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.Continued on the next page...