This month you can become a criminal on the run, a trainee god struggling to hone his powers, or a piece of fruit simply wanting to be eaten. You could also quest across a vast desert in search of a fabled world, over a frozen landscape in search of meaning, or through the vastness of space in search of survival. Alternatively, you can try to escape from a nightmare, rescue an innocent man from a murder charge, or delve into a puzzle that appears to transcend science. All these await in this month’s round-up of releases from the freeware scene.
You have travelled far into the merciless desert in search of your past. When a collapsing bridge drops you into a gorge, you find an ancient installation that could hold what you seek. Your predecessors have journeyed on to the mystical realm of RoonSehv, and if you wish to join them you must follow in their footsteps. But this is not simply a case of walking the same path. Long abandoned, the machinery of this facility will need some attention if the way forward is to be opened. Can you obtain understanding of these ancient mechanisms, or are you doomed to be trapped here?
Billing itself as an adjunct to the Myst series, RoonSehv by Babel Games is a grand project. Much like Myst V, the presentation is first-person with full range of movement throughout the 3D environment. The graphics are high quality, presenting an almost fully realistic environment. You start in a wind-swept desert, with only a few rocks and some distant mountains breaking the monotony of the view, but you will later find yourself passing through a maze of underground tunnels and rooms. Many of these are in a state of disrepair, with fallen stones and earth in places. There are also wonders to be found, including a vast cavern whose floor is entirely covered in mist. In the background, there is a gentle Arabic soundtrack that fits in well with the desert setting. The unseen protagonist’s footsteps make noise, changing based on the surface you are walking on. You will also hear a variety of mechanisms, with the volume and direction of sound altering according to their location relative to yours.
Being based on the Myst series, it is not surprising that you’re given little direction on what you need to do. Movement is controlled with the keyboard, whilst looking around and interacting is achieved with the mouse. A discreet circle cursor continually occupies the centre of the screen. This flashes when you are pointed at a hotspot that is close enough to interact with. You will need to explore extensively and examine all you can in order to progress. There are some semi-cryptic notes scattered around that give you oblique clues on the story and how to operate the various machines you find. More often, you will need to experiment and observe the results to achieve your goal. There is also a dark maze, though an improvised torch can be acquired. Any object picked up appears held in front of you, and can be used on appropriate hotspots you subsequently interact with. The game has three manual save slots, but these give no indication of content so you will need to remember which of them you have used at what points.
Available in English, German, French and Italian, RoonSehv can be downloaded from Indie DB.
Somnamulizer: A Tale from Olympus U
For Hypnos, being a god of dreams in training is not proving all he expected. His time at Olympus U was supposed to be one of partying and fun. Instead, his parents constantly pressure him to work, even providing a lab to aid his studies. Meanwhile his roommate spends all day playing video games and knocking back energy drinks. When the girl he fancies throws a big party, Hypnos knows this is his chance to impress her. But there’s no way he is going alone. Perhaps it is time to practice his dream manipulation powers to achieve his goals.
Somnamulizer: A Tale of Olympus U is an unexpected take on the Greek god myths from Alex Whitington. The main graphics are done in a simple cartoon style with limited background detail, though the humanoid characters are fully expressive. They are also well animated. Your starting location is the cave-like home of Hypnos. The only furnishing in the main room is a sofa and large TV, though the river Lethe runs rather dangerously through the corner. Later you will travel to a party that is full of strange characters, many of whom seem to have had too much to drink. When you enter someone’s dreams, the presentation changes to a more stylised format akin to a child’s painting. A variety of music plays, including the bombastic theme of the shooter game your roommate plays and upbeat music for the party.
Control is point-and-click, with a simple verb coin (or urn in this instance) appearing when you click on a hotspot. The main three interactions are use, look and talk. You also gain a special ability later, and can access inventory for use on hotspots. Your first task is to convince your roommate to come with you to the party, as there is no way you can go alone. Using your dream powers requires the subject to be asleep, not an easy thing to accomplish with a hyper-active gamer on energy drinks. This requires a bit of lateral thinking, with some inventory manipulation and cunning dialogue choices accomplishing your goal. Within the dream state you can alter inanimate objects using dreams, nightmares or nonsense. Each of these options change the item into something different, and you will need to distract your subject to accomplish some changes behind their back. The whole game is presented using light humour, with dialogue that spoofs on the difficulties of student life with a godly twist. There are some adult references, making the game unsuitable for children.
Somnamulizer: A Tale of Olympus U can be downloaded from the AGS website.
It had seemed that your fate was to forever guard the border against an enemy that would never come. Fixed to one location, you would never have the chance to undertake the journey that your people see as the path to enlightenment. Then a call comes from the village elder. They have had a vision of a journey you could undertake, should you wish to do so. But this journey is foretold to enter a place which the legends say leads to a death that does not take you to the world beyond. Will you risk your very soul to seek a higher purpose?
Set in a cold fantasy world, Firgof’s Ouroboros presents a grand but disturbing tale. The first-person graphics are high quality hand sketches with nicely detailed, expressive faces and complex background art, though it is not animated. The setting is a snowy one, resulting in white and grey forming a lot of the exterior scenes. A later section takes you into a dark cave system that indicates a higher civilisation once resided on this world. A haunting tribal melody, made up of simple percussion and wind instruments, plays in the background. There are also plentiful sound effects: the wind whispers out on the snowy plain, with the hint of voices as you progress. You will also hear the collapse of walls and the operation of mechanisms in later sections. The conversations are even fully voiced to a very good standard, though the protagonist’s internal monologue is strictly text.
Control is handled by simple left-click, including to skip through the extensive dialogues in the game. When you set out on your quest you are given a book of lore to aid you, though many of the pages are initially missing. This can be accessed from an on-screen button at any time, providing clues as well as background to the settings. The latter part of the game sees you gather more inventory, as well as further pages, as you seek to operate ancient mechanisms. The tone of the story is bleak, though not overtly horrific for the most part. The latter portion of the game has some disturbing elements, most notably the final character you meet who offers a choice that determines your ending.
Ouroboros can be downloaded from the official website, including an option to make a donation to support the developer.
Your wheeling and dealing has finally caught up with you. You owe Fat Tony big time, and he has a very harsh way of dealing with those that don’t pay up. With only 24 hours before he comes for you, there’s no way you can raise the money in time. Your only hope is to disappear before he arrives. You’re going to need some seed cash to set up elsewhere, and a new identity to cover your tracks. Your motorcycle is in the lock-up, if you can just find the key. Oh, and you need to break it off with your girl before you go. The clock is ticking so it’s time to get a move on.
Set in a crime-ridden city, Mattias Gustavson’s Extrication is a dark tale. The left half of the screen is dominated by a headshot of the lead character with a grim expression. In the right half, location views are presented in a top down perspective with transitions from place to place via a slideshow format. The graphics are low-res, but there is sufficient detail to recognise items, such as a car in a garage or some boxes in a warehouse. When there are characters in your current location, portrait illustrations of them appear at the top of the screen. As you interact with them, these are expanded to take up the left half of the screen, with the character’s dialogue appearing on the right. The small number of inventory items available appear along the right side of the screen, and a clock showing the time remaining sits in the top right corner. Throughout your adventure, a gritty action musical theme plays in an ‘80s synth style.
Control involves either left-clicking with the mouse or using the keyboard to move and interact. Every action, be it speaking to a character or checking an object, ticks off simulated time. Your task is not a simple one. The one person who owes you money is nowhere to be found, and the key to the lock-up holding your motorcycle is with someone who may not be so keen to hand it over. Depending on your actions, characters appear and disappear at certain locations, so a reasonable amount of backtracking is required. The lead character is not a nice person, and there is some moderately strong language in places. Add to this the fact you will have to engage in some criminal activity to succeed, and this may not be a game suitable for the young or easily offended. If you take too long to achieve your objectives, the result is a game over scene as you meet your fate courtesy of Fat Tony. There is no manual save, but the game is short enough that, armed with knowledge from a failed attempt, a replay is not overly onerous.
Extrication can be downloaded from the Game Jolt website.
You stand in a darkened, sparsely furnished room. You cannot recall exactly how you got here, though you feel that some tragedy has led you to this place. The thing that catches your eye is a large television, which at first glance seems to show only static. Yet this is no ordinary television, and selecting the right channels can take you to other places. But don’t, whatever you do, select a wrong channel.
Psychological horror awaits players in Wrong Channel, by Calico Reverie. The minimalist graphical style is an extremely blocky pixel art format. Whilst large items such as a door or a tree are easily recognisable, smaller objects are only identifiable by their labels. Each location in the game occupies a single screen, with the television a constant presence in all. The colour palette is grim, reinforcing the depressing nature of the setting. Black dominates throughout, and even the accentuating colours are muted. A piece made up of long, slow, echoing tones provides a disturbing musical background. Sound effects include the static of the television and the unpleasant result of incorrect channel selection.
Control is achieved by simple left-click, with a menu of actions appearing on-screen when you click on a hotspot. You do not have direct access to an inventory, with collected objects simply appearing as options when you interact with a relevant item. Using the television to access different rooms forms the central part of the game. You need to decipher appropriate channel numbers from clues hidden in books and in complex formula. Simply flicking through the channels is not an option, as wrong channels produce a gruesome game over. As well as clues to channel numbers, you will also come across information that goes some way to explaining your predicament. Whilst pixelated, the horror tone makes this unsuitable for children or the easily disturbed.
Wrong Channel can be downloaded from the AGS website.
Aboard a tiny spaceship on its way from Mars to Earth are two technicians and an Artificial Intelligence called Alex, which functions as the captain. Suddenly a third person emerges from the escape pod and asks for access. Compounding matters further, an enemy ship arrives in the neighbourhood and shoots at you every time you start your engines! Acting as the ship’s A.I., you must deal with the new crew member, the enemy, and a crew that needs to remain willing to obey your commands in order to get everyone safely to Earth.
Space Incident, by Vogd3, shows a cut-through view of the spaceship so you can see all its components and rooms and the crew working in it. All of this is presented in remarkable pixel art detail. You can clearly see the expressions on the crew's faces, and cracks and fires in equipment after accidents occur. Care is taken to use lots of contrast so everything is clearly visible. The game is accompanied by strange spacey “music” and good sound effects for almost every action the crew performs, like drinking and eating, stopping fires, and typing. Both the music, which might irritate you after a while, and the sound effects can be switched off individually if so desired. With no voice acting, the game uses text to convey everything the crew members say to Alex.
In the top right corner of the screen there is a skip button, which can only be used in certain instances to bypass uneventful waiting periods. In the middle there is a line of text that tells you what you currently have to do. Usually it will tell you to wait until a crew member wants to talk to you, or it will say that a crew member needs attention. Because the spaceship is bigger than the screen, you can drag it around using the mouse. Hovering the cursor over a crew member makes a small diagram appear, indicating vital life signs like how good he feels, his energy and brain power levels, and how much food he still has inside him. Clicking on a crew member centers him in the middle of the screen while the camera pans as he moves through the ship. When a crew member wants to say something, he raises his finger and a bubble with an icon appears above his head. Clicking the bubble makes a dialogue screen appear, in which the crew member and Alex are represented by drawings. Unfortunately, the text displayed contains quite a few spelling and style errors. Often the crew members ask what to do, but they also tell you if they have good ideas or are scared. On many occasions, different options for your reply are presented for you to choose between them. Your decisions have a profound influence on how the story goes and whether or not the ship and its crew reach Earth safely or perish trying. You get points for each decision you make, but since there is no final score shown at the end of the game, they only seem to serve as an indication of how you’ve handled certain situations.
The crew members show very real human emotions. Each person has a different opinion on how to deal with the threats around him and also reacts differently to these threats. It's often hard to find the best way to deal with their different personalities. As the boss, you not only have to give orders but also take into account who is the best person to handle certain tasks, and make sure nobody gets too much on his plate, including yourself. At one point things get very hectic, and you have to stay cool and keep calm to be able to give the right commands. During conversations time stands still, but in between you sometimes have to be quick to issue the right order or prevent someone from panicking. During the trip you must balance between being the boss and a colleague, comforting the crew members or ordering them to do your bidding, which makes the game a very interesting tool to test your managing skills. You can finish the game within an hour, but an auto-save option means you don't have to finish it in one sitting. There are no less than ten different endings, so if you don't succeed in arriving safely on Earth you can try again. Overall, this is a game worth trying because of the profound way its story is told.
Space Incident can be played online at Newgrounds.
Beyond Eternity: Episode 1
At West College, two professors vanished into thin air almost at the same time. Blake Evermore and Rebecca Jones were present at the disappearance of their respective teachers, and are determined to find out what caused it and where the two professors went. In their search for the truth, they will have to learn about electromagnetic waves, do some sound testing, conduct chemical experiments, talk to the other teachers, and walk long distances through endless corridors.
Brent Eakin’s Beyond Eternity: Episode 1 is not your average adventure. The game world is quite large and contains many buildings on the West College campus. Unfortunately, these buildings all look alike and consist mainly of corridors and small rooms. The world is presented in third-person view and is drawn in simple cartoonish pixel art. Almost all building walls are brown, as is the furniture, which gives the locations a drab look. Because the walls look the same everywhere and most doors don't have nameplates, it's often hard to find the right room. At least the people are drawn in bright colors, injecting a much-needed bit of life to the place. The music accompanying the game can be chosen using the mobile phones Rebecca and Blake carry around. You can select between no less than five different tunes, all sounding a bit funky and electronic. The few sound effects in the game, like the opening of doors and drawers, are adequate. The voice acting is okay, but there is little emotion from the two protagonists. Rebecca especially is very bland and doesn't show any surprise or shock when something unexpected happens.
It doesn't matter which mouse button you use, as both interact with or make the protagonist take an item you click on. Blake and Rebecca start with very little information, so they must first find out what they need to know. While this makes sense, in practice it means endless walks through very long corridors, a lot of talking to people who give only minute bits of information, and a lot of fetching things from the strangest places, which means even more walking. Particularly in the beginning, this makes the game rather tedious. You later you get the ability to run, which speeds up the game somewhat, but you still need a lot of time, patience and perseverance to finish. There many different puzzles along the way. Some require using your inventory, which appears when you move the mouse to the top of the screen, but mostly they consist of finding out how to do what, whom to ask the right questions, and where to find the things you need. But there is also a Rubik’s cube puzzle, and a very difficult challenge in the library involving buttons that make ladders move. The game's author explains the many long corridors and challenging puzzles, some of them requiring hundreds of mouse clicks to solve, as representing the struggles we all must go through in life to reach something important. This may be true, but I play adventure games to get away from real life, not to relive such difficulties in a virtual second life. Beyond Eternity: Episode 1 is certainly an interesting game with considerable effort put into it, but its deliberate inaccessibility may well be a steep barrier to entry for many gamers.
Beyond Eternity: Episode 1 can be downloaded from the AGS website.
For a fresh slice of starfruit, there's nothing better than being eaten, wouldn't you say? Our hero certainly thinks so, and his once-delicious friends who share the fridge with him agree. Many of them have been disappointed: the celery has gone limp, the ice cream complains that it was put in the fridge instead of the freezer and has melted, and the sauerkraut complains about everything. They all want to be eaten soon, before they expire for good. So they decide that making a horrible stench is the best way to make someone open the fridge door and find all the nice food inside. Since he is the freshest of the lot, the starfruit is chosen to achieve this goal. For that he’ll have to make the celery upright again, cause the sauerkraut to do his bidding, and steal a rubber band from the broccoli, amongst other tasks.
Fridge Follies, made by Baron & Ponch, was the winner in November 2014's food-themed MAGS competition, but now voice acting has been added. And the acting, done by Baron himself, is excellent. Accompanied by a drawing of the food speaking, every character has its own voice and accent: the pepper sauce only speaks rapid Spanish, the chili leftover has a strong Texan accent, the sauerkraut says very funny things in German, and the fish speaks Scottish in such a way that you are glad there are subtitles because otherwise you wouldn't understand a word of what he's saying. The gameplay is accompanied by a well-known Wild West piano tune and some suitably chosen sound effects. The fridge is shown from the side, with the door on the left and a wall removed so you can see the inside. Everything is drawn in a simple, colorful cartoon style with enough details to make out what everything is.
The game is played with the mouse, of which only the left button is used. The inventory is shown right of the fridge, together with a so-called Stink-o-Meter, which indicates the strength of the stench being made. The puzzles are quite easy; the biggest obstacle you face is how to make the starfruit get from one shelf to another. All of the puzzles are inventory-based, and since you will not use more than three items you can easily finish the game in 15 minutes. But I advise you to take longer and try every combination of items possible, just to hear all the funny dialogue. Most characters speak lines that can be interpreted in multiple ways, for instance when the celery is stiff again it says: "Yeah! I'm ready! Where's the action?!" It never gets really dirty though, and I would be surprised if small kids get the innuendos. There are also a lot of amusing jokes about the places the characters come from. All jokes are simple and you have probably heard them before, but their execution is very good. I was grinning and laughing a lot while playing this small gem.
Fridge Follies can be downloaded from the AGS website.
Sherlock Holmes 2
Mr. Charles Williams bursts into Sherlock's room with just enough time to tell Sherlock that he is accused of… MURDER! He installs alarm systems in the houses of rich clients, and he was asked by one of his customers, Mr. Jack Jimmie Johnston, to look at his system. But when Charles arrived, Mr. Johnston talked so much that there was hardly any time to look at the alarm system before Charles had to go home again. The next morning, Charles read in the newspaper that Mr. Johnston was... MURDERED! After telling his tale, Charles is taken away by the police, leaving Sherlock Holmes with another... MURDER! case to solve.
Sherlock Holmes 2 is the rather unimaginative title of the second mystery by Carmel Games, following last year’s The Tea Shop Murder Mystery. Sherlock has changed somewhat since his first adventure. His drooping moustache and slouchy appearance have disappeared, and before us we see… well, not an attentive Mr. Holmes, but at least a Mr. Holmes who seems awake and more or less alert. The game is played in third-person mode, with scenes portraying Holmes' surroundings drawn in a cartoonish style using bright colors. Sometimes animations like the burning fire in the hearth, blinking eyelids and moving leaves give some nice extra atmosphere to certain locations. During the game you will hear an irritating trumpet or saxophone playing an endlessly repeating jazzy tune, which can luckily be switched off. The voice acting is very good, as we are used to from these developers. There are also some solid sound effects here and there, such as an alarm going off and Sherlock lighting a candle.
The game is played using only the left mouse button, with the inventory on the lower right side of the screen. On the lower left there are buttons for the main menu and a walkthrough, which I couldn't get working on my Mac. Fortunately the walkthrough can also be found on YouTube. The puzzles are what you might expect from a detective game. You have to do some interrogation, examine every location (comprising Sherlock's home, Charles's apartment, the mansion and the police station) closely for evidence and other useful things, and use some of the items you find in imaginative ways to solve the crime. Although it doesn't contain the funny jokes Carmel’s first Sherlock Holmes adventure had, Sherlock Holmes 2 has a much better story and an unexpected ending, together with puzzles that are not extremely easy to solve, which makes this another Carmel Game worth playing.
Sherlock Holmes 2 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.
There is No Game by Kamizoto – There is no game here, so clicking on this link will definitely not take you to a surreal and intriguing challenge.
Star Trek: Back to the Mansion by Quintax Games – A holodeck malfunction traps The Next Generation’s Deanna Troi in a simulation of the original Maniac Mansion. Can you rescue her?
Zid & Zniw Chronicles: Zniw Adventure by Twarda/Crash Arts – Join a bright yellow cartoon dinosaur as it seeks a way to the big city.
Red Oz: Episode 1 by Hyptosis – There’s no yellow brick road in sight in this first episode of a dark take on the Oz series of books.
Case Noir by Two Tales – Your promotion to homicide won’t last long if you can’t solve the murder of a young woman.
Marrakesh Club by Carmel Games – Of all the fabled sites of Marrakesh, the Marrakesh Club is the most fantastic, if you can get inside.
Alone in the Cosmos by Jack – Collect fragments of memories and find a way out of your spaceship.
Mary Woke Up Today by In Your Sigh – Try to find out why you can't wake up in this surreal story.
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.