Always short of a few bob, each week I scour the internet for fun, interesting or just plain curious Indie Freebies. This week’s highlighted titles are: The Endless Express, a quirky open-world odyssey; and Fatigue, an early demo for an isometric survival horror adventure.
The Endless Express
There’s something delightfully innocent about The Endless Express. It’s a game that takes pleasure in exploration purely for exploration’s sake. You awake on a train, unsure of where you are or what you were even doing in the first place. An unseen guard politely advises you that the train is heading to the depot but will let you off here, and that if you cross the river, you’ll be able to catch a train that’ll help you get home.
From then on you embark on a wonderful odyssey through a varied and captivating landscape – hopping from train to train, as well as travelling by boat, cable car, and blimp. Ostensibly, the aim is to get home, wherever that may be. But you’d be missing the point if you didn’t venture off-piste to investigate the areas beyond the train stations and interact with some of the many curious and exotic-looking characters scattered about the place. Besides, you normally have several minutes to kill between the trains, which run to real-time schedules that can be found posted at the platforms (left clicking brings up your wrist watch).
Rendered in vibrant but extremely minimalist 3D visuals, there are no textures or shadows, and only the most basic shading and lighting effects. There’s not even a skybox or a horizon, the distance simply fades into a colourful nothingness – if you wander too far into the yonder void you magically teleport back to the train platform.
Yet somehow the dreamlike environments manage to be rich in detail and charm, such as a rain forest teeming with life and luminous geese, a gloomy swamp populated by giant frogs and mysterious hooded creatures, or the leafy canal lock being explored by a party of school children. And I love how the character changes with the night and day cycles and the charmingly simple weather effects. It’s a living, breathing, and immersive world.
Topping it off is a cheerfully upbeat soundtrack, something vaguely akin to a reimagining of the Caribbean-infused score from the early Monkey Island games. And you can’t help but fall in love with the game options system – a magic house-like portal that you summon and walk into. Within you find the graphics options on a wall, a bathroom that acts as an inventory, and a door to exit the game and save your progress.
Sadly, it remains unfinished as well as a little rough around the edges. The Endless Express is actually a follow-up to a 2014 game jam. This version was supposed to be the group’s first commercial outing, expanding on the mechanics and concepts of the original, but the project was abandoned after it got too big and complicated for the team to handle. Fortunately for us, they decided to share what they’d done with the world. And it’s still a thoroughly worthwhile experience, though the end does leave you yearning for more.
The Endless Express is available for Windows, Mac, and Linux and can be downloaded for free from itch.io here. However, the game is listed as “name your own price”, so if you do enjoy it then I strongly suggest making a small contribution.
For a pre-alpha demo of a project temporarily put on hold, Samuli Jolkio’s Fatigue has a lot going for it. Combining elements from survival horror and old-school point-and-click adventures, it’s brimming with interesting ideas, oozing with atmosphere, and surprisingly polished.
You play the sickly John Foley, a once brilliant detective reluctantly let go for incompetence and mental instability. Needing a break to get your shit together, you head out to the tranquil Pine Lake for a vacation. You arrive to find your hotel mysteriously deserted, with only your key and a welcome letter to greet you at the reception. The phones are dead, the weather prevents you from leaving, and a body-bagged 28-year rock musician lies dead in the lounge area. A newspaper report states that the police have no reason to suspect foul play, but clearly something is not right here.
Looks like it’s up to you to solve the case, but not until you’ve had a good meal and a snooze. Yes, looking after your character’s needs is as much a part of the game as the puzzle solving. You need to stave off hunger by eating and maintain energy levels by sleeping or drinking coffee, or you’ll start passing out and eventually die. Better not over-indulge though or forget to wash your hands, or you’ll be needing to promptly find a toilet.
Just to compound things, obsessively checking your stats raises your stress levels (luckily there are also subtle visual indicators of your current well-being). Conveniently, there’s a 24/7 buffet in the hotel, but you can also buy portable snacks from vending machines for sleuthing on the go. And later you come across some handy stress pills, though taking these will have you seeking out a bed.
It’s actually a lot more enjoyable than it sounds thanks to an intriguing set-up and narrative, as well as a fantastic ambience reminiscent of the early Silent Hill games and classic horror adventures like Black Mirror. Set in third-person isometric, the gloomily-lit and highly-detailed 3D environments look great, as do the intricate character animations. There’s an intense ordinariness and an eerie quiet to the locations that fill you with a sense of dread, like something sinister is about to happen at any moment. A vibe intensified by the strong shadows, lens flare, moire and film grain effects.
Yet, in this relatively short demo, nothing bad actually happens to you, but you feel constantly on edge and unsettled. And all this is achieved without a single jump scare. I can’t wait to play more.
Fatigue is available for Windows and you need a gamepad to play. It can be downloaded for free from itch.io here.