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Following Freeware - October 2016 releases

Following Freeware - October 2016 releases
Following Freeware - October 2016 releases


This month you can search for the torn pieces of a lost train ticket, look for missing miners on a distant planet, or seek out the cause of a deadly blight. Those up for a bit of lighthearted fun can try to get a ticket to the cinema, or join retro video game mascots in setting up a clubhouse. Alternatively, you could seek to escape a half-built house, or simply try to figure out where you are. All these await in this month’s round-up of releases from the freeware scene.
 



Steve’s Selections


Blameless


The phone call seemed to be just what your struggling architect business needed. A man on the other end was building his own house, and he wanted your advice on the fine detail. The address he gave was a bit worrying for a first meeting, an area on the edge of town where the properties are widely spaced. But he seemed genuine enough when he met you, and everything appeared normal as he showed you round what he had done already. You should have taken heed of your misgivings though, as after manoeuvring behind you, he struck you down with a metal bar. You awake to find yourself locked in a room with unfinished brick walls. Can you free yourself before your captor returns?

Vaclav Hudec has created an effectively eerie tale in Blameless. The graphics are presented in an extremely realistic first-person perspective, with full freedom of movement. The main structure has been completed, with sufficient doors and windows to bar an easy exit. However, very little has been done beyond this, and the site is littered with building materials and tools. Some of these can be moved or used, with objects hovering on-screen as if held in your hand when you pick them up. The game is set at night, with many areas either heavily in shadow or completely unlit. Late in the game you will acquire a portable light source, though it only lights up the area immediately before you. The game is fully voiced to a good standard, though dialogue mainly consists of the protagonist's reactions to his situation. Otherwise, sound comes solely from environmental sources, almost entirely as a result of your actions.

Movement is handled through the cursor keys or WASD. The mouse is used to look around and interact with the environment, with the single white dot cursor changing when over a hotspot. There are also keys for crouching and running. A small handful of objects can be collected, which need to be cycled through in inventory for selection. The object then appears on the right of the screen, to be used on other hotspots or on objects collected in your left hand. The internal dialogue will mirror your own feelings, as exploring the house is a most disconcerting experience. The horror is largely indirect, with only a couple of overtly upsetting events. Diligent exploration and improvisation with the tools at hand is the way to progress. The game is split into sections, each set in a handful of rooms, with more than one way to progress in some cases. In addition to the main quest to escape, there are indications of past crimes that can optionally be investigated. There is no manual save, but the game saves automatically as you complete each section. 

Blameless can be downloaded from Steam.

 

Disturbed


There was a time when you made a good living from your farm, with thriving crops and healthy cattle. But that was before the blight struck, destroying plants and animals alike. Now your home is a shadow of its former self, and you don't see how you can continue. In one last desperate attempt to save yourself, you set out into the land past your small property seeking help. There you find that the blight extends well beyond your fields, and may not be natural in origin. With the only town now surrounded by an impassable marsh, it is unlikely you will get aid from the authorities any time soon. Can a simple farmer take on the forces of darkness, or will you soon become another casualty of this evil?

Disturbed proves a deadly fantasy tale from developer Brad Moore. The game uses a slideshow format of simple graphical design. The illustrations are black and white pencil drawings, with softer edges and shading giving depth. The lack of colour adds to the depressing atmosphere. Whilst the pictures themselves are not animated, some transitions give an illusion of movement by presenting a series of stills depicting a developing situation, such as a bear moving to attack you. The visuals are supplemented by text describing the scene further and providing detail of the protagonist’s thoughts and actions. From your destitute farm you will visit a strange ring of stones, an underground network of caverns and a mysterious stone tower. Ambient sounds include the echo of water dripping in a cave, along with effects for actions such as the rustle of a page turning.

Control is managed through a series of text choices selected by mouse. In some cases your options at a particular place will change dependent on your actions to date. The results of other decisions will also change often based on the items you have with you. The journey is a perilous one, and there are many ways of dying as early as the first few scenes. Whilst most give at least some indication of danger, some come without warning, so regular saving is advised. It should be noted that the save options are not available when a choice of actions is on screen, so you must save in between actions. In order to succeed, you will need to lay a cursed spirit to rest, decipher a combination from nearby clues, and navigate a small cave maze. The overall tone is dark and oppressive. 

Disturbed can be downloaded from Steam.

 

Sonic and Friends in Club House


Sonic the Hedgehog's eccentric uncle Colonic has died. In his will, the old man left his house and all its contents to his young nephew. With the idea of turning the place into a clubhouse, Sonic eagerly gathered his three best friends together, Alex Kidd, Tails and Luigi. Together the group head down to the house to check it over. It soon becomes apparent, however, that Sonic's uncle had been somewhat neglectful in maintaining the property. Not wanting to hold their opening party in a decrepit building, they all set to work. With each bringing their own unique talents to the task, they will soon have everything fixed up.

Made by slasher for a "Genre Swap" themed MAGS competition, Sonic and Friends in Club House brings four action-oriented video game characters into the adventure genre. The characters are hand-drawn versions of the originals, re-scaled so they are the same height as upright humans, all of them simply but effectively animated. The house itself has fairly uniform decor, with red walls and wooden floors throughout, though the furniture varies from room to room. The living room holds a big comfy sofa and wide-screen TV, whereas the kitchen is decked out with a cooker, dishwasher and a variety of cupboards. A jaunty tune, retro in style and matching the characters’ excitement at having a potential clubhouse, plays throughout. There are also a handful of sound effects.

Right-clicking the mouse cycles through action cursors for walk, look, talk and interact. Left-clicking applies the selected action. A button at the top of the screen calls up a list of rooms in the house, and this is the only way of moving between them. At the start of the game you control Sonic, but interacting with any of the other characters switches to them. This is vital to progress, as each character has different abilities to bring to the task at hand, such as Tails being able to fly. For those unfamiliar with the originals, a character button produces brief bios highlighting their relevant skills. As well as utilising each friend's unique talents, you will engage in improvisation with the items scattered around the house to effect repairs. Whilst each character has their own inventory (the current one displayed at the bottom of the screen), objects are automatically handed to the characters most able to use them if they aren't the one picking them up.

Sonic and Friends in Club House can be downloaded from the AGS website.

 

Off-Peak


You need to get away from the city, but you don't have a train ticket to do it. That shouldn't be a problem though, as your friend Luuuke usually has a spare ticket on hand. Unfortunately, today the ticket he possessed has been torn into pieces that have been scattered throughout the station. Now you must explore this cathedral-like edifice, finding the fragments and putting them back together. With the building ruled over by the mysterious Marcus and home to a variety of peculiar individuals, this hunt could prove interesting.

In Cosmo D Studio's Off-Peak, starting a journey takes a lot more than a single step. The graphics are detailed and realistic 3D, presented from a first-person viewpoint. You will start on a short walkway leading to the towering station, but will spend most of your time within its environs. This includes a vast main hall, with a whale hanging from the ceiling, a small night-club and the dark tunnels behind the passenger platforms. Dialogue is presented only in text form, the words hanging near the speaker when you are close enough to hear them. Sound is location-based, changing as you move from place to place. As well as background noise such as the wind on the roof terrace, each area has its own music, performed by the band Archie Pelago. This ranges from slow and haunting echoing tracks to lively electric dance tunes.

The WASD keys are used for moving around, with Shift increasing your speed to a run. Meanwhile, the mouse allows you a full view in all directions, with left-click causing you to interact with hotspots. This is only possible when you are close by, with a floating label indicating the interaction available when you near applicable objects. Some characters can be prompted to speak, though the conversations are entirely one-sided. Others talk to one another without your involvement, their speech cycling over time. The game is all about exploration, with the vast main hall having a variety of corridors and staircases branching off. You can simply collect the pieces of the ticket, which give off a clearly visible sparkle, though the pieces will not all be easy to find. However, you will get a fuller experience from interacting with the station denizens and so finding out more about this strange place.

Off-Peak can be downloaded from Steam or the developer’s itch.io page.


Somewhere


Hurtling out of the sky, a rocket ship crashes onto the roof of a tall tower. Its occupant, Edmund, has no idea where he is, but he is obviously not going anywhere else in his destroyed craft. Making his way down to ground level, he finds himself in a most peculiar place. Many of the buildings are closed off and the people seem odd. Struggling to figure out where he is and how to get away, he discovers a closed information office. Perhaps if he can find a way inside, he will get the answers he seeks. But with a man stationed on permanent watch in front of the building, it is going to take cunning and subterfuge to find a way in.

In Somewhere, sulhyd presents a quest for identity and place. The character graphics are slightly cartoonish in nature, though the locations have a more realistic look. Apart from the lead character – a short figure encased in metal – walking around, there is no animation. Starting from the lofty flat roof where you crash, you will travel through grey city streets to the edge of a small swamp. Each location comes with its own background sound. Music plays within the walls of the tall tower, whereas out on the streets you hear the hubbub of a crowd.

As indicated by the title, your main quest is to learn where you are. Control involves the standard AGS mouse scheme, with right-click cycling between four possible actions. These are walk, look, interact/take and speak, which are activated using left-click. Speaking to everyone you find will shed some light on your plight, as well as provide clues on how to progress. It is also worth examining everything you come across carefully. This is somewhat hampered by a lack of hotspot labels and the fact that the cursor gives no indication if you are pointing at something interactive. A little improvisation with inventory will also serve you well. Whilst the puzzles to reach the end are relatively simple, you would be well advised to take your time. There are multiple endings, with the endings getting better the more you discover along the way.

Somewhere can be downloaded from the developer’s itch.io page.

 

Willem’s Winners


Space Rangers: Episode 46 – The Devil Within


Special Agent Yaz KreJonns is sent to a distant planetoid where a team that was mining for dilithium crystals has gone missing. Because she messed up a previous operation, and because dilithium is a quite volatile substance, KreJonns is not given any weapons, which of course makes things a bit complicated for her. When she arrives she finds the planetoid abandoned, and learns what has happened from some surprising sources. It's up to you to make Special Agent KreJonns succeed or fail!

The latest adventure from Grok (Jacqueline White series), Space Rangers: Episode 46 – The Devil Within is made like a tribute to Gene Roddenberry's Star Trek. The game – which despite having “Episode 46” in its title is actually the first in the Space Rangers series – takes place within some rooms above the dilithium mine and in one of the mine shafts itself. It is presented in third-person mode in an appealing and – once KreJonns has managed to switch the main power on – quite colorful style of watercolor/ink paintings. All backgrounds are drawn in rather thick lines, while KreJonns displays a bit more detail with finer lines, which makes her stand out nicely. Ominous sounds accompany the gameplay, and effects like opening doors, pressing buttons, an elevator moving and an explosion fit the science fiction theme well. Unfortunately, there are no voices. All spoken text is shown on screen next to a head portrait of the person speaking.

Right-clicking lets you cycle between look, walk and grab/use, while left-clicking causes KreJonns to perform the desired action. Her handy tricorder is located at the top left of the screen. Along with her inventory and buttons for loading, saving and quitting the game, it also contains a neat scanner, the function of which is revealed during play. There are not many puzzles in this short game, but those present are rather original and very well thought-out, integrated nicely into the story. Most of them involve communication rather than using objects. The witty dialogue, the subtle references to various well-known sci-fi stories, the interesting ways in which KreJonns can die, and the multiple different endings make Space Rangers: Episode 46 – The Devil Within well worth playing.

Space Rangers: Episode 46 – The Devil Within can be downloaded from Game Jolt.

 

Midnight Cinema


Last month it was Halloween and a myriad of horror-themed freeware adventures came our way. One of them was Carmel Games' Midnight Cinema, in which Vova really wants to see a new horror movie called “Slash”. Unfortunately it's all sold out, but as luck would have it his friendly neighbor Randy has a ticket he doesn't need. But Randy won’t just give it up for nothing, so he asks Vova to bring him a pizza and coffee and have a book signed by his favorite author Lisa Westberg in exchange.

Midnight Cinema is presented with the familiar colorful drawings in third-person we are used to from Carmel Games. Because the game takes place at night, most of the scenes are fairly dark, but no pixel hunting or brightness adjustment is necessary. The gameplay is accompanied by a repeating xylophone tune that luckily can be switched off. The voice acting is outstanding, with everyone having their own distinct voice. All spoken text subtitles are shown at the top of the screen next to an image of the person speaking. There aren't many sound effects but the ones there are, like Vova whistling if he needs a taxi or him taking an object, are adequate. Vova has to roam the city to reach his goal and visits a pizzeria, a bookstore, a coffee house, a store for Halloween paraphernalia, and of course his apartment building and the cinema.

Only the left mouse button is needed for interaction. The inventory is in the lower right corner of the screen, and in the upper left corner are the buttons for the game's menu and a walkthrough. It would have been nice if there were an opportunity to save, because Midnight Cinema is longer than other Carmel games, taking me between 30 and 45 minutes to play. It’s worth sticking with it to the end, though, as the developers have really outdone themselves here: the puzzles are more difficult than usual and there's more attention to detail. There are even a few jump scares, and you can play an adventure-game-within-the-game on the computer in Vova's room! The obstacles are well-integrated, and although they're mostly inventory-based they are often not very easy to solve. All of this makes Midnight Cinema one of Carmel’s best.

Midnight Cinema can be played online at Kongregate.

 

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.

Romance is Dead by Tall Tales Productions – A young female student meets a mysterious young man who seems oddly out of place in this visual novel.

House by isaacnite and ChrisRats – A young girl left alone in the house makes some unpleasant discoveries in this low-resolution horror game.

Gogo get the Glow by Sylvester Hansen – A 17-year-old girl who wants to become a police officer is determined to catch a criminal to prove her worth.
 



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.


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