This month you can go on a search for poetic inspiration or embark on a quest for pink elephants. Those looking to the past can enjoy an educational tale of a Cheyenne brave or a trip to the 1990s to sabotage a boy band. Alternatively, you might delve into an island jungle in search of a lost ruby or try to activate a machine in a world of unbridled chaos. You can even find out what happens when a bunch of famous indie studios band together on a single project. All these await you in this month’s round-up of releases from the freeware scene.
This interactive story is perhaps most memorable for the story behind it than for its actual gameplay experience. Created partly in response to an incident of nasty social media abuse, Serena was made together by dozens of fans and designers of adventure games, including such familiar names as Senscape, (Asylum) CBE Software (J.U.L.I.A.), Two Guys from Andromeda (SpaceVenture), Digital Media Workshop (Prominence), and more. Even without knowing the background, however (which in fact has nothing to do with the game’s actual premise), Serena is well worth taking a look at.
Serena is definitely not a game for kids, dealing with adult themes like horror, sex and amnesia. The whole game takes place in the cabin where a man and his wife Serena used to live. It starts with the nameless protagonist sitting at a table staring at a picture of himself and his wife. He’s desperately trying to remember what happened and why she does not come back. Making his way through the cabin, he looks at all the familiar objects he finds, all of which bring back memories. Slowly he begins to piece together the story of what must have happened, before he makes a discovery that changes everything...
Created with Asylum’s Dagon engine, the graphics are simply gorgeous. It's an immersive and realistic 3D world, in which everything is very detailed. There is dust drifting through the cabin and sunlight playing in the windows. Interesting paintings adorn the walls. Despite the daylight outside, the cabin is rather dark in places so it's sometimes a bit hard to make things out. The voice acting is also superb. Both the protagonist and Serena, whom you hear through audio flashbacks, have clear voices and their emotions are well played. The only criticism is that you can sometimes clearly tell where Serena's recordings start and stop.
The game is played in first-person mode. Since the game has no options (not even a save option!) or inventory, the entire screen is reserved for the game display. The smart cursor changes when certain actions are possible. You can choose to keep the cursor in the middle of the screen all the time, having the world move around it, or move the cursor within a limited area in the middle of the screen by pressing the right mouse button. In the latter mode, the surroundings do not move when you want to look at something close to the middle of the screen. When you move the cursor to the edges of the screen the view starts panning. In both modes you can click to move to another location in the cabin when the hand points to a certain direction. You can look at objects when a magnifying glass appears in the hand, and when the hand makes a sort of gripping form you can manipulate objects, all by clicking the left mouse button.
Not so much an adventure game as an interactive story, there are no puzzles and no inventory to speak of in Serena. At a certain point you need to pick something up and put it down somewhere else so you can take a good look at it, but that is the only object you will ever hold in your hands. The story unfolds as you simply wander through the cabin and look more closely at everything you can interact with.
You can download Serena from Steam (note: the Steam client must also installed to play).
Mission US 3: A Cheyenne Odyssey
It's the summer of 1866, in the area that is now Montana: Young Cheyenne Little Fox is reaching the age at which he will become a full warrior of the tribe. But his ascension to manhood falls at a turbulent time for the native people. The white man is making inroads into formerly Indian territories, aided by their metal roads and iron horses. Soon the tribes and the white man will come into conflict. In the troubles ahead, just how will Little Fox fare?
Mission US continue their quest to entertain and educate simultaneously. Their graphics are still the illustrated realistic stills of previous instalments, though this time there are a lot more scenes out in the open. You will see buffalo running wild on the North American plains, as well as the forts and camps put up by the white man in your homeland. Conversations are displayed with full upper body representations of the person speaking, with animated faces for the dialogues themselves. Other animations are limited to silhouettes, such as a group of braves waving their weapons in victory. These are fully voiced to a good standard, with accents appropriate to the characters and distinct voices for each individual. Background music is native panpipe music that fits the setting well.
With the educational focus, the story of the game centres around the years leading up to the Battle of Little Big Horn and its aftermath. The action is controlled by selecting from a varying number of choices, whether tasks or pieces of dialogue. Early on, as a young brave on the verge of manhood, your tasks are simple, as you are asked to collect water for your mother or tame a wild horse. In the initial chapters, your choices will shape your character, giving you skills depending on what activities you undertake. Which skills you develop will have a greater effect on the latter parts of the game. Sometimes a skill will give you a hint, such as the best choice for dealing with a horse being marked. Sometimes options will be completely unavailable if you have not got certain skills or completed certain tasks. In one chapter, you also have to guide your tribe through two full years on the plains. As well as making use of the skills you have learned, you will need to balance your more traditional ways against the help and hindrance of the encroaching white man. All of the chapters, including the one containing the battle itself, involve choosing the path to proceed rather than requiring any arcade-style mouse skills.
Mission US 3: A Cheyenne Odyssey can be both played online or downloaded from the developer’s website. Registration is required but is free.
Ossuary: The Hodge-Podge Transformer
You should not be here in this world of unfiltered chaos. Your mind should have shattered, faced with the truth that causality is a lie. But you have adapted to compensate for this reality, and that makes you interesting. It also makes you the cause of a Tilt that must be rectified. You must engender the elements if you wish to ever leave this place. Activate the Hodge-Podge Transformer, resolve the Tilt and find your way to your true destination, The Ossuary.
Future Proof Games have created a standalone demo for their new commercial game that goes beyond surreal. The main graphics feature a top-down view with simple line-drawn walls. Some elements show more detail where required, such as giant grail cups or the scattered papers in a library. In the normal view, characters are simple blobs with stick arms and legs. There is some variation in blob shape, but the real distinction is in the tiny portraits brought up in dialogue. Whilst not hugely detailed, these show clear characteristics, from a prison guard in a metal helmet to a man with a cabbage for a head. Sound is limited to an ominous set of slow undertones, and some sound effects including footsteps and a loud bang.
Players will need to accept a world that, from the start, seems to defy common sense. Once that principle is accepted, the puzzle logic is in keeping with the setting. To activate the Transformer, you must engender five elements. Two of these represent Hodge, two represent Podge and the fifth element balances the rest. Each element is its own mini-puzzle, with a task to complete in its own area. In a cinema, you must encourage the customers to settle down, including convincing a teenage girl to stop going on about quantum physics. In a library, you must get all the librarians to sing different parts of a great chord. Whilst relatively simple to accomplish, you must pay attention and speak to all the strange denizens of this place. The final puzzle transports you to the Ossuary, where the action will continue in the commercial game. This free sampler works entirely as a shorter standalone adventure, but offers tantalising hints of what the full game may contain.
Ossuary: The Hodge-Podge Transformer can be both played online and downloaded from the developer’s website, where the commercial game can be purchased as well.
Don't Drink the Pink
A nameless protagonist wakes up in a deserted landscape full of snow, with no idea what happened to him or how he got there. Soon he finds his way into a bar, where he is told that he suddenly ran away earlier after having a few drinks, babbling about pink elephants. An old man tells him exactly how to catch a pink elephant, and promises him all the pink he can drink (the local alcoholic beverage of choice) if he can bring him one. The problem is: you can only see pink elephants when you are drunk from drinking pink. The more you drink, the more elephants you see. So our protagonist sets out to get drunk without money, and to find and capture a pink elephant.
Don't Drink the Pink, by tulevik.EU, won the January 2014 MAGS competition with its theme of "Something Cold, Something Burrowed, Something Pink." The entire game was made from scratch in a month, but you’d never know that from its quality. The graphics are pixelated like the games of the 1990s but are well drawn in a fairly realistic cartoonish style. The screen is split into an upper section containing the scenery and a lower section in which all other information is presented. There is no voice acting, as only the character text is displayed on the screen. The sounds and music that accompany each scene fit them very well. One nice touch is the music changing sound when you enter the bar’s bathroom.
You control the protagonist using the mouse, clicking anywhere in a scene to make him walk there. Hotspots are highlighted by a short description in the lower part of the screen when the cursor hovers over them; left-clicking interacts with them. The protagonist may simply say something about an item or pick it up if it isn't nailed down. The item then appears in your inventory in the lower section of the screen, where you can right-click for more information about it or left-click to select for use in the environment. Most of the puzzles are inventory-based, and all of them are logical and well thought out, without ever feeling too easy. The protagonist sometimes makes funny remarks if you try something that is unnecessary or illogical. A unique feature of the game is the Pink-O-Meter, which indicates you how drunk you are.
Don't Drink the Pink can be downloaded from the developer’s website.
Dakota Winchester’s Adventures
Dr Dakota Winchester is on a quest for the answers to the mystery of Hilda’s box. Three cursed rubies are said to hold the key to unlocking this enigma. Having located the first ruby on a tropical island, he has despatched a team to find it. Sadly, the team he sent has not proved up to snuff, spending ages searching but with no results. It is now up to the intrepid Professor to take a hands-on approach and find the ruby himself.
Carmel Games’ latest adventure bears some similarities to that of another famous archaeologist named after a state. The graphics have the same slightly cartoon-like style as the developer’s previous offerings. The backgrounds have seen some enhancements over previous efforts, with more subtle shading giving depth to objects, such as the large boulders scattered around the dig site. The characters do not have similar enhancements, but are still well-drawn and animated. The music has a tribal feel that fits well with the scene, with a lot of wooden percussion and fairly simple strings. The game is fully voiced to a decent standard, with characters ranging from the no-nonsense doctor to a shady-sounding local tradesman. Those in a hurry to carry on with the game can make use of the subtitles and click ahead if desired.
Using simple one-click controls, you will explore the island searching for the elusive ruby. A range of inventory items will pass through your hands, including practical items like a pickaxe and a bucket, as well as a variety of fruit. Most of this is used in a common sense fashion, though some experimentation is required. There are also standalone challenges, including a numerical weight puzzle and a scrambled picture on a set of concentric dials. The game has a light sense of humour, with one of the puzzles said to be designed to reactivate the brains of tourists made dullards by their simplistic smartphone games. This game concludes with the discovery of the first ruby, with the promise of more adventures from this explorer to come.
Dakota Winchester’s Adventures can be played online at Mouse City.
A poet finds that his red-clad muse has brought him to a park in the big city. There she tasks him to seek inspiration in the places and people he finds around him. Travelling out into the moonlit night, he will encounter strange views, inspirational graffiti, and a truly underground movement. Will these disparate items allow him to put together a poem worthy of his mysterious inspirer?
Made for the January MAGS competition and its theme of “Something Cold, Something Burrowed, Something Pink”, this is an unusual game from LostTrainDude. The graphics take pixel art to a whole new level, with both people and objects being so blocky as to be mere suggestions in places. As a result, you might want to play this game in a small window, as the effect is somewhat overwhelming full-screen. Despite the lack of detail, the use of colour makes most objects recognisable, with easy-to-read hotspot labels for any vital items. You will look out to sea from the end of the park, and delve underground to a nicely spacious sewer. Sound is limited to a tone that plays each time you add to your poem.
This game is predominantly about exploration. When you find an inspiring item or person, simply applying your poetry book adds it to your poem. The actual content of the poem is left to the player’s imagination. This all-pervading vagueness works well in conveying the nebulous feeling of inspiration. The Muse is only visible to the player character, popping in and out of existence at whim. You will meet another poet whose Muse has apparently deserted him, and use inventory to pass a bouncer with limited vocabulary. As with the rest of the game, the ending leaves a lot to the imagination.
A-Mused can be downloaded from the AGS website.
Back in Time 2: Back to the Nineties
Dr Bill E Robinson’s first attempt at time travel did not go entirely according to plan. Forgetting that his machine needed electricity to work, an ill-judged trip to the Middle Ages almost proved a one-way journey. Fortunately, his ingenuity – plus his mother’s ice cream recipe – allowed him to rig up a means of return. Even with modifications to make the machine work without electricity, however, Dr Bill is wary of trying again. Attempting to sell the machine at a yard sale, he finds a willing customer. Daniel wishes to travel back in time to the auditions that launched the successful career of the boy band, Bag Street Boyz. The day after the auditions he had been voted out of the band by the other five members. Bitter over this betrayal, Daniel wants to erase the band from musical history.
Only loosely linked to the first chapter, Carmel Games have created a game that pokes fun at the decade that taste forgot. Once more their cartoon-like graphics are in evidence, this time showing a variety of typical 1990s locations. You will visit a shopping mall complete with a frozen yoghurt stand and a Blockbuster video rental store. As in previous games from this developer, the characters are both well-proportioned and smoothly animated. The game is also fully voiced to a good standard, with such characters as a down-to-earth shop girl and a somewhat more snooty lady guarding the entrance to the auditions. The soundtrack is a slow 1990s pop backing track.
The game will probably have more appeal to those with a clear memory of the 1990s, with dodgy fashion and ancient computer specs both being referenced. The controls would be equally at home there, being a simple one-button point-and-click interface. You will be sent on a couple of fetch quests and make some interesting inventory combinations. The puzzles are fairly light, the focus being more on the setting than on creating major challenges for the player. On successful completion of your mission back in time, your return to the future reveals the effect that even boy bands can have on the world. The final scenes of the game open up the path for an intriguing on-going storyline.
Back in Time 2: Back to the Nineties can be played online at Newgrounds.
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.
The Rapture Is Here And You Will Be Forcibly Removed From Your Home by Connor Sherlock – With the Rapture imminent, explore a beautiful landscape and hear the last thoughts of those who lived there.
What Happened Here? by Bernardolo and Pericuelo – Your interpretation of the things you find around you shape the reality you are living in.
Doctor Who: A Brilliant Game by Immudelki and Vicoline – Relive the 50th anniversary episode of Doctor Who in this fan-made game version.
Saucy Devil Gordon by Carmel Games – Searching for treasure is just an everyday job for pirate Saucy Devil Gordon.
Tales from O’Slimeys by WheelsJM – Can you find the Solid Gold Microfilm President’s Daughter in the basement of a seedy bar?
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!
Steve Brown and Willem Tjerkstra contributed to this article.