Following Freeware - December 2015 releases
This month you can play a character from Greek mythology, a newly-turned vampire or a game participant with a most unusual dilemma. Explorers can restrict themselves to a house that seems to change shape around them or venture out into the wilds of a post-apocalyptic wasteland. Alternatively, you can free a family trapped in crystal, brew a potion to fulfill mankind’s destiny or just try to get rid of some demonic visitors. All this awaits in this month’s round-up of releases from the freeware scene.
Dr. Langeskov, the Tiger, and the Terribly Cursed Emerald – A Whirlwind Heist
The first release from Crows Crows Crows is probably the strangest game I have ever played. When you start it up you quickly discover that the expressively-titled Dr. Langeskov, the Tiger, and the Terribly Cursed Emerald – A Whirlwind Heist is already being played by someone else. The company can’t have two people playing it at once because they have to reset all the scenes after one player has gone through them to put everything back as it was. However, half the people working in the building have resigned on account of their appalling working conditions, so it would be very much appreciated by management if you would help bring the current game to a good end for the player before you. While you do that, you are guided through the building via telecom by the nervous voice of a young man who tells you when to press certain buttons, pull levers and answer phones to give the player before you the game experience of their life.
DLTTATTCEAWH (for “short”) is presented in real-time 3D and played in first-person. The rooms are realistically detailed and filled with items related to making adventure games. Books covering many different subjects ranging from sound technology to psychology are scattered around, together with many pages of drawings and schematics. There are also letters of resignation lying all around on desks and floors, as well as scattered cassette tapes to listen to. All voices in the game are subtitled, except the ones on the tapes, and the acting is excellent. When the disembodied voice is talking and you press a button or pull a lever, the speaker interrupts himself to comment on your action in a very natural way, which I found quite impressive. The sound effects, like the rumbling of a lift, a rain storm and the noise of buttons and switches activating are very good too. An orchestral score plays when you finally enter the part of the building where the actual game takes place, but for the rest there is no musical accompaniment.
You move through the building using the WASD keys to walk and the mouse to look around. There is a small white dot centered in front of you acting as the cursor. Left-clicking an object that is close enough lets you manipulate it, though there is no smart cursor to tell you which items are interactive. While there aren’t any formal “puzzles” in this game, there is so much to see and do that you will spend quite some time taking in everything. You can, however, finish the game in less than 15 minutes if you simply rush through the main events. Reading the many resignation letters gives you a good impression of the company's situation, and you’ll soon understand why the disembodied voice sounds so nervous. The cassette tapes are funny and well worth listening to, though they can be a distraction your first time through.
Dr. Langeskov, the Tiger, and the Terribly Cursed Emerald – A Whirlwind Heist can be downloaded for either PC or Mac from the itch.io website. This is a Pay What You Want game, so you can download it for free or contribute any amount you deem fair to support the developer.
Elaine Patterson, a woman in her forties, is alone in the house. Her husband Derek is off working, and she has to pack because the two of them will be moving soon. Wandering through her home and looking at the things in the rooms brings up memories of loved ones, both good recollections and bad: her daughter Samantha leaving so suddenly; her son Brady, who left before his sister and never calls anymore; Aunt May, who went to the nursing home – Elaine wonders why she didn’t let her stay in their house, especially now that she and Derek are drifting apart. Elaine also notices the house is… slowly growing. Vacuuming takes more time than it used to, and the furniture is moving farther and farther apart. And sometimes doors that she’s never seen before appear in strange places.
Map, by Ade McT, is an old-fashioned text adventure with no sound at all. It can be played online but it is better to install the recommended interpreter for it and run the game from there. Doing so lets you choose the colors of both text and background, and more importantly includes a map in your inventory, which displays the basic layout of the house. The layout changes while playing the game because of the new doors that appear and the things you do, so it’s important to check the map every now and then. If you play the game in your browser you won't see the map but will get a description of it, telling you about any new doors that have appeared on it. When you are in a room and look around, the game doesn’t always tell you about all the exits either, so without a graphical map it’s a bit hard to get around in the house.
You play the game by typing commands like look, examine, press and so on. You can also use abbreviations like n, e, s, w for the compass directions, d for down, etc. You can also save and restore the game. Elaine then carries out these commands if possible. The story of Map is moving and very well told. You’ll get to know more about the protagonist, the life she’s led, and why Derek is out of the house so often. The new doors take you to crucial events that happened long ago, like the discussion between Elaine and her siblings about where Aunt May should live. You relive them so vividly that you are now able to remake the decisions you made back then. The story is separated into days, and with each passing day you play, the further back in time the new doors take you. The decisions you make behind these strange doors influence your current circumstances in the house, and can make the life Elaine leads now either better or worse.
Map can be downloaded or played from the Interactive Fiction Database. At the top right of the webpage you will find buttons with options to “Play On-line” or “Show me how!” There is also a link to the story file there. To play offline, first download the story file and then press the latter button to access the appropriate interpreter in an almost fully automated process.
You wake up in an alley, unaware of who you are or how you came to be there. The only thing you know for sure is that you are very, extremely, ravishingly HUNGRY. When the first opportunity comes by in the form of a young man, you don’t hesitate long before attacking him and devouring him until you are full. With the mangled corpse next to you and your face and clothes covered in blood, you hesitate over what to do next. Soon a person arrives who is not afraid of you or bothered by the gruesome scene you made. “You are a young one, are you not?” they observe, and lead you to an old, run-down hotel where all the windows are blinded. Here you must learn to deal with the fact that you are a vampire. You are allowed to explore the hotel and its surroundings, and your actions now determine your future. Will you stay a vampire, or will you be able to go back to your old life?
Pangs, by STARDUST*SODA, is an interactive story, relayed by a narrator who tells you what you are experiencing and told using a blend of images and text. Accompanying the white text descriptions against a pure black background are somewhat distorted monochromatic pictures of dark places like the hotel and streets at night, which give the game a quite sinister look. Strange sounds are played every now and then, together with some carefully chosen effects to enhance the eerie atmosphere. The emotional struggle the protagonist feels is very well conveyed through the text, and the small details shown in the pictures help to get into the story.
The writing shown beneath the pictures is presented in chunks of up to five sentences. A tiny red triangle indicates that you can advance the text by pressing the space bar or the left mouse button. If you need to make a choice, your options are presented in a larger typeface. Sometimes you have only one response to choose from, and occasionally you are shown three options with exactly the same text, though usually you have a legitimately different replies to choose from. Choices are made using the mouse. Other than when you're making narrative selections, a small bar is shown at the bottom of the screen where the game’s options like Save, Load, etc. are displayed. Pangs has five-plus endings, two good and more than three that are bad, according to the developer. Since it takes no more than 20 minutes to play through Pangs a single time, you can easily replay it without much effort find them all.
Pangs is available for PC, Mac and Linux and can be downloaded from its itch.io website.
In Freak Chick, the humble hunchbacked cleaner Victor has just been told by his wife Cybèle, who is in a sort of trance, that she is the Chosen One. She gives Victor a list of ingredients required for a recipe that will allow her to fulfill the destiny of all of humanity. Unable to get much more out of his beloved wife, Victor prepares for his quest to find the ingredients. It turns out that finding them is not hard, but getting hold of them proves a much bigger problem. To do so, Victor has to deal with a werewolf and a snake-like lady, talk to an ancient mummy, and do even stranger things in order to complete his task.
Created by Atavismus, Yo Riso and Marion, Freak Chick is played in third-person mode. The game world, which comprises an idyllic pond surrounded by greenery, an ancient Egyptian crypt, the lair of a werewolf and the posh house of an ogre, amongst others, is presented in a crudely realistic pixel art style using vivid colors. There is not much animation in Freak Chick and the movement that is present, such as a fight scene, are rather roughly done. Light and unobtrusive string and xylophone music accompanies the action. There are also a few sound effects like the clanging of a bell and the sound of Victor's feet on the steps leading down to a crypt that are well done. Mouths move with the dialogue, but there are no actual voices, with all dialogue shown in speech balloons on-screen. During conversations, the things you can choose to have Victor say are listed at the bottom of the screen.
The game is completely mouse-driven, with Victor moving where you click. Left-clicking an interactive item makes Victor do something with it if possible, and right-clicking gives you a description of the object. Collected items are shown in a banner at the top of the screen, and most of the puzzles in this adventure are inventory-based. They are not very easy, but they are all logical considering the world in which Victor lives, such as knowing how to insult an ogre. Victor and the creatures he meets offer a lot of humorous and sarcastic remarks, making this game fun to play. Unfortunately, with Freak Chick originally written in French, some of the jokes seem to have lost a little in translation.
Freak Chick can be downloaded from the AGS website.
The Spirits of Kelley Family
You find yourself in a big, dusty room in an old house. In the middle of the room stands a lectern with some strange engravings on it and a yellow piece of paper sitting on top. Reading the page, you discover that a person named Alvin has accidentally trapped his family members’ souls inside four elemental crystals that are now scattered around the house. It’s your task to find these crystals and free the Kelleys. Along the way, you will have to deal with a ferocious magpie on the roof, find keys and passwords, and even break parts of the house to fulfill your quest.
The Spirits of Kelley Family, by MoonMonky, is presented in first-person mode in beautifully hand-drawn screens using subdued colors. The game world is very detailed and you will roam many rooms in this run-down old mansion, as well as part of the garden that surrounds it. Throughout the adventure the same tune, played using instruments from the violin family, can be heard. Unfortunately the track is quite short and gets boring after a while, so it’s helpful that you can turn the music down separately in the settings menu. Nothing is spoken aloud in the game, but the sound effects, like stairs and doors creaking, liquids running and drawers opening work to set the proper mood.
The game is played entirely with the left mouse button. The cursor doesn’t change when you hover over an item that can be manipulated, but this is not really a problem because everything useful in the house is clearly visible. Your ever-present and somewhat obtrusive inventory resides at the bottom of the screen. A big arrow appears in the upper right corner whenever you can step back from the current view. Your quest is all about puzzles, ranging from simple inventory obstacles to harder challenges that deal with numbers and colors. You will have to gather clues throughout the house, as well as more scattered yellow pieces of paper through which the story behind the family’s disappearance is revealed, together with some helpful hints. There is a lot to see and admire in this game, and exploring the house and its immediate surroundings is a real treat. With an autosave function that works very well, it took me about 2-3 hours to finish.
The Spirits of Kelley Family can be played online at the game’s itch.io webpage, where you’ll also find links to the iOS and Android versions, which are available for a small fee.
Reality-on-the-Norm: Stuck at Home
Davy Jones and his brother Simon are alone at home because mum and dad are at a convention. Davy has developed a new spell, which he tries out in his secret lair. But something goes wrong with his spell, and suddenly Davy is joined by two demons from another dimension. The big one wants to rip Davy’s entrails out but the smaller one is more interested in Simon, whose presence he smells, and decides to use him to achieve global domination. Of course, Davy can’t let that happen! He’ll need to use some powerful magic involving a Bible, some soap and a spring to save Simon and rid the house of the evil demons.
Continuing the popular Reality-on-the-Norm community series, Renegade Implementor’s Stuck at Home is a short and funny game which takes place in the Jones's house, of which you will visit almost every room. Played in third-person mode, the game is presented using simple pixel art drawings in bright colors but fairly limited detail. The gameplay is accompanied by several different MIDI songs, some of them well known from the Harry Potter movies. The tune playing depends on which room you are in and how far you’ve progressed in the game. A few simple sound effects are also present, but Stuck at Home does not contain any voice acting, with all spoken text displayed on-screen.
The game is played using the mouse, with right-clicks cycling through four actions plus the inventory item you are holding, and left-clicks carrying out the chosen verb or using the item in hand. When the cursor is moved to the top of the screen, a bar containing icons for the same actions appears, as well as the option to save your game. The puzzles in Stuck at Home are fairly simple and straightforward, and it’s a pity that Davy can’t die because that would have added to the fun and made the game a bit more difficult to finish. Even without any danger, however, Stuck at Home makes for an enjoyable 20 minutes because of the strange ingredients you need for the spells Davy casts and the funny, outrageous things the demons say.
Reality-on-the-Norm: Stuck at Home can be downloaded from the AGS website.
The Eighth Continent
The end of the world came suddenly and without warning. Even formerly quiescent geological faults rose up to form a global super-volcano. Earthquakes and eruptions wracked the planet, enveloping everything in a cloud of ash. In this post-apocalyptic world, young Morgan and his family struggled to survive. Then, in the midst of one of the periodic ash storms that followed, the rest of his family were snatched without warning. Now Morgan must set off into the vast wasteland that once was London to try to get them back. But with treacherous terrain, bandit gangs and dangerous creatures abroad, does this young boy even stand a chance? And just what did his father’s last reference to the “eighth continent” mean?
Set in a grim possible future, Patrick Garrett’s mobile adventure The Eighth Continent opens a dark tale. The game is presented as a book, its pages yellowing and spotted. The text is presented in a clear, crisp font, with the size adjustable to suit the reader. The writing is sometimes broken up by small images done in a simple watercolour style, with irregular edges as if they have been quickly painted on the page. These serve both to illustrate events, such as your family cowering together in a bunker, and to display objects you have found like your baby brother’s teddy bear. There are also animated weather effects across the book as a whole, including motes of ash blowing across the page during the storm. The most common sound is the rustle of turning pages, but some story events, like the collapse of your house, have appropriate effects. There is also a small amount of music, normally restricted to the minigames encountered.
Pages are turned by either swiping across the screen or tapping an arrow button. Every few pages you will need to make a decision on what to do next. These are shown as buttons summarising each option, with previous actions and current inventory often determining the choices available. Whilst you can re-read the pages leading up to each decision freely, once you have chosen an action you cannot return to an earlier point. Early on you acquire your father’s electronic field journal, which is accessible at all times from a button at the top of the screen. This tracks your inventory and includes a diary that keeps brief notes of the story so far as you progress. On either side of the journal button is a meter depicting physical and mental health. Various actions have positive and negative effects on these, the game ending if either reaches zero. There are also three repeated minigames: a match-three game simulates sorting through debris for needed supplies, a hacking task requires you to rotate wire sections to complete a circuit for overriding locks, and you will often find yourself in combat with various people and creatures. Battles are handled as a turn-based card game, with both you and your opponent picking fighting moves to play against each other. Your father’s journal also includes an optional decryption game that throws more light on an important part of the story, which is gritty and dark science fiction that paints a plausible portrait of a post-apocalyptic world. The story reaches a reasonably satisfying conclusion, though for full closure Morgan will need to continue his quest in future instalments.
Links to the Android version of The Eighth Continent are available via the developer’s website, while iOS versions can be downloaded directly from the App Store. A PC version is not yet available but is currently in development and expected soon.
Scylla & Charybdis: A Grecian Ship from Olympus U
Unfortunately for Aergia, a dip in the magical waters of the river Lethe have played havoc with her memories. Waking up in a dark cave, she can’t properly remember how she got there or even many details about her life. She soon discovers that she is a prisoner of the monstrous couple Scylla and Charybdis. With both having a fondness for consuming those that cross their paths, Aergia will have to be cunning to keep out of their clutches. If only she could find her lost memories to guide her in what to do next.
Scylla & Charybdis: A Grecian Ship from Olympus U picks up where Alex Whitington’s previous title left off. In this game you play the ex-girlfriend of the previous protagonist, and some knowledge of the events of that game will be helpful in understanding this one. The graphics use the same slightly cartoonish style of its predecessor. The mythical setting means that the characters are somewhat outlandish in nature, with Scylla’s three heads not being her most striking feature. All of the characters are well animated and fully expressive. From the completely black cave you will travel to a precarious ledge and the wreck of a Greek trireme. Background music is provided by a variety of songs in a rather anachronistic ‘60s pop style.
Mouse control is handled by left-click to move around and right-click to examine items. Holding the left button on a hotspot or character brings up your inventory, allowing you to select an item to use. While a certain amount of violence is involved with one monster, the other requires a more intelligent approach. Three-headed Scylla is more than happy to converse, provided you don’t come within reach of her feeding tentacles. Dealing with the demands of the three heads forms the central puzzle of the game, with each requiring a different method to overcome. There is some pixel hunting required to find the items necessary to succeed, though there is sufficient contrast in colours to make it possible to spot useful objects. Some of these will also return Aergia’s memories, giving more clues to her situation. The overall tone is lightly humorous, with an ending that suggests we haven’t seen the last of this surreal take on Greek myth. There is some bad language that may render the game unsuitable for children.
Scylla & Charybdis: A Grecian Ship from Olympus U can be downloaded from the AGS 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.
Investigator and the Case of the Chekhov's Gun by theskyandthesea – Find out who killed the Bipolar Bear in this pun-filled anthropomorphic animal mystery.
The Man That Only I Can See by Nathan Hamley – Your mother has disappeared and now you must search for your father in the woods.
The Case of the Mysterious Maulings by lucentbeam – Invited to a polite dinner party, a monster must try to frame others for its vicious slaughter of the guests.
The Captain by Sysiac Games – Repair your landing module to escape a remote planet in this standalone demo for an upcoming 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!
Article written by Stephen Brown and Willem Tjerkstra.