Following Freeware: May 2012 releases
This month, you can use strange powers to exit a fantasy city, employ more mundane means to get out of a spaceship prison, or simply try to escape from an unwelcome marriage. You can experience a range of vistas from a tiny stone cell up to a vast plain where giant rocks float in the air. Alternatively, you can investigate the case of a missing reporter in the present or try to understand the downfall of a future Buenos Aires. Finally, you might attempt the difficult challenge of interesting others in your gaming habits. All these options await in this month’s round-up of releases from the freeware scene.
A Grain of Truth
Myosotis, the Trader of Stories, has travelled far across the land in search of clues to her elusive past. For some time now, she has been told tales of a place where the Great Oak stands and that rocks float in the air. A wise man is said to live there that may be able provide the answers she seeks. Though such strange tales are her stock in trade, she had come to dismiss these particular narratives as mere fantasy. But now her journey has brought her to a hovering rock, and an arboreal silhouette that seems far larger than any tree she has seen before. Could there be a grain of truth to these stories after all?
In this game, the Rudowscy brothers take their tale of an itinerant storyteller to grander heights. The same third-person fine art style of the previous episode is used here, with the fantastical elements such as the floating rocks and the immense giraffe-like cloud-eater rendered in great detail. The graphics are unanimated, though use of story panels and items fading in and out of scenes when you manipulate them create an illusion of movement. The various major locations each have their own theme music, with the melancholy piano of the plains replaced by a cheerier tune aboard the cloud-gatherers’ ship. This is supplemented by appropriate sound effects, such as the wind rushing past in high places.
Great effort has been made to include a variety of puzzles in this game. You will use a telescope to find landmarks to navigate a huge plain, sort clouds in a tile matching minigame, and work out how to put together an old projector. There are also more conventional inventory and dialogue puzzles as well as some codes to decipher. Two major puzzles run throughout the game. The first is gathering key words from dialogue and descriptions in order to ask the questions necessary to discover a new tale. The second is a jigsaw in which each fact you gather forms part of a picture, the finished whole leading you to an understanding of the wise man. A map allows instant travel to visited locations and the point-and-click controls provide smooth interaction. Whilst there are flashes of humour, the story is largely a straight fantasy tale, with an ending that completes this story whilst also providing hooks for possible future tales.
A Grain of Truth can be played online at the developers’ website.
A young man wakes in a hospital in Beunos Aires, with no recollection of how he got there. Sure that the year is 2015, he is horrified to find that 20 years have passed him by and that it is actually 2035. Worse, Buenos Aires has long since fallen into the hands of a paramilitary organisation for whom the hospital is serving as a headquarters. With the ruling group a little too excited at discovering him, our amnesiac hero needs to find a way out fast.
3f Interactive’s first game is an intriguing start to a proposed series, though with some localisation issues. The graphics are a realistic cartoon style, with accurate character depictions and a wealth of detail in the backgrounds. The hospital where the action takes place has seen better days. The walls are peeling and cracked, pipes leak, and rooms and corridors are full of rubbish. The characters are nicely animated, most having some form of idle animation when you are not interacting with them. Some cutscenes, such as securing a disabled guard, are rendered as a series of brief excerpts rather than being animated in their entirety. A slow, simple musical piece forms the background for the adventure and fits the run-down setting well, along with appropriate sound effects. The game is also fully voiced, though currently only in the original Spanish, with English available as subtitles. There are occasional odd phrasings in the translated subtitles, but none are severe enough to render them incomprehensible.
Control is point-and-click, with the cursor highlighting over hotspots and a text label appearing as well. Clicking on a hotspot gives you the choice of looking, interacting or talking. Initially you will be unable to get out of the first room, requiring close examination of the environment and dialogue with the other occupants to go further. Once you are out in the hospital proper, you will face a number of inventory-based challenges. There is also a simple but well-designed puzzle in which you have to correctly identify a group of people who refuse to tell you their names. There are flashes of black humour throughout, but the story is mostly played straight, with the depressing state of the hospital a clear indication of a world gone badly wrong. Conversations give enough hints of the events leading up to this situation to set up an intriguing backstory that I hope will be explored further in future episodes.
Reversion can be downloaded from the developer’s website.
Gamer Mom has long been a fan of World of WarCraft, but misses seeing her family more. With a husband who seems to work all hours and a teenage daughter forever hanging out with friends, the opportunities for quality time never seem to arise. Maybe if she could get them to join in the game she loves, they could all have fun together. Family dinner seems the ideal opportunity to broach the subject, but with her daughter texting and her husband on his laptop, an uphill struggle could lie ahead.
Mordechai Buckman and Kyler Kelly have produced a game that may feel all too familiar to gamers seeking to interest family in their hobby. The graphics are simple pencil sketches depicting the family sitting around the table. Gamer Mom sits opposite the player with father and daughter on either side, giving us a clear view of all three. Every time the player takes an action, the picture changes to depict the result, transitioning from one scene to another as a progressive development rather than abrupt change. Whilst the sketches lack colour, the detail is more than enough to convey the emotions of the characters. The game is entirely devoid of sound.
Progress is accomplished by selecting a series of buttons to choose approaches by Gamer Mom. The options available depend on actions to date, with the other characters' responses factoring in. You can launch straight in or take a more considered approach on how to engage them. A lot of the game involves working out the best way to handle their arguments against playing. The buttons give some dynamics to the game, with position and size serving to indicate who comments are focused on and the confidence of the player character. The entire game therefore plays out like a large and complex dialogue puzzle. The conversations are well written, with much of the dialogue feeling depressingly familiar to gamers who have made this attempt themselves. A successful conclusion is possible, though most players will have to try several times to get that happy goal.
Gamer Mom can be played online at the developers’ website.
The country is at war, and the gates of Aberdan have been closed to all travelling in and out. With urgent business to conduct outside the walls, this edict is most inconvenient for you, but there is no way round it. Fortunately, you possess the mystical power of shifting, which allows you to take on the appearance of others. Perhaps using this power will enable you to take on some form that will grant you the egress you seek.
Jennifer Klement has created a game that, whilst short, uses a clever premise to good effect. A simple hand-drawn style has been used for the background, the single two-screen wide location depicted in reasonable detail. A vital part of the game is switching between day and night, with the bright sunny street of the daytime replaced by a scene lit solely by moonlight and lanterns in windows. By contrast, the characters are done in a brighter cartoon style, standing out against the backdrop. The graphics are unanimated, but conversations result in close-up portraits of the character speaking, with limited expressions based on their mood at the time. Some of these exhibit odd physical characteristics, such as pointed ears, befitting the fantasy setting. During the day a jolly guitar tune plays, replaced by a gentle piano piece at night.
Shifting to take on a new persona is not as simple as just looking at someone. To take on a new shape, you must find out about them first. This is represented in-game by three multiple choice questions, all of which you must get correct to effect the change. To prevent repeated guesswork, the correct answers will usually only be available once you have discovered the relevant information. You will need to speak to various characters to glean all the necessary information for any given individual. For most characters, it will only be possible to find out what you need to know when already in disguise. Switching between day and night at the click of a button alters the position and demeanour of characters, opening up further dialogue options and allowing you to progress to new characters. A small amount of inventory use is also needed.
Shifter can be downloaded from the developer’s website.
Cosmos Quest IV: The Ayatolian March
Guided by the strange being known as Niski, the Ayatolians appear determined to remove the Rhomulians from the universe. Their forces have already made great advances in this goal, destroying much of the Rhomulian forces, capturing some as they go. One such captive is Nia, who even now languishes in a cell on the Ayatolian mothership. But one of her jailers has taken a liking to Nia, and seems willing to aid her in an escape. Can one woman do anything to slow the force of the Ayatolian march?
Now in its fourth episode, this series from Ilia expands on its already detailed story. The graphics have been upgraded from the early Space Quest-style look in the original episodes to full 3D, with lighting effects giving objects and people a well-rounded appearance. The initial location is a grim prison block, with barred cells and bare walls. Later, once you have achieved your escape, you will find yourself in the vast rocky caverns of a barren planet. Background sound consists either of effects appropriate to the location, such as security announcements over the speakers in the prison, or stirring sci-fi tunes.
The introduction gives a brief recap of events in previous episodes, removing the need to play them unless desired. Whilst a continuation of the series, the player character is new, providing a different perspective on the ongoing story. Using the standard AGS four-cursor controls, your initial challenge is to escape your cell, aided by a clue provided by your amorous jailer. This obstacle involves inventory manipulation and combination, as well as a code deciphering challenge. Once out, you’ll go on to sabotage machinery and try to find a way to survive on a distant world. Whilst the developer acknowledges the influence of Space Quest, Sierra's renowned penchant for sudden death does not appear to have carried over.
Cosmos Quest IV: The Ayatolian March can be downloaded from the developer’s website, where the previous three episodes are available as well.
When a gold-digger and her bratty son find themselves short of cash, a new mug to latch onto seems to be in order. Zeroing in on the incredibly rich nice guy Luke, they set out to arrange a marriage, and they won’t take no for an answer. Faced with a wedding he doesn’t want but cannot seem to avoid, Luke ends up making all the necessary arrangements. Perhaps, in doing what they want, Luke can find a way to get rid of this troublesome pair for good.
This game from esthetix is a light but pleasing tale. The visuals are done a bright, simplistic cartoon style, the human characters having slightly oversized heads but otherwise normal. You’ll visit a variety of locations, including the burger bar where your new “family” await your completion of their challenge and a dress hire shop. The graphics are simply but effectively animated, including Luke grinning and making a peace sign whenever you take an action that advances the plot. There are also some background animations such as a shopkeeper continually dozing off and waking with a start. A jaunty music loop provides the aural background.
Using point-and-click controls, your initial actions revolve around complying with the demands made of Luke. Some opportunities to thwart the plans arise, but these initially prove fruitless as the son constantly catches you trying to get out of being hitched. As you put together the ceremony, you will find out more about the malicious pair, and gather objects that will aid you in getting them out of your life. Inventory use is key, though paying attention to dialogue often provides clues to achieving your goal. As befits the whimsical premise, the overall tone of all this is lightly humourous.
Luke can be played online at Big Dino.
In a solitary prison cell sits a man. He cannot remember exactly why he is here, only that he has been incarcerated for twelve years. Searching within the four stone walls that surround him, clues to his past come to light. Perhaps if he can piece these disparate pieces together, he will come to understand how he came to be in this position. But some things are best kept secret, and he might not like the answers that he finds.
Sebastien Benard has made a compact but disquieting tale. The graphics are fairly simplistic, with a slightly pixellated style. This can render items slightly difficult to identify, though hotspot names help in this respect. Within the limited constraints of the graphics, the game is decently animated. The initial cell presents a grim, gray setting. Retrieving memories can result in parts of the cell temporarily taking on the appearance of places from the prisoner’s past, usually involving brighter tones. These transitions are accompanied by an eerie noise, the only other sound being a constant background hiss that sounds like wind blowing.
Using point-and-click controls, the character can be moved about the narrow confines of his cell. A choice of actions is available from an on-screen verb list, including the unusual command "remember". When used on certain items, this action triggers memories, with the partial scene transitions that accompany them. You will gather a small amount of inventory, but once acquired it is selected automatically as part of the use command, such as a key being used to unlock a chest. Objects can be collected from the locations brought into being by recovered memories, and carrying these between the real world of the cell and the various memory locations is crucial in unlocking the somewhat grim story.
Memento XII can be played online at JayIsGames.
Small Town Detective
For a small town detective, cases can be few and far between. Idling in his office one day, Paul finally receives a new case. A local reporter has gone missing, and Paul is the man to track her down. The reporter's disappearance occurred right in the middle of her research into a story on local restaurant businesses. If Paul is going to track her down, he is going to have to follow the trail of this research and find out what she discovered that somebody would wish to hide.
The second game this month from esthetix adopts a similar style to Luke. This time, the bright cartoon style depicts newspaper offices and restaurants as Paul retraces the absent reporter’s footsteps. The individual people also display character, such as the hero who adopts a casual pose with a sardonic smile on his lips. Animation is equally well done, with background motion similar to those displayed by Luke in evidence. The background music here is a jaunty theme reminiscent of private eye movies.
At the start, only two locations are available, Paul’s offices and the newspaper headquarters. Through dialogue and diligent examination of clues, other locations become available as Paul learns more about the reporter’s movements. As well as dialogue-based clues, you also need to crack the password on a computer and make copious use of inventory. The tone is lightly comedic, the reason behind the kidnapping being only mildly disturbing rather than horrific or sinister.
Small Town Detective can be played online at Timefall.
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.
Ib by Kouri – A trip to an art gallery leads to a dark and dangerous world of horror for the little girl named Ib.
Reincarnation: Bloody Bayou by B Group Productions – It’s escaped soul retrieval time again, in a new mini-episode of the long-running series.
As the Village Turns by Digital Dreams – With skin that burns in the sun, Mihail does not have long to live. Will he spend his time with family and friends, or choose a darker path?
Chance-a-Lot by BeGamer – What puzzle-solving knight could pass up the offer of a free kingdom to conquer?
Rambo: Last Blood – When Rambo dies, making peace with his enemies in the afterlife won’t be a simple task.
Round World by Fast Games – Help a small bird prove that the world is round by circumnavigating it.
Apocalypse Later by davidsgallant – Bring about the foretold end of the world, if you can be bothered.
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! (Note: With the recent site re-launch, there is no longer a specific forum for freeware adventures.)