Always short of a few bob, each week I scour the internet for fun, interesting or just plain intriguing Indie Freebies. This week’s highlighted titles are: Notes of Obsession, a first-person horror game set in a modern Swedish house; Xenotep, a short but pretty puzzle-adventure game set on an alien planet; and Without Room: An Arena FPS, a single-player shooter with a heavy nod and wink to Doom and Quake.
Notes of Obsession
Based purely on stereotypes and unfounded preconception, I always imagine Sweden to be some kind of ultra-modern, prosperous, egalitarian and blissful utopia. But then again, many of the pioneering bands from the golden era of death metal also happened to be Swedish. So maybe they do have a few demons in their closets and predilection for melancholy and nihilism.
Supporting this rather tenuous and contrived narrative hook is the game Notes of Obsession. Created by Creaky Stairs Studios, it’s a first-person horror adventure set in a stylishly modern Swedish house.
Stressed and unhappy, as well as mentally and physically exhausted, all Harriet wants to do is take it easy. When she finally arrives home, after picking up her difficult son from hockey practice, she finds a gift from her husband, who’s out of town again. It’s an old-fashioned music box from Russia. She sets it aside and drifts off to sleep. When Harriet awakes, it’s night-time, the raining is lashing down at the windows and the house is eerily quiet. What could possibly happen next?
Drawing heavily from the highly enjoyable but ultimately flawed Layers of Fear, it’s not very original in its mechanics, but it is very well executed. The gameplay revolves around exploring the home, using the music box to locate arcane symbols required to unlock doors and progress to new areas. With an unsettling presence stalking you, you find yourself in trapped in a sort of infinity loop, the building metamorphosing around you and becoming increasingly disordered and dilapidated. It’s a surreal gallery of scripted jump scares. Some tediously predictable, some genuinely startling.
The background to the story is given as an optional text prologue but also cleverly conveyed through clues found from carefully scrutinising your surroundings. Though with virtually everything in the house being in Swedish, I feel that some of the pointers and allusions may have been lost on me. Dark themed and open to interpretation, Notes of Obsession seems to be more about wrestling with inner demons than literal ones and some may find the subject matter to be rather controversial. Personally, I enjoyed the storytelling and applaud its boldness.
Atmospherically, it doesn’t set a foot wrong. Built in Unreal Engine 4, the believable, detailed and close-to-photorealistic environments look stunning. Backed up with some fantastic lighting effects, an ominous but understated soundtrack and a disquieting ambience, it’s both highly immersive and super creepy. It certainly feels very professional for a freebie produced by a team of 17 game development students.
Backterria’s Xenotep is a short but delightfully endearing 2D point-and-clicker and another fine entry for Game Jolt’s Adventure Jam 2016. Emerging from your bubble-like spacecraft, you find yourself in mysterious alien landscape. The aim is to solve a series of six logic puzzles in order to gain entry to the pyramid. Enjoyably, these require a little thought and experimentation, though they’re not overly taxing and the game doesn’t take too long to finish.
I can’t stress how much I’m in love with the aesthetic. Rendered in gorgeously minimalist pixel art, Xenotep is a blue and grey world full of imposing monuments, curious ideograms, floating structures and Giger-esque rock formations. But the icing on the cake is the ethereal synth soundtrack, highly reminiscent of the likes of Vangelis and Jean Michel Jarre. Along with the visuals, it really fills you with a sense of awe and wonder.
Xenotep is available for Windows, Mac and Linux and can be downloaded for free from Game Jolt here.
Without Room: An Arena FPS
If you enjoyed the old-school FPSs of the 1990s, then Jacob Beimers’ Without Room: An Arena FPS maybe worth a few minutes of your valuable time. It’s a single-player arena shooter with a hefty tip of the hat to the id Software classics Doom and Quake. For reasons apparently too convoluted to go into, portals to hell have materialised and are spewing out vicious demons. Oh no, not again!
Set in a relatively confined square plaza, the cute and colourful low poly monsters continuously spawn from the four corners of the map. You’ve got slowish zombies (Minions), rocket-firing floating eyeballs (Spotters), and fast-moving hell hounds (Ravengers) to contend with. The aim is to survive the onslaught for as long as possible while grooving to a rocking drum ’n’ bass tune by Techoaxe.
It’s frantic and fast-paced, though rather hard. With low ammo, you need to keep picking up the randomly spawning weapons. Though you do unlock a special move specific to each gun when you run dry and a little health is gained each time you send one of the undead back to whence they came.
Without Room is bloody good fun, but don’t expect to be playing it for more than 10 or 15 minutes. And the lack of a score or survival timer does seem to be a bit of an oversight, as it’s always nice to have something to challenge yourself with.
Available for Windows, Without Room: An Arean FPS can be download for free from Game Jolt here.