Always short of a few bob and looking for something a bit different, each week I scour the internet for fun, interesting or just plain curious Indie Freebies. This week’s highlighted titles are: Blameless, a nicely-written horror mystery/puzzler; Water Me, a simulation about keeping a plant alive while cut off during a flood; and Lily: Colors of Santa Luz, a charming stealth adventure with a focus on storytelling.
I imagine that after being walloped over the head with a metal rod, your mind is probably not in the best state to solve puzzles, but that’s exactly the position you find yourself in during Blameless.
A freelance architect, you take on a job to help a guy with the interior design of the house he’s constructing. Strangely, he insists you come over that same night. Not really in a position to turn down work, you head over there and he shows you around the house. You notice a blood stain on the floor, and then the next thing you know you’re coming to with a nasty bump on your head and one helluva hangover. I think there’s a lesson in there somewhere.
Now you’re locked in a room upstairs, with no idea when the man is returning or what his intentions are. I don’t know about you, but I’m not going to hang around to find out, better start trying to find a way out.
Blameless is a nicely-written horror mystery offering around an hour’s worth of gameplay. Though there are a few minor jumpscares, the emphasis here is on the story and the problem solving. The puzzles and the way you interact with objects is pleasingly realistic and logical, and there are also alternate solutions to be found.
But I particularly enjoyed the way the narrative was conveyed in a way that felt natural through a combination of environmental details and the items that you come across, as well as through the protagonist’s own musings and summations.
Backing it up are some excellent voice acting, the atmospheric and believable locations, and a dynamic and unsettling ambiance reminiscent of classic horror movies. There’s also a well worked and entertaining twist ending that’s both ambiguous and open ended, which even goes as far as to tease a possible follow up.
Blameless is available for Windows and Mac and can be downloaded for free on Steam here, which means it even comes with some pointless achievements 🙂
I’ve never actually been trapped by a flood, nor indeed have I ever experienced a serious one first hand. For people like me then, Water Me was created as part of the Indie Grits 2016 Waterlines project in response to the historic rainfall levels that submerged and devastated large parts of South Carolina in October 2015. The idea is to relay the experience of being stranded in your house while a flood has cut you off from the outside world.
So you find yourself in the kitchen of a South Carolinian home (with British plug sockets!!!) on the cusp of a heavy storm, with just a plant and a portable radio to avert the tedium. The idea is to keep the plant, which you get to name, alive. Each day you can choose how much to water and prune it. You can even talk to it or shine a torch on it for extra light. Treat it well and you’ll be rewarded with some healthy new foliage.
After you’ve finished tending to your new best buddy, it’s up to you whether to linger, stare out the window, or listen to the radio, or skip to the next day. In terms of the radio, there’s a choice between music and fully voice-acted light news features, such as a report on a wild hog invasion ravaging the local agriculture and ecology, and the story of a bottle collector.
Over the course of the game’s week, the weather changes dramatically, from bright and breezy to darkening skies and gusty winds, to torrential rain and neighbourhood flooding. The radio switches to emergency news broadcasts only, then just static, and the tap water eventually becomes contaminated – and boy did Albert not like that!
It’s a remarkably immersive, atmospheric, and contemplative experience that cleverly and purposefully creates a strong sense of helplessness and isolation. No matter what I did, Albert never made it. But maybe that’s the point.
Water Me is available for Windows and Mac and can be downloaded for free from itch.io here.
Lily: Colors of Santa Luz
Santa Luz is a cheerfully vibrant Latin-esque coastal settlement, where Yvan and his daughter Lily enjoy a peaceful existence. That is until a dark militia known as The Cruzados and their skull-like tanks come rolling into town one day. Subjected to violent humiliations, the inhabitants and the town start losing their colours.
Lily: Colors of Santa Luz is a charming adventure that portrays the psychological effects of violent conflict and hostile occupation through the eyes of a child. You play the father, who’s determined to shield his daughter from the horrors of war and escape the city with her. Essentially a stealth game with a strong focus on story, you need to guide Lily past the patrols of hulking black-clad soldiers and their vicious-looking guard dogs.
The stealth mechanics are relatively simple but work reasonably well. You can pick Lily up and run with her, but you can only sneak around if you put her down first. Don’t worry if you’re no good at sneak em’ ups, the AI is pretty easy to avoid. Though it’s worth pointing out that you do need a gamepad to play this.
The story is narrated in retrospect by a now middle-aged (and fully voice-acted) Lily. As you explore the locations, you’ll encounter mementos that your daughter will put in her scrapbook, which you can access at any point and listen to her memories. But in the course of your journey, you’ll also be forced to make tough decisions that potentially put you both in harm’s way. For instance, whether to stop to free a dog trapped in the mangled wreckage of a car about to be run over by a tank, or whether or not to kill a soldier. How you respond to these situations will have an impact on the story as well as Lily’s recollections of her father and the events that took place.
Set in third-person using a dynamic camera controlled by the game, Santa Luz looks gorgeous. The endearing cartoonish visuals really do ooze personality and charm, even if Yvan does look a bit like Postman Pat. But it’s the attention to detail that really makes it. The devastation, the signs of fleeing, the propaganda posters that have cropped up everywhere, and a once beautiful city now in complete disarray.
The menacing ambiance of The Cruzado patrols is superb – the heavy breathing through their balaclavas, the stomping of their boots, the sirens in the background, and the looped loud speaker announcements, recited in a deep, slow and intimidating voice of “surrender” and “do not try to escape”. It’s easy to see why this is a Unity Awards 2016 finalist.