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Following Freeware: May 2013 releases

Following Freeware: May 2013
Following Freeware: May 2013

This month, if you're not afraid of heights you can infiltrate an airship to (literally) bring down a nefarious gang. If you don't mind getting your feet (and maybe other parts) wet, you can delve into the sewers to stop an assassination conspiracy or dive deep into the ocean in search of a legendary temple. Not all temples are underwater, however, as you can steal treasure from one above ground as well, though you won't escape easily with your spoils. Elsewhere, a village needs saving through a series of RPG spoof quests, a missing exploration party is stranded on an island out of time and place, and a genie-summoning spell needs a variety of ingredients collected. For those who'd rather stay closer to home, you can investigate a missing persons case in the local mall, or look inward as a robot on an introspective journey. Some famous names are in play this month, including President Obama saving the Scooby Doo gang from a haunted house, the cast of Comedy Central's Ugly Americans dealing with the supernatural and alien inhabitants of New York, and Woodward and Bernstein in a surreal Watergate investigation much different than history remembers it. All these await in this month’s roundup of new releases from the freeware scene.
 



Infiltrating the Airship


Henry Stickmin's criminal career has definitely had its ups and downs. From bank robbery to diamond theft via a daring prison escape, his adventures have brought him significant trouble. But his luck and perseverance against all odds have brought him to the attention of the government. Promising to clear his record, they have hired him to infiltrate the airship of the notorious Tophat Clan. Whilst suspected of major crimes, this gang has always managed to avoid leaving the evidence needed to conclusively implicate them. Now, with a whole new range of inadvisable devices, it is up to Henry to sneak on board and find the proof to bring the gang, and their airship, down.

Puffball United’s hapless stickman takes his adventures to new heights. The same simple but effective cartoon style from the previous episodes is in evidence here. The characters are all stick people, but with expressive heads and limited clothing. This time around, top hats are the most popular choice, being the predominant gang apparel. The various members of the gang are distinguished by other features, such as the ginger moustache of the right-hand man and the leadership medallion worn by the boss. These are all smoothly animated, as before. The game is fully voiced to a good standard, with each character having a distinctive tone. There are also multiple sound effects and music, many imitating other games being spoofed, including Mass Effect and Final Fantasy.

There are several ways of winning the game, but as in Stickmin's previous escapades, there are many more ways of losing. Taking a surreally humorous approach throughout, you find your allies as much a danger to you as the criminals you are infiltrating. You are also supplied with a range of gadgets of varying degrees of helpfulness, some involving outside references such as the Techno Trousers from Wallace & Gromit. Whenever you fail, you have the option to retake the last decision, step back to the previous decision or start over again. There are also some segments where you will need to act moderately quickly, though being too slow will usually generate its own unique fail.

Infiltrating the Airship can be played online at Newgrounds.
 

Adventure Island

Katie Smith

Annie Player is asked to investigate an unknown island where an exploration team has disappeared. When she arrives, she realizes that there’s more to the island than meets the eye. It turns out it’s not as uninhabited as previously thought, and each section of the island seems to have been pieced together from different times and places, with old-fashioned pirates across the way from futuristic machines and perhaps even portals to different worlds.

Adventure Island is an epic undertaking from Elen Heart. The game is huge, from the large number of island locations to its many puzzles and characters. The graphics use photorealistic backdrops with  a 3D character model of Annie to guide around on screen. It is also fully voiced, and atmospheric sounds from seagulls to the ocean near the abandoned camp immersively fill the game world. The backgrounds are gorgeous, though the animation is a little more ragged.

This is an adventure filled with references and homages to tons of different thematic genres and games, such as Myst, Monkey Island, Broken Sword, Syberia, and many more. It’s a pure point-and-click game, and clicking arrows moves Annie from one screen to the next. There are tons of puns throughout, beginning with the main character’s name, and there's a thought-provoking mystery to tie it all together. The puzzles vary from inventory to riddles that fluctuate in difficulty.

Adventure Island can be downloaded from the AGS website.
 

Watergate: The Video Game

Claudio Medina

It’s June 1972. You’re journalist Bob Woodward and you just received a call from your boss at The Washington Post about a burglary in the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee. You and Carl Bernstein are assigned to report on this strange incident. It’s time to do some investigative journalism! You know the drill. Find clues, take notes, make the right calls and stay away from hookers and LSD. Wait…what?

What commenced as a pun between two friends regarding a hypothetical sequel to the old MacVenture game Shadowgate became a real thing thanks to the restless work of Samuel Kim. Thus, Watergate was born. And it is a proper homage to the venerable classic adventure in a lot of senses, including a brilliant 8-bit soundtrack, first-person view, static low-res pixel art graphics and a distinct movement interface involving a mini-map with boxes representing the rooms that surround you.

You interact with your environment using common verbs such as use and speak, along with less useful ones like punch, in a similar way to LucasArts SCUMM games. Picking up objects and using them on the right hotspots is a crucial part of the gameplay. The game starts as a serious reenactment of the investigation into the Nixon cover-up scandal, similar to the movie All the President's Men, but soon transforms into a comedic, often arbitrary adventure that strays from the real events and drifts into surrealism. So don't be surprised when you encounter Mario & Luigi and they become the key to surviving one of the many horrible and unexpected ways of dying, as it won't be an unsual event in this bizarre path to a Pulitzer prize.

Watergate: The Video Game can be played online at the official website.


The Search for Oceanspirit Dennis


The village is in trouble, a nameless but terrible doom approaching to destroy it. Tasked with saving the village, Ray is sent to the next town over to find and return with the legendary hero, Oceanspirit Dennis. But Arimeth, guardian of the only bridge between these two locations, is unwilling to let Ray pass. If only he had enough Manners Points, Ray could unleash his special ability and easily defeat Arimeth. It looks like he will have to do some favours for his fellow villagers if he is to earn the points he needs.

OneDollar’s addition to the Oceanspirit Dennis canon is an RPG-spoofing adventure. The characters are moderately low-resolution, though the backgrounds are more highly detailed with shading to give them a real sense of depth. You will visit the local tourist information office, a nearby field, and the subterranean bunker of a local gamer. The sprites are decently animated, including facial animations, such as Ray’s eye-popping surprise at an off-screen event. The soundtrack has a sweeping high fantasy feel, with some appropriate sound effects backing up the action.

As befits an RPG spoof, the quests that you must undertake to acquire Manners Points are a satire of the mundane tasks handed out early in such games. A bald man requires you to move a table, whilst a young girl sends you on a fetch quest for milk and cookies so her teddy bear will go to sleep. You will meet some bizarre characters as well, including the tourist information officer who communicates solely via glove puppets. Nods to other games abound, with a giant Final Fantasy sword on sale as a souvenir and a Banjo Hero controller available as an item. The gamer in the bunker also sets you the task of playing two games that are undeniable spoofs of the worst sides of freeware gaming. Despite mimicking RPG combat at one point, the game strictly requires adventuring skills to complete.

The Search for Oceanspirit Dennis can be downloaded from the AGS website.


Ugly Americans: Citizen Ugly


Mark Lilly really loves his job at the New York Department of Integration. His daily work involves making sure the supernatural and alien denizens of the city manage to fit in and lead fulfilling lives. With his arch-nemesis, Grimes, always seeking an excuse to throw his charges out, his job is not an easy one. But not even an ever-growing caseload or extensive budget cuts will cause Mark to fail those under his care. The fact that his succubus girlfriend has left him handcuffed to the bed could prove an issue though.

Based on the Comedy Central cartoon series Ugly Americans, ClickShake have produced a surreally fun game. The graphics match the style of the original series, with fully detailed characters and backgrounds. The human characters are in proper proportion with the more unusual characters, such as a floating brain, equally well-drawn. The animation is also up to the quality of the television series. The soundtrack is equally reminiscent of the program, with each town location having its own short tune. The game even features voicework from the original actors in some scenes.

Given the source material, naturally this is a game with quirky humour. The challenges you face include a Fishhookman and Fishman having life-guard tests at the same time and a zombie struggling to restrain itself in its job at the brain depository. The initial puzzle of freeing Mark from the bed serves as an introduction to the interface, including a section of the inventory that allows you to combine two objects. Once you have reached Mark's workplace, you are given a stack of ten cases to work on. Whilst there are some minor overlaps, you can largely work on the cases independently, allowing you to switch cases if you get stuck. The clipboards for each case track tasks related to that particular problem, and there is an easily accessible map to jump between available locations. Inventory plays a major part, though you will also need to engage your clients in dialogue. The unique abilities of your clients and other unusual locals also play a part, including a puzzle to induce a werewolf to change shape during the day.

Ugly Americans: Citizen Ugly can be played online at the developers’ website.
 

Creepo's Tales: Chopping Mall

Katie Smith

Mike’s burger stand at the mall isn’t doing very well, since everyone is flocking to the new Joe’s Burger shop next door. But perhaps there's an opportunity to reverse his fortunes. There has been a rash of missing people at the mall, and Mike hopes to get some publicity for himself by trying to solve the mystery, and maybe bring Joe’s Burgers down while he's at it.

Despite its somewhat edgy-sounding premise, Creepo’s Tales is a wonderfully polished comedy game by Carmel Games. The graphics are bright and colorful, with at least six different areas to explore, from the different stores in the mall to the police station and a wax museum. The game is fully voice acted with solid performances, while the background music is nicely atmospheric in establishing a “hunt for clues” mentality.

This first-person point-and-click adventure is played in your browser, and is mostly an inventory-based game, with just one additional mathematical puzzle. Some of the hotspots are small and blend into the background, but all of the puzzles make sense. If you do get stuck, a walkthrough is linked on the browser website. The big twist in the plot is predictable, but it’s still an enjoyable playthrough.

Creepo's Tales: Chopping Mall can be played online at JayIsGames.


Kingdom of Liars 2


As a new member of the Hernassian Guards, your first assignment led to you uncover an assassination plot. Brandt, a local politician seeking the mayoral seat, is under threat from a magical weapon. Since this weapon is made up of non-metallic components which thwart the normal detection systems, the assassin could prove difficult to trace. With the conspiracists still one step ahead, you must now delve into the sewers under the city to track them down before it is too late.

Hyptosis’ series set in the city of Ashbane continues where the previous episode left off. The familiar watercolour style of the earlier game is once more in evidence, with the same fantasy races, such as the insectoid Antars, again putting in an appearance. Your investigation this time will take you from the opulence of the city hall to the dank sewers below. The soundtrack consists of a lugubrious fantasy tune, with suitable sound effects like the metallic sound of a grate being moved.

Whilst the main thrust of your enquiries is in finding the assassin in the sewers, you will travel all over the city to find the items you need. You will converse with various denizens of the city of Ashbane, many of whom require a boon from you before they will grant assistance. To aid the player, descriptions of hotspots are displayed whenever you point at them, though interaction with most is limited. Inventory use and combination is the main way to progress, though a magical combination lock also provides an obstacle.

Kingdom of Liars 2 can be played online at Newgrounds.


The Queen of Snakes

Katie Smith

An expedition sets out to find the treasure of the snake’s temple, and one by one gets picked off by the dangers in the jungle until only one remains. As the last remaining survivor trapped inside, it’s up to you to not only find the treasure, but also find a way out. Through twisting caverns and rooms, you need to unlock the secrets that have been kept hidden, but the sleeping force hidden in the temple will not like its treasure being stolen.

The Queen of Snakes by Jo 99 has no real plot beyond finding the treasure and getting out of dodge, but the scenery is gorgeous along the way. Thick bold lines, bright colors and intricate details are present in all the rooms, giving the game a very distinctive hand-drawn art style. There is no speech at all, but the soundscape is still rich with the noises of animals and native jungle music that increases in fervor the further you get into the game.

This lighthearted comedy game is played in a browser, and involves both inventory and symbol puzzles. Clues are scattered through the rooms in the form of books. The game is presented mostly in first-person view, with movement occurring by clicking on-screen arrows. Although there is a prevailing sense of danger, you can not actually die, leaving you free to explore at your leisure.

The Queen of Snakes can be played online at JayIsGames.


Obama in the Dark 2


Having solved the mystery of the haunted mansion, the President was looking forward to some much needed down-time. The Scooby Doo gang, having turned up just as he defeated the evil spirit inhabiting the house, arrive to check out the scene. Just then, a malevolent storm sweeps in, filling the house with dark spirits and sucking the gang inside. It looks like it is up to Obama to once again purge this house of evil.

Inkagames' new adventure picks up immediately where the previous instalment left off. The same cartoon style of their other games is used here, with the over-sized heads of characters providing recognisable caricatures of the individuals depicted. The locations of the previous game, modelled on the house from Alone in the Dark, make a reappearance here, though with some changes caused by the new haunting. The graphics are smoothly animated throughout. A disturbingly spooky tune plays through most locations, though a more echoing percussive piece plays during the underground sections.

Extensive inventory use is once again the main order of the day, with a large array of items to be found. Some of these are used on their own, whilst others are used in conjunction with various mechanisms scattered throughout the house. There are also a number of combination locks to overcome, including a cunning pattern-matching puzzle. As in the developer's previous games, there are a number of game-over events, each coming with a clue to survival and a button undoing the fatal action. Some of these simply result from taking careless action, but there are a handful where the player must act against a moderately generous timer.

Obama in the Dark 2 can be played online at the developer's website.
 

Habla Kadabla


Running her little magic shop, Habla Kadabla finds her enchanted cash register a great aid. Then one night, someone breaks into her shop and steals her beloved machine. With no evidence to go on, Habla must employ magical aid if she is to locate the thief. A genie-summoning spell should do the trick, enabling her to pinpoint the culprit exactly. It’s a pity that she only has the recipe and not the ingredients within the shop. Perhaps a scout around town will turn up the items she needs.

Carmel Games’ latest production is a light tale of a jolly magic user. The graphics are done in a bright cartoon style, with Habla’s dark attire more than offset by the cheery grin permanently plastered on her face. Your search for the stolen item will take you to a brightly-bedecked fun fair and the local museum of witchcraft. The artwork is simply but effectively animated. A jaunty tune that matches the personality of the lead character provides a musical background to proceedings. There are also a number of appropriate sound effects, and the game is fully voiced throughout.

Starting at the scene of the crime, your first task is to put together the page for the genie spell which the thief has torn into a number of pieces. Armed with this knowledge, you must then search the local town for the ingredients necessary to cast the required spell. Exploration and dialogue with the various townsfolk should turn up everything you need, with inventory use providing the main passage past the obstacles you face. As well as a jigsaw puzzle at the start, you will also need to take care to follow the recipe exactly when you have gathered the necessary requirements. Fortunately, the game grants you an infinite supply of the ingredients once found, as well as a way of resetting the potion mixing if a mistake is made.

Habla Kadabla can be played online at Mouse City.
 

Deep Hope

Katie Smith

Alex is going deep-sea diving to find a mysterious temple that legend says can help heal his sick girlfriend, Zoe. Unfortunately for him, he’s going to need to get past sharks and ancient rituals to find his answers. What is he willing to do to save Zoe, and can he make the right decision when the time comes?

Cleanic has made a unique undersea adventure where your decisions have unexpected consequences. The pixel art graphics are clean and atmospheric, and the screen constantly sways slightly to mimic the waves in the water. Alex’s swim animation is nicely done. Music plays soothingly in the background, but there is no voice acting or any notable underwater sounds.

The game is inventory-based, with an underwater cell phone device that Alex can use to ask Zoe for help and information. Left-clicking interacts with an object, while right-clicking has Alex describe what is seen, usually gleaning more a little more information from the commentary. There are multiple endings, though only one save slot, so you will have to start all over to see the different endings. Thankfully for this purpose, each individual time through the game is pretty short.

Deep Hope can be downloaded from the AGS website.


The Can

Claudio Medina

What does a robot think? How self-aware is it? At what point does a complex algorithm turn into an autonomous thought and then into a feeling, and what happens when that feeling turns out to be fear? This is the story of a bot abandoned by his owner and transported to a facility for other undesirable cyborgs.

In this introspective journey of a robot by springthoughts, The Can's graphics are bleak and minimal, dominated by basic geometric shapes and a grey color palette, while sound is completely absent from the whole game. This may seem like a serious omission, but the silence helps immerse the player in an atmosphere where the intellectual experience is elevated above all else. The overall realism is augmented by some fantasy elements that are "used as metaphors for human experiences."

This game uses the traditional Sierra adventure game interface and mouse modes (look, use, walk), but in addition to the regular objects you can collect in your inventory, you'll also have access to character thoughts that you can use with other elements to explore the robot's "mind" and push its psychological discovery further along. The player can combine, for example, the notion of being disassembled with another thought to drive the robot into an irrational state of fear.

The Can 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.

Kraven Manor by Demon Wagon Studios – Finding shelter in a remote manor house may prove a bad idea, with its warped interior hiding a dark secret in this game with survival horror overtones.

A Duck Has an Adventure by Stillmerlin – What path will the life of a little duck take? Only you can decide.

Lost Fluid by jjwallace – An alien life-form consisting solely of liquid must try to find its way home.

Daeblo Episode 1 by scuddle – Hell is now a better place than Earth, and as a young demon you’ll find the most twisted ways to get back in. 

The Pubicle by Billy Peden – A safety inspector must deal with a bio-engineered monster in a humorous adventure in the style of Space Quest.

Grand Banda by Pastel Games – Two elderly women look to restore power in their house in the most insane and dangerous way.

House of de Sade by slasher – Rescue all the children in the haunted de Sade Manor while trying to maintain your sanity. 

Gold of the Red Dragon by Scarab117 – Mongoose Fitch, loveable peasant and nephew to a wizard, sets off on an adventure to become a suitable candidate to marry the princess.
 



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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