Following Freeware - September 2016 releases
This month you can become a reality TV contestant trapped in a reputedly haunted house, a hideous monster from another world, or a playwright in search of inspiration. You could also explore the strange world that exists beyond mirrors, a mysterious mansion at the edge of a forest, or a swamp island far from your comfortable home. Alternatively, you might try thwarting evil in the guise of either an ancient spirit or a potion that makes everything smell of sprouts. All these await you in this month’s round-up of releases from the freeware scene.
The Journey of Iesir (demo)
The land is under attack, with Vikings striking at apparently random targets for some time now. Their latest objective seems an especially peculiar choice, being a small village of no strategic value. Unaware of the imminent invasion, a young playwright named Michael has travelled to that very village. He is hoping to make a name for himself, and has sought out a retired Viking, Daniel, to help him find adventures for inspiration. Impressed by the almost foolhardy bravado the young man displays, Daniel enlists him for a simple task. All Michael has to do is retrieve a painting from Big Dio. The fact that Big Dio’s home has a security system that will annihilate any trespasser surely won’t be a big problem.
Although only a demo for the recently-cancelled full-length adventure, Dream Cauldron’s The Journey of Iesir still provides plenty of gaming fun. The hand-painted graphics feature a fine art cartoon style with a wealth of detail. The playwright is a tall, thin character with glasses and a bookish air, whereas his patron is an imposing though genial-looking man. From Daniel’s crowded shack, you will travel to an intellectual pub and the imposing Dio Mansion. Both Daniel and the characters he encounters are smoothly animated, complete with many facial expressions. There are also some nice background animations, including an automated crossbow that tracks your movements. The music varies from location to location, with the light airy tune of the local streets giving way to a more brassy number in the pub. There are also numerous sound effects such as the gushing of beer and the explosion of a spell misfire.
Control is handled via the mouse. Right-click always examines an item, and left-click varies in context. When pointing at a hotspot, the cursor changes to indicate the interaction available, including a speech bubble for talking and a grasping hand for picking up. Items collected appear in a bar across the bottom of the screen, from which they can be selected to use on hotspots and each other. You also start with a Shell Phone, which acts as a hint system by allowing you to contact your mysterious mentor. You will need to write an unorthodox poem, sabotage a high security system, and help out a disillusioned bard if you are to win the day. The game has a surreal sense of humour, often mocking genre conventions and having Michael frequently break into over-blown dramatic soliloquies.
The Journey of Iesir demo can be downloaded from the AGS website.
A meteorite falls from the night sky, too small to be noticed. But this shooting star carries a passenger. Crawling out of its hollow depths, a pink slug-like creature surveys the new world before it. This is not an alien that has come in peace though, and it soon starts to cut a swath through the local wildlife. Growing in size and power with each victim, can anything stop this monster?
First released back in 2011 but now updated for mobile platforms, Zeebarf’s The Visitor puts you in control of the titular beast from beyond. The graphics are done in a crisp hand-drawn style with an overall realistic look. You will start at your splashdown site at the edge of a lake, but will soon make your way to the nearby human habitation. The action is smoothly animated, with both the visitor and the various animals it encounters moving in a believable way. The varied deaths are presented in an extremely graphic way, making this unsuitable for young children despite its colourful cartoon aesthetic. Sound is largely restricted to effects like the chirping of crickets and screams of victims. An occasional low tone adds to the atmosphere.
Control on iOS is done via the touch screen. Each scene takes up the full screen, but you can zoom in by pushing two fingers apart. Once zoomed in, holding two fingers on the screen enables scrolling. Hotspots can be detected by sliding a single finger around the screen, with interactive objects lighting up yellow as your finger passes over them. A single tap activates one, and most puzzles revolve around working out the order in which to do so. Sometimes a sequence of hotspots needs to be activated quickly to react to the actions of others. Failure simply resets the sequence, and they can be retried as often as needed. In the final scene you switch control to the last survivor. Three endings are available from here, and you are given the chance to replay that last scene each time you find one. The overall tone is B-movie monster horror, with the gore appropriately over the top.
Trick or Treat
It was nice of Miss Charlotte to invite you to go trick-or-treating with her, even if she does make fun of your pumpkin costume. You both had fun going around the nearby town, but then she wanted to try something different. The old scary mansion at the edge of the forest seemed just the place for further Halloween adventure. Upon your arrival, you find that the strangely pale master of the house is having a party tonight and you are both now invited. But soon you and Miss Charlotte are separated, and you set out on a quest to find her and get out of this strange place together.
With developer Rabbiton nicely timing the release for the run-up to Halloween, Trick or Treat proves a gentle horror tale. Presented in an isometric view, the graphics use moderately low-resolution pixel art but with large characters and scenery still providing plenty of detail. This is further helped by the costumes being quite distinctive. A brief opening cutscene takes place outside, but all gameplay takes place within the sprawling mansion. This includes conventional rooms such as a ballroom and kitchen, alongside stranger fare like a room of militaristic dolls. The text-only conversations are backed by more detailed half-body illustrations of the individual speaking. A gentle piano tune backs up proceedings, accompanied by sound effects such as the creak of doors and rustle of book pages.
The cursor keys are used to move, and Enter to interact with the object the protagonist is facing. Initially only the ground floor of the mansion is open to you. To access new levels you need to solve a series of puzzles on the current floor. These range from simply searching out a key to identifying the culprit in a crime from cryptic clues. You must also make clever use of inventory, sometimes altering an item's condition by applying it to an appropriate hotspot. There are also a couple of puzzles set against a timer, including a maze, though with a reasonable margin for error. The mansion often changes appearance as you progress. Ghostly figures start to manifest in some places, whilst other rooms vary between appearing normal and gore-spattered. Despite these gruesome touches, the overall tone is light. Regular saving is advised as there are many opportunities to die, though usually with some indication you are at risk. Three different endings are possible. There is also an optional quest to gather all the Halloween candy in the house, which unlocks extra content.
Trick or Treat can be downloaded from Steam.
It was supposed to be a fairly simple reality TV challenge. Taken to a reputedly haunted house, you were locked alone in a room for an hour and a half with only a candle to provide light. Filmed by hidden cameras and subject to scares throughout, you had to last the entire time to win a cash prize. As the allotted period came to an end, you found yourself disappointed by the lack of effort put in by the TV crew. But then no-one came to let you out after the deadline expired. Making your own way out, you find the house deserted with you trapped inside. Is this just a continuation of the show, or is something more sinister afoot?
Hossi Studio puts the player at the heart of a psychological horror in Kasatmata. The display uses the isometric view of a retro role-playing game. Characters are simply rendered, but most of the time you will be alone anyway, so there are no identity issues. The house is in a fairly poor state of repair, but appears to once have been a grand mansion. The faded glory of the hallway and library are somewhat hidden now by the all-pervading darkness. When you are carrying a light source, such as your starting candle, the area immediately around you becomes marginally brighter. A low ominous tone plays throughout, with an echoing effect that enhances the empty feel of the house. There are also plenty of sound effects, including the lonely footsteps of the protagonist and the clang of a crowbar striking metal.
Control can be performed either by keyboard or mouse. You can use the cursor keys to move around and Enter to interact with whatever the character is facing, or you can mouse-click to move to a location and interact with an object if possible. When using the mouse, the cursor changes over hotspots. Your main task will be exploring the sprawling edifice, though you will need to find keys to enter some areas. Discovering new sources of light is a recurring issue, with your original candle running out over time. Many items can be examined, though you will usually need a light to see detail or find objects concealed inside. Important items left in the open exhibit a small glow to draw your attention to them. These include Asteria Pens, which are used to save your game by writing in the journals scattered around the building. The setting is unnerving, though little overtly horrific happens to the character. The game boasts ten different endings, good and bad.
Kasatmata can be downloaded from the developer’s website.
The Splitting: Chapter 2
Ten months after the first installment of The Splitting, Fireberry Studios have released Chapter 2, in which Daniel continues his search for his missing mirror image leinaD. Once again passing through a mysterious mirror into the world on the other side, Daniel finds a guy named llehctiM camping in his own mirror house while trying to find his counterpart Mitchell, who was a criminal in the real world but has now crossed over. Together they discover that Mitchell is probably in a mental asylum nearby, but when they get there to investigate, Daniel discovers there are strange things going on in the institution, and he needs to get to the bottom of them in order to find leinaD.
Just as in the first installment, both of Daniel's worlds are shown in a 45-degree bird's eye view, drawn in a neat pixel art style with subdued colors. The mirror world turns out to be pretty bleak: walls are crumbling, and it's so dry that plants and trees wither and the ground is dusty. Only in the vicinity of mirrors, where a bit of the real world shines through, can you see a bit more color. In most places, lots of ambient sounds can be heard, like birds, rustling leaves, people talking and so on, but music is played in empty outdoor areas in the mirrored world, particularly around the asylum. There are some sound effects like slamming doors, people walking, and bells ringing that are not very realistic but fit the game's surreal atmosphere quite well. There is no voice acting in The Splitting; all spoken text appears in square black dialogue bubbles next to the person speaking.
Like its predecessor, this episode is played using the keyboard, with the arrow or WASD keys steering Daniel. If he walks up to an interactive object, a white frame appears around it and the space bar then brings up a small menu from which you can choose what to do. This installment is an intricate game containing some pretty hard puzzles, most of which have to do with the differences between the real and mirrored worlds. It's very important to keep track of what happens in both of them, and to remember that things you take for granted in the normal world are different in the mirrored one. For instance, most people in the mirrored world cannot see you or hear you; only people who have lost their reflections can. Chapter 2 is much harder and longer than the first one, but all puzzles are very clever and neatly woven into the story. The plot itself is getting more interesting, and the game is not yet finished, so there will hopefully be more to come from Daniel and llehctiM in the future!
The Splitting: Chapter 2 can be played online at Kongregate.
Three not-so-innocent choir boys gather together in a graveyard one night to perform an initiation ritual. Young Ron is highly impressionable and in awe of the two other boys: Paul actually killed a man at thirteen and Tom is knowledgeable in the ways of the occult. During the ritual, Ron drinks poisoned water from the small river that flows along the edge of the graveyard. This awakens an ancient spirit who takes over his body and makes him do terrible things. When three other genuinely innocent choir boys happen to come out of the church, they see Ron floating above the grass, surrounded by fire. They will have to act quickly to save themselves as well as Ron if they don’t want to become the evil spirit’s next victims!
Graveyard, by Caesarcub, was created in just one month for the "Pure Evil” MAGS competition, and is a pretty impressive work considering the limited time the three-man team had to finish it. It starts with a long introduction in which all the characters are introduced and the stage is set for the player, who takes over at the moment the three innocent boys find Ron. The playable area is presented in pixelated but beautifully drawn screens in third-person view and comprises the graveyard, a church, an abandoned building and an old deserted fairground. Set entirely at night, the light of the full moon shines eerily over all. Gameplay is accompanied by eerie but quite repetitive music that can be switched off. There are no sound effects or voices; all text is shown in a big black box that appears on the screen together with a portrait of the person talking.
Graveyard is played with the mouse, controlling all three boys individually as they work together to reach their goal. A narrow bar at the top of the screen shows the name of the person you control and descriptions of interactive items when pointing the cursor at one. When you position the cursor on the bar, the inventory appears together with buttons for switching to another character, choosing an action (walk, look, talk and grab, which you can also scroll through by right-clicking) and the game's menu. The puzzles are pretty easy, almost all inventory-based, and are very well integrated into the story. The boys have to win a prize, open a safe, find the code to unlock a box in the church, and do some other tasks to rescue Ron. The three boys have distinct personalities and respond differently to the same things, and the fact that they need to work together to succeed makes Graveyard a joy to play. (Not surprisingly, it won first place in the MAGS competition.) Unfortunately, due to its short development time the game's ending feels a bit rushed and disappointing. However, it finishes with a cliffhanger, so maybe we'll see more of these choir boys soon.
Graveyard can be downloaded from the AGS website.
At the beginning of Anne Hemenway’s new adventure, Debbie Johnson (who previously starred in The Treasured Medallion), gives the witch Esmeralda the final ingredient for a potion. The witch eagerly takes it and finishes the brew, only to be turned into a rat by drinking it. Debbie deliberately gave her the wrong ingredient! But Esmeralda's cousin, an evil warlock, sees it all and transforms Debbie into a chameleon. And if that isn't bad enough, he also transports her from her comfy chair all the way to the titular swamp island of Tarthenia. Now Debbie needs to book a band of frogs, make a dragon happy and help a fairy, amongst many other things to get back to her cozy chair in human form.
The island of Tarthenia is quite big, with a forest, beach, town, swamp, farm and a tasty looking place called Candyland. These locations all are presented in third-person mode in beautifully colorful prerendered slides with 3D character models. The world is lush and full of life: birds and insects fly around, numerous lovely flowers bloom, and Debbie meets many interesting inhabitants of Tarthenia during her long quest. There are lots of sounds to hear too: the chirping and tweeting of birds, the wind rustling leaves or howling around rocks, the sea crashing the coast, and so on. There is no voice acting, however, with all dialogue displayed in a translucent bar that appears when someone speaks, together with an animated portrait. When Debbie describes something of interest, the text appears in a white bar in the middle of the screen.
Controlled using the mouse, Debbie walks where you click or changes scenes when you select the directional arrows. Interactive objects are indicated by a short description appearing when you move the cursor over them. A large black bar at the bottom of the screen is dedicated to the inventory, a map and the game's menu, though their icons only appear when you move the cursor there. Tarthenia contains many different puzzles, some purely inventory-based but also including word puzzles, a hidden object minigame and more. They are of varying difficulty but all are nicely integrated. A lot of effort has obviously been put into the game, so it’s unfortunate that there is not much of a story here. Debbie also lacks any real personality, so as a player you don't really get attached to her. Still, Tarthenia's world is beautiful to walk around just admiring its surroundings, solving the many fun puzzles along the way.
Tarthenia can be downloaded from the AGS website.
Sprouts of Evil
The wicked Eliv has served his master, who is nothing less than the Devil himself, very well. So well, in fact, that he is rewarded with a green liquid of pure evil. Everything the liquid touches develops a mind of its own and does interesting and unexpected things: ladders move by themselves, wheels turn square, birds aim at people when they poop... And if that is not enough, the liquid emits a powerful odor of Brussels sprouts. True evil indeed! The city is in turmoil and has come to a complete standstill because of this, as you can imagine. Professor Jakhoff and his trusty assistant Professor Grey are asked to investigate the phenomena and find a way to rid the city of its green disease.
Sprouts of Evil, by slasher, is also a MAGS game developed for the September competition. It is presented in third-person view using crude hand-drawn graphics and some interestingly detailed textures, like the floors in Prof. Jakhoff's house and the hospital. Although this technique has been used before (in the South Park cartoons for instance), the way it is done here makes the graphics look unique and adds to the game's atmosphere of tongue-in-cheek weirdness. On their quest, the professors visit the police station, hospital and mall, as well as Professor Jakhoff's house and lab. During play, an ominous and quite repetitive music score is heard that can be switched off if so desired. Apart from the background music, some simple sound effects can be heard: a whacking noise when something evil strikes, a cat meowing or purring, and tunes that are played in-game. In lieu of voices, all text appears in small black balloons above the heads of the persons speaking.
Professor Jakhoff is controlled with the mouse: right-clicking lets you choose between walk and interact, and left-clicking leads to the desired action. The lower part of the screen shows how much Sprout Evil remains, in the shape of a green puddle that gets smaller when evil is defeated. Next to it are four slots that can be filled with inventory items, of which only one is ever occasionally used. At the top left corner of the screen is a big ugly button that takes you to the game’s “dashboard” where you can change the settings, load and save. Beside that are equally large location icons, allowing you to quick travel when applicable. Sprouts of Evil is not a difficult game; in fact the “puzzles” can hardly be called that because their solutions are often the only thing possible to do in certain situations, so in that regard the experience is a bit disappointing. The game does contain some action sequences, but they are very easy even for a clumsy person like me. The bizarre atmosphere, some subtle jokes, and the way Jakhoff and Grey interact with each other make this a fun game to play, even if it didn't make MAGS’ top three finalists.
Sprouts of Evil 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.
The Swallow’s Descent by InfectionFiles – When a diplomat is murdered during peace talks at a remote monastery, an undercover agent must solve the mystery to prevent war.
When Goats Join Cults by Hershall Cook – In this surreal humourous fantasy, it is hard for goats to join cults, especially when they are goat-killing cults.
The Village Demon by KajChambers – When a mysterious spirit terrorises a small village, a young girl must seek out the truth behind its origins. (Features multiple chase action sequences.)
Lemonless by AwesomeAndreas – Whether life gives you lemons, or not, you have to make use of your opportunities.
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.