This month, you can use strange powers to exit a fantasy city, employ more mundane means to get out of a spaceship prison, or simply try to escape from an unwelcome marriage. You can experience a range of vistas from a tiny stone cell up to a vast plain where giant rocks float in the air. Alternatively, you can investigate the case of a missing reporter in the present or try to understand the downfall of a future Buenos Aires. Finally, you might attempt the difficult challenge of interesting others in your gaming habits. All these options await in this month’s round-up of releases from the freeware scene.
A Grain of Truth
Myosotis, the Trader of Stories, has travelled far across the land in search of clues to her elusive past. For some time now, she has been told tales of a place where the Great Oak stands and that rocks float in the air. A wise man is said to live there that may be able provide the answers she seeks. Though such strange tales are her stock in trade, she had come to dismiss these particular narratives as mere fantasy. But now her journey has brought her to a hovering rock, and an arboreal silhouette that seems far larger than any tree she has seen before. Could there be a grain of truth to these stories after all?
In this game, the Rudowscy brothers take their tale of an itinerant storyteller to grander heights. The same third-person fine art style of the previous episode is used here, with the fantastical elements such as the floating rocks and the immense giraffe-like cloud-eater rendered in great detail. The graphics are unanimated, though use of story panels and items fading in and out of scenes when you manipulate them create an illusion of movement. The various major locations each have their own theme music, with the melancholy piano of the plains replaced by a cheerier tune aboard the cloud-gatherers’ ship. This is supplemented by appropriate sound effects, such as the wind rushing past in high places.
Great effort has been made to include a variety of puzzles in this game. You will use a telescope to find landmarks to navigate a huge plain, sort clouds in a tile matching minigame, and work out how to put together an old projector. There are also more conventional inventory and dialogue puzzles as well as some codes to decipher. Two major puzzles run throughout the game. The first is gathering key words from dialogue and descriptions in order to ask the questions necessary to discover a new tale. The second is a jigsaw in which each fact you gather forms part of a picture, the finished whole leading you to an understanding of the wise man. A map allows instant travel to visited locations and the point-and-click controls provide smooth interaction. Whilst there are flashes of humour, the story is largely a straight fantasy tale, with an ending that completes this story whilst also providing hooks for possible future tales.
A Grain of Truth can be played online at the developers’ website.
A young man wakes in a hospital in Beunos Aires, with no recollection of how he got there. Sure that the year is 2015, he is horrified to find that 20 years have passed him by and that it is actually 2035. Worse, Buenos Aires has long since fallen into the hands of a paramilitary organisation for whom the hospital is serving as a headquarters. With the ruling group a little too excited at discovering him, our amnesiac hero needs to find a way out fast.
3f Interactive’s first game is an intriguing start to a proposed series, though with some localisation issues. The graphics are a realistic cartoon style, with accurate character depictions and a wealth of detail in the backgrounds. The hospital where the action takes place has seen better days. The walls are peeling and cracked, pipes leak, and rooms and corridors are full of rubbish. The characters are nicely animated, most having some form of idle animation when you are not interacting with them. Some cutscenes, such as securing a disabled guard, are rendered as a series of brief excerpts rather than being animated in their entirety. A slow, simple musical piece forms the background for the adventure and fits the run-down setting well, along with appropriate sound effects. The game is also fully voiced, though currently only in the original Spanish, with English available as subtitles. There are occasional odd phrasings in the translated subtitles, but none are severe enough to render them incomprehensible.
Control is point-and-click, with the cursor highlighting over hotspots and a text label appearing as well. Clicking on a hotspot gives you the choice of looking, interacting or talking. Initially you will be unable to get out of the first room, requiring close examination of the environment and dialogue with the other occupants to go further. Once you are out in the hospital proper, you will face a number of inventory-based challenges. There is also a simple but well-designed puzzle in which you have to correctly identify a group of people who refuse to tell you their names. There are flashes of black humour throughout, but the story is mostly played straight, with the depressing state of the hospital a clear indication of a world gone badly wrong. Conversations give enough hints of the events leading up to this situation to set up an intriguing backstory that I hope will be explored further in future episodes.
Reversion can be downloaded from the developer’s website.
Gamer Mom has long been a fan of World of WarCraft, but misses seeing her family more. With a husband who seems to work all hours and a teenage daughter forever hanging out with friends, the opportunities for quality time never seem to arise. Maybe if she could get them to join in the game she loves, they could all have fun together. Family dinner seems the ideal opportunity to broach the subject, but with her daughter texting and her husband on his laptop, an uphill struggle could lie ahead.
Mordechai Buckman and Kyler Kelly have produced a game that may feel all too familiar to gamers seeking to interest family in their hobby. The graphics are simple pencil sketches depicting the family sitting around the table. Gamer Mom sits opposite the player with father and daughter on either side, giving us a clear view of all three. Every time the player takes an action, the picture changes to depict the result, transitioning from one scene to another as a progressive development rather than abrupt change. Whilst the sketches lack colour, the detail is more than enough to convey the emotions of the characters. The game is entirely devoid of sound.
Progress is accomplished by selecting a series of buttons to choose approaches by Gamer Mom. The options available depend on actions to date, with the other characters' responses factoring in. You can launch straight in or take a more considered approach on how to engage them. A lot of the game involves working out the best way to handle their arguments against playing. The buttons give some dynamics to the game, with position and size serving to indicate who comments are focused on and the confidence of the player character. The entire game therefore plays out like a large and complex dialogue puzzle. The conversations are well written, with much of the dialogue feeling depressingly familiar to gamers who have made this attempt themselves. A successful conclusion is possible, though most players will have to try several times to get that happy goal.
Gamer Mom can be played online at the developers’ website.
The country is at war, and the gates of Aberdan have been closed to all travelling in and out. With urgent business to conduct outside the walls, this edict is most inconvenient for you, but there is no way round it. Fortunately, you possess the mystical power of shifting, which allows you to take on the appearance of others. Perhaps using this power will enable you to take on some form that will grant you the egress you seek.
Jennifer Klement has created a game that, whilst short, uses a clever premise to good effect. A simple hand-drawn style has been used for the background, the single two-screen wide location depicted in reasonable detail. A vital part of the game is switching between day and night, with the bright sunny street of the daytime replaced by a scene lit solely by moonlight and lanterns in windows. By contrast, the characters are done in a brighter cartoon style, standing out against the backdrop. The graphics are unanimated, but conversations result in close-up portraits of the character speaking, with limited expressions based on their mood at the time. Some of these exhibit odd physical characteristics, such as pointed ears, befitting the fantasy setting. During the day a jolly guitar tune plays, replaced by a gentle piano piece at night.
Shifting to take on a new persona is not as simple as just looking at someone. To take on a new shape, you must find out about them first. This is represented in-game by three multiple choice questions, all of which you must get correct to effect the change. To prevent repeated guesswork, the correct answers will usually only be available once you have discovered the relevant information. You will need to speak to various characters to glean all the necessary information for any given individual. For most characters, it will only be possible to find out what you need to know when already in disguise. Switching between day and night at the click of a button alters the position and demeanour of characters, opening up further dialogue options and allowing you to progress to new characters. A small amount of inventory use is also needed.
Shifter can be downloaded from the developer’s website.Continued on the next page...
Platform(s): Mac, PC
Platform(s): iPad, iPhone/iPod Touch, PC
Platform(s): Mac, PC
Platform(s): Mac, PC
Platform(s): Mac, PC
Platform(s): Mac, PC