Following Freeware: March 2013 releases
This month you can play a cyborg in a post-apocalyptic world, a duck searching for her lost offspring, or even gaming legend Tim Schafer. Those with a more investigative turn of mind can look into a murder in the desert, hunt down a dastardly cheese theft in a futuristic restaurant or try to solve the mysterious disappearance of an old school friend. Alternatively, you can save this world from an anime cartoon villain, protect a magical world from an encroaching greyness or simply try to find the woman who stole your car. All these await in this month’s roundup of releases from the freeware scene.
The Last Door: Pilot Episode - The Letter
The letter from my old school friend, Anthony Beechworth, came as a complete surprise to me. Its only content was the motto of the secret society we had both been a member of back in our long ago school days. Knowing that this could only mean my old friend was in trouble, I rushed to his Sussex house. Alas, on my arrival, the front door lay open and the house itself appeared devoid of life. Have I arrived too late?
The first chapter of an intended online series from The Game Kitchen is a truly chilling tale, perhaps surprisingly so given its blatantly retro aesthetic. The graphics are very pixelated, with the character himself rendered faceless by the blocky graphical style. The backgrounds are marginally more detailed, though still low-resolution, but have been given more depth by use of lighting effects to create dark shadows. The protagonist and other living creatures, such as the crows gathered in the garden, are well-animated. From the brightly lit outdoors you will venture into the various rooms of the house that mostly look recently deserted, and even descend into the dark cellar. The background soundtrack is fully orchestral, creating an unnerving feel, and there are also suitable sound effects, mainly related to animals.
This is not a game for the faint-hearted. Far from detracting from the feel, the faceless nature of the protagonist adds to the disturbing atmosphere. With the dark halls and notes from servants who have abandoned the house, it soon becomes clear that terrible events have befallen this place. There are more grisly sights to discover, though these are handled well without resorting to outright jump scares. Using a point-and-click interface, the cursor changes when over hotspots, allowing first for examination and changing to interaction when possible. You will gather a small inventory, including a lantern that allows you to explore the darker potions of the house. For the most part, inventory use is well integrated with the setting, and certain actions trigger plausible changes around the house. The finale provides a truly shocking end to this chapter, promising an interesting tale to come.
The Last Door: Pilot Episode - The Letter can be played online at the developer’s website. Access to this chapter is currently limited to those donating to the crowdfunding campaign for the next episode, but it will be released for free to all in May.
Dead Cyborg: Episode 2 - In the Death
From the depths of your subterranean bunker, you have escaped to the surface world. But this environment looks no more inviting than the decaying corridors of your erstwhile home. The remains of ruined buildings form a maze around you, with only half-functioning robots and computers littering the pathways between the broken walls. Worse, the surface is subject to radiation that puts your human body at risk. If you are going to survive to find out more about this world, then you are going to need to find food, water and medication fast.
The second episode from Endre Barath takes the character from the first game out into the open, though not into an inviting landscape. The graphics feature the same detailed semi-realistic first-person view of the original. Whilst the occasional low-level structure is intact, the environment mostly consists of ruined walls and rubble. The malfunctioning robot inhabitants of this surface world stay in their places, either bemoaning their lot or simply watching you pass by. You are able to pan around a full 360 degrees horizontally, with a broad range up and down as well. Whilst there is music over the title menu and bursts at the start of each section, sound is largely limited to ambient effects like the buzzing of a force field.
In this instalment, you not only have to find your way through the ruin, but locate the items necessary to survive. Using the mouse to look around and interact and the keyboard to move, you will navigate a complicated maze. Text messages appear when you examine items, some of which provide backstory about the world's destruction and others advancing your quest. Whilst you do not have back-and-forth dialogue with the robots in the area, clicking on them often provokes a response that can aid your quest, such as providing a clue on how to open a sealed door. The game has no save system, but provides you with a password when you complete each major section to save you having to start over each time.
Dead Cyborg: Episode 2 - In the Death can be downloaded from the developer’s website, where the first episode is also available.
Host Master Deux: Quest for Identity
Tim Schafer is all ready to host the GDC awards. To make himself presentable, he has swapped his normal attire for a tuxedo and shaved off his beard. Unfortunately these very changes, together with a sudden failure to remember any jokes, mean the stage bouncer refuses to believe who he really is. It's lucky Tim’s luxurious mansion home is just across the street. Hopefully everything he needs to be properly recognisable can be found within those august walls.
Having previously had to hunt for jokes, the head of Double Fine once again finds that being invited to host is not an easy task. The artwork displays an exaggerated cartoon style, with the huge bouncer towering over the more normal-sized Tim. The graphics are well-animated, and include some background movement such as a flying beard bird. Tim’s mansion proves a somewhat unusual place, with floor-to-ceiling controls to his washing machine and a giant demonic tusked head in the bedroom. The musical background mainly consists of a bongo track with some simple strings, though there are a few other pieces.
The bouncer’s refusal to let Tim in is based on three features he was expecting Tim to have. This creates a three-task objective reminiscent of the Monkey Island games. Like in those classics, the three goals can be accomplished in any order. Using the keyboard to move around and interact, you'll spend most of your time in Tim’s strange mansion. There you will need to work out the code to his joke vault and gather other items to assist in your quest. Dialogue with the bouncer gives an indication of what needs to be done, and a colleague enjoying the backstage buffet is also willing to lend a hand. The washing machine will prove vital to one task, though repeated experimentation may be needed to succeed. There are also a handful of optional actions that affect the ending, with a total of six different endings possible.
Host Master Deux: Quest for Identity can be played online at the Double Fine website.
Barn Runner: The Rich Dame Who Cut the Cheese
The year is 2192, and for detective Prick Peckard of Arc 19: Evansville, life is hard. Trapped in a never-ending shift due to the Forever Friday phenomenon, he has put in ten continuous years of investigating. His latest task takes him to the swanky penthouse restaurant, El Refugion Del Rico. A priceless antique has gone missing from the mayor’s fundraising party: a wheel of genuine cow milk cheese. With the robotic Busboy going missing at the same time, the culprit seems obvious. But as Prick tries to track down the elusive bot, events take a strange turn. Just what has the scandal-prone mayor got himself into?
Originally made for the AGS Bake Sale and only now released for free, this is another tale of Ponch’s surreal futuristic series. The graphics use the bright cartoon style of the rest of the series, with characters generally in proportion, though some of the ladies appear somewhat enhanced in places. The main action takes place in the circular restaurant, with views of the tops of buildings outside the windows. You will also visit the bar, both the male and female toilets, and a manager’s office that doesn’t seem set up for everyday business. The background music is a jazz tune, representing the performance of the in-house band, Ginger and the Gin Tones.
This is not a game suitable for children or the easily offended, as there is sexual innuendo aplenty, though no actual action. Mayor Duchamp is a voluptuous lady who has a tendency to get into unfortunate situations with members of both sexes. The party is also full of other shady types, including a corrupt union boss and Pimpbot, leading procurer of robo-women. You’ll need to talk extensively to all the guests and staff at the party, with both helpful and disturbingly ribald dialogue to be found. Clever inventory use also comes into play, including a downright bizarre substitution to prevent the coat-check bot from taking your beloved raincoat. At certain points in the story, characters move around and new items appear, making a walk-round a wise move if you get stuck.
Barn Runner: The Rich Dame Who Cut the Cheese can be downloaded from the AGS website.
The Grey Rainbow
The world you live in is an unremitting landscape of grey boring buildings. Then one day you suddenly find yourself summoned to a land of bright colours and magic. But this land is under threat from a rainbow of grey that stretches across the sky above. With the inhabitants of the land powerless to stop its advance, your connection with the land of grey is seen to be the key to salvation. Embrace the magic of this place, and in so doing, save it from destruction.
Black Olive Games have created a fairy tale with a touch of the modern world. The graphics are done in a hand-drawn slideshow format. The art style is almost child-like in appearance, though with well-proportioned characters and moderately detailed settings. After an introduction showing the grey skyscrapers of your own world, the remainder of the game is brightly coloured, with only the titular rainbow casting a pall over the land. You will traverse an enchanted forest, visit the spirit of the land on an impossibly high mountain and seek help in a small village with mice shopkeepers. The majority of the action is in first-person, with non-animated comic panel cutscenes between major events showing the male protagonist. The background music goes well with the setting, having a gentle folksy tone.
Your initial task is to scale the mountain where the spirit of the land will be able to guide your quest. From this point onwards you will undertake a number of mini-quests to gather the required ingredients to reverse the malignant effects of the rainbow. The inhabitants of this world, such as a sentient tree and a cloud that has let itself fall perilously low, will help you in your adventure if you can persuade them to do so. This will often involve solving a problem they have, such as disentangling the cloud from the branches in which it is caught. Along with character interaction, you will use inventory, sometimes in combination, to further your goal. The characters and locations further the peaceful fairy tale atmosphere created by the visual presentation.
The Grey Rainbow can be played online at JayisGames.
Scene of the Crime: Dream of Murder
Out in the desert, a car has driven off the road with its front end embedded in a pole. But this car has a dead body in the boot, clearly not a victim of the crash. As the detective assigned to the case, what looks like a simple body dump proves more complicated with the discovery of a second body and the FBI warning you off the case. With everything stacked against you, can you pin down the truth behind these grisly events?
This latest offering from Pastel Games once more puts players in the shoes of a homicide investigator. The graphics are rendered in the same fine art style as their Rizzoli & Isles games, with a wealth of detail all presented in a slideshow format. Your initial perspective is a long-shot of the crime scene, but you will be treated to close-up views of areas of the car, such as the body-filled boot. Over the course of your enquiries, you will repeatedly visit police headquarters as well as other locations like a car rental business. Sound consists of location-appropriate effects, such as the desert wind blowing.
Advancing your quest for answers involves searching for clues to the mystery. Sometimes these are simply items or details in the various environments. In other instances you will need to use crime-fighting tools, such as a fingerprint kit, to reveal otherwise hidden evidence. Whenever you discover a clue, it will be numbered for you, and a second number indicates the total number of clues available at that location. You will sometimes need to examine collected evidence more closely back at headquarters to find out more detail not available in the field. As you uncover more, additional locations become available on the map until the full solution is revealed.
Scene of the Crime: Dream of Murder can be played online at Coolbuddy.
A Night in Crazyville
A young man can’t believe his luck when a young lady shows a sudden interest in him. Letting his guard down, he gives her his car keys to go retrieve something she claims to have left there. Too late, a news report reveals that his new friend is none other than Penny Sue Tucker, notorious car thief. With Penny Sue making off with his wheels, it looks like he will need to scour Crazyville if he has any hope of getting them back.
Esthetix's latest game takes players to a whole new weird location. The graphics are done in the same bright cartoon style of his previous games, such as Vortex Point and The Proposal, with properly proportioned characters all fully animated, including idle gestures. This time your search will take you to a cafe so vegan that the server won’t even hurt flies and a sideshow where a boy catches carrot balls in his mouth. In a new feature, this game is fully voiced to a decent standard, as well as having the usual speech bubble texts. The game also features a funky disco soundtrack to back up proceedings.
Players must deal with the odd locations and denizens of Crazyville in order to track down the elusive criminal. You will use both inventory and the environment around you to acquire the items and information you need to progress. Many of the actions required to succeed involve inflicting cartoonish harm on the locals, including your ultimate prey. Whilst not graphically depicted, this accent on anti-social behaviour may make this a less suitable game for the impressionable young.
A Night in Crazyville can be played online at Mouse City.
Mother duck and her four little ducklings were just out for a walk in the local park when a sudden powerful wind blew up. To her horror, mother duck saw her light-weight offspring picked up by this unfortunate zephyr and swept off across the park. Now this distraught parent must waddle the length and breadth of the park to retrieve her missing brood before she can head home again.
Waffle Friday Studios have created a gentle little adventure with a decidedly retro look. Both the graphics and sound hark back to the days of early home computers such as the Commodore 64, with simple graphics and 8-bit sound. The park grounds largely consist of swathes of green for the grass, with a handful of objects or people giving each park screen a distinctive look. The edge of the park is bounded by a simple white picket fence design.
Using keyboard controls, you will wander from screen to screen in your rescue mission. You can handle a limited amount of inventory, as well as being able to examine various objects in the park. Despite your avian nature, you are also able to speak to the people around the park, though these conversations consist solely of single responses. In some cases, certain characters briefly join your quest if you can arouse their interest. You are also able make a simple quack noise, which will be answered if you are on the same screen as one of your lost children.
Duck Quest can be played online at the developers’ website.
As if being President of the United States wasn’t a tough enough job, Obama is once again being called upon to save the world. This time the villainous alien Freezer and his henchmen are travelling to Earth to locate seven legendary dragon balls. With these mystical artifacts he could summon the dragon Shen Long, who has the power to grant a single wish. With Dragon Ball Z protagonist Goku stuck in the land of the dead, Obama must master the ancient fighting arts to prevent this power from falling into the wrong hands.
Once again, Inkagames hand the defence of Earth over to the President. The same bright cartoon graphics of their previous games are in evidence here, as are the slightly oversized caricature heads of the characters. In this instalment, you will also meet several characters from the popular anime series, with a look that matches the style of the original. Your journey will take you from the Oval Office to the island retreat of Master Rosh and the winding roads to the land of the dead. The game features a militaristic tune for the most part, but breaks out into music reminiscent of the Japanese cartoon at appropriate points.
Once again inventory plays a major part in Obama’s quest. This time around your inventory not only includes objects but also martial arts skills you have learned, such as the ability to temporarily enhance your speed and strength. These are used repeatedly in the fight sequences in the game, which will require moderately fast reflexes to pass. The majority of the game still involves exploration and conversation with characters, however, and includes standalone challenges such as a panel where you need to turn all the lights out.
Obamaball Z can be played online at the developers’ 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.
A small talk at the back of beyond by scriptwelder – Waking in a darkened bunker, a computer is your only conversational companion.
Threads of Disloyalty by josephmillertz – Assassination isn’t the only way for a ninja clan to overthrow a kingdom.
The Crooked Man by Uri – A new apartment may not be all it could be. Is the former inhabitant still here?
Candy Corn by gio-in – A robot travels from the future for that most precious substance, Candy Corn.
Searching for the Elephant by Asten Bidvad and Nexter – When his elephant companion vanishes in the night, a small bear must go on a quest to find him.
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!