This month you can experience the joy of text in a big way, as an annual competition gives you 28 different games to choose from. For science fiction fans, there is the tale of a matrix hacker in a dystopian future, a gate that allows travel between worlds buried in Wyoming, and a book-educated alien’s ill-fated first trip to Earth. Fans of the macabre can investigate their own death, search for a missing person who may have been taken by a supernatural beast, or travel into the spirit world to stop a demon and save a girl. Alternately, you might join a television family trapped in a malfunctioning game console or help a man find out why his girlfriend has disappeared on the day he set out to propose. All these await you in this month’s round-up of games from the freeware scene.
Interactive Fiction Competition 2012
Now in its eighteenth year, the annual Interactive Fiction Competition shows no signs of slowing down. This time around there were 28 entries in the competition, many once again showing the unique challenges that only games in this medium can offer. With styles ranging from hard-core text adventures to hyperlink-based play more approachable for new players, there is something for everyone. The top three games this year were:
Andromeda Apocalypse by Marco Innocenti – The last survivor of his world, and possibly last surviving human, Ektor Mastiff floats through space. As he travels through the cosmos, his voyage may change the history of mankind forever. This sequel to Andromeda Awakening continues the high concept sci-fi tale begun in that game. Your journey into space takes you into a gargantuan edifice, apparently a long abandoned space station. The game's tone is serious with an air of mystery and long-lost wonders. A hint system is available, providing a progressive series of clues to each unsolved puzzle encountered to date, though players wishing to remove the temptation can disable this system.
Eurydice by Anonymous – Celine is gone, with empty spaces in her room where once her possessions stood. Your friends crowd the rooms downstairs, but their companionship is scant comfort to you now. Perhaps by following the path of an ancient tale you can get her back, but do you risk losing yourself doing so? With inspiration from the Greek legend of Orpheus and Eurydice, this is a powerful and moving tale of bereavement and grief. Characterisation and mood are the main aim of the game, with the puzzles taking a back seat. The story is powerful and tragic, nicely meshing a modern setting with the echoes of myth. Most challenges have more than one solution and there are four different endings available for those who can discover all the options.
Guilded Youth by Jim Munroe – Tony the Thief is a member of The Guild, the bravest band of adventurers in the land. This is a virtual land, however, and Tony’s interests lie in the real world: the Old Manor house that is scheduled for demolition. The puzzles in this game are quite simple, with only three commands really necessary to solve them. The pleasure of the experience lies in the mix of fantasy and real life. When logged in online, you and your companions are visually represented by noble avatars. In the real world, your true nature as children is equally well illustrated. Junk gathered from The Manor becomes fabulous treasures in The Guild, allowing you to entice your fellow players to become members of your real-world exploration party. The resulting story is a pleasant tale of small town life.
Downloads of all the games and interpreters for both PC and Mac are available from the competition website. For those wishing just a single game, or to play many of the entries online, a complete list of the games with brief details is also available.
Wendy just wanted the whole family to be together for her birthday. Unfortunately, none of them seemed keen on attending, especially her father Ken. He was busy sabotaging the new game console from Alan Sugar, the Sugarcube. When Ken reluctantly turns up to the party with a sabotaged cube in his pocket, the family are sucked inside. Now trapped in a variety of video games, they must use their wits and bravery to escape back to the real world. With this lot, that probably means they are all doomed.
Based on the adult cartoon series on UK Channel 4, this production by Fish in a Bottle brings the series' twisted humour to the gaming world. The graphics match the television show, with brightly animated, realistically proportioned characters. These models are fully detailed, making the many parodies of UK celebrities, including Heston Blumenthal and Brian Blessed, instantly recognisable. The smooth animation of the TV series is also in evidence. The initial setting is the family home, but the game worlds include a medieval fantasy land and a sports stadium. The same voice actors have also taken part here, giving the game professional performances throughout. As well as the series theme tune, the various worlds also have music appropriate to the setting, such as a middle eastern theme in a desert combat sim.
The frequent use of famous UK faces may limit the appeal for those outside the country, and being based on an adult cartoon, this game is unsuitable for children. Much of the humour is of questionable taste, including a simulation of the Paralympics where the unpleasant Ken mocks the other contestants’ disabilities. Parody is at the centre of this adventure, with the video games satirising well-known franchises. One character ends up in a World of WarCraft variant, whilst another ends up in something that looks suspiciously like Farmville with a particularly ruthless rival player. The mechanics of such games are mercilessly lampooned and subverted, such as the fast-growing trees and constant need for upgrades of the Farmville clone. After the initial chapter set in the real world, you will generally have control of more than one character, with switching accomplished through on-screen buttons. This is often vital, as objects need to be passed from game to game for success. As well as inventory puzzles, you will face some dialogue challenges and a cleverly designed dance contest.
Full English can be played online at the Channel 4 website.
Gray knows all there is to know about every planet in the solar system. Sadly, this knowledge comes solely from books, as Gray has never left his home on the moon. Determined to get some practical experience to back up his book learning, Gray sets out on a field trip to Earth. This could prove to be a bad idea, as his ship fails on entering the atmosphere and Gray is ejected into a cornfield. Trapped on the planet, Gray must try to locate his wayward craft if he is ever to see his beloved lunar home again.
Fitz’s tale of an unfortunate alien is a wordy but satisfying tale. The graphics have a slightly retro look, using only a handful of colours throughout. This is offset by the visual detail, be it the redneck farmhand that Gray almost immediately encounters, or the bees that harass him further down the road. All characters are smoothly animated, with many having idle gestures. The farmhand is especially impressive on this front, as his idle animations change throughout the game as you complete various tasks. The various locations have their own music, including gentle pastoral music for an orchard, and a more threatening tune for a campsite with a sleeping bear. There are also numerous sound effects such as buzzing bees and the childish laughter and scream of Gray.
The overall tone is lightly humorous, and a touch surreal in places. As well as conversing with the locals, you will also have dialogue with the sun. A key repeated puzzle is trying to get the sun to go down, as Gray believes his space ship will be easier to spot in the dark. You must gather and use a small amount of inventory as you progress. It is also important to revisit areas, as completing some tasks will result in a change to previously visited areas that will provide you with the means to proceed further. With his literally encyclopaedic knowledge of Earth, Gray spouts a huge amount of detail about practically anything you look at or interact with. This ensures a lot of text to get through in this game, though the facts are generally interesting for those willing to read it all. The end result is a slightly whimsical game that is likely to leave the player better informed, though not necessarily on anything practical.
Gray can be downloaded from the AGS website.
The year is 1888, and a mining expedition in Wyoming has made a startling discovery. About 50 feet down, a perfectly spherical chamber has been discovered. Within this strange void rests a device that appears to pull electricity out of the ether. More mysterious still, further excavation has unearthed a second device that appears to be some sort of doorway. When the crystal rods located nearby are inserted, it offers up passages to other worlds. Will this prove a fantastic boon for mankind, or would it have been better to leave it buried?
In the debut episode of a new series, William Buchanan offers the first journey to fantastical worlds. Presented in first-person view, the display is high-quality, realistic 3D. Starting off at your remote mining camp, you will delve deep into the earth and then on to a strange alien world. Whilst the Earth setting has the appropriate technology of the time, such as Leyden jars to power the mine lights, the alien setting is full of bizarre devices. Forward movement is strictly slideshow-based, though turning results in a sweep of the intervening view. There are also limited animations, such as a key turning in a lock. An ambient sci-fi musical tune plays in the background throughout.
Control is mainly point-and-click, though there is a selectable keyboard option for navigation. The initial challenge is to light up the pitch-black tunnel of the dig. After this you will mostly be exploring the world on the other side of the gate, with its unearthly sky and strange new devices. Every inventory item has an examine button attached that allows close-up viewing. This is vital to progress, as item combination is only possible when zoomed in and other items need to be manipulated to get full use of them. There is a code lock, but most puzzles involve item application, with some objects being used in more than one way. This first chapter only allows you to explore one new world, but future episodes promise a wider range of environments.
Worldgate can be played online at JayIsGames.
I’m a private eye, but not the sort you call in for just any old case. I’m the man they call when weird things happen, when the facts of a case seem to suggest that something beyond the mundane world is involved. Now I have been called to Fog Town to investigate a missing woman. She had been looking into a series of strange disappearances, and had been doing a lot of investigation into vampires. I just hope I can find her before it’s too late.
The latest offering from Pastel Games is a noir thriller with a horror twist. The graphics are black and white in a line-drawn style, though with varying line width and shading to give scenes depth. These are mostly presented in first-person, though the eponymous detective does appear on-screen in some scenes. There are limited animations, including a rolling tram car. The look gives the setting a dark, oppressive feel. The town where you start feels vaguely sinister and the commanding tower and church of later sections feel even worse. This is backed up by the eerie, breathy-sounding background music of external areas, and the no-more-soothing internal keyboard piece. Sound effects of echoing footsteps and creaking machinery also add to the atmosphere.
Whilst not particularly gruesome, the tone of the story is gothic horror. Starting in the town where the missing woman was investigating, you begin by tracing the path of her inquiries. As you find out more about her work, you learn that she may be in great danger, as she could be the key to an ancient ritual. Fixing machinery, opening secret passageways and some simple dialogue puzzles all advance your quest for answers. Whilst you will be put in dangerous situations, there are no points where quick reflexes are required. The story builds to a satisfyingly dramatic conclusion, with a hint that we may hear more from the monster detective in the future.
Monster Detective can be played online at Cool Buddy.
Hood Episode 4
Even having cleared her of the accusations of witchcraft, I have continued to track the hooded girl. Now her trail has led me beyond the mortal realm into the world of spirits. My kind are not welcome in this place, and hostile reactions and strange barriers are to be expected. Worse, the place leeches on the memories of those residing here, and my memories are already starting to form part of its landscape. Even as I struggle to keep from losing myself, it appears there is more going on here than a simple missing girl. Could my pursuit have greater consequences than I realised?
The fourth episode brings this tale from Hyptosis to a close. The artwork is still the hand-painted style of the previous games, though the detail has improved noticeably over the course of the series. The spirit world is a gloomy place, with the backgrounds rendered in shades of blue, the only other colours coming from the land’s various inhabitants. Starting in a forest, you will travel to a dungeon, each of which is littered with odd items created from the memories of the spirits. These include objects from previous games, as the memories of the player character start to be included. The game is presented in the same first-person slideshow format as before. These scenes also include some limited animation. The familiar music-box musical theme of the previous episodes continues to play here. There are also some appropriate sound effects, including the music of a bard.
Players really need to play the previous instalments, linked in the title screen, to understand what is going on here. The story includes numerous references to past events beyond the simple fact of the missing girl. In particular, an important element from an earlier episode plays a vital part in the end-game of this one. You carry some items from previous episodes, most notably an animated pumpkin which protects you from spirits. Using this on almost any item results in a humorous response. Otherwise, the story is a slightly grim one, with inventory, some combination puzzles and some riddles keeping you from your goal.
Hood Episode 4 can be played online at Newgrounds.
Why Am I Dead?
In the hotel owner’s office, a man lies dead. His spirit, hovering over this sad sight, feels unable to move on without finding out the cause of his demise. Possessing a nearby young man, he sets about this task. The hotel is cut off in a storm and help is not coming any time soon. With the investigation turning up strange and disturbing facts about the people in the hotel, there may be more to this death than first meets the eye.
With both a simple look and gameplay, Peltast Design have nevertheless created a compelling little story. The graphics are done in a retro pixel style, reminiscent of many old top-down role-playing games. The ghost protagonist is a vaguely humanoid shape with a pulsing outline that floats around. The guests and staff of the hotel are all small but distinct figures, with full walking animations. These range from the white-shirted hotel manager to the disturbing man who seems to only wear a raincoat. The backgrounds show simply furnished hotel rooms with little details such as bottles scattered on a drunkard’s floor. The action is backed up by the sound of the storm, together with an ominous booming noise as you pass from room to room.
Using the keyboard, your possession of the other people in the hotel only gives you limited control. Whilst you are able to move characters around freely, you are unable to collect any items, and your conversations with others are limited to dialogue choices appropriate to the currently possessed character. The game therefore revolves around a complicated series of dialogue puzzles, as you switch characters to get different options to progress. As you discover more about what is going on in the hotel, some characters will gain knowledge from your conversations, which will affect both your dialogue choices and their responses when you question them as another character. You'll encounter an interesting variety of people, from the idealistic Cricket seeking to solve the mystery to the frankly disturbing Orvall the exhibitionist. The story twists and turns, leading to a satisfyingly dramatic conclusion.
Why Am I Dead? can be played online at Newgrounds.
Josh had a wonderful evening planned with his girlfriend Becky. He was going to take her to a grand ball, propose to her and then enjoy a special reservation at the Orchid hotel. But when he returned home after putting his plans together, a terrible shock awaited him. A note taped to his door said that she never wanted to see him again. Certain the note is a forgery, Josh sets out to find his missing love. Perhaps the jealous-looking man with the saucepan on his head in the jewellery store is involved.
This light story from Carmel Games provides a casual adventure in pursuit of love. The graphics are a bold cartoon style, with shading used to give depth to the backgrounds. As well as Becky’s strangely empty apartment, you will visit the China Panda restaurant and the swanky Orchid hotel. The characters are smoothly animated, with many having idle animations, such as a fortune teller gently swaying in a trance. There are limited sound effects and a soundtrack that fits each location, including a creepy tune that plays in the local graveyard.
The tone of this adventure is light and gently humorous. Your collected items appear at the bottom of the screen, ready for selection to use in the environment. The game also features a map showing a street level view of the local area, which provides quick travel from location to location. As well as inventory-based puzzling, you will have a simple map-based puzzle to solve. You will also engage in a bit of light gambling, though with a machine that is apparently rigged to produce the results necessary to advance the story.
The Proposal can be played online at Mouse City.
Future City 3000
Having hacked for a while now, you are starting to have trouble telling reality from the online world. People look like icons and the world seems grey and empty. Now your talents are being sought by people that won’t take no for an answer. But your apartment building has been sealed off by the police as they investigate illegal access to the online computer matrix. With your life on the line if you don’t come through, you’ll need to keep your wits about you. Maybe Natalya can help.
Set in a slightly surreal-looking dystopian future, this game from Ben Weatherly is a grim tale. The backgrounds are high-rise blocks in varying shades of grey. By contrast, the people are bright blue pixelated forms, reminiscent of early video game avatars. Their movement is equally limited, as walking around largely consists of characters wobbling back and forth without moving their legs at all. They do have limited animations, such as a policeman restlessly moving his shield and baton up and down, though these once again mimic early RPG avatars' simple-cycle animations. The background music is a laid-back synthesiser piece, matching the retro cyberpunk setting. There are also some sound effects which mainly add to the retro game feel.
The hacker player character is prone to dark introspection, adding to the down-beat tone already established by the graphical appearance. The problem of the online matrix world's pixelated avatars bleeding into reality is also a repeated feature, with some characters apparently winking in and out of reality as if they had simply been turned on and off. Using a small amount of inventory, you will initially deal with the problem of getting into your apartment. Discovering that your computer has been trashed by the cops, you then have to travel in search of your friend Natalya. You will also engage in some brief dialogue puzzling before revealing the truth behind your nightmarish situation.
Future City 3000 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.
Donald Dowell and the Ghost of Barker Manor by Athena Games – A pensioner embarks on a new career in this short playable demo.
Errand by Crystal Shard – A young girl turns her household errands into a dramatic adventure.
Yves by Begamer – When a brilliant idea strikes him, Yves needs to gather a strange collection of objects to realise his vision.
Polar Tale by Begamer – Join a little polar bear in a quest for sun.
A Nightmare 2: Apocalypse – When the world is overrun with the undead, what will you do to survive?
Sister’s Little Helper by Pierrec – At the end of the day, sister just needs a little something and a story to get off to sleep.
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!