Following Freeware: February 2014 releases
This month dark adventures await you in a fog-bound London slum and a world where being awake does not save you from nightmares. Investigative gamers can look into the theft of some carrots, find out whatever happened to the rock band Corned Beef Owls, or delve into more spookiness in Vortex Point. Fans of the peculiar can attempt to recover their memories in a distorted room, or help out a budding game designer who gets a little too into games for her own good. Finally, you can take on the role of a thief seeking to dig himself out of a hole in a new series debut. All these await you in this month’s round-up of releases from the freeware scene.
Freja and the Sequel
Ever since she played the Crystal Raven Quest series as a small child, Freja has wanted to be a game developer. Now she has her big chance, with an interview with the very studio where Crystal Raven Quest was made. Then a slightly more deranged fan of the series bursts in, demanding a new episode or he will destroy them all. As Freja gets sucked into this task, reality and fantasy start to blur together. Is Freja actually Crystal Raven? What are the goblins really doing in that forbidden dungeon? Will the bluebird ever hear back about his chess club membership?
Biscuit placebo have created a game as bizarre as their studio name. The graphics are done in a brightly coloured cartoon style, with elements of photo collage. Characters are simplistic in style, somewhat reminiscent of South Park, the only facial features for most being their eyes. Clothing choices and hairstyles give each individual their own distinctive characters in keeping with their personalities. They are also simply but smoothly animated. The backgrounds seem to have been composed of cut-out shapes and stencil paintings to good effect. You will visit the studio offices, plastered with nonsensical inspirational posters, a cave complex complete with stalactites, and your own past. The soundtrack shows wide variety, with an ethereal piece for a dream world, an echoing tune for caves, and lively music in the quest for the studio.
Gamers who like their adventures to be totally realistic need to look elsewhere. This game takes the surreal to whole new heights, with reality barely impinging on the action. Lovers of the unusual will find this a joy, with its many twists and turns and wide range of worlds to explore. The start is a peculiar dream, in which you seek to enter a strange mansion. This serves as a tutorial, as well as giving you a taste of the oddities to come. Dialogue plays an important role in this, as you try to get the recalcitrant door guard to tell you the password. Retrieving it pokes fun at website security and game clichés, which is a recurring theme throughout. There is a small inventory, but it is largely used in an almost automatic fashion, the option to use an appropriate item appearing in menus for particular hotspots. Despite this aid, puzzles are by no means simple, and you will need to grasp the surreal nature of the setting to solve many of them. This adventure also has a few scary moments, but they are brief and scattered widely through the game.
Freja and the Sequel can be downloaded from the developers’ website.
Teenager Sophie Grundler does not have an easy life. Her mother is dead and her father seems to spend all his time at the office. At school, she is tormented by a bully who once used to be a friend, and her current best friend only supports her privately and after the fact. Faced with these stresses on top of everyday life, it is little wonder that she suffers from insomnia. But one day, as she faces up to another night of wakefulness, something strange happens. At midnight, all the clocks stop and almost everyone else in town falls into a deep and unwakeable sleep. With help from her friend David, Sophie sets out to find out what has happened. She may wish she had left well enough alone, however, as reality seems to fall apart around her. With dreams apparently invading the mortal world, can she track down the mysterious Sandman?
Uri has created a dark, fantastical tale that also deals with real-world issues. The presentation uses a top-down RPG style, with the layout of the world based on a grid pattern. Despite this restriction, the graphics convey the scenery well, from a circular fountain in a city park to a spooky forest and ultimately to a very disturbing building indeed. Sophie herself is represented by a small avatar, clad in the simple pyjamas she wore to bed. Other characters are similarly simply drawn, though with variant clothing making them easy to differentiate. The game supplements these graphics with hand-drawn illustrations for key story points that show the characters in a more realistic style. A soft, varied and disturbing musical tone plays throughout. There are also atmospheric sounds, such as the creaking of doors and the occasional scream.
Using keyboard controls for both navigation and interaction, you start simply by searching the town for other alert souls. Whilst strange, initially finding everyone asleep is not particularly worrying. As your hunt turns to your friends, events take a full-on rush into nightmare territory. Horrific apparitions abound and the very fabric of reality seems disturbed at times. Initially exploration is the key, as you investigate the town with the aid of a map. You will soon find yourself solving riddles set by malicious spirits, negotiating military patrols and fleeing for your life. Later sections include two mazes that each add a unique touch to the standard confusing pathways, and a variety of machinery to tinker with. Inventory plays an important part throughout, including some mystical items in later parts. There are several sections where you will need to act quickly, with reasonable dexterity required. You will also want to take advantage of the twenty save game slots, as there are many 'game over' events. Most of these can be easily spotted prior to risking failure, and the game usually prompts you to save when you are about to enter an otherwise unannounced danger section.
The Sandman can be downloaded from the developer’s website.
Vortex Point 4: The Golem
Kevin, Craig and Caroline, a group of investigators in the town of Vortex Point, continue to investigate crimes with paranormal aspects to them. After having dealt with stolen brains, a thoughtographic wizard and the town's Lake Monster in the previous installments, in Vortex Point 4 the crew is called to investigate the violent abuse of two apartment building residents. The police could not find any fingerprints or other clues whatsoever. Kevin soon discovers that the victims are both artists who study at the same school, but the entity that mistreated them is a lot harder to locate. He’ll need a special book for that, which takes a lot of work to get his hands on.
The fourth episode in the popular series by Carmel Games is yet another intricate, fun mystery that has Kevin running around the whole town to solve. The team has moved headquarters, and although they have more space now, this also involves some unnecessary extra clicking. The town is drawn in the developer’s usual cartoonish and colorful style, and the game is accompanied by somewhat exciting but very repetitive music that you can switch off. The voice acting is good, and you can choose from various subtitle languages.
Kevin is controlled using the mouse. The game's interface is fairly simple, with a context sensitive cursor and the inventory in the lower right part of the screen. Most of the hotspots are easy to see except for one that is quite hard to find. The puzzles, most of them inventory-based, are well integrated into the story and fun to solve. As an extra bonus, you can hunt for hidden Carmelos, which are scattered across the game’s locations. Clicking on them does not influence the game in any way but it does increase your Hidden Carmelos Bonus.
Vortex Point 4: The Golem can be played online at MouseCity.com.
The Last Door: Chapter 3 – The Four Witnesses
My investigations at my former boarding school have led me into a dangerous situation. Having been overpowered, I now find myself transported to the less-than-salubrious district of Old Nichols. Weak and almost helpless from my ordeal, I must find my way from this place to a friendlier locale. But a thick London mist has fallen, and precious few of the denizens of this area seem willing to help me. Perhaps the bearded gentleman could assist me, if only I could catch him. Could he help me reach the play “The Four Witnesses”, a ticket for which has mysteriously appeared in my pocket?
With the third chapter in their series, The Games Kitchen continue to produce a dark and dramatic tale. The pixel graphics of previous episodes are still used here, and they are as nicely animated as in previous chapters. This time around, your adventure will take place in a seedy slum, with most of the action happening at night. You will find a blood-streaked butcher’s shop and wander through a thick brown mist where only nearby landscape features are visible, and even then only poorly. The soundtrack adds to the atmosphere, with a haunting string score playing through much of the game. There are also some good sound effects, including panicked breathing when the protagonist gets trapped.
Players should play the previous chapters of this game first, available on the official website. You should also be forewarned that this is not a tale for the faint-hearted. This is a horror series that relies mainly on subtle fear, with a few well-placed scares to catch you unaware. Using simple point-and-click, the aim this time around is to escape the slum you find yourself in, but this is no easy task. The main obstacle is the enveloping fog, the ultimate focus of your quest being to find a way to navigate this pea-souper. You will use inventory, have dialogue with a gypsy woman, and engage in some clever maze navigation. Additional story elements are introduced naturally as part of the puzzles, with the game finishing on a dramatic cliffhanger as you locate the titular play.
The Last Door: Chapter 3 – The Four Witnesses can be both played online and downloaded at the developer’s website. Registration is required but is free, though donations to the making of future episodes are encouraged.
Tainted Olive: Chapter 1 – Shadow of a Choice
The life of a freelance thief is not an easy one, with its ups and downs. Sadly, the downs have predominated of late, with a run of bad luck leaving you almost destitute. When a last attempt to get ahead by gambling goes badly wrong, you find yourself suffering the unwanted attentions of the local crime lord. Then your luck takes an unexpected turn for the good. “The Dawn”, the dominant religious organization in the area, is seeking someone to investigate a loss of contact with one of their olive orchards. The reward could be the answer to all your problems, if you can just bring yourself to leave the city in the first place.
This introductory chapter to a new series from Black Olive Games sketches out an interesting new fantasy world. The graphics are hand-drawn with smooth black lines and shaded colours. These are mostly presented in first-person, though there are cutscenes in comic panel format that show the protagonist as well. You will visit the inn where your gambling went so poorly, and a dark basement that is home to the aptly named Ratman. The graphics are unanimated, though the cutscene panels depict some action sequences. The music is a simple horn and soft percussion piece that gives the setting a Middle Eastern feel.
The sole objective of this chapter is to gather together what you need to leave the city. Despite the basic nature of the task at hand, a number of story elements are introduced here. The reason olive orchards are so important is that olives form the basis of magic in this world, so loss of contact is a major blow. Your encounters throughout the city also imply that a dark power may be stirring, though only hints are given at this point. The game operates using a standard point-and-click interface, and conversing with the city inhabitants will point you towards what you need. Amongst other tasks, a fisherman sends you on a rather disturbing fetch quest, which will require your thiefly cunning, plus some inventory to achieve. You will also engage in a gambling game with stakes far higher than money, and must work out a way to rig the game to your benefit.
Tainted Olive: Chapter 1 – Shadow of a Choice can be played online at Armor Games.
Who Stole the Carrot?
A rabbit is sleeping, dreaming about carrots. When he wakes up he finds that his beloved carrots have been stolen! After swearing profoundly, he puts on his detective outfit and sets off to find out who stole them. He investigates the crime scene and interrogates, amongst others, a bear and a rooster before coming to the quite unexpected conclusion of this slightly twisted game.
Who Stole the Carrot? was developed in only 48 hours during the Game Jam Kaunas 2014 with its theme "We don't see things as they are, we see them as we are." The beautifully drawn, colorful cartoons that look like they come from a quality picture book, the funny voices and the cheerful music make the game feel like a children's game, but some of the language the rabbit uses is definitely not what you want your young children to learn, even though the worst words are bleeped out.
The game combines first- and third-person modes: in some screens you look through the eyes of the rabbit (usually when you have to solve a puzzle) and in others you see the rabbit in his environment. The interface is as simple as possible: you can only drag things with the mouse. At any point in the game you can go forward or backward in time by clicking the arrows on the sides of the screen. This can be handy if you’ve missed certain things or when you want to skip a puzzle. There is an icon on the upper right side that repeats the dialogue belonging to that particular screen when clicked. The puzzles mostly involve dragging things to the places where they belong and are extremely easy. Like the look of the game, these kinds of puzzles and their difficulty deceptively make it seem like the game was made for six-year-olds, when really it is not.
Harry Quantum 4: Doc Star
Aging rockers, the Corned Beef Owls, are holed up at the castle home of their lead singer Doc. Private eye Harry Quantum knows nothing of this until a former client brings a message from his brother, the band’s drummer Percy. Apparently Percy is being held against his will at the castle, and with an astronomical fee on offer, Harry is off to the rescue. But with the castle located on the far side of monster-haunted Loch Bess, Harry might have his work cut out for him on this one.
Turbo Nuke’s permanently cheery detective is off on another case. The same bright cartoon graphics of the previous episodes are used again here. Trench-coated Harry still wears a perpetual grin and is assisted by his robotic pal, Graeme, himself a Corned Beef Owls fan. This investigation will take Harry to the open countryside of Loch Bess with its souvenir stand, and the old stone castle home of Doc. These graphics are as smoothly animated as in the past. The jaunty PI background music of previous episodes returns here as well. The game also has decent sound effects, including a disturbing, abrupt noise when playing the monster-summoning horn.
Whilst references are made to previous chapters, this game is an entirely standalone story. Your first task will involve crossing the vast loch. To do this you will need to crack a number code, move a recalcitrant witch and rebuild an instrument missing a few parts. Once across the water, exploring Doc’s castle means finding alternative means of getting from room to room via the usual doorways. Cunning use of inventory, often combining items with one another, is the central means of progress. By the end of the game you will have thwarted a dastardly plan and saved the band. There is also an optional quest to collect Personal Investigation Points by clicking on varied objects and performing certain non-story actions.
Harry Quantum 4: Doc Star can be played online at Newgrounds.
The room is dark. Very dark. You are alone in the room. Alone and lonely. You try to remember what happened. When you turn on the light and see the room, the memories come back slowly. It was a terrible night...
The small noir game Essia, by Relaxed Possum, was inspired by Derek Brand’s Mnemonic pitch during Double Fine's Amnesia Fortnight. Its “arty” (as self-described by the designer) graphics are drawn at low resolution in an intriguingly sombre black and white style that reflects the mood well. All the information you get from the protagonist is shown as red text, the only color in the game. There are no sounds at all; the author even suggests putting on the song 'How' by Regina Spektor, and the game is so short that you may have finished it by the end of the song. The ending leaves a lot of questions after playing. Why can't you remember what happened? What happens next? There’s room for both a prequel and a sequel to this story if the developer feels so inclined.
This entirely first-person game takes place in one small room and is played using the mouse. The cursor is a cross that is black on one side and white on the other, so you always see at least one half of it no matter where it’s located on the screen. By clicking on the objects in the room, your memories will slowly come back and you will find out what happened on that bad night. Left-clicking an object gives information about it, and right-clicking interacts with it. You can store some memories about certain objects in a grey box at the bottom of the screen. These memories can be used on environmental objects by picking one up from the grey box and right-clicking on the desired object. On the lower right corner of the screen is a big button marked 'Forget', with which you can restart or quit the game.
Essia can be downloaded from the Adventure Game Studio.
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.
A Catastrophic Date by Sweetielise – When his owner is stood up by phone message, a cat decides to boost her self-esteem by taking the man’s place on their date.
Versus Ohrustenny Quest by XPYC Team – Engage in a swashbuckling maiden rescue in this surreal game advertising a snack food.
Potbelly Hill Mystery by Silver Castle Games – An archaeological dig at Potbelly Hill turns up a strange artefact.
Mission Future – The Mindless Menace by Sparkiller – Futura magazine’s future seems in jeopardy when its editor falls under an odd influence.
Bodi Pripravljen by Viktor – At Scout camp, a time without the leaders there is a time to prove your scouting worth.
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.