Following Freeware - March 2015
Following Freeware - March 2015

Following Freeware - March 2015 releases

This month you can play as a private eye looking for a missing person, or as a canine sleuth modelled on a famous detective. You might want to travel to the far reaches of space with some pioneering colonists, or journey into the twisted worlds of a young girl’s painting. You could also join three peculiar children trying to escape a creepy factory or a trio of villains who may just have chosen the wrong target for their latest crime. Alternatively, you can take on the role of a protagonist who knows with absolute certainty who he is. All these await in this month’s round-up of releases from the freeware scene.

Steve’s Selections

Sleuthhounds: The Unlocked Room

Famous consulting detective, Pureluck Homes, has received an invitation to another case. Unfortunately, on his way to start work on this mystery, he has been waylaid. Waking up chained to the wall in a basement, Pureluck must use all of his wits and cunning if he is to escape. With his mysterious captor almost encouraging him over a remote speaker system, just why has he been kidnapped in the first place?

As an introductory adventure for their proposed Sleuthhounds series, SeaLeft Studios’ The Unlocked Room presents a genteel mystery. The presentation features a cartoon style, with locations and individuals presented in comic panels. New panels are placed overlapping the previous ones, with the old panels turning to deep shades of blue to form a new background. The graphics are reasonably detailed, with lighting effects and shading to give the scenery depth. You start in a brick-walled dungeon, but will later visit more auspicious locations. As the title suggests, the lead character is an anthropomorphic dog, decked out in a long coat and deerstalker hat. Both he and his captor are smoothly animated, whether simply walking about or engaging in physical exertion. They have expressive faces as well, such as Pureluck being clearly perturbed by his predicament at the start. Both are also both fully voiced to a high standard, with highly refined accents. Classically-styled string music provides the background to proceedings. There are also appropriate sound effects, such as the clinking of your chains.

Whilst the tone is of a humorous Sherlock Holmes spoof, this game provides an intriguing challenge. Interaction is all done by mouse, with right-click looking and left-click interacting. There is also a small inventory, in which clicking an item highlights it, resulting in Pureluck attempting to use it on the next hotspot you interact with. With the only exit a hatchway high above your head, escape from the initial room will require thorough examination of your surroundings, and a bit of clever item combination. In a later room there is also a separate deduction mode. In this, an item or person is shown on the right and the observations and deductions you have made appear on the left. Examining said person or object closely elicits more clues. These are represented as jigsaw puzzle pieces, and attempting to fit them together allows you to deduce more. As well as those progressing the main plot, there are optional side puzzles to solve, such as some word puzzles presented to you by your captor. There are three difficulty levels, with puzzles made easier and more help given on lower levels. Extra content is unlocked by completing the game, with more obtained by solving more puzzles at higher levels.

Sleuthhounds: The Unlocked Room can be downloaded from the developer’s website.


Living Playground

For siblings Tony, Octavio and Pablo, the grounds outside an abandoned factory seemed the ideal place to hunt for snails, until they were ambushed by a strange mechanical creature that appeared out of nowhere. Waking up to find herself alone inside the factory, Tony sets out in search of her missing brothers. As she explores the decrepit old building, it becomes clear that there is more wrong with it than just age. What is more, the tale of the factory seems to tie into her own past, and the strange transformative abilities she and her brothers have. As she ascends higher seeking a way out, will she survive the perils that await her?

Meaka’s Living Playground is a surreal and disquieting experience. The presentation uses a top-down role-playing game style. Tony is presented as a squat figure, though a more detailed anime cartoon version of her is shown during conversation. Though static, these dialogue portraits show varied expressions appropriate to the words being spoken. The protagonist is simply animated, as are a handful of things around the factory. The building has definitely seen better days, with plants growing on some walls and holes in the wooden floorboards. As you progress further, the building becomes more bizarre and otherwordly in nature. Varied music plays throughout, from a slow and subtly disturbing piece at the start to a more frenetic tune when impending danger threatens. A variety of sound effects, mostly related to the machinery you operate, are also in evidence.

This is a horror game, though generally more psychological than visceral in tone. Control is handled through the keyboard, with arrow keys for movement and the space bar to interact. There is also an inventory, called up with X, that allows you to examine the objects collected and transform temporarily into another shape. Inventory application is automatic when appropriate, without needing to open this screen. As you explore you will search out keys, operate levers and solve mazes. The latter provide some interesting variety, with one maze having walls hazardous to the touch, and another with invisible pathways the player must map. There is also a single sound-based puzzle. A handful of rooms have dangerous creatures in them, but they generally move slowly and without taking notice of you, thus being easily avoided. On two occasions a creature will actively pursue you and some dexterity will be needed to evade pursuit. An early task activates a save point, and there are similar save points available at regular intervals thereafter. As death is possible, it is advisable to make use of these.

Living Playground can be downloaded from the RPG Maker website. The game also requires the RPG Maker XP Run Time Package to play.


Bevel’s Painting

For young Bevel, painting has always been a way to escape from the mundane world around her. But today that escape has become all too literal, as she finds herself falling into one of her own paintings. Working her way through a series of worlds, each focussed on a particular colour, she finds herself facing strange and disturbing imagery. As the worlds become more threatening, will Bevel live to see her own world again?

In Bevel’s Painting Maninu has created a disquieting and decidedly surreal experience. Graphical presentation uses a retro top-down role-playing game style. The lead character is presented as a young girl in a blue dress with a striking red beret. The locales you visit range from the mundane, such as a hallway lined with black-and-white tiles, to the bizarre, including a room containing a giant heart surrounded by skulls. Bevel and the handful of other characters she encounters are decently animated, and there are some nice visual effects, like the reflection of the protagonist in a highly polished floor. Audio varies according to the overall feel of an area. An area set up like a house has a soothing piano background, whereas a dark maze is filled with the almost indiscernible sound of something breathing.

This is not a game for the faint-hearted, as many unpleasant surprises await our heroine. Keyboard controls are used, with arrow keys to move around and Z to interact. The first world starts off gently with just some simple puzzle-solving, including sliding blocks around and collecting some inventory. Later worlds add more difficulty, with some housing denizens actively seeking to thwart you. As you progress things get more horrific, and you will need to act quickly to avoid death on occasion. You will also find yourself having to engage in some less-than-pleasant actions to progress. A recurring action is to acquire paint on your brush, which is needed to advance to further worlds.  There are also numerous messages written in a symbolic font, Bevelese, which can be translated by hand once you have found the key to their meaning. Save points are scattered throughout the game in the form of laptop computers and regular use is advised. A total of nine endings are available, with a bonus level unlocked by achieving the best ending.

Bevel’s Painting can be downloaded from the developer’s website.



The world is falling apart, everything falling to corruption. Automated systems continue to attempt to repair the damage, but their efforts are in vain. As I despaired, news came to me of the source of the corruption. Now I seek to make my way into the lower levels to bring an end to that source. Whilst my wife and child may be lost and the world already in ruins, perhaps what is left can still be saved. I am Jason.

Made for the “Losing Something” MAGS challenge, Calico Reverie’s IAMJASON is minimalist but effective. The graphics are extremely pixelated, with the lead character a blocky white stick figure with no features at all. The scenery has a similar low-resolution presentation, using only a handful of colours. Despite this simplicity, clever use of shades and colour gives some depth to the scenery and renders important items clear. Matching the look of the graphics, the animation is also very basic, but effective within the context. Sound effects like the putter of the repair droids or the sparking of a broken cable are used throughout. There is also a slow tonal piece, reminiscent of early 8-bit games, that plays in the background. There is no speech, with Jason’s observations displayed in large capital letters on the screen one word at a time.

Control is handled using a single click with a verb list. The available actions are Go, Use, Take and Look, with Go being the default action. A small inventory is available, with the currently selected item becoming the default action for use on something else. A central location contains four platforms, initially unlinked. Different keys connect the platforms in different ways, allowing players to access new areas with each key obtained. There is also a cunning puzzle based around a walkway with pressure pads on it, and you will need to use the predictability of the automated repair droids against them on occasion to acquire the tools you need.

IAMJASON can be downloaded from the developer’s website.

Continued on the next page...

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