Following Freeware: August 2012 releases
This month, a popular series of adventures for a paranormal investigator reaches its long-awaited climax. A young man also starts his law-enforcement career in a fantasy city, while an alien finds his wild tales earning him an unwelcome return to Earth. Elsewhere, you could investigate a haunted house with the US President, maintain a lighthouse as a young girl or simply take the role of a young man trying to claim his inheritance. All these await you in this month’s round-up of releases from the freeware scene.
Ben Jordan: Paranormal Investigator - Case 8: Relics of the Past
Over a few short months of his life, Ben Jordan’s foray into paranormal investigation has taken him around the world. It has also brought a lot of pain and misery into his life, with good friends dying and Ben himself put in mortal danger on more than one occasion. Then, as a prisoner of the Knights of St. Anthony, he was rendered unconscious by a man he thought he could trust. With the grand scheme of the Knights reaching its climax, will he be able to thwart them before it’s too late?
With this final chapter, Grundislav’s epic saga finally comes to a conclusion. The graphics are done in the same '90s-era realistic style of previous episodes, and are nicely animated. Conversations also continue to have well-rendered portraits with expressions matching the mood of the character speaking. Ben visits two new destinations in this instalment, starting in the rain-washed streets of London and finishing up amongst the grand architecture of Paris. As well as the fine surface buildings, players are treated to a view of the catacombs as well. The game is fully voiced to a good standard, with both new and recurring characters quickly recognisable from their voices. With a particularly dramatic piece playing over the opening credits, the game is backed by a fine orchestral soundtrack, which is also included as a folder of MP3s in the download files. There is a good use of sound effects as well, such as the constant rain of London.
Being the last game in the series, Case 8 will not make much sense to those who haven’t played the previous episodes, but existing fans will find lots of references to the earlier games here. The opening credits provide a visual summary of past games, and you will meet several characters from previous episodes, including one particularly surprising return. There are also two flashback segments where you get to play the man who inspired Ben to his career. The game suffers somewhat from excessive linearity, but this allows the same attention to storytelling as in the previous episodes, the narrative coming round to a satisfying conclusion. Inventory use, code-solving and a cleverly designed maze form the obstacles to your goals. There are also some timed sequences that can result in death, but an auto-save is provided for these. The game also features five possible endings and two commentary tracks, giving plenty of reason to replay.
Ben Jordan: Paranormal Investigator - Case 8: Relics of the Past can be downloaded from the developer’s website.
The Visitor 2
When a saucer carrying five of his scouts is shot down on Earth, one agent was the obvious choice for the rescue mission. After all, when his ship crashed on the same planet, didn’t Agent Moss singlehandedly defeat the dastardly humans and their vicious beasts? At least, that was the story he told on his return. The truth is not quite as heroic, as his new partner, Agent Scar, will soon discover. Now using a two-pronged approach, these two agents must infiltrate a NASA base to rescue their comrades. Hopefully Agent Moss will experience more of the luck that allowed him to survive last time.
Nicky Nyce’s tale of a hapless alien gains a second chapter, with some new features added to the mix. The graphics are displayed in the same slightly cartoonish style of the original, the aliens once again rendered as the classic big-eyed little green men. The animation is also well done, from a simple walking motion to a less savoury activity Moss engages in when he thinks no-one is looking. There are also background animations like a squirrel in one of the trees. You will start off in a saucer that is slightly more grandiose than the one Moss flew in the first game. Once down on the ground, you will travel through the woods surrounding the NASA base, as well as the laboratories and offices of the interior. On the saucer, Moss’s stereo belts out techno music, though you can turn this off. On the planet, sound is limited to effects for actions like being beamed or suitable background noise such as night birds in the woods.
This game carries on the dark comedy of the original. The aliens have a very low opinion of human beings, and there are some places in the game where harming humans is vital to the plot. There is also a horror element, as human experimentation with the scouts appears to have created a new creature. In the opening section you solely control Moss, but a short time after beaming down to the planet you gain the ability to switch to Scar, and you will subsequently need to alternate between the two characters from time to time in order to advance. Agent Moss shows his incompetence early on, inadvertently rendering a vital mission tool ineffective. His scared half-wit personality is a sharp contrast to Scar’s confident veteran, contemptuous of Moss and sceptical about his stories. As you switch between them, you will use and combine inventory, as well as locate passcodes and operate machinery.
The Visitor 2 can be downloaded from the AGS website.
Obama in the Dark
When paranormal activity is detected at a 19th century mansion south of Washington DC, a SWAT team is sent in to investigate. What they find is a foe too terrifying even for these hardened men to deal with. Once more the President must step in personally to deal with the crisis. But even this brave man finds himself unnerved by the supernatural goings-on at the house. When the gate slams shut behind him, he has no choice but to try to solve the mystery. Perhaps coming here unaccompanied in the night wasn’t such a good idea after all.
Inkagames's latest tale of the American leader’s heroic exploits takes inspiration from a classic game series. The graphics feature the same bright cartoon style of their previous offerings, with oversized character heads allowing for exaggerated expressions. The game is also smoothly animated, with both the President himself and his supernatural adversaries moving fluidly. Locations will feel familiar to fans of the Alone in the Dark series. The exterior of the mansion, with its small hedge maze, copies One-Eyed Jack’s home from the second game, while many of the interior rooms echo the Derceto mansion from the original. A creepy background musical piece plays outside the mansion, with a more dramatic score taking over inside.
The point-and-click gameplay is also the same as previous inkagames productions. Prominent red arrows indicate available locations and there are plentiful objects for collection. Whilst the inspiration was a horror series, the tone here is lightly humorous, though this doesn’t prevent the supernatural forces ranged against you from being a threat. As in previous offerings, there are numerous ways to bring a premature end to your adventure, with a failure screen showing your fate. But once again, these screens include a clue to avoid this event and an option to undo the fatal action. The abundant inventory sees extensive use, though you will need to pay close attention to clues scattered about to use it properly. Some puzzles also pay homage to actions in the Alone in the Dark games.
Obama in the Dark can be played online at the developer’s website.
Kingdom of Liars 1: Year One - Ashbane
Your train journey to the Ashbane, The Rat’s City, is interrupted by raiders who halt the train and kill all others on board. By luck, you and your sister escape the raid unharmed, allowing you to start your new career with the law enforcers, the Hernessians. But your first investigation of a simple arson attack could prove to be much more. Just why was a tavern burnt to the ground and what does this have to do with those who attacked your train?
This series debut from Hyptosis opens up a new area in a world from the ongoing Hood adventures. The art style is reminiscent of water-colour paintings, with close-ups of characters appearing during conversations. Your journey will take you from the initial enclosed carriages of the train to the grand headquarters of the Hernessians and then out onto the medieval-era streets. Limited animation is used, such as scenery passing the train, and the artwork is of sufficient detail to bring the setting to life. A slow, ominous musical piece plays in the background, matching the dark tone of the setting. There are also a handful of sound effects, like the squeal of train brakes.
The setting is one where steampunk technology works side-by-side with magic. The world is also home to other humanoid races, such as the insect-like Antars. The player character and his sister are refugees fleeing to the big city, and the city itself is suffering trouble from the recent legalisation of magic. After the initial train scene involving a simple inventory puzzle, you’ll start your investigation of the mysterious fire. You will need to keep a sharp eye out for vital clues, the cursor animating over hotspots providing some aid in this matter, and use your inventory to investigate further. As you uncover evidence, further locations will open up on the town map. Whilst you will learn some details about events on the train and in the city, this episode ends as you discover a vital lead, creating anticipation for the next instalment.
Kingdom of Liars 1: Year One: Ashbane can be played online at Newgrounds.
Since her mother’s death, a young girl and her father have lived alone on the remote Skirmish Island off the treacherous coast of Scotland. Their job there is to maintain the lighthouse that keeps ships off the jagged rocks surrounding the island. When her father suffers an accident one day, the young girl must take up the task of starting the lighthouse herself.
This debut game from David B Cooper is a simple adventure with a distinctive art style. The graphics are deliberately crude hand-drawings on lined paper, with even the punched holes still visible at the top of each background. Animation is stop-motion based, with moving characters drawn on plain paper to aid the effect. The action takes place over a small area comprising the protagonists' home, the lighthouse and a small amount of the surrounding area. A simple piano and choral piece backs up proceedings.
The setting has a melancholy tone to it, marked by the absence of the mother and the father’s initially abrupt approach to his daughter. The gameplay is simple, with only a handful of puzzles to undertake. A small inventory is key to saving the day, though you will have to do a bit of careful hunting to find everything you need to succeed. There is also some brief interaction between father and daughter, as his accident renders him incapable of performing his duties.
The Lighthouse can be downloaded from the AGS website.
Route 401 Motel
Uncle Louis (or at least the man who lived near your cousin that everyone called Uncle Louis) has died and decided to leave you his motel on Route 401. Alas, your plans to exploit this newfound asset have hit a hitch. A family of yahoos have taken over the motel, and they refuse to even let you inside, let alone take over. With the police a little reluctant to aid you with your problem, you’ll have to apply a bit of ingenuity to oust these unwelcome guests from your property.
This game from OK Interactive provides a bit of light but entertaining fare. The graphics are a simple cartoon style, with plain colouring and limited detail beyond that necessary to the plot. Despite this simplicity, the large characters still exhibit good facial expressions and the locations are rendered in a recognisable fashion. The animation is equally simple but effective. Along with the motel, you will visit a local pier and the police station in your quest to evict the squatters. The sound consists of a single tense string and percussion piece plus suitable sound effects, such as the ping of a hit at a shooting gallery.
To regain your property you will need to find a way to take down each member of the family of squatters. The strategy you take for each ranges from direct confrontation to a more devious approach. You will utilise a small inventory and interact with the environment to progress, as well as do some background research on your foes. There is also a simple shooting gallery minigame necessary to obtain a needed item, which will require a modicum of dexterity to achieve.
Route 401 Motel can be played online at MouseCity.
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.
Acorn Story by 3WJ – Help a young boy search for his lost magic acorn.
Escape the GCA Lab by Tekorobo – As a cyborg achieving sentience, escape the lab where you were created.
Where’s My Cat by Timefall – When her precious pet goes missing, an elderly lady will brave anything to get it back.
13 Worms by BeGamer – A rooster sets out to rid the farm of the worms threatening the apple crop.
Barn Runner: The Mayor’s New Dress by Ponch – The mayor of Arcology 19: Evansville faces a tricky situation in this visual novel set in the Barn Runner universe.
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!