This month you can become a guard in a strange town on a fetch quest, a young squire seeking to achieve knighthood, or an elderly lady trying to save a familiar looking clock tower. You could also experience the afterlife as the spirit guide to the hereafter, or the ghost of young soldier cut down in World War II. Alternatively, you might immerse yourself into the world of text-based adventuring by selecting from the huge list of entries in this year’s Interactive Fiction competition. All these await in this month’s round-up of releases from the freeware scene.
It's World War II and Eastern Europe is under attack from the Russians when a not-very-brave soldier is sent into the streets of an unknown city by his superior. His concerns about cover and protection against the enemy's firepower are ignored, and he is indeed shot dead soon after by a young boy. When his ethereal spirit rises up from his corpse, the man starts wondering about what he got out of this war.
Fallen Soldier is Gertrud Bondesson’s (aka blondbraid) striking attempt to show the utter futility and hopelessness of war. It is presented in beautiful but somber hand-drawn art that shows parts of the war-torn city and a cemetery, in which the soldier wanders around and comments on what he sees there. The accompanying music is a simple piano tune that reminded me a bit of the roaring twenties and doesn't really fit the circumstances our soldier finds himself in. In lieu of voice acting, all spoken text is shown on the screen in small but easily readable type. In the background are the harrowing sounds of war: machine gun fire and explosions. No other sound effects are heard.
The soldier is controlled with the mouse. There is no inventory and you can interact with hotspots simply by clicking on them. Moving the cursor to the top of the screen makes a small menu appear for loading, saving or quitting the game. Fallen Soldier doesn't really contain any puzzles. Instead, as the protagonist wanders through the city streets, he meets some interesting characters (some of them dead and some alive) that make him think more about the choices he made in life. In this way you learn a bit about his past and why he became a soldier. Unfortunately, the game is too short for an in-depth analysis (you can finish it within 15 minutes), but it is certainly a beautiful game that conveys the designer’s thoughts about war very profoundly. The ending is surprising, especially the fact that it implies a sequel. So maybe we will see more of our fallen soldier in the future.
Fallen Soldier can be downloaded from the AGS website.
The 10 Valorous Acts of Algernon the Great
Squire Algernon (Algie to his peers) has almost finished his education: nothing but the accomplishment of ten valorous acts stand between him and knighthood! Unfortunately, he is a bit late and may not have enough time left to achieve all of them, so Algie is in a hurry. He will have to save a king, rescue a damsel in distress, 'restore the balance' (despite having no idea at the start of his quest which balance to restore) and do no less than seven other things to become a knight. And if that is not enough, he has to collect autographs from witnesses to prove that he performed all those tasks.
Shirelindria's The 10 Valorous Acts of Algernon the Great is a cheerful game, presented in third-person mode in a simple cartoonish style. The intro and ending are shown in black line drawings on a white background, while the rest of the game is designed in the same style but filled in with non-gradient colors. The environments Algie peruses include a stream with a bridge over it, a town square with a tavern, a lake, an enormous stable, a forest and a dragon's den. Like the other characters, Algie has enormous eyes in his oversized blond head that dwarfs the rest of his body. During gameplay you will hear no fewer than three different medieval-sounding tunes. There are hardly any sound effects but the ones present are passable, like when Algie picks something up. There are no voices; everything that is said is shown in small but readable letters in a white bar above the inventory at the bottom of the screen.
Only the left mouse button is needed to control Algie. When the cursor moves over a hotspot it changes into a small hand (something that can be manipulated) or a golden arrow pointing to an exit. Items can be selected from the inventory and used by dragging them to the required location. At the top right of the screen is a button with which you can switch off the music or change the tune. Unfortunately, there is no way to save the game. Algie is smart, rude and quite cheeky too – all character traits that come in handy for finishing his tasks. The puzzles are a mix of inventory and conversation problems that are fun to solve, although not hard. You will also find coins scattered throughout, which are needed to complete one or more puzzles. Without spoiling too much, I can say that Algie has an interesting way of interpreting the nature of his tasks and he manages to complete them in quite refreshing and unexpected ways. In between, you can enjoy his witty banter and a small love affair between him and a random mongrel that he comes across. All in all, it makes for a fun little game that is worth your time.
The 10 Valorous Acts of Algernon the Great can be played online at Kongregate.
It is said that when a soul departs the Land of the Living, it becomes a ball of pure energy. The Psychopomp guides the souls to the Guardian of the Hereafter, who protects them on their journey. At least, that is usually the case. In Riaise's winning entry to MAGS’ November 2016 competition (whose theme was "Afterlife"), small bat-like demons have captured the Guardian and are now stealing souls and tormenting them in an infernal machine! It's up to the Psychopomp to restore things to normal.
Psychopomp is presented in third-person view with a simple, clean style. The artwork shows the river running past the forest that lies between the Land of the Living and the Hereafter, as well as some rooms in the castle where the Guardian is kept prisoner. All locations except the Guardian's prison are rather dark, which is to be expected because demons like dark places. The demons, Psychopomp, and the Guardian of the Hereafter move in ways that suit their characters well. In the background, appropriately eerie tunes accompany the gameplay. A few sound effects are also heard, like running water, a glass shattering and the hissing of water thrown onto a fire. There are no words spoken throughout the whole game, and therefore no need even for subtitles.
Players assume the dual roles of Psychopomp and the Guardian at various points, both of whom are controlled with the left mouse button. Depending on how far you have proceeded in the story, there are different ways to switch between characters, which are made clear as you play. Each protagonist can hold only one thing at a time, though if you find there is no need for the item you are carrying, you can put it back and try something else. You can read what the current character is carrying at the top left of the screen, while on the opposite side is a link to Psychopomp's menu. At its normal setting, everything in the game moves at such a slow speed that I found it hardly playable. Luckily you can increase the speed a great deal. Where the game excels is in its interesting puzzles. In order to solve them, Psychopomp and the Guardian need each other's help, as neither has the specific traits required to solve a puzzle on their own. Despite the simple graphics and music, the way the game is designed conveys a surreal, mysterious atmosphere that gives it a certain something special.
Psychopomp can be downloaded from the AGS website.
Save the Clock Tower
As all fans of the 1985 sci-fi movie Back to the Future know, Hill Valley's clock tower was struck by lightning in 1955 and the clock hasn't run since. In Carmel Games' Save the Clock Tower, the nameless lady who is handing out flyers to raise money for the restoration of the tower has some difficulties in the copy shop: she wants to have 200 flyers but doesn't have the 100 US$ to pay for them. So before she can raise money for the clock tower, she first has to raise money for the flyers.
Save the Clock Tower is shown in colorful art done in the skewed style Carmel Games has been using for quite a while now, in which hardly any line is straight or parallel with others. The game depicts Hill Valley in a different and more wacky way than the movie does, but you will still recognize many things. In her quest for money the protagonist visits the diner, the copy shop and some locations on the street, where you will meet some recognizable characters from the movie. A cheerful but annoying piece of music played by a trombone and strings repeats throughout the whole game, but it can be switched off. As usual, the voice acting is excellent. Care has even been taken to make the voices of the movie characters sound like the originals. All spoken text is subtitled in a black bar at the top of the screen. Sound effects like putting things in the inventory, repairing a machine and pressing buttons aren't realistic but are adequate for their purpose.
Save the Clock Tower is played with the mouse, of which only the left button is required. The inventory is located in the lower right corner of the screen, while the lower left corner contains buttons for the menu and a walkthrough. The puzzles are mostly inventory-based, but you also have to repair an ice-making machine by making its pipes run in the right directions, as well as work out the code for a clever lock. The puzzles are a bit harder than usual for a Carmel game (though still not a problem for an experienced adventure gamer), but there aren't many of them, making this is a short game even for this developer. The movie theme, however, gives Save the Clock Tower a bit of extra value that makes it even more fun to play.
Save the Clock Tower can be played online at Kongregate.Continued on the next page...