This month, you can become a female artist haunted by gruesome nightmares or a young girl trying to retrieve some stolen property. You could also attempt to repopulate the universe’s most delicate species, or try to unravel the mystery of a dead alien world. Alternatively, you might join a shark detective on a crime investigation or a misanthropic grump on a quest to fix his Distritube (and maybe look into a murder). All these await you in this month’s round-up of releases from the freeware scene.
Ceasing to be. Her Demise
Aspiring art student Selina thought she’d put her nightmares behind her. Those dark, twisted images of her past had even come to haunt her waking moments, but that was years ago now. Yet here in her new flat, a sickness comes sweeping over her. The nightmares are pursuing her again, featuring strange figures with red glowing eyes and horrific vistas. Painting has held the darkness at bay in the past, but will she be able to drive it off once and for all?
Ceasing to be. Her Demise is the third instalment in Chronerion Entertainment’s psychological horror series, following A Fragment of Her and Being Her Darkest Friend. There are references to the previous games, but this one can be played alone. The graphic style is moderately low-resolution pixel art, with eyes being the only facial feature of human characters. Despite the lack of detail, characters and environments are well-drawn, with objects generally being recognisable. Locations in the real world are rendered in full colour, such as the starting flat. The nightmare locations vary, including a black-and-white cavern with a huge red heart overhead, and a decaying fantasy castle. An ominous tone plays throughout most scenes, adding to the creepy atmosphere. This is supplemented by appropriate sound effects, such as the beating of the giant heart and the sound of a hammer and chisel. There are some brighter pieces of music in lighter moments, but these serve as brief contrast to the overall dark tone.
Control is handled solely through a single mouse-click. Hotspot names appear when you hover over them and clicking either interacts or elicits a description. A small inventory appears at the bottom of the screen. Clicking on inventory items only gets a description; to use one you must hold the button down to drag it onto another item or the main screen. Occasionally you will not pick up an item straight away, but will note its existence. In this case, a black and white rendition of the object appears in inventory instead. This simply serves as a reminder of the object’s importance, so you must collect the object itself once you discover a use for it. Careful exploration is vital, as you can only talk to other characters about things you have examined. Lateral thinking is also crucial, embracing the surreal nature of the nightmare worlds to achieve solutions not possible in reality. A diary, collected early in the game, provides reminders of what you currently need to do. The game auto-saves at major scene changes, each section being comparatively short. There are some gory scenes, making this unsuitable for children or those of a nervous disposition.
Ceasing to be. Her Demise can be played online at the developer’s website. Downloads for Windows, Mac and Linux are also available.
You wake to a voice telling you that you are Subject 16, and that you are no longer infected. But the pod you are in is damaged and the laboratory apparently abandoned. On the floor lies the lifeless body of one of the Masters, and the surrounding area shows other signs of a terrible disaster. With most facilities off-line, and the complex you are in surrounded by frozen tundra, your own chance of survival looks bleak. Can those who ruled over you really have come to an end, and are you the last of your own kind?
Moonchild Studios made The Awakening in under a month for the “extinction”-themed July MAGS competition. The graphics are displayed in relatively low-resolution, though these are supplemented by more detailed close-ups, such as of the pod at the start. From the ruined laboratory, you will travel to a cave-like nursery and scale a vertiginous cliff face. The player character, who appears to be a human being, is well animated, your posture changing depending on the current conditions. By contrast, the dead Masters you come across are wholly alien beings. When you examine things, a detailed head and shoulder shot accompanies your observations, your apparel changing accordingly. The backing music is a slow synthesiser soundtrack reminiscent of a 1980s science fiction film. There are also a wide variety of sound effects, including the clunk of doors and the constant howl of the wind out on the ice.
Control is mouse-based using an alternating cursor system. Right-clicking cycles through three possible actions: walk, look and interact. Pointing at a hotspot will, in almost all cases, show its name. This includes the protagonist, allowing you to use inventory on yourself. At the start of the game you must race against the clock, as your escape from the pod has left you with a serious injury. In a later section you again have to act against a timer, though proper preparation will cause this to run fairly slowly. In both cases an on-screen bar drains away, with the game ending if it empties completely. As this returns you to the main menu, you should ensure you save before attempting anything hazardous. You will need to learn how to operate alien computers and explore a snowy landscape in search of vital tools. Cunning combination of these tools is also required to progress. Whilst the game resolves some questions, it opens up the possibility of a larger story which will hopefully be revisited in future.
The Awakening can be downloaded from the AGS website.
Murder at the Residence Gudul
The year is 3015, and Dowie has just settled down in his armchair to do the same thing he does every night: repeatedly stab the button on his remote to order consumer goods from the omnipresent Distritube. With this wonder of modern technology delivering whatever he wants right to his apartment, Dowie hardly has to move at all. But this fateful night, his beloved Distritube has suddenly stopped working. Now he must reluctantly drag himself out and – horror of horrors – interact with other people. Oh, and maybe he should look into the murder that happened downstairs as well.
In Murder at the Residence Gudul, Sparklin Labs have created a darkly humorous satire. The graphics display a semi-realistic look with a slightly cartoonish exaggeration. Dowie is essentially human in shape, though he appears to be lacking ears and a nose. The other occupants of the building are somewhat more bizarre, his most immediate neighbour being a large yellow blob with arms sticking out next to its eyes. Dowie’s slouching walk is nicely animated, and the same can be said of the other movement throughout. The whole game takes place in the one apartment building, with seedy, grubby décor and a single glass lift running down the outside. Sound is limited to effects such as the beep of technology and Dowie’s footsteps. Dialogue is rendered as mumbled nonsense, with the words themselves only presented as text.
A single left-click is used for all actions. Objects or people that you can interact with highlight when the cursor passes over them. You will need to explore all four floors of the building and reluctantly interact with your neighbours to solve your problems. Dowie’s character comes across as grumpy and anti-social, but very few of the neighbours seem to notice his unpleasant demeanour. Clicking on a hotspot elicits a brief description or opening line. If further interaction is possible, you will be offered a list of choices, with your inventory at the time affecting the options available. Reaching your goal involves a bit of interspecies matchmaking and adopting unorthodox machine repair techniques. The game has a moderately dark sense of humour which, while not overly adult, makes it unsuited for young children.
Murder at the Residence Gudul can be played online at the developer’s website. A name-your-own-price download is available from the same page.Continued on the next page...