Following Freeware - May 2015 releases
This month a LucasArts fave returns in his long-awaited English language fan sequel. When not travelling between time and space, you could also investigate whether a troubled friend committed suicide or met with foul play, or help settle your grandfather’s estate, revealing mysterious secrets about his past in the process. If you’re up for saving the world, you can wrap your purple tentacles around an artifact needed for a destructive ritual, or try to prevent a cataclysmic meteor crash in just four minutes. You might also travel to a science facility protected by an abundance of security, or crash land with no security at all at a mining camp populated only by prisoners. And for those with Jurassic World fever, you can try out a different take on the dinosaurs-and-humans-living-together-isn’t-a-good-idea theme. All these await in this month’s releases from the freeware scene.
Zak McKracken: Between Time and Space
It has been some time since ace reporter Zak McKracken thwarted the dastardly Caponians. His defeat of the Alien MindBenders should have catapulted him to super-stardom, but instead he finds himself living in the same apartment he had before his brush with extra-terrestrials. Whilst he now runs the National Infiltrator, recent sales haven’t been good, and the tiny office now has a tree growing through it. Meanwhile, his good friend Annie apparently married a man Zak has never met, and he can’t even remember for sure what he has been working on recently. Zak needs a big break to get his life back on track and another alien invasion attempt would do the trick. It’s a pity the protective shield put round the Earth after their last attempt keeps the Caponians out – doesn’t it?
Following on from the LucasArts classic, Artificial Hair Bros’ Zak McKracken: Between Time and Space is an ambitious project that seems to have paid off with the long-awaited English language release. An opening scene has Zak sneaking aboard a plane via the cargo hold full of crates and maintenance gear. This one-room sequence serves as a tutorial, requiring Zak to escape mid-air when the plane is apparently boarded by hostile aliens. Zak subsequently wakes up in his apartment, bemused as to how he got there. The local neighbourhood retains much of the geography of its predecessor, though the bus stop is apparently now out of use due to its sleepy driver. Zak’s new adventures will span exotic locations around the world, and the action eventually takes players aboard some alien spaceships. The graphics are a definite upgrade from the 1988 original, with a huge amount of detail. Zak appears fully 3D at all times, whilst most other characters appear to be rendered in 2D, though still fully detailed. In the numerous cutscenes, full 3D is used for everything. The game is now voiced in English to a decent standard, and there is a varied soundtrack of dramatic science fiction music and appropriate sound effects throughout.
Although not required to play, knowledge of the original game would undoubtedly help with the backstory, and there are numerous references to the original, such as Zak carrying around the bowl of his pet goldfish Sushi. References to other LucasArts games also put in an appearance, including the skull display stand in a wig shop that boasts of how evil it is. Right-clicking looks at items, whilst a quick left-click moves Zak to the selected location. Holding down the left-button on a hotspot for a few moments brings up an action menu. This includes push/pull, talk, open/close, pickup, look and use. Where actions are completely inappropriate for a particular hotspot, they do not appear. Zak soon finds himself on a globe-trotting quest, seeking out a series of lost artefacts vital to protecting the human race, and he gathers a number of items on his travels, which are kept at the bottom of the play screen. The game has the same tongue-in-cheek humour of its inspiration, with Zak himself exhibiting a dry wit. Elvis also returns to the fray, and there are various other bizarre characters to meet, including a cab service with a difference and the Artificial Hair Bros themselves. There is some slightly risqué humour; nothing too explicit, but care might be taken with children playing.
The whopping 3 GB download of Zak McCracken: Between Time and Space can be found at the developers’ website.
Mu Complex: Episode 2
From your lowly entry position in the mysterious Mu Complex, you have risen to a high security level. On your way up you have become acquainted with the AI, Lya, who now seeks your assistance. The main laboratory systems have been completely locked down, and Lya needs you to break through the security to reactivate it. She assures you that only by accessing the facility’s most secret experiment, the “Doors” project, will you be able to understand the complex’s true purpose. But with security systems designed to challenge the brightest minds that worked there, infiltrating the deepest levels will take some doing.
It is highly recommended that you play the first episode of StudioCine’s text adventure series before attempting the sequel. The presentation is displayed as if you were accessing computer consoles within the complex itself. Most interaction is through typed commands, though you can open additional windows that need to be closed by mouse. These include camera feeds and diagrams for challenges you will face. The most important of these additional files is the local network map, the details of which update as you unlock more of the network. Your efforts are accompanied by occasional audio-only prompts and suggestions from Lya, who has a pleasant voice, though with a stilted delivery that fits her artificial nature. There are also a handful of other effects that occur in response to your actions.
Those looking for a simple game they can breeze through easily should look elsewhere. This is a game of extremely complex puzzles in a surprising variety. Examining files will give you clues to some challenges, as well as providing backstory to the facility’s experiments. A recurring puzzle has you writing a string of instructions for a robot. Each new version of this puzzle makes the route to be followed more complex, whilst also limiting the maximum number of commands available. The later iterations even add subroutines, also limited in number, which must be used fully to succeed. Complex codes also await, hiding mathematical challenges to be solved. Some of these are timed, though they can be repeated indefinitely and commands are provided that assist in the calculations. Even so, at least moderately decent typing skills are essential. Players should also not be afraid to think outside the box, with at least one puzzle requiring action beyond the game itself.
Mu Complex: Episode 2 can be played at Kongregate.
The Night Henry Allen Died
The invitation from your old friend, Henry Allen, to come and stay with him came out of the blue. His letter said he needed help, and that you were the only one he could trust. When he greeted you he appeared in fine form, promising to explain everything the following morning after a night attending his sick mother. So it was with some surprise that you found Henry hanged that night, apparently having taken his own life. Will you accept that your friend faced troubles too terrible to bear, or will you delve into the mystery of his death and his family’s tragic past?
In The Night Henry Allen Died, Ludipe offers a strange locked room mystery. The pixel art presentation uses an isometric style, laid out in a strict grid pattern, though straight lines are somewhat softened by the detail. In the small garden stands a magnificent fountain, while the interiors include a grand piano and walls bedecked with paintings. The characters are simply but effectively rendered, the protagonist a gentleman in a tweed jacket joined by others like a figure with a receding hairline. All have simple walking animations, the supporting characters moving about their starting locations when you are not interacting with them. A soft piano piece with an air of mystery plays in the background. Sound effects include footfall changing as you move from surface to surface, and the ticking and chiming of a grandfather clock.
You move around the house using the arrow keys, interacting with objects and characters by pressing S. When you start, you only have a handful of subjects to talk about, centred around Henry and his death. As you investigate, new lines of enquiry become available, requiring you to return to characters repeatedly. Fortunately, the relatively small size of the house makes backtracking not overly onerous. Topics do not just arise from conversation. Examining paintings of Henry’s ancestors allows you to talk about them, and there are secrets to uncover from examining the right things. The inhabitants of the house seem less upset about Henry’s death than might be appropriate, and a lot of research will be required if the player is to avoid abandoning the mystery unsolved.
The Night Henry Allen Died can be both downloaded and played online at Game Jolt.
A Matter of Caos: Episode 4
Mr. Gilbert, the purple-tentacled protagonist of Expera Game Studio’s excellent mystery adventure, stars one last time in the series finale of A Matter of Caos. Having rescued Daphne, the girl he was looking for in the first three episodes, now he wants to find out who was after her and why. During his search for answers, he gets hold of an item Daphne had hidden, which, when used in the right ritual will destroy the world. Of course he wants to prevent that, which brings him into contact once more with most of the friends and foes he’s made already in this case, as well as with a very angry woman.
Technically and aesthetically, nothing has changed since the last episode. The world is still presented in not-very-detailed black and white screens using pseudo-first-person viewpoints, while the music, which was specially composed for this series, is still effectively dark and the few sound effects feel authentic. Clicking colorful icons takes Gilbert to new locations, provides a description of the object or person highlighted, or places an item in inventory, located at the bottom of the screen. Items in inventory are brightly colored, and an icon allows you to examine them in more detail. In the top right is an icon that gives access to Gilbert's thoughts, which sometimes help to solve puzzles.
The puzzles are once again a mix of inventory and dialogue challenges. Amongst the challenges Mr. Gilbert faces in this episode are preventing someone from killing him by saying the right things, releasing someone from a container, and creating confusion in the casino without attracting attention to himself. Unfortunately there is one crucial puzzle that I found very hard to solve. You have to align certain things in the puzzle, but they are hard to make out and what the final pattern is supposed to be is very hard to tell. I "solved" it by random clicking until suddenly the scene changed. But apart from this particular puzzle, all obstacles in A Matter of Caos are well thought out and fit perfectly in the story.
As with the earlier episodes, the series finale is unsuitable for kids due to its mature subject matter. You can once again opt for a short overview of what happened prior to the start of this game, but it's highly recommended to play the whole series from the beginning. You won't see many new people in this installment, as most of your interactions will be with Gilbert's remaining friends and foes. This episode contains quite a lot of funny references to other games, movies and internet memes. The story stays as good as ever right until the end, and wraps up very nicely, leaving no loose ends. Overall, the four episodes of A Matter of Caos collectively make the best freeware adventure game I've played in the last six months by far.
A Matter of Caos: Episode 4 can be played online at Kongregate.
You are an assistant scientist working in a lab. You're not very busy when the lead scientist suddenly announces that he has missed a BIG meteor coming towards the Earth. He needs you to find some people and equipment – including a flux capacitor – to change its course so it will pass by harmlessly. But that's not all: you only have four minutes to find everything!
Doomsday, by faroreforelorn, is a short game but quite well made. Presented in a third-person overhead view, the game world is limited to the lab, a diner, a bit of the street and a grocery store. All of these locations, plus the people and objects that inhabit them, are drawn in a simple, blocky style in bright colors. The people are reasonably detailed, however: the scientists have glasses and a lab coat on, a homeless man shifts his eyes like a lunatic, and everyone bobs their heads in a funny way. On the upper right side of the screen the meteor is shown, drawing closer and closer to the Earth. If that isn't stressful enough, the action is accompanied by bombastic music that makes you want to hurry even more. There are no voices or even sound effects in Doomsday. All spoken text appears at the bottom of the screen.
The keyboard-only interface is simple: you move the girl with the arrow keys and interact with hotspots and call up the inventory with the V and Tab keys, respectively. You don't need to take things out of the inventory to use them, as the game chooses the correct inventory item when necessary. Getting the stuff you need is quite a quest, however: you have to help the police solve a crime, get a small engine fixed, and find a substitute for the flux capacitor, amongst other tasks. This all involves more talking and running than our dapper scientist girl expected, but makes for a fun game that is very replayable because you will most likely fail to get everything you need in time during the first few playthroughs. The ending is a bit unexpected but scientifically correct.
Doomsday can be played online at Newgrounds.
At a mineral prospecting prison camp, pilot and inmate Korski has worked long enough at the drill site and is preparing his final ground-to-orbit cargo shipment. After this flight he will be allowed to go home. Korski is happy to be leaving the dreaded place. Camp 1 is not a nice place to be: it is cold, always dark, and all the people are bald due to the high radiation levels. Naturally, because they are all inmates, the people there don't trust each other very much either. Unfortunately, Korski crashes just minutes after takeoff, and after making it back to the camp on foot, he finds his colleagues dead or gone. Now he has to find out what happened, and he soon discovers that things in Camp 1 were even worse than he thought.
The engaging adventure Camp 1, by Waxwing Games, is played in third-person mode. Its pixel art locations, limited to the camp, the space ship interior, a snowy plain and the insides of some of the tents, are dimly lit by artificial light and extremely muted in limited color. Most often you will just hear the whirr of machinery or the sound of the wind in the background, but sometimes classical music is played, partly lightening the mood of this fairly somber and silent game. There is no voice acting; all text is shown in an oblong box at the top of the screen, and spoken dialogue is accompanied by a stylized portrait of the person speaking.
The inventory and button for Korski's notes are in the lower part of the screen. Left-clicking an environmental object or inventory item lets Korski pick it up or interact with it, and right-clicking causes him to tell you something about it. You’ll have do a lot of different things to bring this mid-length adventure to completion. For instance, you must construct a transmitter to send an SOS signal, get a form signed by all four remaining members of Camp 1, and bypass a deep gorge using nothing but a malfunctioning crane, all without knowing exactly who to trust. Overcoming these objectives involves an eclectic mix of inventory and machinery puzzles. Many of them are challenging, so you have to really pay attention to little details to solve them all. Apart from a bit of pixel hunting, however, the puzzles are all very well integrated and don't hold up the game just for the sake of puzzling. A lack of personality in all the characters, including Korski, makes playing this game a bit of a detached experience, but otherwise Camp 1 is a solid adventure that will take quite a bit of brain power to finish.
Camp 1 can be downloaded from Indie DB.
Roc'h Arnev Island
Your grandfather, whom you hadn't seen for a long time, has now passed away so you go to his house on the remote Roc'h Arnev Island to sort out his affairs. You didn't know your grandfather very well, and while exploring his house and the surrounding neighborhood you soon find out that he'd discovered a great secret that he didn't dare write about even in his diary. He did note that he talked a lot about it with a friend of his, who then disappeared suddenly in a big storm, leaving a ruined house behind. Your curiosity is piqued, so you travel around the island examining the buildings and other interesting places it offers, talking to its inhabitants to see what you can find out about your grandfather's secret.
Roc'h Arnev Island, by axoona, is presented in first-person mode in colorful photo slides. As you search the island for clues, you’ll need to visit all six of its lighthouses, a church, a wrecked house and other locations, all of which have been carefully photographed on sunny days with no unwanted shadows. The music consists of a very short section of one of the “Gymnopédias” by Eric Satie, which is repeated over and over throughout the whole game. While a nice piece, the repetition is very annoying when you know the whole score. Luckily you can switch the music off. Because most of Roc'h Arnev Island takes place outside, an ambient background soundscape would have increased the feeling of immersion much more. The few sound effects present are good, although sometimes a bit loud. There are no voices, but sometimes the protagonist's thoughts appear as text in a box at the bottom of the screen. Spoken text appears in a similar box, as do options of things you can say during conversation.
The game is played entirely using the left mouse button. Hovering the cursor over a hotspot makes it change shape, and clicking then shows you a close-up of the hotspot or takes you to a new location. At the bottom of the screen is a bar containing icons for a map of the island and two hint buttons – one makes all hotspots visible and the other opens a webpage that gives you hints on what to do when you're stuck. The hints are context-sensitive and almost spoiler-free. This works very well, because you still do most of the work yourself and only get slight nudges in the right direction. There is no inventory so there are no inventory puzzles. The puzzles all revolve around finding out what your grandfather discovered, so you will be comparing lots of symbols, talking to people on the island, and must solve a riddle. You will also learn something about the interesting mixture of pagan and Christian saints, feasts and rituals on the island. Although the puzzles are not very hard, it takes quite a lot of persistence to finish the game. Hotspots are often hard to find, and even with the hints and the hotspot highlighter it is not easy to find all the clues. Fortunately the game auto-saves, so you can stop any time you like and continue later. Roc'h Arnev Island is not a game for beginners, but despite its rough edges, it intrigued me greatly and was a joy to play.
Roc'h Arnev Island can be played online at Kongregate.
Once upon a time, dinosaurs and people lived together. Not always very peacefully though. Imagine you're sitting together with your witch doctor, babbling about nothing after dinner on a quiet night by the fire, when suddenly you are attacked by a ferocious raptor. That is what happens to the red-haired, slender and flexible protagonist of Theropods. Her good doctor manages to lure the dino away, but soon another one of those pesky beasts appears. Now our nameless heroine has to deal with the predator and find out where the doctor went. Luckily she is witty, agile and can kick very hard, all of which are necessary for her to bring this adventure to a successful end.
Theropods was created in two weeks by SeethingSwarm, Valerofond, TinyStuffz, and ZStriefel for 2015's Adventure Jam. The game is played in third-person mode. The animation, particularly of the characters, is very smooth, and the pixel art is beautifully drawn in bright colors, showing in just four screens the camp fire, a forest with very thick old trees, and a cliff. Everything needed to complete the adventure is clearly visible on screen. However, I found it very hard to recognize what the items actually were. This isn’t helped by the fact that the people (and the dinosaurs) use only a few vocal grunts to communicate, with no text displayed at all, even for hotspots. Our red-haired heroine says "Ng-ng" or "Uh-uh" and shakes her head to indicate that you’ve tried something that she thinks is not possible or useful. Along with some simple and eerie music that reminds me a bit of certain locations in the Myst games, there are also neat sound effects like the breaking of branches and the buzzing of bees.
The interface is very simple: clicking on an object with the left mouse button makes our heroine go there and/or interact with it. The inventory is accessible via a small button at the top right of the screen. The puzzles, most of which are inventory-based, are logical and well integrated, and shouldn’t prove too hard to solve. Theropods achieved fifth place in this year's Adventure Jam, which is well deserved. It isn’t very long, but it’s certainly worth the 20 minutes or so that you will spend figuring it out.
Theropods can be played online at JayIsGames.
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.
White Stone and the Best Sandwich Ever by cobcris – A little magician uses magic stones to penetrate a lost cave and challenge a rival.
Kobyanshi Marooned by Phil Hornshaw and Nick Hurwitch – Before you join the Spacefleet Operational Service you must take on the final test, even if it (virtually) kills you in this humorous text adventure.
The Writer Will Do Something by Matthew S Burns – After bad feedback on the latest build, a games development team has an emergency meeting.
Little Witch Story by Snow McAnally – In a world where witches have to be registered, a teenage girl discovers she has unwelcome powers.
Super Anxiety Force DX by andhegames – Order a cup of coffee... or tea.. or maybe it's better to get coffee... in this anxiously funny anxiety game.
. . . Love Past . . . by MetalBladeGamer – Deal with the loss of a loved one in this touching game.
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!
This article was written by Stephen Brown and Willem Tjerkstra.