[Note: This game has been completely redesigned. Read about and play the updated version here.] I am very fond of classic adventure games. The games in which you wake up in a strange place with no idea where to go or what to do. No intro, no handy tutorial, no friendly ghosts, no bloodthirsty zombies, just a lot of questions that need answers. The Freewill Cycle: Volume 1, by first time designer William Buchanan, will take you back to the days when the first thing you have to figure out is "What the heck am I doing here?" Cue mysterious music...
You awake in a room. Could be in a spaceship, could be in a space station, could be just a strange building in East Podunk, Michigan. There's no way of knowing, because all you can see out of the windows are pretty, pretty moving lights. You notice that the ominously pulsating glow has breached the room next to the one you started in. Should you walk into the light? On second thought, not a good idea. Perhaps you should explore a little more...
A JIG exclusive, The Freewill Cycle: Volume 1 is in essence a simple point-and-click escape game. The cursor turns into an arrow to let you know where you can go, or it turns into a hand when you encounter something you can touch, move, or take. Finding your way around is fairly easy; figuring out what needs to be done? Not so much. Take your time, look around, pry into other people's private e-mail, and slowly a pattern emerges. How good are you at reproducing lab experiments and repairing potentially radioactive machinery? You're about to find out.
The first part of a planned trilogy, The Freewill Cycle: Volume 1 is reminiscent of the genre classic, Myst. You will have to examine everything, take anything that's not nailed down, and go everywhere. As you explore the story unfolds, giving, in a few short clues, a vivid account of what may have happened and the personalities of the people involved. Who, by the way, are mysteriously missing...
Analysis: It is amazing what can be packed into such a compact game. Considering that it contains only a handful of rooms and a corridor, there is a world of information to be gleaned. As you read the e-mails the story takes shape, and you get a glimpse into what the facility must have been like before the...incident. Gameplay is smooth and simple with the cursor letting you know when you've encountered something important. The puzzles range from easy (guessing the computer passwords) to extremely complex (...but that's a spoiler for the end of the game).
The graphics are stunning and uncluttered, allowing you to both enjoy the beauty of the design and easily identify the important hotspots. Rendered in 3D, with colors and textures galore, the game invites you to take the time to look around and enjoy. The background music is simultaneously eerie and unobtrusive, enhancing your claustrophobia and paranoia as you wander around trying to figure out what went on. One tip: don't play on mute. There are a few audio cues you might miss if the sound is turned off.
A minor quibble is that the environment seems a bit too sterile. Any kind of working facility would certainly have a little more clutter (have you ever worked with engineers?). Also, the solution to the largest of the puzzles requires a bit of lateral thinking. The clues are all there, but your ability to synthesize will be key. Also, for the sequel I'd like to see Buchanan add in a save feature and a mute button, two elements that are welcome in any game.
This game has been completely redesigned. Play The Freewill Cycle Volume 1: Redux Edition instead.
All in all this is a dramatic, eye-catching experience; the game is immersive enough to lose yourself in while being short enough for casual gameplay. I am most amazed that this is a first effort by the designer, who taught himself both Flash and 3D Studio Max as he went along. If the trial effort is this good, I can't wait for part two.
Oh how I have longed for this day! A game with the complexity of Myst boiled down into a bite sized chunk. An amuse-bouche of a game, if you will. This lovely little taste left me hungry for more!
Update: A new version has been uploaded that should address the issues with the inventory items that some people were having.