This month you can take ill-advised instructions from a talking rabbit or experience the surreal landscape of the world of dreams. A jazz musician finds that his father may have been up to more than he knew, whilst Christopher Columbus turns out to be not quite the hero he is made out to be. And in a pair of linked adventures, a government executive and a post-apocalypse mechanic have lives that seem somehow intertwined. All these await you in this month’s roundup of releases from the freeware scene.
The Rebirth/The Reaper
In a modern office block, a government executive worries about his pregnant wife and the war-torn world he is bringing a child into. Just as peace negotiations seem about to bring the war to an end, a bright flash triggers the emergency shutters. What has happened in the outside world, and what has become of his wife and unborn child? Elsewhere in a post-apocalyptic landscape, a man tries to repair a broken pump with whatever parts he can scavenge from the rubble. But a raven is sitting on a nearby tree, a creature he knows to be an agent of the reaper. His companion scoffs at his superstition, but is there something to his beliefs? In both places the portrait, Lady Twiner by Montgomery White, hangs on the walls. Just what exactly links these men?
Released as a matched pair for a One Room, One Week competition, these games from Francisco Gonzalez and Ben Chandler both present short but chilling tales. Whilst the smoothness of the modern office and the devastation of the post-apocalyptic scene present a stark contrast, they are both presented in a semi-realistic style. Characters are all smoothly animated and well-characterised. Both scenes have a wealth of finer detail to bring them to life. The office has a collection of antique vases on the shelves and a drinks cabinet. The war-ravaged landscape has a poisonous-looking sky and a ruined cityscape stretching off in the distance. Both games are matched by powerful soundtracks that match their respective tones.
Whilst made separately, these two short adventures are described as being part of a greater whole. In the short space of both games you get a feeling for the greater setting, with more than just a portrait linking the two. Gameplay uses a simple point-and-click interface, with right-click offering descriptions and left-click interacting. Both games have a small but effectively used inventory, with some items having more than one application. In the office, you will need to find an alternative solution when your hand-print no longer opens the main door. In the rubble, you will need to improvise from available objects to find a way to scare off the feared raven. Both games have a grim tone, with some violence that may render them unsuitable for a younger audience.
The Rebirth/The Reaper can be downloaded as a single zip file from the AGS website.
Ancient Aliens: The Roots of Sound
The year is 1992, and jazz musician Chet Gasbag is pulling in the crowds at the Black Orchid club in Chicago. For Chet, life is good, but with the recent death of his estranged father, he feels the need to get away for a while. But Chet might have left his escape too late. The mysterious Helvetius Foundation are convinced that his father sent Chet vital research documents before he died, and they are determined to get their hands on them at any cost. With the help of his father’s lovely assistant, now Chet is on the run.
The first chapter in a proposed series, this game from Miguel Santos provides an intriguing setup. The graphics are semi-realistic, with backgrounds fully detailed and the characters well-proportioned. Your travels in this initial instalment will take you from the dingy club to an up-market hotel as you seek to avoid the Foundation. The characters are all smoothly animated, with changing expressions to match their moods. There are also more detailed cut-scenes, though these are presented as stills rather than animations. A varied soundtrack plays throughout with mellow jazz changing to more dramatic music when the villains are about.
This first chapter introduces the characters and takes us up to the point where Chet leaves Chicago to follow up on his father’s research. The personalities come across clearly, with Chet being a laid-back womaniser and the Foundation head Rondelle being truly sinister. You will use the AGS standard four-cursor point-and-click interface and a wide variety of inventory to advance your goals, plus a bit of trickery in a simple but clever dialogue puzzle. There is also a disguise puzzle whose components are so blatantly faked as to be a potential nod to Gabriel Knight's infamous cat moustache. On a couple of occasions you have to take action in a relatively short space of time, with a game-over if unsuccessful. Fortunately, the time limits are somewhat generous, and the game auto-saves immediately before these sequences, preventing a need for backtracking if you fail.
Ancient Aliens: The Roots of Sound can be downloaded from the AGS website.
Educating Adventures of Girl and Rabbit
With her bright pink dress and pigtails flowing behind her, a young girl is just enjoying herself, skipping through the forest. There she meets a magical talking rabbit who offers to teach her more about the world. With her long-eared companion to guide her, the girl is sure that she will find out many interesting and worthwhile things. But with the sort of lessons this rabbit is ready to impart, she may not have made the best choice when it comes to finding a mentor.
Despite the childlike setup, L&S and Projectoholic’s darkly humorous game is undoubtedly not suitable for children. The graphics are vivid and jolly with a sunny sky, bright green grass and the shocking pink of the girl’s apparel. The rabbit also has a cute look to it, though its actions soon give the lie to its appearance. Both are smoothly animated as they progress down a long dusty road seeking out lessons to learn. The soundtrack is a positive and uplifting piano piece that fits the appearance, if not the content, of the game.
The game operates in a linear fashion, using right-click to examine and left-click to interact, as the protagonists encounter various mini-puzzles along the road. These include selecting items for a nice picnic and a quiz on family life. As may be expected from the deceptively adult tone of the game, the correct answers to these puzzles are typically lessons you would not want small children to learn. The game is packed with black humour, and deliberately failing can produce some interesting results. There is a points system, with points being deducted for annoying the rabbit or getting answers wrong. It is also possible to gain badges from successfully completing individual tasks. The last challenge includes a simple shooting game, requiring moderate dexterity but with no time limit to taking shots.
Educating Adventures of Girl and Rabbit can be downloaded from the AGS website.
Christopher Columbus is an Idiot: Act 1
History records Christopher Columbus as a brave explorer setting out into the unknown. It would appear that the truth is somewhat different. With angry mobs besieging his house, Columbus needs a reason to get out of town while the heat dies down. Fortunately his good friend Amerigo Vespucci has just the thing. Local royalty is commissioning adventurers to set out to explore the world on their behalf. Columbus was born to do this, but the “No Christopher Columbus” edict the Queen of Spain has issued could prove a stumbling block.
Kurt Kalata has created a historical game that throws away boring facts in favour of surreal humour. The graphics, described as a placeholder in the readme file, are somewhat crude, but in a manner that fits the tone of the game. Bright colours are used throughout, and the objects and individuals are distinctive enough to be readily identifiable, such as a wild-eyed bull outside the castle. Animations are similarly basic, with a simple up and down motion of legs to denote walking. The music has a dramatic style hinting of high adventure in a swashbuckling fashion.
From the start, where Columbus is chased into his house by what may be a crowd of angry model boat enthusiasts, the game is surreally funny. This initial puzzle gets players into the game and also introduces the in-game hint system, his pet rabbit Humphrey. Whenever you get stuck, you can consult Humphrey for advice, or simply enjoy changing his name to one of the very silly options available. Using the standard four-cursor AGS interface, you will have to work out how to break into the palace and make use of the facilities at Galileo’s Library and Strip Club. The puzzle solutions are odd, but logical within the game world, and the dialogue is well written. This debut episode takes you to the point where Columbus puts together a fleet of three ships to go exploring. The full series is intended to have four parts.
Christopher Columbus is an Idiot: Act 1 can be downloaded from the AGS website.
Icarus needs a good night’s sleep. But it seems he has taken this notion a little too far. While he appears to be in his bedroom, the downstairs hall is definitely not what it once was and the cellar is downright peculiar. As the dream world he finds himself trapped in becomes increasingly bizarre, only his wits – plus the occasional telephone message from his beloved Kit – carry him on. Icarus needs to find a way to wake up.
Stillmerlin have taken the hyper-comic format and produced an elegant and relaxing game. The graphic presentation consists of static comic panels, a succession of branching panels forming the map of the game. Whilst the graphics are still, the content of panels can change depending on the actions of the player. The design is simple and stylised, with Icarus himself being a simple lower-case "I" shape with a wavy top to indicate hair. Some characters he meets are more detailed, such as the squirrel king, and objects are made to be instantly recognisable. The various areas of the game have their own dominant colour scheme, with blues for the initial corridors and orange for the outside. A gentle soundtrack backs up the action, often matching the current location, such as the echoing percussive piece that plays in the sewers.
The player moves from panel to comic panel using the arrow keys. Interactions with characters are automatic, though these can change to reflect new knowledge. All dialogue is presented as text only, with Icarus making reflective observations about his situation from time to time. As you find things to do, such as requiring a key for a door, a task list of “Icarus Needs” updates on the left-hand side of the screen. You will also acquire a small amount of inventory, though this is again used automatically as needed. As a result of this streamlining, the main part of the gameplay is exploration, but the lightly humorous surrealist tone more than makes up for the lack of challenge.
Icarus Needs can be played online at Kongregate.
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.
Cross Stitch Casper by Whalesplash – A sad tale of rural family life, presented in the style of cross-stitch panels.
Nauticell by Rich Pires – Lost at sea, your only hope is the dying cell phone of a passing fish, good for only three more calls.
Jack Trekker – Somewhere in Egypt by Sunny Penguin Games – Getting trapped in the tomb of the three sisters is just a normal day for adventurer and ladies’ man Jack Trekker.
Sinking by Wham – In a post-apocalyptic world, a team of survivors attempt to steal a submarine from those pre-warned of the end.
Survive Quest by 2BAM – Try to survive a ship malfunction in this retro game with an unforgiving nature.
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!