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.Continued on the next page...