Samorost and its sequel are adventure games as Moomin creator Tove Jansson might have made them. Its patchwork art is made out of photographs of logs, plants, old cans; its white, handanimated main character speaks in whoops and illustrations; and it all takes place on asteroids in space. With no inventory, it's your job to solve puzzles by poking and prodding this world to reveal charming animations. Its creator went on to make the paid-for point-and-click Machinarium, but I prefer this.
This Phillip K Dick-inspired tale consists of a short conversation with a robot—it's literally a single scene, told from the perspective of some sort of futuristic, Almost Human-style cop. You're questioning a suspect about a murder, a process that involves little more than selecting options from a menu. Differences from a typical text-based game are slight, but effective: you can look around the room a bit, while selecting responses means literally craning your neck around to the floating conversation window. The game itself is another sort of window, one into a fleshed-out, thoughtful science-fiction world.
It says a lot about a game when you feel compelled to hit the screenshot key every time you enter a new room. It says: 'this game looks freaking incredible', but also 'I'm pretty sure what colour palette my nightmares will be presented in tonight'. So yes—Humanoid 47 is another one of those static, puzzle-heavy adventure games, but it's one of the more striking I've encountered: a garish world of mechanical parts, startled heads, and whatever the hell that thing just was.
All I Want Is For All Of My Friends To Become Insanely Powerful
All of Porpentine's Twine adventures are worth investigating, especially the one about Ke$ha, but AIWIFAOMFTBIP walks the middle-ground of her two extremes. It's part cyberpunk body-horror, part empowerment fantasy, delivered as a stream-of-consciousness tale about an all-invasive feeling of oppression. As always, Porpentine's clipped sentences paint an evocative world that makes the story's resolution all the more effective and heartwarming.
A sci-fi horror of sorts, putting you in the role of the creature, something that's been done before in fiction, but never (as far as I'm aware) with this level of thought and imagination. It's a beautifully written game, highlighting once again just how wide the gulf in quality is between even the best mainstream game stories and the cream of the IF crop. Admittedly I did find Coloratura a hard game to settle into, as it puts you in the role of a truly alien entity that shares few of our thought processes, emotions or drives.
The aptly named Paradise is a piece of sandbox interactive fiction: a limitless, user-created space you can wander around, and add to, as you see fit. Starting as a ghost, you're unable to move until you inhabit the body of a nearby object, though this is as simple as typing “become a teapot/fireplace/angry-looking thing” (delete as contextually appropriate), before using that vessel to enter another player-created room. The beauty of the written word—and it's a beauty captured perfectly in Paradise—is that words are slippery, and open to interpretation, so if you want that fireplace to talk or that angry-looking thing to be the entrance to a nineteenth-century carousel, you only have to forge the association while you play. What are words, after all, if not vessels for meaning? Meaning that's always evolving, even as misguided word sheriffs try to keep it fixed.
Cyberqueen vomits you out of a sack into a malignant, sentient ship and gives you your first choice: “flail”, “scream” or “breathe”. There are heavy lashings of System Shock in this superbly written work of interactive fiction that has you wandering the halls of the vessel, trying to escape the machinations of its omnipresent guardian. The Twine interface paces the text to good effect, and it's more easily navigated than traditional IF builds like Anchorhead. Cyberqueen is an evocative and sinister piece of work that'll appeal to those who haven't tried interactive fiction before.
Will Love Tear Us Apart
There are few more horrifying prospects than that of being made to re-explore the intricacies of an irrevocably broken relationship again and again. Will Love Tear Us Apart harnesses the theme's of Joy Division's hit to create a strange and disturbing experience in which you must treat with a hideous, swollen partner on a hopeless quest for reconciliation. The sparse line art evokes an empty, angst-ridden world as the game evolves from one phase to the next. It's a human communication breakdown abstracted into an interactive form. A fascinating experiment that demonstrates how fertile human relationships can be as inspiration for nightmarish horror scenarios. It's free, to, and you can play it in your browser at the link above.
flOw's minimalist appeal and dynamically adjusting difficulty curve has hooked hundreds of thousands. Use the mouse to guide a creature through an evolutionary mire, gobbling up smaller animals to grow, and hitting red blobs to swim deeper. When you eat, you evolve, but you can see large predators moving through the gloom on the levels below, waiting to swallow you whole. Serene yet addictive.
The Republia Times
You're the editor of a newspaper in a totalitarian state. Each day you must choose which stories to run and how much space to give them, impacting your paper's popularity and the government's approval with the general populace. Smart, cynical, and there's a great twist near the end.
Life in the West
What if you lacked self-censorship? What if you posted every stray thought that entered your head? What if you were Kanye West? That's the premise of Life In The West, a short strange HTML5 game by Davey Wredon, creator of The Stanley Parable.
You log into Kanye's Twitter account, then, when "Inspiration" hits, rapidly mash your keyboard to auto-complete such immortal tweets as "I make awesome decisions in bike stores!!!" The quicker you finish, the more Kanye points you're awarded, which can be spent on following new accounts. In the manic rush of keyboard spamming and follower clicking, it's easy to miss the best part of Life In The West. The feed at the side is telling a story about a man's spiralling descent into madness.
Olav & The Lute
An enigmatic adventure game set in a post-apocalyptic world, with a cracking central mechanic. Rather than combining objects with other objects, you're affecting the world with a (presumably) magic lute, by plucking at its colour-coded strings. It's a bit like Ocarina of Time, and a lot like LOOM; to open a door, for example, you'll pluck a certain combination using the game's moderately fiddly interface. Olav & Lute is a short, stark, striking adventure—it's also one you can download and play offline.
Text and Drive
In Text And Drive, you must simultaneously carry out the important tasks of steering across a dangerous road and texting your friend about an upcoming party. As new messages come in, you need to tap out a pattern on the on-screen phone; occasionally diverting your attention back to the road. It may sound like a patronising edutainment game about the dangers of being a reckless idiot, but Text And Drive's second half shifts its premise for a bizarre conclusion. It's silly, entertaining and not to be attempted in real life.
Coming Out Simulator 2014
Coming Out Simulator 2014 is a semi-autobiographical "conversation simulator" by Nothing To Hide developer Nicky Case. Created for the #Nar8 storytelling game jam, it is, as you might have guessed from the title, a poignant and occasionally humorous game about a major moment in its creator's life. While the events have been fictionalised, there's an emotional truth that comes through as you're forced to negotiate scenarios that are impossible to 'win'.
The story starts with a brief exchange between the player and a self-deprecating present day Case. That sequence outlines how the conversations work – the characters remembering your choices, even as events themselves are largely fixed.
The bulk of the game takes place from Case's perspective, as you attempt to come out to deeply conservative parents. The question: do you break the news carefully, say it plainly and defiantly, or try to avoid the subject? It's a difficult event to experience, and the game does a great job conveying the feeling of being simultaneously trapped, hopeless, indignant and determined.
Fallen Swindon is a browser-based adventure about a capital city beset by strangeness, steampunk and visiting demons. Fallen Swindon borrows these elements, and moves them west for a tale of courage in the face of disappointment.
Created by PCG contributor Richard Cobbett, this Twine parody pokes fun at Fallen London by couching its weirdness in the mundanity of British life. The job centre promises only despair, the pub fruit machine is a fast route to pennilessness, and what's rotten at the heart of Tesco isn't the meat. It's almost non-fiction.
Don't Escape 2
Scriptwelder's anti-room-escape games continue to impress, and this is easily the most impressiest I've played yet. You're trying to secure a safe house before the zombies come, something you'll achieve (or not, it's possible to completely screw things up) by finding and using items, talking to fellow survivors, and leaving the relative safety of your camp to explore the surrounding area.
It's a lovely looking game, this second chapter of the Don't Escape series, with a great sense of atmosphere and a wonderfully open approach to its point and click puzzles. Scriptwelder's carved out a real interesting niche here, by turning the room escape genre on its head and introducing a time limit that constrains the number of actions you can perform before the end of the game.