Following Freeware - February 2016 releases

Following Freeware - February 2016
Following Freeware - February 2016

This month you can go back in time to play a false plague doctor under siege or a Viking in search of a tasty treat. You could also become a spy foiling an evil plot to take over the world, a young man inheriting the family ghost-hunting business, or a prince that loses something very important on a princess-rescuing mission. Finally, fans of the Myst series can enjoy the varied fruits of a game jam inspired by Cyan's classic adventure, as part of our coverage held over from last month. (Hey, there were 38 of them to get through!) All these await in our latest round-up of releases from the freeware scene.


When a Tongolian cosmonaut disappears in search of a remote Terran distress signal, now it’s your turn to blast into space to fulfill the mission. However, when you discover the source of the transmission, a mysterious black cube teleports both you and your spaceship to an island on an unknown planet. There is evidence of a small civilization here, but the area is almost completely deserted by the time you arrive. All alone, you must explore this strange land in an effort to rescue the missing cosmonaut and retrieve the cube, which you lost en route but now appears able to dangerously invade your thoughts.

As part of January’s Myst Jam, French developer Simon Mesnard continued his “Black Cube” series (including ASA: Space Adventure and the upcoming Catyph: The Kunci Experiment) with a freeware spinoff adventure. A few artificial structures are scattered along the rocky coast of Myha (meaning “moon”), including a stone tower, a dome-roofed building protected by an energy shield, and several locked underground enclosures. There is very little in-game animation, but the story is framed by some impressive cinematic cutscenes. The 3D graphics are fairly realistic, but they’re not particularly crisp or optimized for widescreen displays, presented in a horizontal strip comprising only about half of the screen, the top and bottom consumed by large black borders. These uncharted environments are accompanied by a variety of gentle synthesized tonal tracks, ambient effects like birds chirping and water lapping the shores, and the occasional solid voice-over from a diary narration and your own A.I. system.

First-person navigation occurs through node-to-node movement via directional arrows, but each individual scene allows for smooth panning in 360 degrees around you. The cursor stays fixed in the centre of the screen and is a bit intrusive, but it smartly changes over hotspots to denote possible interactions. Apart from some light inventory use and a single machine to operate directly, the puzzles are exclusively passcode-based. But for those who have become spoiled (or rather, disillusioned) by the ease of such puzzles with conveniently handy and blatantly obvious solutions, Myha will make you work hard for your progress. Clues come in a range of forms – letters, symbols, colours, numbers  – and a variety of different sources, and even after finding all the related clues you’ll need to seriously ponder their connections to proceed. A pen and paper will probably come in handy, though don’t neglect to read the in-game diary entries, accessed through the Tongolian laptops you encounter. The degree of difficulty should ensure anywhere between an hour’s worth of adventuring and forever-stuck-on-Myha.

Myha can be downloaded from the Myst Jam website. (Note: The game caused us a virus warning from Norton, but downloaded and installed smoothly on another PC with different virus protection.)


When the World Calls...

Agent 009 is called to headquarters in London, where he is told that a certain Mu Fanchu, head of the evil organization named Skull, is stealing a lot of red mercury. The man has to be stopped and his development laboratory destroyed because red mercury can be used to make atomic bombs. So 009 (James to his friends) has to travel around the world, destroy some objects that are important for Skull, oppose snipers, a tiger and a big laser, and escape multiple times. He's a busy man, 009.

Slasher's new game When the World Calls... displays its superspy world in third-person view. James visits his boss in his London office, a gambling joint in Singapore, a factory in China and Skull's lab in the isolated Katamanu, Mongolia, amongst other locations. The graphics are crude and don't have much texture or detail, but this removes any need for pixel hunting as everything you need to interact with is quite noticeable. Animation is also rough; although 009 moves his legs in a sort of natural way while he walks, other people and the tiger don't. Gameplay is accompanied by loud music that you can turn down or switch off in the menu. The few sound effects, like explosions, gunshots, and the clicking of keys on a computer are convincing. There is no voice acting; everything uttered is shown as text above the head of the speaker.

The game is played with the mouse: the right button cycles between verbs like grab, walk and look, and the left button interacts. The inventory is at the top of the screen, as well as a 'travel' button that seems to just be there for show because James refuses to leave no matter how often it's clicked. The puzzles are really simple and all rely on using the right inventory item. Of course it's not always obvious what you need, so you often have to look around a bit. Interaction is rewarded more by the tongue-in-cheek humor. This game is riddled with references to the James Bond movies, and 009 has an even more easy-going approach to most of the problems thrown at him than 007 has. He also just will not die. When he gets hit by a bullet or attacked by a tiger or (almost) killed in other ways, he just shrugs it off and says something like: "Ouch!" and allows you to try again. The game ends with a sort of cliffhanger, so we may see more of 009 in the future. Let's hope so.

When the World Calls... can be downloaded from the AGS website.


The Gatekeeper

Matthew enters his dead grandma's house and is surprised to find her there. He just came back from her funeral, after all. Grandma tells Matthew she needs him to “fill” her place. She leaves him no choice: he has to do it! Wondering what Grandma’s instructions mean, Matthew soon receives a phone call from the owner of a hotel. The hotel will be opened in a few days, but there is a nasty ghost running around, stealing things and generally being a nuisance. Matthew will need all his sleuthing skills and the help from a priest, the hotel's owner and the barman to eliminate the ghost.

As we are used to from Carmel Games, The Gatekeeper is shown in third-person mode in colorful hand-drawn screens. The artists have opted for a more realistic style for this game; gone are the wacky lines and humorous looking characters. This is a serious game about ghost hunting! So for a change the hotel and its inhabitants look more or less realistic, which suits the game well. Unfortunately, most of the scenes are so dark it is easy to miss some vital items lying around. Turning your monitor brightness to a higher setting should help. Of course there is excellent sound work too. The voice acting is solid, the music a type of 'hotel jazz' that fits the setting well, and sound effects like a dripping water pipe, a car starting and switches clicking are very good.

The Gatekeeper is played entirely using only one mouse button. The inventory, options folder and walkthrough icon are at the bottom of the screen. As with most Carmel games, the puzzles are all inventory-based and not very hard. There is also a single hidden object search to complete. But what makes this game stand out from many of the developer’s previous games is its story, which is a bit more complex than usual. An important part of it is even told to you in French. But don't worry, later in the game you will find out everything you need to know, so if you don't speak French you can still finish the game. There are rooms in the hotel and some places in Grandma's house you can't enter for now, but suggestions are made as you progress that access may be granted later. The adventure ends with a cliffhanger, so we will surely see more of Matthew the ghost hunter in the future.

The Gatekeeper can be played online at Newgrounds.

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