This month you can go looking for a missing girl or search for your missing possessions. You might wish to take on dangerous criminals in a twisted game show, fight a hideous monster in order to impress a girl, or simply struggle for survival in the remote jungle. Alternatively, you can start a new game series with a lowly farmer seeking greatness or continue an ongoing series with a hapless alien out of his depth. Or you can choose to face up to your past in a nightmarish world dominated by a hated figure from your past. All these are available in this month’s round-up of releases from the freeware scene.
The Visitor 3
Agent Moss is beginning to regret his exaggerations of his adventures. True, his tales of how he dealt with the vicious humans of planet Earth have earned him promotions. But with those promotions come new responsibilities that put him in even more danger than before. Now, as Military Commander of Omega 1, he has been sent out to locate a missing prison transport. This ship was moving the highly dangerous criminal, Leech Larson, and has been lost in a hazardous asteroid field. Finding the ship drifting with a large asteroid in its side, he and his faithful assistant Head board the craft to investigate. But this asteroid is no mere rock, and something else is loose. Will the luck that has kept Moss alive to date save him this time around?
Continuing Nicky Nyce’s humorous adventures of a hapless alien, The Visitor 3 has this series going from strength to strength. The pixel art graphics have the same early LucasArts-era look, with plenty of detail. Moss is a pot-bellied green alien whilst his assistant is a human head in a floating jar. All characters are well animated, as are the background features. The setting is largely spaceship interiors, though with cutscenes and one brief interactive section taking place out in space. These are not all featureless identical corridors though. Even in the prison ship, where you spend most of the game, there is plenty of variety of locale, from haphazard boxes in a cold storage room to the austere command console on the bridge. Many of these show damage from asteroid strikes, with changes taking place over the course of the game as more damage is done. A number of dramatic synth pieces, fitting with the sci-fi setting, play throughout. There is also a range of sound effects, including whirring machinery and the crash of asteroid impacts.
Control is point-and-click, using the standard AGS four-action cursor, which can be cycled through by right-clicking. Though playing the previous games will give returning players familiarity with the characters, this episode can be played on its own. The opening section serves as a good introduction, with Moss’ ill-advised web activities threatening the ship’s systems. The Agent’s cowardice and bullying contrast with the almost worshipful devotion of Head, setting a humorous tone to lighten the horror setting. The rest of the game is set on the prison ship and involves multiple characters. Some sections only have one protagonist available, but you will more often have multiple player characters, switching between them being vital to success. This is usually Moss and his assistant, though a surprising third character is introduced in the later part of the game. There is also a section where you play Leech Larson in the immediate aftermath of the first rock hitting. The ship’s systems have been damaged by asteroid impacts, requiring cunning alteration to get them working. As the game progresses, a more dangerous presence makes itself felt, making evasion a priority. Only on a couple of occasions is agile mouse usage required, avoiding the threat being more of a cerebral exercise in the main. Death is possible, but the game resets to just before the fatal action if this does occur.
The Visitor 3 can be downloaded from the AGS website.
The Knobbly Crook: Chapter 1 – The Horse You Sailed In On
O’Sirus the Snip is on trial. Explaining his actions that led to this charge, he recounts a tale of when he was simply O’Sirus. For some time he had heard the spooky voice, sometimes accompanied with visions of the spooky face. This had told him that he needed to travel to The Knobbly Crook to achieve his goal of becoming a Guffaloon, a member of the royal guard. Sneaking aboard one of the giant mechanical horses that sail the great sea, he realises he has made a grave error. This particular horse has just come from the Knobbly Crook, and is actually taking him away from his goal. If he is to achieve his fabled destiny, he must find a way to convince the crew to turn the beast around.
The Knobbly Crook: Chapter 1 – The Horse You Sailed In On is only the first part of Gnarled Scar’s new adventure, but it is an impressive opening. The graphics are highly detailed, though somewhat surreal in content. O’Sirus wears a breastplate that looks like a monstrous face, with a covering for the lower half of his face that looks like a skull’s jawbone. The other denizens of the ship are no less strange, including a giant covered in green hair and scales, and a figure in a fur-lined robe with a horned face mask. The ship itself seems to be part-mechanical, part-organic, with a stomach-like acid pool below decks. All characters and devices move smoothly, with idle animations as well. Displayed as text, speech is audibly presented as a growled mumbling, conveying the tone of the speaker if not the words. The action has a pleasant guitar backing, with more instruments added in the bar where a one-man band is playing. There are also a variety of sound effects, often mechanical in nature.
Control is handled through point-and-click, with right-click cycling through five cursor options, including Touch. The setting is a bizarre fantasy world, as evidenced by the fact that O’Sirus’ job prior to setting out on his quest was paper-farming. You will interact with numerous other passengers and crew, not all of whom have your best interests at heart. Indeed, some are on the lookout for you, though fortunately the vague description they have is not enough to identify you outright. The crew provide different amounts of help on your quest. One is willing to let you access a lower area if you can get the lift to it working, while another inflicts sharp blows if you even put a single hand in the wrong place. A herd of Gummerlings, small but vicious-looking beasts capable of eating the ship if roused, will also play a part in resolving your scheme. Though there are plenty of indications that this world can be a hazardous place, there does not seem to be any way of dying.
The Knobbly Crook: Chapter 1 – The Horse You Sailed In On can be downloaded from the developer’s website.
Being Her Darkest Friend
In trying to perfect your art, you have always laboured under the fierce tutelage of Seligmann. Almost deified by some of his students, he had nothing but the harshest criticism for those who did not follow his ideas of what art should be. You thought you had left him behind you, but now you find yourself in a nightmarish world which seems to have him at its centre. Working your way through twisted versions of your past, you must face your fears and bring down the horrors that stem from them.
Chronerion Entertainment’s Being Her Darkest Friend is an exercise in psychological horror. The pixel art graphics have a retro look to them. Characters are well-defined overall, but their faces are largely featureless apart from the eyes. The colour palette is almost entirely black and white, the only fully coloured character being the female protagonist. The backgrounds and other characters have only rare splashes of colour, such as a static fire in one part, enhancing the depressing feel of the setting. The main locations are a dark cave, revealed slowly as the game wears on, and the studio where the lead studied under Seligmann. You travel between these automatically as the story progresses. The contents of the latter change each time you return, presenting subtly different challenges each time. The aural background is a disturbing low hum, punctuated by loud mournful horn sounds. There are also a handful of sound effects, including a camera shutter.
Whilst containing little that’s overtly horrific, the game content is psychologically disturbing and unsuited to the young or easily troubled. The interface is very simple, with all interaction solely involving the left-mouse button. There is also a small inventory, arrayed across the bottom of the screen. Collected items can be dragged onto hotspots from here for use in the environment. The inventory items, including a camera and paintbrush, are mundane in appearance, but have strange effects when used. Working out the special abilities of these objects and how to use them to best effect forms the backbone of the puzzles. There are also a handful of characters to interact with, though without dialogue choices as they’re mostly present to provide clues.
Being Her Darkest Friend can be played online or downloaded from Game Jolt.
Late Last Nite
We’ve all been there. You had a great night out, and come early the following morning you find that you have left something behind at one of the places you went. For Morgan, it is not just one thing that she has lost. She has lost her phone, wallet and lucky lighter. There is nothing for it but to retrace her steps and see if she can retrieve her lost property before it is gone forever. But with the bizarre mix of places she visited, she has her work cut out for her.
Late Last Nite from decafjedi depicts the after-effects of an evening out like no other. There are three locations overall: the bottom of the ocean, a vampire space bar and a junk food forest. Morgan is rendered in the same bright, simple style in all three (albeit gaining a mermaid’s tail in the sea). The locations themselves are rendered slightly differently. The sea is appropriately watercolour in style, the space bar and its denizens are all fully modelled 3D, and the forest has a lively cartoon look. Both Morgan and the residents are fully animated to a good standard. The music is also different in each location, presenting a calypso, a disco organ piece and a jazz tune respectively.
Embracing the surreal logic of the game world is necessary if you are going to find your missing possessions. One character in the junk food forest is made of chips, for example, and you will need to get him to literally lend you a hand to feed another character. Interaction is done via a verb coin, with five actions plus the inventory displayed on a wheel when you click on a hotspot. Clicking anywhere else simply moves you around. You will need to travel back and forth between locations several times before your quest is done. Fortunately, each individual location is fairly small, and they all allow easy access to the other two places. You will drive off an overly coiffed vampire and perform several fetch quests for a foul-mouthed owl called Chadwick. Making the language more family-friendly, Chadwick’s swear words are all presented as symbols.
Late Last Nite can be downloaded from Game Jolt.
All he wanted was to show a girl a good time. Some might say that an evening at the factory where he works was an odd choice of venue for this, but Dirk still felt that, with the champagne he had brought along, he was onto a winner. Then an unexpected guest interrupts proceedings. With a spider-like body and humanoid torso, a hideous Aractaur suddenly makes its presence known. If he is going to enjoy an evening with his gal, he has to find a way to capture or destroy this monster. The fact that it has taken out an army assault team is surely no cause for concern.
In Aractaur, Calico Reverie have created a monster movie largely played for laughs. The graphics feature a low-resolution pixel look showing the factory and surrounding area. Matching the industrial nature of the setting, the colour scheme is generally quite drab. Characters are very simply rendered and animated, though their outfit allows you to tell them apart. The monster itself towers over the humans, though it moves in leaps that propel it off the screen without the need for much animation. Its roar is the most striking sound effect in the game, rendered as the screech of an overloaded 8-bit sound system. This is in keeping with the retro look, as is the music, which is a tune reminiscent of early video games, increasing in speed to a dramatic action theme when the Aractaur appears.
Control is done by point-and-click, with left-click to interact and right to examine. Dirk is not the only staff member on site, though none seem overly willing to assist him in getting rid of the monster. Even his girlfriend seems to treat the monster as just another part of the disastrous date he needs to deal with. Doing favours for people will usually allow you to acquire what you need. You will also need to herd a small, fast animal to distract the monster, though this is more a test of brain-power than agility with the mouse.
Aractaur can be downloaded from the AGS website.
Logging in the deep jungle can be a dangerous occupation. One such individual, attaching hooks onto logs to be flown away by his co-worker, learns this only too well. A freak landslide sweeps him into the river, carrying him far from his companions. With no idea where he is when he emerges, and unable to make radio contact, things look grim. His only chance is to hike through the perilous jungle in search of a high enough platform to get a call through. With the hazards of nature and hostile natives to deal with, the chances of ever seeing his family again are slim.
Whilst not the longest of games, Cloak and Dagger’s Pendek proves a satisfying journey into a hostile environment. The graphics are done in a relatively simple pixel art style, the main character being faceless, but there is enough detail to make objects and animals easily recognisable. The majority of the scenery is a thick canopy of jungle green, though you will later move through a cave and up to a hilltop. The scenery is nicely layered, with a handful of tree trunks and leaves passing in front of the character. The protagonist and the various animals and people he encounters are all decently animated as well. The background music matches the setting with the sound of native pipes and drums. There are also suitable sound effects, such as the thunk of a blow-pipe dart narrowly missing the hero.
The setting is undoubtedly unsafe, but the developers have opted to not include the possibility of dying. A single mouse click handles all interactions as you gather what you can to improvise a way out of your situation. As finding higher ground involves travelling into the jungle itself, most of the obstacles you face are natural hazards, such as finding a way to distract a reclining tiger and negotiating a narrow tunnel. Before the end you will come across a rare animal, the mythical Pendek of the title, but the ending of the game differs slightly depending on how you deal with this find.
Pendek can be downloaded from the AGS website.
A Matter of Caos: Episode 3
Last month we reported on the first two episodes of the thrilling detective game A Matter of Caos, by Italian developer ExperaGameStudio. Now episode three has been released, allowing the story to continue virtually uninterrupted. Mr. Gilbert, our many-armed, purple and legless protagonist, is still looking for Daphne, the waitress he must find for the mysterious Miss Malaguard. His search has led him to a cult that gathers in their secret lair, The Manzaran, and reveres a leader whom they call the Heartless One. (Nobody knows his real name.) In this episode, Gilbert gains entrance to The Manzaran, and though he doesn't find Daphne there he does learn of two rival gangs, one led by a certain Faust and the other by Judas Lee, the owner of a bar called the Myosotis. How Daphne is connected with these two gangs Gilbert doesn't know, but he is sure going to find out.
From a technical and stylistic perspective, nothing here is new. The interface is exactly the same as Episode 2, and the dark music and fitting sound effects are still present. There is also only one save slot. The world is presented largely in black and white screens that contain little detail, displaying the world from a viewpoint that is not always Mr. Gilbert's. Clicking colorful icons takes Gilbert to new locations, provides a description of an object or person, or places the item in inventory, located at the bottom of the screen. Inventory items are brightly colored, and an icon allows you to examine them in more detail. Whenever Gilbert writes something in his notebook, a big red exclamation mark flashes until you click on it. In the top right is an icon that gives access to Gilbert's thoughts, which sometimes helps to solve puzzles. The puzzles are once again a mix of inventory and dialogue challenges. You’ll have to try to enter a house without setting the alarm off, and talk yourself out of a very dangerous situation, amongst other tasks.
Before starting you can opt for a short overview of what happened previously, but I strongly recommend playing the first two episodes if you haven’t already. The story is further developed in this installment, as you will see some new characters and learn a lot about the city's nastier inhabitants this time around. Gilbert often finds himself in bars, but you will also visit the harbor again, along with the police station and The Manzaran. You even have to visit a cemetery at one point. Not all the people you meet are enemies: some of them help because they like Gilbert, and some because he happens to want to know the same things they do. But there are more than enough dangerous people left, so there is no lack of suspense. You will most likely be killed more often than in the former two episodes combined. Luckily (particularly with only one save slot), when you die you always get another chance. The story gets quite complicated in this episode, but if you feel lost you can always read Gilbert’s notebook, which is in his inventory the whole time.
A Matter of Caos is unsuitable for kids because it deals with horror, killing, and the occult. But for a mature audience, Episode 3 is a gripping installment in the ongoing story about Mr. Gilbert, and there’s been no decline in any of the production values. If this game had voice acting, it could easily compete with many of the commercial detective games on the market, so I'm eagerly looking out for the next episode.
A Matter of Caos can be played online at Kongregate.
You are Jack Conrad. You have been waiting eight months on Death Row for your death sentence to be carried out, because you killed seven men you knew to be terrible drug barons. Now a commercial TV station has gained permission to use you and nine other criminals for their newest reality TV show. Put together with the other dangerous criminals on an island loaded with video cameras, you must all try to kill one another, as the last man standing is the winner of the show. You will have to punch, kick, hack and slash your way to freedom in this parody of reality shows and fighting games.
The Condemned, by slasher, shows Conrad and his surroundings in low resolution with a colourful but limited palette. Conrad's opponents are scattered all over the island, which contains a lush jungle, a tiger gorge and some caves and cliffs, amongst other locales. Although the environments look rather realistic, the characters tend to be drawn in a slightly cartoonish way, exaggerating muscles, facial features and tattoos to make them look tough. Most of the things in Conrad's vicinity are clear to see, but due to the low resolution it's sometimes hard to make out what they are. There is no voice acting; all spoken text is shown on screen in one of three different fonts that you can choose from. Most of the music consists of calming tunes, which is a bit strange for such a violent game, but they fit the surroundings well. The sound effects are a bit crude but do their job satisfactorily.
Below the view screen is a menu that shows the different verbs available, including standard actions like walk, look, and interact, as well as more specific ones like smell. (These can alternately be cycled through with the right mouse button). There’s also a small window showing how many people are watching the show and how much money it has earned. Hovering the cursor over hotspots makes a small description appear, and left-clicking the object causes Conrad to perform the selected option. Despite its emphasis on violence, The Condemned is much more an adventure game than anything else. You will have to fight the bad guys, but the action sequences don't require quick reflexes or learning complicated moves. Conrad is much busier exploring the island than killing his foes.
When you are in need of a weapon or another tool you can press the Ammunition, Weapons and Tools button. This brings up a row of icons, and clicking one of these icons makes Conrad use it if currently applicable. The puzzles are mainly inventory-based and often amount to finding the things you need to kill a particular guy. But there is also a 'Mystic Maze' in which you have to answer questions written on the walls by walking in particular directions. When you get all the answers right, a new part of the island is unlocked with more guys to fight. Before starting a fight it's good to know something about your enemy, so using all the available options on him can be quite useful. You will need certain objects for specific enemies, which Conrad will find scattered about the island or on the dead bodies of criminals he just killed. During combat, bars are displayed to show the health of both Conrad and his opponent. Fighting is a simple matter of choosing a weapon and clicking on it. After doing so, your opponent's health (and/or your own) decreases. Conrad is the only person who attacks, and after a blow his opponent waits for the next thing you do. If you feel like you’re in over your head, you can always back out of a fight using the 'back out' button. If Conrad's own health reaches zero, he is knocked unconscious. His enemy then believes he is dead and leaves, so you will have to find him and fight him again later.
You can smash TV cameras as you find them on the island, but I'm not sure how much influence this has on the amount of money made or the number of viewers achieved. Of course, for Conrad this doesn't matter but he doesn't want people to watch the show so he likes smashing the cameras a lot. Some of the cameras are well hidden, so you’ll need to observe each screen thoroughly.
I was pleasantly surprised by this game. It has an interesting and very well worked-out concept, quite a lot of wacky humor and even some delightful red herrings on the way to an ending that, although horrific, is satisfying. This game is obviously not for very young children, but the blood and gore are displayed in a rather simplistic way and not much more detailed than that in games of the early 1990s. The Condemned is definitely no horror game.
The Condemned can be downloaded from the Adventure Game Studio 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.
Power Nap by stupot – With management threatening instant dismissal for anyone caught napping, you will have to be cunning to get some much-needed sleep.
Foundations by Matt Frith – Scavenging from the scrap doled out by a walled city, you find something that could lead you to a better life.
Blind to Siberia by Calico Reverie – In a world of darkness, can the light come again?
The Secret of Gargoyle Manor by Berzee – When a woman’s hat blows over a wall, she vows to get it back at any cost.
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!
Article written by Stephen Brown and Willem Tjerkstra.