This month you can investigate the supernatural at a lighthouse, find terror trapped in an old house, or summon up horrors of your own, twice. Alternatively, you can seek to trap creatures in a dank sewer, or embrace your own inner beast as a canine super-spy. All these await in this month's round-up of releases from the freeware scene.
Vortex Point 8: The Rock
The Vortex Point series contains the best adventures Carmel Games has to offer, and Vortex Point 8: The Rock is no exception. It starts when the mayor asks the famous ghostbusting team to conduct an exorcism at The Rock, the lighthouse haunted by the infamous Jefferson Kearns, who chopped his wife with an axe when he was the lighthouse keeper 130 years ago. Jefferson wasn’t seen alive again after that, but ever since people have died in mysterious ways when visiting the lighthouse. A few unsuccessful attempts to get rid of Jefferson's ghost were made, and now it's time for the specialists to give it a try.
The Rock is shown in third-person view with dark colors because the whole game is set in the evening. Everything is presented in Carmel’s familiar cartoony style in which everything looks bent and crooked, and the characters have heads the size of their torsos. The game world is quite large, comprising amongst other locations the group's headquarters, a penny arcade, a Chinese shop and of course the lighthouse. There are some nice details that have nothing to do with the story in the background. For instance, in one shop a lady is boiling rice, and when you come back the rice is ready. A repeating short and ominous-sounding strings tune is played throughout the game, but the music can be switched off. The voice acting is very good, with each character given a clear and distinct performance. All spoken text is also readable at the top of the screen, where it is displayed together with a portrait of the speaker. The sound effects, like grabbing objects and the opening and closing of doors, are merely there to indicate that things are happening since they're not accurate at all.
You play as only one member of the team: Kevin. He is controlled using the mouse, of which only the left button is needed. The inventory appears at the bottom of the screen, whereas in the top left corner there are buttons for the game's menu and a walkthrough. The puzzles are mostly inventory-based but you also have to find some codes for opening locks. The story is quite elaborate for a Carmel game: not only does Kevin need to find ingredients for a concoction that will protect himself from Jefferson's ghost, but he and his teammate Caroline must also discover some more background about Jefferson so they can eventually allow him to rest in peace. To do all this, you’ll need about an hour.
Vortex point 8: The Rock can be played online at MouseCity.
In Rat Channel, by Arcangelo Bonaparte, you play as Mr. Ufti, a refugee who has recently been given a job as a rat catcher and must begin in Sewer 11. Dressed in protective clothing that leaves his face exposed, Mr. Ufti was not provided with the most basic things a rat catcher needs: a flashlight, a shovel, and items to catch rats with, so he has his work cut out for him. His job is not only to clear the sewer of rats, but also to make sure it works well and report defects using his walkie-talkie. However, he finds a very strange and quite scary type of rodent underground, which is not easy to kill.
Seen in third-person side view, Mr. Ufti enters the sewer on the left and works his way to the right, solving problems as he encounters them. The sewer is pretty dark despite the lights you’ll manage to switch on at the start, so there is not much color to see. (Make sure to turn the brightness of your monitor up or you may miss clues!) Both the setting and protagonist look fairly realistic but everything is a bit small, despite the game running in full-screen mode. Fortunately, pixel hunting is not necessary. There is no music in the game, but there is a wide range of background noises, varying from the skitter of cockroaches to the dripping of water and the squeaking of rats. Mr. Ufti also talks a lot with his anonymous superior over the walkie-talkie. At first his boss is friendly, but as Ufti reports more and more problems, the man on the other end becomes impatient and makes some pretty racist remarks, so Ufti repeatedly has to tell him what he thinks of him. Although the voice acting is done really well, Ufti has a strange way of speaking and he says "Unga Bunga" in just about every other sentence, which gets pretty annoying after a while.
The game is played using the mouse; right-clicking an object makes Ufti describe it, while left-clicking makes him pick it up or do something with it. The inventory appears when you move the cursor to the top of the screen, and a small menu when you scroll to the bottom. The puzzles are all inventory-based, not very hard and mainly deal with overcoming obstacles. The ending of the game is a bit strange and rather unexpected. Because of its scary nature, I don't recommend Rat Channel for kids younger than twelve.
Rat Channel can be downloaded from its AGS page.
The Ritual: Parts I and II
Although released separately, Parts I and II of Carmel Games' The Ritual combine to form one game that tells the story of two high school dudes who have devised a cunning plan to change their English grades so they don't flunk this year. They will summon a demon from hell and order it to force the feared Ms. Rage to give them both an A+++. What could possibly go wrong? Joe, who worked out the plan, sends Gideon on an errand for essential ingredients without which the ritual cannot be performed. Gideon has to find graveyard dirt, a sulfur-scented candle, some red chalk, a cauldron and more items to get the job done. He meets quite a few obstacles on his way: a caretaker who doesn't want Gideon to enter the cemetery unless he gets him a chocolate cake, the horrible Ms. Rage, and a pizza baker who doesn't want to sell him anything, amongst others.
The game world is presented in bright colors in Carmel's recognizable art style, with wacky-looking characters and almost no straight or parallel lines. It consists of a number of locations where Gideon hopes to find the ingredients he and Joe need, such as Gideon's Granny's home, a cemetery, a pizzeria and some other shops. The background music for both episodes is a repeating woodwind/strings/drum tune that can be turned off. The acting is excellent, with all characters having distinct and fitting voices. Subtitles are displayed in one of many languages you can choose from at the start of the game in a black bar at the top of the screen, accompanied by a picture of the person talking. The sound effects, like the opening of cupboards and safes, are not lifelike but accurate enough.
The events of Part II start one week after Part I ends, and the sequel contains many references to its predecessor, making it virtually imperative that they be played in order. Both installments are controlled using only the left mouse button. The inventory is in the lower right corner of the screen and buttons for the game's menu and a walkthrough are in the lower left. The puzzles are mostly inventory-based but you also have to find codes to open unlocked doors. Some of the puzzles you need to solve first to get these codes are quite hard; I even had to brute force one of them. Although the whole game is basically a large fetch quest, the extended play time of the combined episodes makes the development of a simple story possible, a sorely-missed feature in most Carmel adventures nowadays. The puzzles here are also a bit more interesting than usual, which makes The Ritual a fun game for an hour or so.