Following Freeware: July 2014 releases
This month you can play as a cat-humanoid or a man with the head of a pig. You can hunt a demon in a fantasy world, fend off the horror that rises at night in an ordinary apartment, or face the monsters that lurk in the deepest reaches of sleep. Alternatively, you might experience a decidedly unreal search for fuel, the more mundane challenge of a snowman contest, or the brutally real difficulties of coming out to your loved ones. All these await you in this month’s round-up of releases from the freeware scene.
Niko, a boy from a world of cat-humanoids, wakes up to find himself in a strange house. Deep within the basement of this mysterious domicile he finds a bulb that glows with a warm light when he holds it. Within this darkened world, his ability marks Niko as the saviour, come to restore light to the world. All he has to do is ascend to the top of the Spire, from which this bulb will provide sunlight to the entire land. But the world is already decaying from ages spent in darkness, and another force is at work that could be friend or foe. With his own fate intertwined with that of this beleaguered land, Niko has a tough challenge ahead.
Mathew Velasquez has weaved a compelling tale. The graphics feature a retro RPG look, with a top-down view. Whilst the initial house is in good condition, much of the rest of the world is in decay, with rubble strewn about and areas where reality itself appears to be fraying. After the opening you will find yourself exploring the wasteland appropriately titled ‘The Barrens’. Your journey will also take you through the leafy Glen and to the heights of the Spire itself. Conversations provide more detailed close-ups of characters, with Niko’s bright cat eyes being especially striking. There are also some cutscenes in a hand-drawn art style reminiscent of a Manga comic. Atmospheric music plays throughout, with the tunes largely mirroring the sense of desolation. There are also numerous sound effects, including the changing sound of footsteps as you move from surface to surface.
Control is done by keyboard, with the Z key interacting in the direction you are facing and X calling up a menu. From the menu you can select an item to use in the outside world, or select a second item to create a combination. You can also equip certain objects, such as the mask that allows you to pass near toxic gas vents. There is a Quit option, but players should be very certain before using this. You are warned that quitting will prove fatal to Niko, and there are a handful of other decisions that have a permanent effect on the game on any given computer. Fortunately, each major area contains a bed in a readily accessible place. Using this saves and quits the game without any other consequences. You will need to interact with many characters to find out what is going on, and will use much inventory both singly and in combination. A later portion of the game also has a cunning multi-layered maze, and there are a couple of puzzles that require you to literally think outside the box, blurring reality and the game world together.
OneShot can be downloaded from the RPG Maker website. Versions for Windows, Mac and Linux are available.
Coming Out Simulator 2014
Coming Out Simulator 2014, by Nicky Case, was written in one day for the Nar8 Jam. It is a semi-autobiographical game in which the bisexual Case describes his coming out to his parents. In the game you play Nicky, and his boyfriend urges you to tell his parents that he is bi. From there on you can choose how the story goes.
This is a text game in which dialogue is shown in speech bubbles like in WhatsApp or Skype at the upper half of the screen. The stylized pictures are drawn in a cartoony style in black and grey, with little detail. All images are drawn against a background of a single pastel hue, and the characters have no faces at all. The characters do make smoothly animated movements throughout the game, however, which makes the game a bit livelier. Background noises that fit the environments in which the story takes place can be heard, like the inside of a Starbucks or the meowing of a clock shaped like a cat, but the game has no music or voices. Unfortunately, the appearance of a new text bubble is accompanied by a loud and irritating 'ploink!' noise that you cannot switch off.
As the story unfolds, every now and then you are confronted with three options which you can choose from, using the mouse. The choices you make influence the story, and of course the way people react to you. But because it's an autobiographical game, it always ends more or less the same. What the game does beautifully is give you an idea of how difficult it can be for a person to come out to their parents. It can get very depressing, but the game also shows that there is still hope even if your parents fail to deal with the fact that you're different than most people. It does so in a very conversational and gripping way, with both funny and heartbreaking moments. As a heterosexual, I’ve never dealt with problems like this, but the game is worth playing for exactly that reason, raising awareness of issues beyond my own experiences. And if you are LGBT and having difficulties coming out, maybe you'll be encouraged to try things you haven't thought about. Either way, the game has no options at all, so you will have to play it in one go, which takes about 15 minutes. After playing, you are given the opportunity to try again from the beginning, to change the way the story goes.
Coming Out Simulator 2014 can be played online at itch.io.
At first the new apartment was great: a nice open-plan living room and kitchen, a clean bathroom, and a pleasant little bedroom. Best of all, the rent was cheap. But then the numbers appeared on the wall – numbers that wouldn’t come off no matter what they were scrubbed with. It seems that this apartment has a history. Two previous tenants committed suicide and a third vanished without a trace. Now your nights are plagued by strange occurrences, and the fabric of reality itself appears to be wearing thin. You must solve the mystery before you suffer the same fate as your predecessors.
Made in one month for Indie Game Maker 2014, rest.less games have created a tale in the tradition of Lovecraftian horror. Presentation is done using a top-down view reminiscent of older RPGs, though with a fair level of detail. The game is entirely set in the single small apartment, which entirely fits on-screen at the start. Over the course of the game, this setting undergoes several transformations, many of them horrific. There are also some that expand the environment to span several screens. With much of the action taking place at night, limited lighting plays a key role in the atmosphere. Only basic outlines of walls and furniture are visible in the dark. Within the darkened areas, items and creatures appear and disappear. The change in atmosphere between day and night is also reflected in the music. A gentle daytime piano piece gives way to a discordant tune as the horrors come out to play. The game also makes good use of sound effects.
Psychological horror is the order of the day, with the squeamish or very young well advised to keep away. Simple keyboard controls allow you to move around and interact with the environment. A relaxed opening has you performing mundane tasks, such as fetching a meal and checking online message boards. Once you go to bed, however, things take a turn for the worse, with subsequent events getting more bizarre each night. Whilst you will pick up items, they are used automatically with no inventory kept. Puzzles are fairly simple, the focus being on exploration of the changing environment, and a well-crafted story that is slowly revealed over several game days. There is a section where you need to move fairly quickly to avoid a disturbing pursuer. At another point, you have limited ability to influence a crowd of demonic beings. It is possible to die in a couple of places, but the game automatically reminds you to save at the start of each night sequence, so little progress should be lost if this occurs.
Wait can be downloaded from the developers’ website.
The nameless female protagonist in Project BC’s Ars Harmonia has come to the town of Farpoint to hunt down a demon. The only lead she has is the name Fira, so now she has to roam the city to find out who Fira is and how she is connected to the demon in order to rid the city of it. In the meantime, the killings continue...
Ars Harmonia is a beautiful game. The world is presented in a realistic style with an eye for detail, using subdued colors. Some of the characters, however, are drawn in a more cartoony style. The game contains descriptions of brutal violence and scary scenes, but you never see any of the gory things described. Players experience the game from the viewpoint of both the demon (whom you can't control) and the protagonist, depending where in the story you are. Most of the scenes are displayed in a detached, bird's-eye view, although the protagonist is never shown. When people talk, big close-ups of their faces appear. The close-ups are always the same, but they accurately display the characters' overall dispositions. There is some voice acting, but only at the beginning and end of the game. There are subtitles throughout, however, displayed in the lower part of the screen. There you will also read the things people think and the descriptions of objects. The gameplay is accompanied by beautiful, soothing music in different styles and melodies, depending on the situation. It’s clear that the score was written specifically for the game.
Some of the environments are bigger than the screen. You can move the camera with the WASD or arrow keys and use the mouse to interact. The cursor doesn't change when you move over a hotspot, but pixel hunting is not necessary. This game does not use an inventory; instead you have to search for clues by talking to people and examining objects that you find whilst searching for the demon. The puzzles, which mainly consist of finding out what to do next, are not hard at all, but they’re logical and very well integrated into the story. The story itself features some interesting ideas. The clues you uncover not only lead you to the demon but also help you understand why the demon acts like it does. This raises the as-yet-unanswered question of what motivates the demon hunter to do her job. The developers are promising more Ars Harmonia games in the future, however, so perhaps this question will be answered later.
Ars Harmonia has been entered in the 2014 Indie Game Maker Contest, and can be downloaded from the contest's website.
The Deepest Sleep
Your experiment in lucid dreaming has gone horribly wrong. The pursuit of the shadow people who dwell within nightmares has finally driven you to the deepest realms of sleep. From this lowest of levels, you hope to find a path back up to the waking world. You are not alone in these depths, as hideous monsters wait to feed on those unwary souls who venture this far. With the certainties of reality but a distant memory behind you, will you ever make your way back?
Scriptwelder brings their ever-deepening horror Sleep trilogy to an unnerving conclusion. The same pixelated first-person graphics of the previous episodes are on display here. The roughness of these, overlaid with an effect akin to static, adds to the discomforting feel of the setting. After a brief opening scene, you find yourself in a darkened room with a torch lying on the floor. For the majority of the game, the beam of this torch, centred around the cursor, allows you to see only part of your surroundings clearly. You will pass a temple of rough stone blocks, sewer tunnels and a decrepit Victorian house, as well as some more disturbing locales. Sound is mostly limited to ambient effects, with a sighing wind and the player’s own footsteps providing an eerie atmosphere. Flipping some switches and levers can also provide directional cues from the sound of machinery operating.
This is an extremely disturbing game, and not for the faint-hearted. Whilst it can be played on its own, it is recommended that you first play the previous parts, accessible from the start menu. Using the mouse to control exploration, sweeping the torch around to view all darkened areas is vital. You will gather a small inventory and use it in a fairly straightforward manner. Several puzzles revolve around operating machinery, with the player often left to deduce how it works. There are a couple of sections where you operate against the clock, though the time allowed is fairly generous. There are also some sections where you need to move slowly instead, with monsters attracted to movement nearby. It is possible to die in these encounters, but you can instantly restart from the point before you entered the hazardous area. It is also important to remember that this is a dream world, with the normal rules of reality not always applying.
The Deepest Sleep can be played online at Armor Games.
It's winter, and a thick layer of snow covers everything. Duncan has entered a snowman building competition, and despite his opponent's apparent progress, he is confident that he can win the game. To do that he must warm an old lady, release a jar stuck in the ice on the lake, and talk to his uncle, amongst many other things.
Snowday!, by Carmel Games, is a short and jolly game packed with fun puzzles. It's made in the familiar style the developer uses for all their games, with brightly colored cartoon art and some strange voices but very good voice acting. The whole game is subtitled too. The music that plays along with the action is cheerful but repetitive, though you can shut it off if you like.
The story is very simple: Duncan has to collect the things he needs to make a snowman and then build it before his opponent finishes his. In the meantime, he must solve other people's problems too. Because Duncan is a chipper lad, this makes for a fun half hour or so. Despite its whimsical nature, the puzzles in Snowday! are not that easy. You often have to solve a small range of puzzles to reach a certain goal. Almost all of the puzzles are inventory-based. Duncan also has to walk a great deal, which can get a bit annoying. The game is played with the mouse, with arrows on the sides of the screen indicating where Duncan can go. Items in his inventory appear in the bottom right corner of the screen. In the upper left corner is a button that brings up the settings menu, and another that takes you to a walkthrough of the game.
Snowday! can be played online on MouseCity.com.
You were just chilling out with your TV when the power went down. As the giant head that is your generator was only too ready to tell you, you’re out of fuel. A trip to the fuel depot is in order, but you don’t have a ticket for the bus, or any money to get one. Time to do a bit of scavenging to find what you need so you can get back to your sedentary hobby. Surely your neighbours, Cockroach Boy and giant hooded woman, will help you out if you do them a favour first.
This first instalment of a proposed series from Drawmaneater is a decidedly surreal proposition. Apart from the opening and closing cutscenes, the presentation uses a first-person slideshow format. A cartoon style has been adopted, with a limited palette that largely consists of dark blues and greens, giving the setting a depressing feel. Occasional splashes of other colours only serve to accentuate this. The locations themselves are fairly bizarre, with a tunnel passing through a giant fish and a field of penguins planted in the ground. There is limited animation, but it is smoothly done, though items like a living disembodied head are still disturbing. The background music is a tonal piece, which further serves to enhance the strangeness of the setting. There are also sound effects, such as the whoosh of a passing air-train.
You will need to explore the surrounding area, and will often find yourself backtracking as you obtain vital items. Control is handled with the mouse, and hotspots light up with a yellow glow when you point the cursor at them. Moving to the edges or bottom of the screen causes a bar to light up if there are exits in that direction. There are no dialogues as such, but clicking on characters will normally elicit a text bubble indicating what they want from you. The puzzles themselves are fairly simple, most revolving around straightforward object use. Whilst the immediate task is resolved in this episode, the closing cinematic indicates that there is more of the story to come.
Nekra Psaria can be played online at Play Chocolate.
All pigs deserve to burn in hell
A man wakes up in a tiny, single room apartment. He cannot remember the details of his life, though he is sure the world he’s in now is not his own. What is more, he now appears to have the head of a pig. A snowstorm covers the land and travelling far without a guide will prove fatal. Fortunately a guide is close at hand, one willing to take him to see the Doctor, who holds all the answers. It may be that the answers he seeks will not be welcome, though.
With a less-than-comforting title, this game from BSP is a strange and disturbing experience. A fully two-dimensional side view is used with a pixelated style. Despite the overall lack of detail, things like the player character’s pig head and a vase on a table are easy to recognise. These graphics are simply but effectively animated, including constant snowfall in outdoor scenes. As well as a snowbound graveyard, you will visit a narrow block of flats and a subterranean location. Background music is provided by a series of simple ambient pieces, varying from location to location. There are also dramatic piano chords that play when certain facts are discovered. There are a variety of sound effects as well, including digging and knocking on doors.
You navigate this barren world using simple point-and-click controls. Each main area is limited to a handful of locations, with the guide directing you between them when appropriate. Much is left unexplained, even by the end of the game, though some optional actions reveal more about how the lead character came to be in this position. Your greatest enemy is the all-pervading cold. When you step away from a heat source, you only have a handful of actions available until you freeze to death. Sometimes the challenge is working out how to accomplish your goal in that short time. More often you will need to make repeated short sojourns into the cold. The game auto-saves often, so little progress will be lost by misjudging the cold.
All pigs deserve to burn in hell 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.
The Cow Flew Over the Moon by Jonny Pickton – Waking up to find your apartment chained shut is just the prelude to several nights of strangeness.
Somnium by M256 – A young boy with severe agoraphobia finds escape searching memories in his dreams in this surreal randomised adventure.
Riverside by Hyptosis – A friendly card game becomes a fight for survival when a beer run brings back zombies in this choose-your-path game.
Only If by Creability – A surreal journey through a beautifully rendered world, though with some tough action sequences.
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!
Stephen Brown and Willem Tjerkstra contributed to this article.