it hurtles ever onwards. In the numerous cutscenes within the game, strange images also start to appear, and dramatic music serves to augment the idea that more may be going on here than first appears.
The controls are simple point-and-click, with the cursor changing over hotspots. This smart cursor is invaluable as the darkness of the setting can make smaller items hard to spot otherwise. You will gather a small amount of inventory and have to work out how to operate the various controls you discover. There is also a section where you must determine how to circumvent a strange force that hinders your progress. Once you gain access to the control room you trigger a countdown to impact display, together with a screen that updates as you bring various systems back online. The overall tone is dark and the countdown runs in real time, giving you 20 minutes to solve the mystery. Whilst there is no save system, it is possible to pause the game if interrupted.
Process can be downloaded from the developer’s website.
The Fabulous Screech
In the Land of Living Magic sits the town of Oddness Standing. It is the end of the season and the circus has one last show to perform before closing up for the winter. But this is no ordinary circus; this is the show of The Fabulous Screech and His Trained Humans. As a gift for your anniversary, your partner has secured you a ticket to this wonderful event. Enter the tent and see a performance unlike any you’ve seen before.
Jonas Kyratzes makes a triumphant return to the setting of The Book of Living Magic to create an amusing and touching story. The graphics are presented in a slideshow format using the same brightly coloured, children’s book illustration style of the previous game. Whilst simple in appearance, these include plenty of detail such as God’s bunny slippers, and suit the fairy tale tone well. The soundtrack includes a gentle guitar piece, as well as more showman-like music for the circus itself. There are also a handful of appropriate sound effects.
This is not the most challenging of games, each section consisting of just a few scenes involving some fairly simple inventory and dialogue puzzles. There is also a whack-a-mole variant minigame that requires a modicum of dexterity. The simplicity of the puzzles is more than made up for with the wealth of detail on offer, however. Everything you click has an individual description, right down to the separate books on a bookshelf. These comments are clever and witty, including a wonderful explanation for why a drawer would contain handcuffs, silk scarves and a vibrating egg. The story, whilst also quite simple, is elegantly told, with the ending likely to bring a tear to the eye of all but the most hardened soul.
The Fabulous Screech can be played online at Kongregate.
Ed Watts: Bar Runner
Ed Watts is looking for a job, and the opening at the Argyll pub might just be what he needs. Tasked by manager Francine with a variety of bar-related errands, Ed is determined to impress and secure the position. But the Argyll pub is home to a mysterious secret. In the course of his work, Ed may prove to be the one to solve this mystery and unlock the wonders it involves.
Gameboy’s entry in the pub-themed January MAGS competition proves a short but satisfying brew. The graphics are similar to mid-‘90s LucasArts, with a slightly blocky but recognisable look. The pub has a consistent clean purple décor throughout, and good use of shading gives depth to the scenes. The various characters are also simply but effectively animated. The soundtrack consists of a single tune reminiscent of the days of early console gaming.
Using the standard four-cursor point-and-click controls, you’ll start the game with tasks such as cleaning the toilet and collecting glasses. Once you have found out about the secret of the bar, you will seek to gather further clues and try to work out how to combine them to reach your goal. A small amount of simple inventory use together with some dialogue will see you through. The secret of the bar also involves a fairly simple riddle of sorts. The overall tone is lightly humorous, including a hobo just there for the free peanuts and the modestly named musical group, Best Band Ever.
Ed Watts: Bar Runner can be downloaded from the AGS website.
Crazy Hangover 2
If you’ve been at a wild party the night before, the last thing you want to do in the morning is go to work. And when you can’t even lay hands on your work uniform, the desire to call in sick is almost overwhelming. But our protagonist, through a sense of duty or a wish to get paid, is determined to get to work as soon as he can. Tracking down his clothes shouldn’t take too long, assuming he can extract himself from the rope securing him to the ceiling first.
Once again Pyrozen bring us a tale of post-celebration shenanigans. The art is done in a semi-realistic cartoon style; the human characters having slightly exaggerated features. This includes the protagonist, with his prominent beer belly, red-rimmed eyes and wild hair. The house he finds himself in is as strange as the one in the previous instalment, with a crocodile in the living room and an ostrich poking its head through the ceiling. Animations like the player character’s shambling walk are decently handled. The game is fully voiced to a reasonable standard, and boasts a soundtrack of dramatic music downstairs, with a jauntier tune playing upstairs.
The other inhabitants of the house fared even worse than you during the night’s partying, and many require your assistance. The result is a series of bizarre fetch quests as you search the building for the items they desire. These range from finding a way to warm up the girl sitting in a flaming fridge to locating batteries for a very realistic looking Portal gun. You’ll also use inventory in the environment to overcome some obstacles. Some actions and dialogues trigger changes in the house, such as the appearance of a cruelly mistreated cat. The overall tone includes mild adult humour, unsuitable for children. Events do not follow on from the previous game, though the lead in that game makes a cameo appearance here.
Crazy Hangover 2 can be played online at Newgrounds.
You wake up alone in a small decrepit room. On a wall-mounted screen a face appears, hidden behind a porcelain mask. As you search for a way out of your prison, the figure speaks of your history together, and how you came to be in this place. Just what did you once mean to one another, and in escaping, will you find a way to free both of you?
This game from Lewis Denby is much more than a simple escape game. The single room is presented in a semi-realistic style, with grey peeling walls and a single harsh light above. During cutscene reminiscence, your masked captor will talk of past events, with the room briefly taking on a slightly different appearance to represent these previous liaisons. A slideshow format is adopted for gameplay, with the player able to turn to face each of the four walls and zoom in on items of interest such as a floor grille or some piled-up wood. A slow mournful tune complements the overall atmosphere.
The puzzles on offer will be familiar to fans of escape-the-room games, consisting of slightly abstract challenges. You’ll search for keys, force open boxes, and use inventory to search a dark drain. These are presented as realistically as possible, and as challenges deliberately chosen by the masked antagonist they often provide story clues. Progress results in more tales of your history by this strange figure, with a final puzzle that resolves things between you. The changing appearance of the room and a brief memory scene serve to bring these tales to life. The story is not a happy one, however, and in one final puzzle you will reach a resolution that some will find unsettling.
Masked can be downloaded from the AGS website.
A Cat’s Night
Long a sanctuary to abandoned felines, the cattery is under threat. Come the morning, the wicked Megadon Inc intends to tear it down for building space. With the humans apparently powerless to stop this disaster, it is up to one brave cat, Horace, to take matters into his own paws. Over the course of a single night, this brave moggy will search high and low to preserve this haven for himself and all his friends.
Miciosegone’s tale of a literal fat cat proves a night to remember. The graphics are a line-drawn cartoon style with simple shading. Despite the basic style, the crisp lines and decent use of perspective give the setting a realistic feel. Not all residents maintain this realistic tone, with some kittens playing with balls of wool while other blues-loving twin cats practice dance moves. Animations are simple but effective, with the background movement of the cattery’s other inhabitants bringing the setting to life. A gentle background tune plays throughout, along with some sound effects, particularly of the meowing variety.
With only limited help available from your fellows, the bulk of the work to save your home falls on you. Conversations with others will occasionally yield hints, and many residents are at least willing to share their possessions for your quest. Inventory use and combination is the main route forward, including some fetch quests like finding a bribe for a mercenary bird. The translation from the original Italian is not perfect, with such problems as Horace often being referred to as Orazio, but none of these errors are serious enough to affect play. Having been created as part of a project to teach children about respect for animals, it is well suited to a younger audience, though older gamers should still find a lot to enjoy.
A Cat’s 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.
Arcadia: A Pastoral Tale by Jonas Kyratzes – Enjoy a short interactive story set in a rural backwater which hides some strange inhabitants.
Unmanned by Molleindustria – A day in the life of a CIA operative operating remote drones in the Middle East.
Alien’s Quest by GamezHero – A crash-landed alien must escape the clutches of a secret government agency.
Pigsaw Challenge by inkagames – Tired of them making games about him, Pigsaw kidnaps the inkagames team and drops them each in a different videogame world.
Viking Quest by GamezHero – Denied space on the longboats, a young girl sets out to prove she can be a brave Viking too.
Cherry’s Quest for Coffee by Maddoxic – With a world shortage of coffee, Cherry’s morning drink may prove hard to obtain.
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!