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Following Freeware: March 2014 releases

Following Freeware: March 2014
Following Freeware: March 2014

This month you can investigate a series of crimes as a consultant, look into your boss’s murder, or seek out the truth in a dark and dusty bunker. For roles outside the norm, you can play a damsel rescuing a knight in distress, a dreamer delving into the collective subconscious, or a man seeking to become the champion of facial hair. Alternatively, you can continue two series, one featuring a modern girl dealing with the Greek myths and the other a Victorian gentleman delving into dark secrets. All these await you in this month’s roundup of releases from the freeware scene.
 



The Last Door: Chapter 4 – Ancient Shadows


My quest for answers has brought me to the house of another old friend. I believed the experiments in paranormal phenomena he conducted might give me the answers I seek. But my hopes appear dashed as I find the servants missing and my friend in a catatonic state. Perhaps if I follow his work and enact the experiments myself, maybe I will be able to restore him. But the woods are dark, and something violent lurks there in the shadows. Am I working my way to salvation, or damning myself once and for all?

This closing chapter to the first season of The Game Kitchen’s series serves up another slice of Victorian horror. The pixelated graphics of the series continue here, with you once again donning the mantle of Jeremiah Devitt. The action once more takes place at night, with dark shadows everywhere. This is especially true of the surrounding woods, which appear almost entirely in silhouette until you can take a light source into them. You will also discover a sinister darkroom and a deep cellar. The characters are faceless as before, though the character of Devitt is still recognisable from previous episodes. The game once again sports a dramatic full orchestral soundtrack, with both recurring tunes and new pieces. Sound effects continue to play an important part in the atmosphere as well, with whistling wind and creaking timbers setting the player’s nerves on edge.

Whilst knowledge of the previous chapters is not vital to playing this one, it is highly recommended that you do so. As with its predecessors, this is not a game for the faint-hearted, as this is a well-crafted horror game. Here again the horror is largely conveyed through tone, though there are a couple of effective blatant scares. Documents scattered around the house give you clues to what has happened there, as well as assistance with puzzles. Inventory plays a major role, especially finding a light source to explore the darker areas of the game. You will also need to make some inventive, and occasionally grisly, combinations to achieve your goals. Two characters that have appeared in previous instalments are more fully introduced here, both showing an interest in tracking Devitt’s activities. The game ends on a cliffhanger, but with crowdfunding for the new season’s first episode well on the way to its goal, it seems likely the story will continue.

The Last Door: Chapter 4 – Ancient Shadows can be played online or downloaded from the developers’ website. The previous chapters are also available here. Registration is required, but does not come with any further obligation.

 

Fingerbones


You find yourself in a dark and dusty room. Light is filtering through the windows, allowing you to make out pieces of furniture. The room has obviously not been cleaned for a long time. Large cobwebs are hanging in the corners. As you explore the room and its surrounding areas, you’ll find notes written by a former inhabitant that gradually reveal that something horrible happened here.

Fingerbones is David Szymanski's first attempt at making an adventure game. It is a fairly short and basic adventure, but it is quite well made. The first-person game is rendered in real-time 3D, although the environment is quite bare, with only a few items of furniture scattered about. The graphics are done in dark hues of yellow, grey and brown with fairly blocky textures. The music, which consists of long, dark notes, gets eerier the further you progress. Creepy sounds and dust floating around the rooms add to the atmosphere.

The game is somewhat reminiscent of Gone Home, in which you also have to piece the backstory together from documents and other objects scattered about the house. In Fingerbones, you discover more and more evidence of the horrible things that happened in the now-deserted house. The game only has a few puzzles that come up during your investigation, mainly involving getting machinery working and finding passwords for locks. The interface is very simple: you steer yourself using the WASD keys and look around using the mouse. Sometimes a white dot that functions as a cursor appears. When the dot expands you can perform an action by clicking the mouse. There is no inventory and no option to save, but you can exit the game using one of the doors in the room you started in.

Fingerbones can be downloaded from itch.io.

 

Bickadoodle


In a typical light fantasy setting, a princess waits in a high stone tower for a brave knight to come rescue her. Right on cue, a brave knight appears, ready to serenade this lovely lady. Alas, a dragon seems intent on keeping the couple apart. Clearly not having been told of its normal role in events, it carries the knight off to its mountain lair. It looks like this time it is the princess who must brave perils, overcome mighty obstacles and face the dragon if she is to have her happy ending.

Aetheric Games have created a nice little game that puts a twist on the classic tale. The graphics are drawn as if written in a school notebook, complete with the regular ruled lines behind the scenery. The environments themselves are well-drawn and brightly coloured, from the slightly wonky tower home of the princess to a castle fortress perched precariously on a high atoll. By contrast, the characters are stick figures, though with some clothing, such as a farmer’s rustic hat. The characters are minimally animated, moving around with a hopping motion, though their faces are animated while speaking. The soundtrack is a variety of simple tunes, changing from scene to scene along with a range of sound effects. The game is also voiced in a way; speech is conveyed as a series of mumbles conveying the tone, with the meaning shown through pictorial speech bubbles.

As befits the setup, this is a lightly humorous game. The knight’s horse is hiding up a tree, the king is bereft of funds, and the local townsfolk think the princess’s pointy hat means she is actually a witch. Left-clicking moves the princess around and interacts with the environment. Right-clicking brings up the inventory. Enticing the knight’s horse down should be an early aim, as the princess is quite slow at moving around on foot. You will distract a farmer so you can vandalise his orchard, take advantage of a free exchange policy for magical potions, and hunt for lost treasure. As well as subverting the damsel in distress setting, the story takes swipes at other genre and game conventions. The king expects the heroine to do everything, including finding the funds for the dragon-killing potion. She also objects if asked to carry too much.

Bickadoodle can be downloaded from the developer’s website.


Alexia Crow: The Deal of the Gods


In the first part of her adventure by Questtracers, The Cave of Heroes, Alexia Crow had fallen into an ancient Greek cave, and was trying to get out when we left her. The Deal of the Gods picks up from there and the adventure continues. The cave is big, and whilst finding her way through, Alexia has to solve many intricate and cunning puzzles involving a hero who battles a hydra, the Minotaur's labyrinth, and some math problems, to name a few. Oh, and she is also told that she must become a hero and save the world.

The graphics are beautifully painted in a colorful style reminiscent of the ancient Greeks. The backgrounds are often alive with flying birds and flashing lightning. The whole game is played in first-person mode in which you move from slide to slide, and though you cannot move around within each screen, you can pan the camera around you. The action is accompanied by quiet, classical sounding music and beautiful sound effects. There is no voice acting in the game; all spoken text is shown in horizontal ribbons on the screen.

The story is the weakest part of this game; most of it is told during interludes as a centaur and some scientists tell Alexia why she is in the cave and what she has to do. This is quite confusing, because we never see her meet those talking to her, which makes you wonder what happened before the conversation started. The things she’s told only add to both the player's and Alexia's confusion. Throughout the game, Alexia is told that the lives of millions depend on her. But she never gets enough information as to why this is so or how she can save the world. Alexia doesn't seem to care about that and happily accepts her fate.

The Deal of the Gods is fully mouse-driven. You can look around by moving the cursor, which makes the view pan. This is accompanied by a slightly dizzying 3D effect which distorts the picture on the screen a bit, though fortunately you can switch this effect off. Inventory items are gathered in a row on the bottom of the screen. Clicking on one and then on a hotspot makes the items interact. Except for exits, which are indicated by arrows, hotspots in the environment are not highlighted in any way, but pixel hunting is not necessary. Alexia encounters a wide variety of clever and original puzzles on her way through the cave. Some of them are inventory-based but most puzzles require a flexible mind and often even combinations of other puzzles to solve. Like the first episode, the game again ends with a cliffhanger and a promise that the adventure is “To be Continued.”

Alexia Crow: The Deal of the Gods can be played online at Zibbo.

 

Symbiosis


A man dreams of a tree by a big pond, but this is no ordinary dream and that is no ordinary tree. The tree suggests that there is more to the existence of the human race than first meets the eye. To find out the true purpose, he must delve into his own subconscious mind to uncover the secrets buried there. This is a journey not without its perils, as it is easy to get lost in these depths. Perhaps some truths are best left unknown.

Made by JuaniT for a MAGS competition with the theme “Fictional Spirituality”, this is a strange quest in a bizarre world. The graphics look like they have been drawn with chalk, giving the setting a soft dream-like quality. From the moonlit hill at the start you will delve deep into the caverns of the mind. The characters are fairly simply drawn, but decently animated, including some nice talking animations. The soundtrack is a slow surrealistic piece that adds to the overall atmosphere. This is supplemented by sound effects such as the rustling noise of walking through grass.

Control is handled through a point-and-click interface, with a small inventory permanently on-screen. You will start off with a simple quest, though a bit of exploration and inventory manipulation will be required to achieve it. Later you will need to solve a straightforward combination puzzle, and construct a vital tool from the parts available. As a MAGS game, it is not overly long, but it still manages to reach a satisfying conclusion based on the central concept of the competition.

Symbiosis can be downloaded from the AGS website.

 

Tomes: Layne’s Discovery


Layne is a police consultant, called in on cases to provide a civilian angle. He has proved his worth over the years, helping to solve a range of cases. But despite this success, life is not easy for Layne. Grief over the loss of his family at an early age has left him with an alcohol problem that jeopardises his work. Now some new cases seem set to dredge up old memories. Just what are the mysterious Tomes that he keeps coming across?

This game from LowResHero serves as an introduction to a proposed new series. In keeping with the developer name, the graphics are moderately low-res, though with sufficient detail to show details like broken glass. The character faces, whilst recognisable as such, are not expressive, though the characters themselves have reasonable animation. Action mostly takes place at various crime scenes, such as an office with a floor-to-ceiling picture window and an underground bank vault. Music varies from a slow eerie piece to a slightly jauntier keyboard and percussion number. Sound effects include torrential rainfall and a tone to indicate progress on a case.

Basic control uses a point-and-click interface, with left-click to interact and right-click to examine. At each scene you seek to gather clues about the crime committed. As well as examining objects around the scene, you can also talk to your police colleagues about the case. To aid in finding smaller items, the cursor changes colour over hotspots, with a label also appearing on-screen. Rather than gathering items, Layne notes details and information about the scene. These thoughts can then be combined to make deductions which provide new thoughts to work with. Once you think you have enough information, a question-and-answer session with the inspector on the case allows you to put forward your solution. This episode serves more as an introduction to the idea and characters, with the ending setting up a larger story.

Tomes: Layne’s Discovery can be downloaded from the developer’s website.


The coming of age – a Lorna Bains whodunit, and The day after you went away


The year is 1993, the place Tallahassee, Florida. In The coming of age – a Lorna Bains whodunit by ReVenture Games, you play the titular college student whose ambition is to become a journalist. To earn money for her education and a trip to New York, she has a job as a waitress in a respectable cafe. Today is a special day for her. Not only is it her 21st birthday, she will also be writing her application letter to a big New York City newspaper. She has a good chance of being hired because she's one of the best in her class. Unfortunately for Lorna, when she finds her boss murdered in his office after her shift, her day takes a dramatic turn.

The coming of age – a Lorna Bains whodunit

The sequel, The day after you went away (released just a day after the prologue), takes place in the cafe on the day following the murder. Lorna doesn't work at the cafe anymore, and the guests speculate about what has happened. Betty, the murdered boss's wife, gets a bit delirious and suddenly sees the whole place in a weird dream in which she is rolling around on a Segway and the guests say the strangest things. With essentially no story or puzzles, this game is not so much a full-fledged adventure as it is a funny (depending on your taste of humor) addition to The coming of age.

The artwork of both The coming of age and The day after you went away is done in a colorful, naive style. Some scenes look like they have been drawn with felt-tip pens, which creates an interesting effect. People walk around the cafe in strange ways. One of the guests does a sort of zombie dance when he leaves, which is very funny. More serious is the fact that the characters don't display proper perspective, so they seem to grow when they walk away from the player. They also walk through each other sometimes, and Lorna can even walk through one of the tables. While most of the presentation is shown in third-person mode, one screen in The coming of age is in first-person, which is a good way of enhancing the experience of that particular scene.

The voice acting is very good in both games. Most of the characters, especially Lorna, have a thick Southern accent and every person has his/her own peculiarities. There is also an invisible narrator who sometimes argues with Lorna a bit. Unfortunately, the second half of The coming of age is not subtitled, though in the first part all spoken text appears in the middle or upper left corner of the screen. Most scenes in each game are accompanied by light music at a very low volume, with tunes that suit the settings. For instance, in the cafe a pianola can be heard, and in the dramatic scenes after the murder, some fitting classical-styled music is played.

The day after you went away

There is only one meta-puzzle in The coming of age: you have to find out who the murderer is, why s/he did it and whether s/he had an accomplice. If you point out the wrong murderer or motive, bad things happen to Lorna. Fortunately, you can try again. Although the mystery is fun to solve, it would be nice if any new adventures with Lorna contain some actual puzzles. The coming of age ends with a sequence that shows what happens to Lorna after she identifies the murderer, while the final credits give information about what happened to all the other characters in the game. Unlike its predecessor, The day after you went away is not suitable for children due to swearing and explicit spoken sexual content.

The two games are both controlled with the mouse. There are big buttons on the top and sometimes on the bottom of the screen that you can click to choose an action like Do, See, Taste, etc. There is no inventory and also no way to save the game. Whilst you are playing, The coming of age will save itself at a certain point but you can only return to your saved game while you are still playing. There is no way to return to the save point after you quit playing if you want to resume later.

The coming of age – a Laura Bains whodunit can be downloaded from ReVenture Games.

The day after you went away can be downloaded from Adventure Game Studio.

 

Moustache Quest


Mike’s father was a master of the moustache, almost-ten-time winner of the Facial Hair Championship before a mysterious incident took his life. Alas, Mike is not quite up to his father’s standards, lacking manliness, style and confidence. Determined to live up to his father’s legacy, Mike has sought out his old friend and mentor Bear McBeardy. Under the tutelage of this master of the hirsute arts, Mike will go to the top of the facial hair game, or die trying.

Written for a “Moustache”-themed MAGS competition, this is a decidedly odd adventure from Oldschool_Wolf. The graphical style is moderately low-resolution, with some of the feel of the earlier Lucasfilm games. Mike’s quest will take him from the wrestling training ring of Bear McBeardy to the grand stage of the competition itself. All but the sole female character in the game sport facial hair of some sort, and the characters are decently animated. Backing music is provided by a light jazz number that plays throughout.

The essence of gameplay is to undertake three quests to bolster the qualities Mike lacks. These involve exploring the handful of locations and engaging in dialogue with the characters you find there. It seems that everyone has been touched by the Facial Hair Championship, mostly in a tragic way, with each having a tale to tell about the competition. You will also gather a small inventory and use it in an unorthodox way. This includes some animals that are used in a way some might find disturbing, though it is not shown graphically, and it is made clear in-game that this is not generally appropriate behaviour.

Moustache Quest 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.

J-Tubeus: Steam Adventure by Tandemark – A robot is captured by another, evil robot, and has to solve a lot of puzzles to regain its freedom in this beautiful Machinarium clone.

Dungeon of the Ultra Crumpet by lokitaiwan – Experience a surreal Choose Your Path text adventure.

Lema Sabachthani by Billbis – In Roman times, an imprisoned man facing execution reflects on the events leading to his current circumstance.

The 4th Wall by HanaIndiana – A game character will come to regret questioning the existence of “god”.

Kind Knight by Abroy – A brave knight sets off to rescue a princess from an evil magician.
 



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.


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