February 2013 – 400 Years by scriptwelder
One way that tension can be added to games is by having the player work against a deadline. While the actual passage of time is often fudged for game purposes, having to complete your quest quickly enhances immersion by giving players a sense of urgency. Usually such a time restriction is only a few hours or days though. 400 Years quite literally gives you that much game time to complete it. But what at first seemed like a generous time limit actually proved to be a lot tighter than I expected.
The puzzles are very much tied into how much time you have available. Whilst time passes slowly by itself, holding the space bar accelerates the clock. Early obstacles are simple, including a lake that is only passable when frozen over in winter. Later you have to plant seeds and wait for trees to grow, and even assist in the rise of human civilisation so they will build a bridge across a wide gap. You can carry a single item at a time, but many of these will crumble away quickly in a season or two. I found this to be truly an original concept, and felt a real sense of achievement when I averted the foretold disaster at the end.
Should you have 400 years to spare, then I highly recommend going to Armor Games to try this out.
March 2013 – The Last Door: Season One - Pilot Episode: The Letter by The Game Kitchen
I have long been a fan of horror, across all media. But I’ve always thought far too much horror relies on throwing hideous monsters and gore at you. Far better to keep the horror hidden, leaving the audience to conjure up terrors from their own imagination. To my mind, the blocky pixel graphics of The Last Door series achieves this effect nicely. A high-resolution model has to be perfect in every detail to be convincing, whereas this game gets the player to fill in those details for themselves. Add to that a dose of good writing in the footsteps of H.P. Lovecraft, and this is not a series for the faint-hearted.
This debut episode has you take on the role of Victorian gentleman Jeremiah Devitt. When he receives a letter from an old friend simply bearing the motto of their old school club, he fears the worst. Rushing to his friend’s side, he arrives to find an apparently deserted house. The exploration of the house is highly discomforting, with many dark, shadowy corridors. What’s more, there is evidence that things have gone very wrong for a while in this place. The fact that the game eschews gross spectacle makes the more disturbing scenes, such as when you find a previously empty room suddenly very well occupied, all the more effective.
With Season 1 having since been updated and re-released in a commercial Collector’s Edition, the later episodes of the series now require a moderate fee to unlock, but you can still experience this very first episode for free at the developer’s website.
April 2013 – No One Has to Die by Stuart Madafiglio
When we take on the role of hero in a game, we often get tasked with the job of saving everyone else. Going by the title, you would think that was the aim of No One Has to Die as well. But for the vast majority of the game, the title appears to be a lie. Taking the role of a delivery person, you arrive at an office to find the security staff dead, and the building on fire. With only limited access to the building systems, you see the staff trapped in the burning corridors die one by one. Only by learning the truth behind the mysterious Fenix Corporation do you have a hope of achieving your goal.
The mechanics of this grid-based game are actually relatively simple. You are able to lock one door remotely, and can instruct the survivors to move around and turn water systems on and off. In each chapter a casualty is inevitable no matter what you do, and even saving everyone else can prove a challenge. But where the game really comes to life is between chapters, when the remaining characters communicate with you through the network’s chat system. The dialogue is very well written, with each pattern of deaths providing you with a bit more of the story. The tale is a surreal but compelling science fiction story, with all elements naturally arising from conversation. Only when you understand the story completely will fulfilling the game’s title become a possibility.
Should you wish to lead a succession of characters to their deaths in the eventual hope of saving them all, the game is available online at the developer’s website. (Note: Link does not currently work with Internet Explorer.)
May 2013 – The Search for Oceanspirit Dennis by OneDollar
I’m pretty sure that Oceanspirit Dennis is meant to be a joke. He has extravagantly pointy hair, a ridiculously over-sized sword, and a tendency to talk in leetspeak. The most obvious influence for the character is the Final Fantasy series, though various other game conventions are lampooned through him. The Search for Oceanspirit Dennis stars his long-term companion, Life-Partner Ray, and is set at the time they first meet. Ray’s village is under threat of attack, and only the legendary Dennis is capable of saving them. Unfortunately, he is in the next town over, and Ray is too low-level to pass the guard blocking the only bridge between them.
The ensuing game ruthlessly mocks many well established tropes of the role-playing genre. The most prevalent is the fetch quest, with pretty much everybody in town ready to assign you a ludicrously mundane task to gain the experience you need. To become a true hero involves moving tables and collecting milk and cookies, right? An underground bunker houses a character that embodies the stereotype of the antisocial computer gamer, who challenges you to play two games that are incredibly dire. In poking fun at these otherwise-less-than-desirable elements, the overall result is most enjoyable, with good production values as well.
To see where one of the great relationships of freeware first started, just download the game from the AGS database.
June 2013 – Shitty Quest by JimMakesGames
Normally game-makers will set out to make their creations look as good as possible with the resources and skills available. If a game’s graphics look bad, that often bodes ill for everything else. But occasionally a less-than-stunning appearance is a deliberate choice by the creator. Such is the case with Shitty Quest, where the look matches the title for reasons that are not immediately obvious. The ugly exterior houses a witty game that breaks the fourth wall in a clever and satisfying fashion.
The opening appears to present a generic escape game. The protagonist is trapped within two minimalist rooms almost devoid of decoration. The only other inhabitant is the world’s laziest man, who provides no help at all. Escaping this initial location opens up a wider world where you discover that there is more at stake than just the fate of this one character. To say more about the plot would spoil it, as the twists and turns come out satisfyingly through play. The puzzles aren’t overly complex, mostly involving dialogue with limited but cunning inventory use. However, it is the writing together with the perfectly voiced delivery that make this supposedly shitty game an actual real gem.
Those who wish to try polishing a turd have only to visit the AGS database to download this game.
July 2013 – Educating Adventures of Girl and Rabbit by L&S and Projectoholic
Educational games have gained a bad reputation over the years. Paper-thin plots and overly forced gameplay too often turn them into a chore rather than fun. Educating Adventures of Girl and Rabbit is a game deserving of a different kind of bad reputation. The bright colours and upbeat personality of the player character may lull you into thinking this is a game for children. However, when she meets her in-game “teacher”, you are soon disabused of that notion. This lagomorph is astonishingly foul-mouthed, and ready to inflict violence on his charge at the drop of a hat.
The ensuing lessons are probably not ones you would want a small child to learn. The rabbit has a very dark view of life in general and humanity in particular. This is reflected in what he considers to be the right answers to the series of challenges he presents to the girl along the dusty forest road they travel together. The dark cynicism of the rabbit is offset by the irrepressibly chirpy female protagonist, making for a darkly comedic tale. The final obstacle does involve a modicum of dexterity, requiring the girl to shoot various people according to rules the rabbit sets. However, the “targets” are fairly slow-moving, and the lack of a time limit avoids making this too frustrating.
For a black comedic take on edutainment, you can download the game from the AGS database.