This month, those who look forward to the future can travel to a space station with a dark secret, or for those who prefer the past, you can visit a 16th century execution that doesn't quite go as history recorded it. If you'd rather get up to a little mischief for a good cause, you can try to break all ten commandments to attract God's attention. Alternatively, you might face every student's worst fear of taking an exam when you haven't even been to any lectures. All these await in this month's round-up of releases from the freeware scene.
Greg Winston had long dreamed of travelling into space, and finally his chance has come. Now he and four others have been chosen to take part in a project aboard an orbiting space station. Their job is simple enough: to monitor audio signals coming from deep space for any variation that indicates they were made by intelligent life. But as Greg settles into his new job, he starts to become concerned. Why is he unable to clearly recall the months leading up to his selection for training for this mission? Is there more to his dream job than meets the eye?
In Forever Space, Pinhead Games returns after a lengthy absence to present the tale of an ordinary man facing an extraordinary mystery. The presentation is full 3D, with realistically rendered environments. These vary from the small enclosed cabin on the shuttle ride out, to the space station with its wide windows showing the stars and the drifting moon beyond. In long shots, the character models appear cel-shaded, but the close-ups used for conversation are fully detailed. Characters also move in a largely realistic fashion. Background music is made up of ambient pieces that fit in well with the grand space opera tone. The game is fully voiced to a decent standard, and there are a handful of sound effects, such as the audio signals you have been assigned to monitor.
Control is handled through the mouse, with left-click used to both move and interact. When clicking on a hotspot, a context-sensitive menu appears showing the possible interactions available. There is no separate inventory screen. Instead, collected items appear as menu options when they can be used on a particular hotspot. At the start of the game, the action is mundane, with the protagonist simply trying to prepare himself for his upcoming task and get to know his teammates. Once on the space station, however, the mystery starts to emerge and it is up to the player to resolve it. This is mainly achieved by interacting with your colleagues, though how friendly or unfriendly you are will affect the help they offer. There is also a small amount of item use, though you may need to search a bit to find the required objects.
The Execution of Anne Boleyn
It is the 19th of May, 1536, and Anne Boleyn is scheduled to be executed on the orders of Henry VIII. However, a time-traveller has different ideas, and approaches Anne in her cell within the Tower of London. According to this visitor from the future, this is not the way history is supposed to go, and she needs Anne’s help to set things right again. Leaving a robot facsimile in Anne’s place, the two set out to escape the Tower and put the timeline back on its proper course.
Riaise takes a decidedly skewed view of the past with The Execution of Anne Boleyn. The graphics consist of fairly basic pixel art, though objects and people are rendered large enough to be recognisable. The adventure starts within the grim grey walls of the Tower, then passes through Anne’s place of execution and on to the hidden location of the real Henry VIII. The individual characters are simply but smoothly animated. The musical accompaniment for much of the game is a gentle tune that fits the historical setting. This gives way to a dramatic action piece in the latter part of the game, where the investigating pair come under threat (though evading this danger is handled automatically, without requiring the player to be quick on the keys). The score is supplemented by such sound effects as the rattling of the lock on the cell door.
Mouse control involves left-click to move/interact and right-click to examine. Moving the cursor up causes a small inventory interface to drop down from the top of the screen, where you can examine and interact with objects collected. This also includes a button that allows you to switch between Anne and her futuristic visitor. As both have separate inventory items, you will need to engage in some switching to get all the objects you need. There are a few item-based puzzles to solve, mostly involving simple combination. You will also need to find a coded message in a letter, and determine an important number from the conversation of two guards. The latter puzzle effectively comes with an escalating hint system, as repeatedly listening to the guards offers further clues to the answer. The overall tone is tongue-in-cheek, with some light jabs at both history and game conventions.
The Execution of Anne Boleyn can be downloaded from the AGS website.
10 Ways from Sunday
Debra is sleeping in church when she hears the voice of her recently deceased brother Timothy calling to her in her dreams. Something is wrong with him! But what? For that answer, Debra devises a cunning plan to get God's attention so she can ask him what is wrong with her brother: she will break each of the 10 commandments! However, sometimes things don't exactly go as planned...
10 Ways from Sunday, by HanaIndiana, was the winner of August 2017's MAGS competition with its “Bible” theme. It is shown in a very simple third-person pixel art style, but despite its basic presentation, on my machine the game was excruciatingly slow in full-screen mode, even at the fastest setting. In windowed mode it ran much faster and was properly playable. The world consists of the church, a downtown street, Debra's house and the radio studio where she works. The characters are fully voiced with excellent acting, although the quality of the recordings could be better, as some lines sound much clearer than others. Subtitles are also displayed, with a different color for each speaker. The few sound effects present, like the ringing of a phone and a thunderclap, are adequate, but there is no music except in the church where an organist sometimes plays.
The two-button interface uses left-click to interact and right-click to observe, the mouse cursor itself making very clear which button does what. When the cursor is at the top of the screen, a bar appears containing the inventory and an icon that opens the game's menu. Breaking all 10 commandments presents a bit of an ethical challenge, and Debra has to do perform some acts she hopes never to have to do again. The diversity of the commandments yields very different puzzles: some of them are inventory-based but there are also conversation puzzles and sometimes Debra just has to do something naughty. None of the solutions are hard, but the game’s length, the number of puzzles and the excellent voice-overs make 10 Ways from Sunday an outstanding MAGS game. Although some may find using the Bible this way to be insulting or blasphemous, this is quite a funny and lighthearted game that isn’t meant to be taken seriously.
10 Ways from Sunday can be downloaded from its AGS webpage
Symploke: Legend of Gustavo Bueno – Chapter 1
Benito Retamosa has finally arrived at the university’s Philosophy department. It's exam time, and because he hasn't attended any courses yet, having been too busy partying and generally being lazy, Benito needs notes so he can learn the material. Of course, nobody wants to help somebody they don't even know, so Benito has to make some friends first. This means engaging in such tasks as stealing a graded exam from the dean, gaining access to the pantry and mixing a drink.
The debut installment of Symploke: Legend of Gustavo Bueno, by Videojuegos Fermín and developer Juan C. Buzón, is presented in third-person mode with a brightly colored cartoony style in which all characters have big heads that show their expressions quite clearly. The game world for this first chapter limits itself to some rooms in the Philosophy building, along with an outdoor field and some woods on the campus. Loud and very repetitive music that can thankfully be switched off accompanies the action. The characters are fully voiced in Spanish and the acting is quite good (according to a Spanish-speaking person I asked). The English translation of all spoken text is shown on the screen next to the person speaking. The sound effects, such as slamming doors and a bottle opening, are realistic.
Using the standard AGS interface, right-click scrolling or selecting the appropriate icon at the top left of the screen lets you choose between look, interact, talk and walk, along with the currently selected inventory item, with the cursor shape changing to reflect the chosen option. Left-clicking performs the desired action. Moving the cursor to the side of the screen will show if there is another place Benito can walk to, and clicking the exit makes him walk there regardless of the current cursor. The top right of the screen has icons for the inventory and main menu, along with an image of the item you are presently holding. Next to those is a counter that shows you how many points you have achieved and how many you can score in total. All of the puzzles are inventory-based and none are very hard, though some require combining items within the inventory itself.
This first chapter starts rather slowly, as it's not clear how Benito thinks he will make it to graduation, and he doesn't get far in obtaining the necessary notes. He is also reluctant to talk to people and keeps to himself unless he really has no choice. Still, the ending is poignant and wraps up this installment very well. Overall, the atmosphere and the number of different characters you interact with make Symploke a slow but promising start to what could be an interesting series. I look forward to Chapter 2.
Symploke: Legend of Gustavo Bueno – Chapter 1 can be downloaded on Steam under the Spanish title Symploké: La Leyenda de Gustavo Bueno – Capítulo 1.
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.
Room 42 by Akumu Games – Trapped in a room by a disease that turns people into monsters, can you trust any of your companions? (Contains a brief arcade shooting section.)
Fred and Barney Meet the Future by slasher – When a NASA equipment bag drops through a wormhole, it ends up in the hands of caveman Fred. Will it help him nab a dodo egg?
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.