Following Freeware - September 2015
Following Freeware - September 2015

Following Freeware - September 2015 releases


Escape the Game


The last thing the influential videogame critic remembered was a particularly horrendous looking game loading up on his computer. Suddenly he finds that he has fallen into that very game. The only way back to his real life is to achieve the game’s ultimate goal of becoming a Wizard-Hero-Pirate-King. But this game is full of bugs, often quite literally, and the quest might actually be impossible to achieve. Perhaps using his outside knowledge of how games work will aid him in this insane quest.

With Escape the Game, Helpa Games have created a fun if somewhat surreal experience. The graphics feature a bright cartoon style, with characters appearing slightly stylised but properly proportioned. The lead character is a man with a ponytail and  beard in a grey suit, an outfit that is not entirely appropriate for what awaits him. Much of the game is set in a deliberately generic fantasy realm, with a big castle and a forest with dwarves and trolls residing in it. You will also visit the Pirate Bay, home to an oddly familiar character, where it is always night. The characters in these locales are simply but effectively animated, and the critic has a wide variety of movements and expressions. The music changes with the location: the main fantasy section has a gentle folksy guitar piece, whilst the Pirate Bay has a tune that feels appropriate to its particular resident. There are also a handful of sound effects, including a repeated scream from the protagonist.

Progress is achieved using a simple left-click interface. When you point at a hotspot, the cursor changes to an appropriate action icon, most often look. After examining an object, you will usually get a different icon for further interaction, such as picking the item up. The game pokes fun at various genre conventions. In the opening tutorial, the lead character protests having to perform all the tutorial actions to continue. Elsewhere, a guide character moans about having to sit in the same place the whole time. Even the menu gets in on the fun, with the option to turn on voice acting suggesting you read the dialogue aloud in different voices. To succeed in your goal you will provide an odd answer to an equally bizarre riddle, navigate a short mystical forest maze, and fight a mighty champion (a turn-based mental challenge rather than a button-mashing obstacle). The dialogue is well written, with a tendency towards sarcastic humour.

Escape the Game can be played online at JayIsGames.

 

Hjarta


A cosmonaut is being sent out on a vital mission. Travelling alone, he will be the first to visit a new planet… A girl has been taken hostage by some thugs who are identified by individual letters. With a terrible fate awaiting her if she stays, she must seek a way out of this captivity... A synthetic being and his companions are prisoners aboard a transport. They must use their superior thinking power to outwit the organic creatures that hold them... Three stories. Three views of the future.

Whilst they feel part of the same world, the three stories Eight Bit Skyline present in Hjarta are entirely standalone tales, with no overt connections between them. The graphics are mostly made up of solid blocks of colour with simple graduated shading in places. Despite this relatively basic art style, it includes more than enough detail to make the important parts of the scenery stand out. As the cosmonaut you travel to a strange red planet, with a single monolithic building on the surface. As the girl you are trapped in a small attic room on top of a slightly seedy apartment. As the prisoner you are in a two-level vehicle that’s travelling across a barren landscape. All three stories are backed up by classical pieces from Grieg, Berlioz and Smetana. There are also a handful of sound effects, mostly related to machinery.

The three different characters can be played in any order by clicking one of their portraits when the game starts or after completing a story. Choosing one enters that story, with the option to continue if you have played part of it already. Control is performed through simple point-and-click; left-click interacts while right-click examines. The cosmonaut must operate his damaged spaceship and determine how to use some alien devices. The girl has to improvise with the limited materials on hand to escape the gang that has captured her. The synthetic prisoner and its companions need to work together to take over the vehicle carrying them. In this section, interacting with cellmates causes them to take appropriate actions to advance your collective cause. Inventory is stored in the menu bar at the top of the screen, and can be selected for use on hotspots. The menu bar also contains a help button which will give a progressive series of hints to the current puzzle if you are stuck. The overall tone is one of serious science-fiction.

Hjarta can be downloaded from the AGS website.

 

The Darkest Woods


Waking up in the forest with a head wound is never a good thing. But with these woods apparently crawling with malevolent entities, the situation is worse than you would have imagined. These horrors appear to be centred around an old abandoned hotel in the middle of the woods. As you uncover the history of this place, the reason for these disturbances become more apparent to you. Can you lay its dark history to rest, or will you become just another victim of the evil forces at work here?

With a title like The Darkest Woods you’d expect a horror game, and Martadello does not disappoint. The graphics are black and white, apparently based on photographs and sometimes pieced together from more than one source. You will travel from the titular woods to the forbidding hotel whose interior has seen better days. These locations are inhabited by a variety of wraiths that often initially appear as shadowy figures or otherwise indistinct apparitions. Animation is limited but effective, frequently used to disquiet players by having something move unexpectedly. Background sound is mostly ambient, such as the rustling of trees and some bird noise. In some areas there are more disturbing noises like whispering voices, and there are brief bursts of music during certain tense scenes. There are also sound effects for most actions you perform. The game includes some audio tapes, all of which are voiced to a decent standard. The text has some translation issues, but none are severe enough to affect comprehension.

Saving often is recommended, as death can come abruptly right from the start. All interaction is done through simple left-click, with on-screen buttons showing what exits are available from each area. Inventory is held in a backpack in the top-left of the screen; clicking on this toggles a bar showing the objects you hold. Inventory items can be highlighted, causing them to be used for all future interactions until you de-select them. You will repeatedly need to work out how to placate or otherwise dispose of the various monsters that block your progress. In the hotel, most rooms are locked, requiring you to locate a key or find an alternative method of unsealing them. The audio tapes and some hand-written notes provide clues to the locations of hidden items and lock combinations. There are also times when you need to act quickly to save yourself from attack, though lightning-quick reflexes are not required.

The Darkest Woods can be downloaded from Game Jolt and is available for Windows, Mac and Linux.

Continued on the next page...


Related Games

The Boogie Man

Platform(s): PC

The Lone Planet

Platform(s): PC

Escape the Game

Platform(s): PC

Hjarta

Platform(s): PC

The Darkest Woods

Platform(s): Mac, PC, Linux

Bitstream

Platform(s): PC



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