Indie Freebie of the Week: Dead Man’s Journey

This week I’ve been taking a look at two short but very different Indie Freebies, jump-scare darkness fest Dead Man’s Journey and retro-style FPS Bitsturbed.

First up is Dead Man’s Journey, a short first-person horror game from Stanislaw Truchowski, aka Turnvex Games. Recently departed, you find yourself guided through limbo by a demonic voice, forced to reflect on key events from your past life before learning your ultimate fate – that of heaven or hell. The gameplay largely revolves around re-exploring the same room time and time again in a kind of infinity loop. As you progress, the room changes in subtle ways and details of your life are revealed to you through newspaper clippings, diary entries, and notes that you happen come across.

Where Dead Man’s Journey shines is in its intense atmosphere, definitely one to play with the curtains drawn and the sound turned up. For most of the game you’re shrouded in almost total darkness, struggling to maneuver through what seems to be part of an industrial storage complex (later you find a night vision camera that can be used in short bursts). Lights flicker, electrics and machinery hum ominously, things clatter just out of sight, ghostly apparitions haunt the shadows; the sound of your character’s heartbeat and breathing reacting to the proceedings as they unfold. It works because you genuinely don’t know what to expect and there are long periods where very little occurs.

Sadly, it’s let down by a poorly written and clichéd story and far too much exposition by way of the demonic narrator. In my mind, games like this work best when open-ended and with more left to the player’s imagination. Shame because it’s a great concept with a lot of potential and Truchowski is clearly adept at creating tension and some brilliant jump-scare moments. That said, Dead Man’s Journey is definitely worth checking out if you love horror games. Built on Unity it can be played on Windows, Mac, or in a web browser and can be downloaded here.

The second game is Bitsturbed, an alpha demo from Tristan Dean. It’s a retro FPS in the mould of the pseudo 3D classics of the mid-90s such as Doom and Duke Nukem 3D. Fun and fast-paced, it features all your favourite old school mechanics – a life bar, health and weapon pick ups, conveniently-positioned exploding barrels, and the ability to lug around an entire arsenal of oversized weapons.

Unlike many of the free games you come across, Bitsurbed is actually built on Dean’s own “miniFPS” engine, which is being developed in parallel. The movement is butter smooth, the mechanics work seamlessly, and visually it looks fantastic, like a cross between Minecraft and Wolfenstein 3D – a cutesy 3D world of highly-pixelated textures, bright colours, 2D scaling sprites, adorable Mega Man-inspired cannon fodder, and over-the-top blood splatter and cartoon gore. The rock/metal soundtrack is not bad either and fits the gameplay well.

Unfortunately, there are only two short levels, three weapons (pistol, SMG, and the genre-stalwart minigun), and two enemy types at the moment, but after all this is a work in progress. The final game promises to be story-driven, of which we see a brief glimpse in the demo, and to include a lot more of everything. He also has plans for variants on his engine like “miniRPG” and “miniSideScroller”. It seems that Tristan Dean is a talented and ambitious designer/programmer and someone to keep an eye out for.

Bitsturbed can be downloaded for Windows for free here. Or you can watch some gameplay footage I recorded below.

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