Following Freeware - July 2016 releases
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.
A year after the Giant Pandas died out in 2133, the Universal Preservation Act was signed, the objective of which was to save all species in the galaxy that faced extinction due to human interference. Terry and her companion robot Mary, who is only ever a light-second’s teleportation away, are assigned the job of saving the Gnrblexian mind-maggot, only two of which are still in existence. They only breed in the presence of a suitable host, and they are very sensitive to almost everything imaginable. When agitated, they tend to make their own heads fatally explode, thus complicating Terry's job a bit. She has to keep the maggot in her care alive while getting it to the breeding chamber and introducing it to its mate and their host. Unfortunately, as if all that is not difficult enough, she runs into a few problems along the way.
Created by WHAMGAMES, GNRBLEX was another game made in under a month for the July 2016 MAGS competition. Despite its short production time, the game is well worth playing. The low-resolution pixel art graphics, shown in third-person view, are simple but beautiful and made with an eye for detail. Terry and Mary are more intricately drawn, with Terry's suit having buttons and blinking lights on it, and Mary's head appearing as a floating green hologram whenever Terry talks to her. There is only a little gravity in the facility where breeding must take place, so Terry floats above the floor a bit, bobbing up and down as she goes. All areas in the facility are color-coded to indicate their use, thus making red, blue, green and grey the prevailing colors throughout. The sounds are all just right: doors hiss and whine when they open and close, buttons click satisfactorily and the maggot makes cute noises to indicate it's under stress and will explode soon. Otherwise this is a very quiet game, with no background music or voices to be heard. All dialogue appears in text above the speaking person's head.
Terry is controlled with the mouse using both buttons: left lets Terry interact with things and right makes her describe them. Her inventory, together with buttons to save, load and quit the game, are located at the bottom of the screen. The puzzles are well thought-out: Terry has to keep the maggot alive while sometimes doing things that agitate it at the same time. This makes even mundane tasks a bit harder than normal, giving rise to a wide variety of challenges ranging from pure inventory-based puzzles, doing some math, and perusing the facility's log files to making sure you don't use the wrong equipment in certain situations. The game can end two different ways: either the maggot dies or the breeding succeeds. If you are not careful, Terry can die together with the maggot in some places in the facility. It's important to save early and save often (with only a single slot) because that maggot will die many times before you know how to avoid its demise! If you forget or press your luck too far, fortunately restarting the game doesn't take much time. All in all, GNRBLEX is a commendable game, especially considering the fact that it was made by only one person in less than a month.
GNRBLEX can be downloaded from the AGS website.
Kaitlyn and the Diving Helmet
The man in black hovers over Kaitlyn’s grandmother's house, demanding Kaitlyn give him their Titanic boarding pass, which he needs for his maritime exhibition. Kaitlyn refuses because the man has stolen her grandfather's diving helmet already. To get the man to go away and retrieve the lost diving helmet, this plucky heroine will have to clog a toilet, give some fuel to a taxi driver, and use a pogo stick in this wacky adventure by Carmel Games.
As we are used to from this developer, Kaitlyn and the Diving Helmet is shown in third-person mode in brightly colored screens where almost no lines are parallel or straight. Kaitlyn is a young girl about eight years old, dressed in red pants and a pink T-shirt, with her long brown hair tied back in a ponytail. The heads of every character, including Kaitlyn’s, are rather large compared to the rest of their bodies. The setting comprises the house of Kaitlyn’s grandma, above which the helicopter bobs up and down, as well as the man in black's exhibition, a comic book shop, and a street. A repetitive but cheerful flute melody that can be switched off accompanies the gameplay. The voice acting is excellent: Kaitlyn sounds young and fresh, the villains mean, and the other people in the game have fitting voices as well. The sound effects, like a toilet flushing, a safe opening and a cannonball dropping on the floor, don't sound very natural but they fit the game's whimsical atmosphere well.
Kaitlyn is controlled using just a single mouse button for movement and interaction. The inventory can be found at the bottom right of the screen, with icons for the settings and a walkthrough at the bottom left. The puzzles are mostly inventory-based but Kaitlyn also has to open a few locks for which she needs to find codes consisting of either colors or numbers. While certainly not one of Carmel’s deeper games, all in all this is a fun little adventure that can be finished in a quick 20 minutes.
Kaitlyn and the Diving Helmet can be played online at Kongregate.
Marko Sharko: Missing Vase
Marko isn’t just your average shark; he happens to be the world’s first anthropomorphic, land-dwelling shark detective who is asked to look into the disappearance of the oldest vase in history, which was displayed in the Seaville library. To solve the case, Marko will need to find his way into an apartment, crack a safe and even use a pair of 3D glasses.
Marko Sharko: Missing Vase, by Selfdefiant, is presented in third-person mode with static cartoon drawings in which everything looks neat and clean, to the point of feeling a little plain. Marko visits a playground, the library and an apartment building during his quest to find the missing vase, none of which are located in his more natural ocean habitat. With rare exception, the only animation you will see in this game is Marko's eyes blinking, which is no wonder considering the fact that he stays above water for so long. (I wonder how he keeps his single-toothed grin and stays upright on his tail fin.) Unfortunately, the sound work is terrible: gameplay is accompanied by a very repetitive melody that sounds a bit like it was played on a steel drum. You can switch the music off, but that leaves you with the only other audio in the game: a 'tsjk' sound that is heard with nearly every act you perform, whether opening doors, giving things to people, or even starting conversations.
Only the left mouse button is used in your investigation. The inventory and some buttons for the main menu and a walkthrough are located at the bottom of the screen. You won't be needing the walkthrough, however, because the puzzles (nearly all inventory-based, though you must also find some codes and keys to open locks) are very easy. However, they are well-integrated into the story and a few of them are quite original. It’s a shame, then, that the terse text descriptions, sterile environments and lack of fitting sounds create a feeling of general detachment rather than immersion. This is a game that could have been much better if given a little bit more attention to detail, especially concerning the graphics and sound. It still has its moments, but as it stands now, it's a harmless but forgettable game that will take you about 15 minutes to finish.
Marko Sharko: Missing Vase can be played online at Newgrounds.
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.
Imaginary Friends by Mannytsu – During a lonely summer vacation, a young girl finds herself in an imaginary world with a dark undertone.
Postman’s Quest: Not Rain Nor Sleet Nor ARMAGEDDON by Amayirot Akago – The occasional zombie, demon or elder thing won’t stop you performing your mail delivery duties.
It's a Shore Thing by Carmel Games – Help some people on the beach in order to acquire a delicious watermelon.
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.