Game Jolt’s Adventure Jam has inspired some really fantastic short-form games from budding indie developers. Seeing as the voting period is now officially over, I thought I’d check out the winners from the Best Overall Game category, as voted by the community. So this week’s Indie Freebies are: the first-placed Four Last Things, a Monty Python-esque caper about sin and Renaissance art; the second-placed Wagner and the Third Light, a first-person detective-noir about a shipwreck; and the third-placed Dead Man’s Crossing, a gorgeous little pixel adventure set on a Wild West ghost train.
Four Last Things: A Point-and-Click Renaissance Masterpiece
As someone who still wrestles with a Catholic guilt complex from a relatively strict religious upbringing, Four Last Things is definitely something I can relate to. Yes, it’s a game all about sin. Or to be more precise, the four last things in a Christian’s life – death, judgement, heaven, and hell.
But don’t look so worried, this a comedy and not in the sense of Dante’s epic poem. It’s a very tongue-in-cheek comedy that strives to be intelligent and ridiculous in equal measures. As creator Joe Richardson puts it so succinctly, “think Monkey Island meets Monty Python meets Hieronymus Bosch”. The clue is in the animations and backdrops, crudely and humorously constructed from a mishmash of classic Renaissance paintings, à la Terry Gilliam.
Set in 16th century Flanders, you play a wearied pilgrim who finally arrives at his destination after an arduous journey of many years and countless miles. Seeking absolution for your many vile deeds, you request admittance to the church below. But in a pure Kafka-esque moment, the bureaucratic doorkeeper refuses entry because your sins were committed outside the catchment area. However, taking pity on you, he hesitantly suggests that if you were to commit some new sins within the vicinity, he would have to let you in.
So off you go to perpetrate at least five of the seven deadly sins, i.e. greed, gluttony, lust, wrath, envy, pride, and sloth. Using a standard verb-coin point-and-click interface, it’s simply a case of interacting with various characters and objects until you happen across the solutions. For instance, wrath is achieved by campily slapping a man in the face for insulting you.
Four Last Things is barking mad, cynical, and a bloody good laugh. Though I would have liked to have seen some better and more engaging puzzles. However, Richardson only considers this a prototype and is currently working on expanding into a full game.
The final version will be to be around two to three hours long and specifically promises to include “proper puzzles” with an inventory to add some challenge. It will also feature full voice acting, possibly by professionals depending on budget, alternate endings, and the ability to view the original paintings on the fly. He’s currently seeking funding through Kickstarter and just under half-way to reaching the modest goal of £3,500 with 20 days left to go.
Wagner and the Third Light: Episode 1
Made in just six days, Wagner and the Third Light is a first-person detective noir set in a small 1980s coastal town. You play the preposterously-named private eye Wagner Mary Hugo, who’s tasked by insurance firm Fisherman Widows to investigate a recent shipwreck that took place near the town’s lighthouse. They’re looking to avoid a payout and want you to prove that the ship was at fault. There are three main suspects: the lighthouse operator (some say the light wasn’t on), the captain (as inferred by the newspaper reporter), or the crew (who may be involved in some dodgy smuggling operation). Plus, there’s also talk about the ship being in poor condition.
The gameplay largely revolves around travelling between locations, via a handy map, and interrogating a variety of eccentric characters. Just like Four Last Things, humour is very much central here. Wagner is a foul-mouthed, sardonic, cynical technophobe with a witticism ready for every object you examine. There’s also plenty of innuendo, as well as in-jokes and genre references. And did I mention that Wagner’s trusty sidekick is a taciturn filing cabinet called Phil?
There’s a fantastic vibe to it thanks to an evocative piano score by Thibault Chavanis and some gorgeously simple but vibrant low poly environments, somewhat appropriate to the era the game is set in. However, I didn’t get along well with the static and featureless stick men character models, which are totally devoid of personality and presence.
Wagner and The Third Light is funny and enjoyable, but it’s fairly short with a rather abrupt ending. But it is a good base for a longer adventure game, and the developers are planning to follow it up with a second episode. Personally though, I think they need to expand the mechanics and maybe throw in some good old-fashioned puzzle action, otherwise it may struggle to maintain interest over a longer play time.
Wagner and The Third Light is available for Windows and Mac and can be downloaded here.
Dead Man’s Crossing
Dead Man’s Crossing is easily my favourite of the community top three, but that’s probably because I’m a pixel art junkie. And what a fabulous way to start the game. Set on a Wild West ghost train, it begins with a gorgeously-clichéd sunset backdrop accompanied by a Morricone-esque little ditty and a lovely poetical text prologue:
There’s a railroad track at Dead Man’s Crossing, but there hasn’t been a train for a long time now. After the accident the company closed the line. Nobody survived the crash.
But, on a clear night when the wind is low the townsfolk say they can still hear the train chattering its way down the tracks. The ghost train crashes and starts over again. Over… and over again…
You play the ghost train’s driver, charged with helping the forsaken spirits on board find their way to the afterlife – each unable to rest in peace until their last wish is fulfilled. There’s a gentleman who intended to propose to his sweetheart but lost the ring, an outlaw who needs to see his buried gold, a mariachi band who yearn to perform one last time, and a decapitated man who’d like his head back.
It’s the most traditional point-and-clicker out of the three games, yet it offers a pleasant variation on the standard formula. Situated over 30km of railroad, you need to interpret the clues given by the passengers and take the train to the right places in order to find the solutions to the multi-part quests.
There’s a map you can refer to and a distance gauge in the control/inventory panel. You can stop and disembark anywhere, as well as restart the journey without any loss in progress. Handily, the train completes the 30km journey in just five minutes. That’s a staggering 360km/h, making it faster than the normal operating speed of the Japanese Bullet Train (320km/h). Not bad for an old timey steam locomotive (the record being 202.6km/h), but then again it is a ghost train!
Dead Man’s Crossing is a highly enjoyable and enchanting little adventure, yet it’s the pixel art that steals the show. The animations are brilliant and the lovingly-rendered backdrops exude nothing but charm. There are desert landscapes, lakes, canyons, tunnels, stations, and crossings to visit, and they’re all furnished with bovine skulls, cacti, barrels, and windmills. And I just can’t get enough of those parallax scrolling clouds. Capping it off is a sparse but delightful original score and the immersive ambience of the chattering train and your immediate surroundings. It all combines to really capture the romance of the West.
Dead Man’s Crossing is available for Windows and Mac and can be downloaded here.