Following Freeware: September 2012 releases

Following Freeware: September 2012
Following Freeware: September 2012

This month you can once again don the mantle of the US leader or become a dark and vengeful being. You could also look inward by exploring the mind of a man suffering from confusion or journey into the dark mental world of dreams. If you'd rather do some travelling, you can journey out into space to a strange purple planet or visit the endangered kingdom of Lorden. Alternatively, you might thwart a mad doctor’s devolutionary schemes, attempt an escape that might not be an escape at all, or learn about slavery from first-hand experience. All these await in this month’s round-up of releases from the freeware scene.

Deep Sleep

As you descend into the world of sleep, your experiment begins. If you have planned correctly, then you should be entering a lucid dream. Taking control of your subconscious mind, you start to explore the strange world you have entered in earnest. But lurking in the dark corners of this place are hideous, terrible things. The deeper you delve, the more you realise that your goal has turned from controlling the world of your dreams to a desperate quest to wake before it’s too late.

Gaining first place in JayisGames's 10th Casual Gameplay competition, scriptwelder has created a deeply disturbing experience. The graphics are realistic in style, though with an intentional fuzziness similar to that of a poor television signal. You start in your mundane bedroom, but this soon dissolves into a ghastly ruin, and your journey will take you to a sinister hotel and a remote beach. Being a dream world, the transitions are often peculiar, but there is a uniformity to the overall look that brings the disparate locations together. A disturbing background tune plays throughout, and the game features full sound, such as the disturbing whisper on a phone line telling you to wake up.

This is not a game for the faint-hearted. The point-and-click first-person presentation puts you firmly in the game, facing all the horrors this world contains. In some sections your only light source is the beam of a torch, centred on the cursor, and sweeping this around some locations you catch glimpses of movement. When the creatures of the dark actively pursue, you will need to act fast to escape, though death allows a restart just before the action that triggers such sequences. You will use both conventional and surreal inventory, as well as manipulating some machinery as you struggle to awake from your nightmare.

Deep Sleep can be played online at JayisGames.

Plan M

The sinister Dr M has an evil plan to take over the world. Using his Simianthesiser, he will turn everyone into monkeys, leaving him the only human on the planet. Fortunately, as the mad scientist puts his plan into action, detective duo Vandall and Hopkirk are trying to bust a sherbet ring. Their less-than-stellar driving to the scene places them within a metal frame that protects them from the powerful devolution rays. With everyone else transformed to ape-like form, can this brave pair track down the villainous mastermind and reverse the effect?

As weird as their previous game, subAtomic, Murray Lewis and David Blake have created a hilarious tale of monkey business. Originally created for a 72 hour Ludum Dare competition, the current version is a more polished product, with added content for those who caught the original. The characters are deliberately blocky, with single large pixels for eyes. Despite this simplicity, clever animation enables these lo-res characters to express emotion and move fairly realistically. The backgrounds are done in a more detailed cartoon style, with bright colours and clearly recognisable objects. Your investigation will take you to the local University, a games arcade, and the “White House experience” museum. Each location has suitable music, be it the silent movie villain music for Dr M’s lair or the retro gaming music at the arcade.

"Surreal" seems too mild a description for this game. Paying homage to the classic British series Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased), detective Hopkirk repeatedly claims to be a ghost, though his supernatural powers are somewhat lacking. You will meet a monkey Stephen Hawking and make some rather odd substitutions in a fetch quest for make-up. The puzzles involve inventory use and some code deciphering. These often poke fun at adventure game conventions, such as a pixel hunt that all but lights up the small area to be clicked. With left-click for look and right-click for use, there are also a wide variety of non-vital interactions, all with humorous dialogue and many with a variety of iterations.

Plan M can be downloaded from the AGS website.

Mission US 2: Flight to Freedom

The year is 1848, and for a young black girl named Lucy, life is hard. She, along with her mother and brother, is a slave on the King Plantation in the Deep South. Tasked with a long list of arduous chores every day, and facing punishment for the smallest failure, life looks bleak. Then she and fellow slave Henry are accused of a serious act of vandalism to King property. Fearing the worst, they decide to flee the plantation in the hopes of escaping to the North to live as free people. But the journey is long and difficult, and achieving her goal may demand much from this young girl.

This second adventure from educational game-maker Mission US tackles a difficult subject whilst providing a light but satisfying game at the same time. The graphics are illustrated realistically, with bright crisp colours and simple shading to give a sense of depth. Individual people are shown in close-up for conversations, with some limited animation when that character is talking. As well as the various areas of the King Plantation, you will travel to far North towns and country roads. The game is fully voiced to a good standard, with individual characters recognisable from their voice as well as their appearance. There are also background sounds appropriate to each location, including slave songs.

Gameplay is relatively simple, involving conversations with other individuals and limited interaction with the environment. An inventory is maintained, but items are automatically used when needed. Lucy must perform various tasks over the course of the game. Small circles appear at the top of the screen to indicate tasks, with a green circle showing that job is done. In some situations tasks are split into categories, such as Lucy’s personal goals and the jobs she is charged with by her owners. When you start a job like doing the washing, you are given a choice of approaches, such as doing your best or making a sloppy job of it. Many of these choices earn badges, such as “Playing it Safe” for not annoying your masters. Most of these are not simply collectibles, giving you access to different options in the epilogue, where you map out Lucy’s next ten years. The educational content is generally good, giving players an overview of many aspects of slavery in this period. Some chapters have game-over events, but with an immediate replay option.

Mission US 2: Flight to Freedom can both be played online and downloaded from the developers’ website. Registration is required but comes with no further obligation.

This is Not an Escape

A young man wakes up in a field with no memory of how he got there. Moving to the nearby road, he meets a mysterious man on a bicycle. Can the cyclist’s tales of strange hyper-realities be real? As the young man searches for more answers, strange puzzles block his path and reality itself seems to shift and warp around him. Can he escape this strange new world, and should he even be trying to do so in the first place?

This self-proclaimed “Artsy-ShmArtsy” game from Something’s Awry Productions achieves surprisingly complex gameplay, given that interaction is limited to embedded hyperlinks in YouTube videos. The videos are all live action, filmed in a resolution high enough to look good on full-screen display. The setting is initially a remote suburban area with widely spaced houses, but your journey will lead you to become trapped in a basement and travel to a lake-side boat house. The acting from the on-screen protagonist and the characters he encounters is of reasonable quality. For reasons made clear later in the game, the early scenes are not voiced, but full spoken dialogue appears later and other location-appropriate sound can be heard throughout. A gentle piano piece also provides background music.

To a certain extent, the game plays as a choose-your-path adventure, with lists of choices appearing towards the ends of videos for your next step. However, through manipulation of the on-screen links, such as those layered over the buttons of a phone keypad, the developers have managed to include a few puzzles involving entering passwords or finding a phone number. Clues to these are hidden in some videos, which you always having an option to rewatch if you miss a vital clue. Whilst the setting is largely mundane in appearance, clever editing provides shifts in reality at certain times, such as looking at a laptop video transporting you to the depicted location. The overall experience is quite interesting, introducing some thought-provoking ideas in a simple game format. 

This is Not an Escape can be played online on YouTube.

Creatively Complicated

Within the confines of your mind, what strange worlds exist? In one man’s head, a small creature, barely more than a rough blueprint of a person, springs into life. After a simple meal of thought pizza, this brave being sets out to explore the new world he inhabits. A mysterious door bars the way into the inner mind. Is this little chap up to the challenges that will allow him to pass through this door?

The creators of the Reincarnation series, B Group Productions, have created another charming little experience. The backgrounds are rendered in cyan, with a darker shade used to outline niches and machinery. Interactive items are outlined in red, with a white fill to make them stand out from the scenery. In one area a monster holds a lady captive, and in another a series of boxes contain brightly coloured shapes. The main character communicates solely through pictorial thought bubbles, such as a padlock symbol when first trying to open the door. Although simple, these graphics are smoothly animated. An ethereal piece of music provides the background, and there are also sound effects such as the roar of the monster if you approach it unprepared.

With a wraparound series of rooms, this is not an adventure that requires extensive exploration. Each room has its own challenges, some standalone puzzles and others requiring items from other places. With all but the area beyond the door accessible at the start, players are free to solve the puzzles in any order. These include a pair-matching game, a machine where you need to match your actions to its moderately slow movements and a fiendish number wheel puzzle. There is also a small amount of inventory puzzling. Despite the lack of dialogue, the game manages to achieve a lightly humorous tone through the thoughts and actions of the main character.

Creatively Complicated can be played online at Kongregate.

Continued on the next page...


Oct 29, 2012

I just played Deep Sleep.  Ironically, I don’t think I’ll be sleeping tonight.  This is one creepy game.

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