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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.

Image #1Gaining 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?

Image #2As 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.

Image #3This 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?

Image #4This 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?

Image #5The 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.


Obama Narnia: Return of the Witch

Back in the Oval Office, President Obama is just hoping to be able to get down to some normal work. At that moment, he is interrupted by a delivery man dropping off a large wardrobe. Upon opening this mysterious piece of furniture, he finds that a gateway to the fantastical land of Narnia lays inside. It seems that the White Witch is on the rise again, and she has already managed to petrify Aslan and Prince Caspian. As a son of Adam, it is up to Obama to put the Witch’s evil plans to rest.

Image #6Hot on the heels of his Alone in the Dark escapade, Inkagames have hurled the US President into another heroic tale. The graphics feature the same bright cartoon style of the developer's previous efforts, with the large-headed president as cheerily optimistic as ever. The locations will be largely familiar to fans of the books, including the iconic lamp-post and the home of Mr Tumnus, the faun. Animation is also smoothly handled, with expressive characters and background effects such as a waterfall. The backing music has a hip-hop style, and there are appropriate sound effects throughout.

This game has the same light sense of humour as previous games in the series. Whilst the majority of the action is based on the books, other elements have crept into the mix, like Scrat from the Ice Age films. You will combine inventory to form a trap, play tunes on a magic set of pipes and enlist the aid of various Narnian creatures. Once you have reached scattered checkpoints in the game, a magic map provides rapid access to these previously visited areas. There are some sections where timing and quick movement is required, and there are various game-over events possible. As in previous games, failure provides a clue and a button to undo the fatal action.

Obama Narnia: Return of the Witch can be played online at the developer's website.

Purple Planet

When a new habitable planet is discovered, one astronaut and his dog are sent to claim it for Earth. Unfortunately, just as they are planting the flag, the surface collapses and man and dog tumble down. On waking, the astronaut finds out that he is not alone on this purple planet, and that the local inhabitants have taken a liking to his dog. Exploring the aliens' underground home, our brave hero must find a way to retrieve his canine companion.

Image #7This game from muraveich provides a light, humorous tone to its tale of alien encounters. The graphics display a bright semi-realistic style, though the extraterrestrial setting provides some odd-looking locations. You will explore the aliens’ home, including a cluttered storage room and a library, the latter containing a large snail-like pet. Viewed in first-person, these scenes include limited animation, such as a robot cleaning in the living room. A jaunty background tune plays throughout, and there are suitable background effects as well.

The aliens are not actively hostile, but you will need to solve a number of puzzles in order to get your dog back. There are inventory puzzles, a pattern-matching game and a sliding puzzle. You will also need to deduce a combination lock with alien symbols on it. Control is point-and-click, with drag-and-drop for inventory use. As well as activities required to complete your quest, the game has numerous non-vital interactions, providing plenty for the player to fiddle around with while thinking.

Purple Planet can be played online at Newgrounds.

Where No Fear Was

Through the woods I hunt him. The trail of blood leads me onwards. He must pay for what he has done, and I am the means by which the punishment must be meted out. My pursuit is relentless; he will not escape my wrath. Though others shun me and call me names, nothing can halt me in bringing my quest to its perfect conclusion.

Image #8This game from Pink Party Glasses gives you an opportunity to play a character somewhat different from the norm. The backgrounds appear to be drawn from real locations, largely consisting of a forest high on a hill, with the sun setting in the distance. The protagonist, in contrast, appears to be some sort of dark flying creature, with one arm held in front of its face as if trying to cover its identity. There is some animation, with flapping wings, trees moving in the wind and a pulsing light effect. The game also includes a few cutscenes with more detailed renderings of both the player character and its surroundings. A dramatic piano and percussion piece forms the musical background.

The reason for the player character’s pursuit is kept deliberately obscure until the closing scenes of the game. Without fully knowing why, you will work your way through the wood, attempting to follow the trail of your quarry. Bloodstains give an indication of the direction you need to go, and you will enlist the aid of a small woodland creature. The bulk of the gameplay revolves around exploration, but there is a simple inventory puzzle to be solved. The tone throughout is serious, the main character forced to examine its motives for the chase. The ending is handled well, providing a thought-provoking take on a common staple of many other games.

Where No Fear Was can be downloaded from the AGS website.

The Lost Prince of Lorden: Part 1

In the Kingdom of Aarion, a young man wakes from a riding accident with no memory of who he is. The guards at the local castle prove no help, mocking the poor man and refusing to let him inside. An encounter nearby indicates the reason for this lack of hospitality. A Prince intended to marry Princess Petal has failed to show, and it is feared that the Necromancer Zamancil is at work. With only the amulet he wears as a clue to his identity, this young man must venture out into the kingdom to solve the mystery.

Image #9This first episode in a proposed series from Jason Ashenden fits well with his RetroJay pseudonym. The graphics have a retro look to them, providing a nostalgic feel of the King’s Quest era. The protagonist initially wears striking blue clothes, though an early encounter changes his outfit to a more drab shade. The sunlit scenes are brightly coloured, but your journey will take you into a shaded forest and to a set of ruins cursed to endless night. In conversations, small portraits of the speaking characters appear, with limited mouth animation. Character movement is also smoothly animated, and there are background animations such as a sign swinging in the wind. The sign also creaks as it moves, and other sounds like birdsong abound. A gentle guitar piece provides the background musical ambience. 

The setting is one of medieval fantasy where magic, both good and bad, has shaped the past and continues to affect the present. You will converse with such characters as the all-too-aptly named Rob, and gather mushrooms for a young boy. As well as collecting items you will solve riddles and exhibit some magical ability of your own. The game features a number of triggered events, so it is worth revisiting past locations if you find yourself stuck. Whilst there are flashes of humour, the game is largely played straight. The ending has the character venturing into a new and dangerous locale, a situation that will be addressed in future episodes.

The Lost Prince of Lorden: Part 1 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.

Jonah’s Place by Kasander – A young girl finds herself in the belly of a whale and the strange bar known as Jonah’s Place.

Anti-Cast II by Free World Group – Young student Leon returns to the fantastical world of Aura in this short new chapter of the series.

Five Gates by gharding3 – In a sleepy village, a young man’s experiments with intoxicants take him on a dark and surreal journey. 

Rew 2 by BeGamer – Another rewinding adventure from the makers of Rew.

Watermelon’s Adventure by esthetix – Crystal the witch has stolen Mr Watermelon's elixir of life. Can you track down the supernatural thief?

Lost Robot by Godvil Games – With its maker vanished without a trace, a small robot must find a way out of the lab it was created in.

2012 Shelter by Abroy – Having survived the apocalypse, can you escape your underground shelter and start anew?

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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