Considering that one David Brown spent many an arduous month for PC Zone sifting through the interweb for elusive diamonds in the rough, we thought it'd be a crying shame if such talents were lost and so, here to replace Click to Play on Monday morning, Dealspwn are proud to present David Brown's Free Play. There'll be more games, more links, and many more options to help distract you from the working week. All work and no play and all that jazz...
Hundreds upon hundreds of freeware games appear on the market every month, it seems, and the vast majority are utterly forgettable. People have a romanticised view of these home-coded titles, deliberately ignoring glaring faults or stupefying dullness just because it's a bit kooky, a bit “out there”. After two solid years of having to scour the depths of the internet for diamonds in the rough, I've become relatively good at sorting the delicious sweetmeats from the rotten tomatoes. For that reason, Dealspwn have asked me to take a weekly rummage through the rubble, picking out treats and discarding garbage. We almost called it Free in a Bed. If you have any suggestions of your own as to what pun to use in a potential future title, do pop them in to the usual address.
First under the microscope is 1066: The Game which has been made in partnership with Channel 4, I believe. Old C4 have been quite generous with the cash recently, funding not only this but a whole raft of other projects, including the inestimable Privates. First thing I noticed was a reference to the Varangian Guard among the initial set of units you can select. I thought they were related to the Byzantine Empire exclusively, so it prompted me to do some research. You learn something new every day, it seems, which is clearly the whole point in this endeavour.
As a game, it's a semi-2D turn-based strategy with some little mini-games thrown in to try to simulate battle, the taunting of opponents and so on. You set up your army on a grid, with each turn giving you the opportunity to perform one action. You could fire arrows, move or taunt your opponent in an attempt to reduce their morale. Rout the enemy to win, basically, either by making their units all flee or making their morale so low they can't continue to fight. It's like Total War, but sideways. A bit. It's also quite confusing at first and the arrow firing is difficult for people who can't judge angles well, like me. It's definitely worth a quick glance at least though, even if just to stimulate your mind and get you learning about history. Don't be a weasel and just sit back taunting constantly though, it kind of defeats the point in playing.
Glen Forrester's Cloud Control sees you controlling fluffy clouds desperate to make new sky friends. Use the arrow keys to move around, attaching light blue rain clouds onto your mass, with the challenge being to avoid evil thunder clouds in the process. As the levels progress, it becomes a matter of figuring out what configuration you need to arrange yourself in to negotiate the mazy thunder cloud formations. As a very simple time-waster, it works relatively well, but it's too easy in the first six or so levels. Persevere and you get a nifty little puzzler that doesn't rain on anyone's parade (sorry).
Japanese Minesweeper variants have been all the rage recently for some reason, but while Musicminesweeper doesn't offer anything drastically different – or anything different at all, come to think of it – to the general 'sweeper premise, it does bring music into play. Kind of like the Tetris-clone game Chime that was released recently, except not quite as grindingly dull. The music is very lo-fi and non-intrusive, building up the bleeps and bloops whenever you lay a flag down, while Chime's is annoying and intrusive. It does suffer from needing the sound to make it in any way different to regular Minesweeper, so it might not work as an office time waster, as the bleeps might arouse suspicion.
Our penultimate game this bi-week is one that only caught the attention because of the word “erotic” in the description. Lea Schőnfelder's promiscuity-'em-up - UTE - is massively NSFW. Just a little warning there. It's about a woman who takes sexual advice from her grandmother, who says she needs to, how should I put this, experience all life has to offer before she settles down. There, that wasn't too smutty.
To do this, single female protagonist needs to get rutting with random males before finally settling for the only one she hasn't 'broken in' yet as her husband. Then she gets given a points total by the ever-perverse voyeur grandmother. Is it a statement about the freedom of women to explore their sexuality or is it just using sex to get attention? If the former, the fact the game's not the most exhilarating (in non-sexual terms) doesn't help it stand up (oo-er) and if the latter, well, I suppose it's been successful. It demands to be played just so you can you played it, really. And you can imagine what life would be like if you took f*cking tips from your granny.
Lastly, I'm going to delve back into the depths of time to pluck a classic freeware game from the mists. Every week, the last game will be one I liked the look of two years ago or something, one that you might have missed. This month, it's Carrion Reanimating. Made by two of the guys at Zombie Cow, Lemmy and Binky, it demonstrates that the undead bovines have more in their locker than just games about female naughty bits and amusing point-and-clickers.
You play as Lovecraft's lovable corpse-resurrecting loon, Herbert West, who's got to keep his grisly collection of stiffs from the eyes of grieving relatives and the occasional bobby on the beat. Every so often, a corpse comes back to life and you have to manipulate lifts, trapdoors and the like to make sure the brainless wanderers down end up face-to-rotting face with a bewildered loved one. If they do, the cops storm in and you have to peg it, while still trying to keep the dead guys out of sight.
It's voiced by the award-winning-and-very-nice-indeed Jon 'Log' Blyth, who performs his role very well indeed, and it's just a very nicely put together little game indeed. There are few little niggles, but it's one that probably got ignored in the love-in for Ben There, Dan That and Time Gentlemen, Please. You really should give it a go.