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.Continued on the next page...