It's the unsettling, frozen warzone of The Snowfield that's had me most intrigued this week: an experimental indie game that plays with original ideas in narrative design is always worth a few paragraphs of rambling in my book. But there are three other freebies of exemplary quality. The Cat That Got The Milk is a delightfully chaotic two-button title, and the wonderfully named Eunaborb is an intriguing take on crazy golf. Elsewhere, The Fourth Wall takes a single clever game mechanic and runs with it, in exactly the right direction. Read on for my thoughts on these lovely free games.
GAMBIT . Play it on the GAMBIT website .
The Snowfield is slow. Painfully, agonisingly slow. That's clearly a very intentional decision, though. This abstract, experimental title employs its creaking pace and bleak themes to create a stifling, sullen atmosphere.
More than a little reminiscent of Tale of Tales' work, most specifically The Path, The Snowfield asks you to experiment and interact, piecing together your own narrative experience as you go along. Dropped into the shoes of a soldier in the aftermath of a great battle, you find yourself surrounded by the dead, the dying and the mourning. But there seems to be something else out there: haunting whispers permeate from certain areas, and people seem to be getting spooked.
Stray too far away from a lone, fire-lit building and you'll almost certainly end up in a frozen pile on the ground. The longer you remain in the icy climes of the outdoors, the more your health begins to deteriorate, and the less able you are to move. Stay out for more than a couple of minutes and you'll find yourself slowed to an aching shuffle, before keeling over and gasping your last breath.
It's hugely successful in cementing a sense of place, even if its visuals are a little broken at times, with polygons clipping over each other and the camera sometimes straying into the middle of a wall. It's also not entirely clear what, if anything, your goals are. You can pick up items and offer them to NPCs, who sometimes take them and other times refuse. Is it of any consequence? It seems that's up to you to decide: this is an experiment in emergent storytelling, first and foremost.
GAMBIT students wanted to see what would happen if they started with a basic game, then, via extensive user-testing, measured participants' responses to different narrative elements. It was a story designed by committee, yet one that never follows an overt structure, and never means the same thing to two people.
Whether this has made for a successful game will be a rather contentious topic, but one thing's certain: it's hard to imagine anyone coming away from this relentlessly dark, often unsettling experience without any opinion at all.
The Cat That Got The Milk
Ollie Clark, Helana Santos, Chris Randle, Jon Mann. Download it from the official website .
Cats and milk have very little to do with this brilliant two-button game, in which you must navigate a small rectangle around a series of increasingly complex mazes. Pressing nothing makes your little box rush full-steam-ahead to the right, and you've only the power to divert it in an upwards or downwards direction.
Before long, the mazes begin to undulate and animate, routes shifting mid-course, obstacles cropping up to block your progress. Sporting some extraordinary visual touches, the game's entire aesthetic begins to go quite crazy - the music becoming more frantic, the animations increasing in both speed and scope.
By the end it's turned into something immensely challenging, although a tap of the space bar lets you instantly skip anything you're having too much trouble with. But this is a masterfully crafted, abstractly attractive and tremendously exciting game. At just a few minutes in length, it's a shame it's all over so quickly: I have a feeling this could be spun out into something far longer without losing its fantastic appeal.
The Fourth Wall
DigiPen . Download the game from its official site .
An extraordinary clever puzzle platformer, The Fourth Wall absolutely demands that I tell you as little about it as possible. Its joy comes not just from understanding how to make use of a single mechanic whose application grows in complexity, but also from figuring out that mechanic in the first place. You're dumped in this world with no explanation, and fairly instantly find yourself stuck. How do you progress? It took me a couple of minutes to work it out, but when I did the feeling was joyous.
Quickly this one mechanic, controlled initially by the game, is handed over to you to utilise as you wish. You hold a button to activate it, let go to de-activate it, and it's via these methods that you'll solve an increasingly bafflingly complex series of environmental tasks. The nearest touchstone is probably Braid, but The Fourth Wall is equally delightfully smart in its application of game mechanics, and the stark grey and simple art design - almost the polar opposite of David Hellman's work in Jon Blow's indie classic - works perfectly. Credit must also go to the music. And to all the ideas. And just to everything, really.
KrangGAMES . Play it on the official website .
The delightfully named Eunaborb is essentially a game of crazy golf played at super-speed and without quite so many of its inspirations tropes and rules. You'll guide your ball - the eponymous eunaborb - around increasingly devilish courses, aiming to hit the ludicrously challenging pars and meet the frankly impossible time suggestions.
Unlike in crazy golf, you're under no obligation to wait until your eunaborb has stopped moving before striking it again. The result is that you end up chasing the ball around with your mouse as if this were a game of mini-hockey, avoiding dirt traps and desperately trying to ensure you don't fall off the edge of the game and into the spaceyness that lies beyond it.
As you chase those top times you'll find yourself frantically clicking and dragging your way to potential victory. Playing with a eunaborb, it turns out, is a lot of fun.