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.
One of You
In a remote house, several people wake up with no recollection of who they are or how they got there. With the doors locked and the windows barred, there seems to be no way to escape their confinement. As they investigate the house further, the mystery deepens. Strange canisters are scattered around the building, and a set of rules on punishment indicates there may be more to their captivity. Worse, there is evidence that one of them may not be all they seem. With no memories to aid them, can any of them tell who to trust?
In One of You, ZeroDigitz presents a largely psychological horror game. The graphics are presented in a bird’s-eye role-playing game style. Most of the action takes place within the dimly-lit confines of the house. There is also a brief outdoors scene in the snowy grounds surrounding the house, and an interactive flashback to a jollier event when one of the characters starts recalling his past. Despite the retro style, the artwork is fairly detailed, with each person having a distinct look. Close-ups of all the characters appear during conversation. There is a wealth of sound effects, ranging from the simple sound of footsteps on wood to terrified screaming. A variety of atonal and echoing pieces of music also play throughout, adding to the disturbing atmosphere.
Control is handled either through keyboard or mouse. The cursor keys will move the lead character around, with Z interacting with whatever they are facing if possible. Alternatively, left-clicking will both move the playable protagonist and interact. At the start of the game you pick Scenario A or B, determining which character you control. Completing either of these unlocks Scenario C, which is an expansion on the main story. Exploration is the main goal, initially limited by many rooms being locked. The puzzles are fairly simple in nature, with inventory automatically selected for use when appropriate, and there are some basic dialogues. The two initial scenarios run concurrently, with the effects of actions in one sometimes being seen in the other. Whilst overtly unpleasant events are rare, and none require quick reactions, the overall tone of the game is one of horror.
One of You can be downloaded from the JayisGames website.
“The Facti0n” has been trying to bring down the corrupt mayor for some time now. At last, an opportunity to strike a blow against him has arisen. He has long resisted calls to release his tax return details, and now they know why. Those returns, if leaked to the media, would be enough to bring him down. Discovering that the incriminating documents are somewhere within his luxury apartment, they dispatch their best man to retrieve them. But this job will require him to go deeper undercover than ever before. Agent B0rk's mind has been transferred into a dog so he can impersonate the mayor's beloved pet Duke. Can this barking plan possibly succeed?
Sistinedisco has created a decidedly silly spy spoof in Agent B0rk. The graphics are done in an extremely low-resolution black-and-white style, with the only facial features for humans being their eyes. Agent B0rk is depicted wearing sunglasses, though these are actually a disguised communication device in-game. The whole game takes place within the mayor's apartment, laid out in a largely isometric view. Initially only the corridors can be viewed, with rooms only becoming visible when you pass through a doorway. These rooms and hallways have furnishings scattered throughout, with dog-based art adorning many of the walls. Character animation is as simplistic as the art style, consisting of 2-3 frames of movement. The main musical theme is a mellow cello and guitar piece straight out of a 1960s spy thriller. There are also some generic 8-bit sound effects, as well as a happy dog bark at appropriate times.
The cursor keys are used to move around and Z to interact with hotspots. Not knowing where in the flat the target papers are kept, you will need to explore the whole place thoroughly. This is somewhat hampered by the mayor's security people, who patrol predictable routes through the corridor. If caught by any of these, you will need to engage in a parody of turn-based role-playing game combat. Here the traditional attacks are replaced by dog tricks, used to convince your captor of your canine nature. Whilst it is worth viewing all the options, one trick will usually end such "combat" quickly. The vault holding the papers is hidden and you will need to operate some mundane machinery, activate a more secret device, and put together a password to find what you seek. Given the premise, it is unsurprising that this game is presented with surreal humour.
Agent B0rk can be downloaded from the RPG Maker website.
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 Elevator by stillinthe90s – A lift acts in surprising new ways in this single-room adventure.
Hide by Catpunter/Klaus Williams – When a werewolf terrorises a small village, one young girl sets out to trap and kill it.
CRAAASH by mincer-ray – When a spaceship crashes on a remote planet, the pilot must retrieve the parts to a machine that will keep him alive until rescued.
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.