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Following Freeware: April 2013 releases

Following Freeware: April 2013
Following Freeware: April 2013

This month you can prevent terrorist attacks on two entirely different trains. Horror fans can try to rescue their mad father, explore a not-so-abandoned warehouse or try to find their identity in an old church. For lighter fare, you could take the role of a deranged bum seeking to restore his football pet, a fat cat looking into animal disappearances, or a man searching an odd hotel for his missing wife. Alternatively, you might try to save everyone in a flaming building or simply attempt to restore form to a world gone colourless and blocky. All these await in this month’s roundup of new releases from the freeware scene.
 



No One Has to Die

You were just visiting the Fenix Corporation offices to deliver some stationery. When you found the two guards at the security station dead, you logged on to the company network to find out what was going on. Now you find that the killer of the security guards has also set a fire, trapping four employees in the building. As the only person with access to the building’s security systems, it’s up to you to try to guide these four to safety. But your access is limited and casualties seem inevitable. Is there really a way of ensuring no one has to die?

Image #1Stuart Madafiglio has taken a simple gameplay mechanic and woven a fascinating narrative. The player view mimics the security monitor the protagonist is using to access the computer systems. Initially you engage in chat with the trapped employees with simple character icons and varied colours identifying who is saying what. After each round of conversation, you are presented with a grid layout of the current floor with the chat icons representing individual locations. Certain squares also contain icons for doors, water systems and the spreading fire. The music in these segments is a fast dramatic piece, ramping up the tension, whilst the chat sections are backed up by a slower but no less ominous track.

Gameplay is relatively simple. Once you have run through the non-interactive dialogue sessions, you are told to issue your security instructions. You are able to lock a security door, instruct people to move to adjacent rooms, and providing there is someone next to a switch, turn the water systems on and off. Action is turn-based, with a button advancing the action once you have issued all your instructions. Fire spreads to adjacent squares, as does water if the systems are on, and characters caught by either will die. The computer system tells you how many casualties are inevitable, and resets the level if too many people die. Otherwise, a floor is completed once the fire and water cease to advance. To achieve the promise of the title, you will need to explore all the possibilities. In taking every route, you will uncover the true purpose of the secretive Fenix Corporation, a company that seems to exist solely to buy strange items in bulk. 

No One Has to Die can be played online at the developer’s website.
 

The Rail

Far out in the depths of space lies a planet fixed in a non-rotating orbit around a potent but dying star. With one side perpetually scorched and the other frozen, it would not seem an ideal place to colonise. But the constant heat of the star-baked side has produced valuable minerals, whose exploitation led to the founding of Dawn Landing in the temperate zone. Transporting minerals from the mines to this temperate location is the Rail, a Maglev train, running across half a world. For its single human supervisor, this is normally an uneventful duty. But today, someone wants to turn the train into a bomb to destroy Dawn Landing. Faced with gun-wielding hijackers, supervisor Victor Webbe must find a way to thwart their fiendish plans.

Image #2Originally made from scratch in just four weeks for the AGS Bake Sale, Technocrat’s latest re-release is another sci-fi hit. The graphics are done in a fairly detailed cartoon style, with well-drawn characters that are smoothly animated. The main action takes place within the cramped carriages of the train itself, though you will later travel to the roof where the hijackers have landed their ship. The alien desert of the scorched half of the planet can be seen passing through windows, as can various background machinery operating as well. A grand sci-fi musical theme plays throughout, adding to the epic feel of the adventure.

The situation creates a serious sci-fi tone, with supervisor Webbe considered an expendable scapegoat by the terrorists. Despite this, they seem unwilling to shoot him, and there do not appear to be any game-over events, though the final scene can change depending on your actions. Item use and combination provides the way forward as you seek a way of disabling both the terrorists and the bomb they have brought on board. Some puzzles also have more than one solution, allowing persuasive dialogue or more brutal item use to achieve one particular goal.

The Rail can be downloaded from the AGS website.
 

Urbex

For many years you have been an urban explorer and photographer. Exploring abandoned buildings, with the risk of getting caught or injured by deteriorating architecture, is a special thrill. Now one of your regular contacts, graffiti artist Stinger, has invited you to take pictures of his latest work in an abandoned factory. Initially Stinger’s absence at the entrance does not worry you as you delve into a new environment. But this factory is not as abandoned as it seems, and you may not be alone here. This is one exploration you may not be walking away from.

Image #3Psionic Games have created a chilling urban horror tale. The graphical presentation uses a predominantly first-person slideshow format with a photorealistic appearance. Even from the outside the factory looks horribly decayed, with the wind blowing loose cables around. Inside, most areas are too dark to see clearly, with a torch effect following your cursor around to illuminate the scene. At certain points in the game, there are fully animated cutscenes, such as your fall from an unstable walkway. The sound is limited to background noises, though the lack of music adds to the disturbing atmosphere. As well as the mundane creaks and moans of the aging building, you will hear whispered voices, some unclear and some you would prefer not to understand. The game also features fully voiced tapes scattered throughout the building that fill in the backstory.

This is not a game for the faint-hearted. The first-person view puts you firmly in the action, and once you start to get some idea of what is going on, you will be as eager to escape as the playable character. Initially exploration is the key activity in the game, with inventory playing a minor role. As you progress, inventory and environment manipulation take on a greater role. There are also a number of sections where you will need to act quickly in order to avoid dying. Fortunately, the game features an autosave function that avoids the need for extensive replay. Completists can also try to get pictures of all the graffiti scattered throughout the building.

Urbex can be played online at Armor Games.

 

The Bum

The Bum leads a simple and harmless life in an abandoned back lot. There he simply plays with his pet football, providing commentary to the action by talking through a sock on one hand. This idyllic lifestyle is ruined one day when a bully breaks into the Bum’s little world. Upon discovering that his prey has nothing valuable to steal, the bully satisfies himself with bursting the precious ball. Now our poor hero must seek a way to restore his pet, hopefully finding a way to get revenge as he does so.

Image #4Gribbler and Parafia have created a game that has clearly benefited from the influence of early LucasArts productions. The pixel art graphics are reminiscent of Monkey Island 2, though with an urban setting instead of Caribbean islands. Apart from the vacant lot that serves as the Bum’s football field, there are the nearby streets and a city park to explore, complete with fountain and pigeons. The characters are also well animated, including the Bum conversing through his sock. The music may also seem familiar, largely sounding like a remixed version of the Monkey Island theme tune.

Production values are not the only things influenced by the LucasArts classic. The tone is very tongue-in-cheek humorous, with the main character presented as an amusing eccentric. Others are equally well-characterised, such as the tough biker Evil Man Thomas, who appears to be feeding the pigeons when he thinks no-one is looking. The interface incorporates a simple mouse-based look and interact combination, and hotspot location is aided by the cursor animating and a name appearing when you are pointing at an interactive item. Inventory collection and use is the main way forward, with dialogue providing the clues needed to progress.

The Bum can be downloaded from the AGS website
 

KTX- 1

The KTX-1 high speed train is a prestigious service. As well as transporting passengers and cargo rapidly, it is said to be secure against terrorist attack. This latter claim may soon be proved wrong, as you have received information that a bomb has been placed on board. Smuggled aboard the train to avoid causing panic, you must locate and disarm the bomb before it’s too late. With your status unofficial, you’ll have to circumvent both police and the train’s own security to succeed. It’s a good thing you have a Digital Warfare Assistant communicating remotely to aid you in your task.

Image #5Created by dkh for MAGS March with its theme of "Sidekicks", this is a small yet satisfying game. The graphics for the train are moderately low-res, though with sufficient detail to make items identifiable. These scenes have been given a bobbing motion to mimic the movement of the train, the view restricted to areas within the player character’s range of sight. When communicating with your remote assistant, a full-screen close-up of a computer display is presented with a varying signal indicator down the side. Certain puzzles, predominantly involving the use of remote hacking skills, also use the full-screen view. The background music is a simple piano piece, and there are sound effects for such things as the rattle of the train wheels.

Right-clicking on hotspots brings up a menu of available interactions. This always includes examine, but often has item-specific options as well, such as break. Using these options the player must progress through the train, whilst also avoiding the two policemen on board. Inventory use and environment manipulation are the main order of the day, including a trip across the roof of the train. There is also a hacking minigame in which you try to manoeuvre the cursor through the gaps in a number of rotating circles. Failure at this results in the system locking you out, but alternative solutions are available if this occurs. There is also a puzzle that requires moderate co-ordination as you operate against the clock, though with a fairly generous time limit.

KTX-1 can be downloaded from the AGS website.
 

Mad Father

Ever since her mother’s death exactly a year ago, Aya’s scientist father has become more withdrawn. He spends his days locked in his basement laboratory, performing strange and disturbing experiments with the help of his nurse assistant. Tonight, the horrors of those experiments will literally come back to haunt the family, as a curse raises up the unquiet spirits of those killed in the experiments. With her father taken away by a mysterious force, little Aya must face her fears and delve deep into the bowels of the house to find her father and some dark truths.

Image #6Made with RPG Maker, this game by Sen is a fine slice of horror. The graphics use a retro RPG top-down view, though with sufficient detail to identify items. The game features a handful of high-res cutscenes with limited animation for vital points of the story. There are also several flashback scenes, which use the main visual style but are displayed in sepia tones. Conversations in both the present and the past include illustrations of the character speaking next to their text-only dialogue. The game includes some gentle music, though it becomes manic in certain scenes. There are also sound effects such as squeals from Aya when she is taken by surprise.

This is a dark tale unsuited to the young or nervous gamer. Using keyboard controls, you must explore the house and the caverns below. You will need to find the combination for a safe, use and combine inventory, and discover hidden passages by moving or destroying items. At certain times you will need to act quickly, as monsters seek to bring you down. Damage is represented by a life bar, though this completely refills whenever you change location. There are still many ways to die, so using the crows scattered throughout to save your game is advisable. As well as the various deaths possible, the game has three major endings, two of which are considered bad ends.

Mad Father can be downloaded from the developer’s website.
 

Unholy Flesh

You wake up in a dark and decrepit room in an apparently abandoned church. With no idea where you are or how you got there, you start to explore this dark and dismal place. The crumbling structure is not the only jeopardy you face, as dangerous creatures scuttle in the dark and you are beset by threatening apparitions. As you discover more about your past, you fear that the truth may prove too much to bear.

Image #7GameShed have created an accessible text adventure with a horrific feel. The presentation involves predominantly text-based descriptions. To aid the Interactive Fiction novice, certain words are highlighted to provide a clue about which objects are worth pursuing through the text parser. There are also dynamic changes to the text to match the environment, such as the letters dimming when you are in an area with limited light. To supplement the written descriptions, there are occasional still illustrations that flash briefly before reverting to text. The background music consists of guitar pieces interspersed with eerie choral music in certain areas.

With visualisation of the environment largely limited to the player’s imagination, this proves to be a truly unnerving tale. The illustrations not only offer an impression of the setting, but they pop up unexpectedly, jolting any player who grows too comfortable with the simple text alone. In the absence of images much of the time, the detailed descriptions paint a full picture of the decay around you. Exploring the abandoned church turns up diary pages and other items that will explain your past. Supernatural events abound, some of which can prove fatal, though an autosave prevents too much repetition. There are two different endings, though only actions in the end-game differentiate between them. A skippable tutorial opens the game for text adventure novices.

Unholy Flesh can be played online at GameShed.

 

A Cat’s Night 2: Orazio Goes to Town

Having previously saved the local cat rescue centre, Orazio has now moved to the city of Forli and settled in with a new family. But his evenings of sitting out on the balcony are disturbed by a summons from the cat council. Whilst they at first seek solely to register him as a new cat citizen, his previous exploits make him ideal for another role. The newly formed Feline Bureau of Investigation needs a new agent to look into the kidnappings of cats and dogs throughout the city. With his old adversaries, the McTruff corporation, the most likely suspects, Orazio must use all his wiles to solve this mystery.

Image #8Miciosegone’s second outing for their four-legged hero takes him to a bustling metropolis. The same stylised artistry of the previous game is used here, with the large-eyed and somewhat fat Orazio carrying over from that game. This time the small cabins of the shelter give way to multi-storey buildings and magnificent monuments, such as the one used as a mayoral seat by the cat council. The characters, including several humans as well as the animal inhabitants, are all smoothly animated. A gentle soundtrack backs up most proceedings, though the villains get a more sinister tune. These are accompanied by suitable sound effects, including a happy meow to indicate progress in your quest.

With his new escapade taking place over a much wider area than his previous quest, Orazio is provided with a map. This allows you to jump straight to locations throughout the city, with more being discovered through clues and dialogue. The same cat basket inventory as before is used once again, and you will need to use and combine inventory to advance. You will also get involved in extensive conversations with the other inhabitants of the city, including members of the dog police. If you get stuck, a second cat that lives with you acts as a hint system. The tone is light throughout, as Orazio is very laid-back about his thrilling activities.

A Cat's Night 2: Orazio Goes to Town can be downloaded from the developer’s website.
 

This is not a minimalist game

At first it seemed like another day, another standard fantasy hero fetch quest. With 99 evil wizard heads already in your possession, you only needed one more to claim your just reward. But unlike his predecessors, your last target would not go down easily, uttering a terrible curse with his dying breath. Now you find yourself trapped in a world devoid of all but the most basic colours, sounds and shapes. To return to your own world, you must master this strange and terrifying land, taking back all the things you have lost.

Image #9Created for the minimalist-themed Ludum Dare 26, this game from Volute proves a surreal but satisfying experience. The initial graphics are moderately low-res, mimicking a platform-based online RPG. Once you have befallen the curse, the display becomes pure black and white, with characters only represented by boxes. Over the course of your quest, the graphics become more complex, eventually returning to the initial style. The sound also follows this trend, with a generic fantasy melody being replaced by a highly simplistic tune that grows more complex as you fill in more detail.

The game uses keyboard controls and some simple jumping mechanics, though none require expert platforming skills. In the initial area your character, reduced to a simple square, meets an identical square that lays another fetch quest on him. This yields unexpected results that start you on the path back to a world of shape and colours. As you progress, you are provided with a map that opens up more and more areas. You will interact with a number of other simple characters, though your quest does not always prove beneficial to them. Truly minimalist inventory, dialogue and exploration will see you safely back to the world you knew.

This is not a minimalist game can be played online at Kongregate.
 

Pierre Hotel

Holidays are always fun, and are even more so when your wife’s boss is footing the bill. As you park the car your wife enters the slightly strange hotel to book in. But when you follow her inside, the creepy looking desk clerk denies having even seen her. Determined to find your lost spouse, you begin to search the environs of Pierre Hotel. Surely she can’t just have disappeared into thin air.

Image #10Esthetix's latest adventure outing takes us to a less-than-desirable vacation spot. The graphics are presented in the same bright cartoon style as the developer's previous games. The characters are well animated, and there are background animations like a flickering fire. The locale is somewhat darker than previous offerings, with eerie paintings on the walls and coffin-shaped doors. The staff are also somewhat disturbing, the desk clerk in particular having a vampiric air. The action is backed by a simple rhythm and piano piece.

Despite the horror overtones, the game itself is lightly humorous. Exploring the hotel, you will find several obstacles to overcome, be it a simple locked door or a broken lift. Inventory use is vital to progress, and it is also necessary to examine some inventory closely for clues. There is also a matching puzzle that has to be completed against the clock, though with a relatively generous time limit.

Pierre Hotel can be played online at MouseCity.
 



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.

It’s election time in Pakistan: Go rich boy go by Jahanzaib Haque – Trying to vote isn’t always an easy task in this humorous tale using the Quest Engine.

Mimou Escape by Sylviepouetpouet – Being locked in a basket is no fun for a cat wanting to get on the prowl.

The Lost Relic by bsi73t – Follow in the footsteps of a previous investigator searching for a missing relic.

Skumring by eightbitskyline – Another divorce assignment takes a more interesting turn for private investigator Cooper Chutney.

Baba Yaga by Pastel Games – Wander too close to Baba Yaga’s hut and you might find yourself in her clutches.

Obama Hellboy by inkagames – With Hellboy absent without leave, the President must step in at the Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense.
 


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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Community Comments

anyone knows games similar to "noone has to die?" branching storylines, choise based..?
Jun 11, 2013
Urbex is great! it really should have been a fully fledged game ... thanks Steve so much ! dont know what we would do without you, esp. when we are broke ;)
Jun 1, 2013
Nice graphics on The Bum, it might not be stylized as Gemini Rue or Resonance, but there's a quite retro-charm to it.
Jun 1, 2013
Yay, Skumring is mentioned! Thanks for much needed attention :-)
Jun 1, 2013
The Rail looks like it has potential, might give it a look.
May 31, 2013
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