The Freewill Cycle: Volume 1 (Redux Edition)
You wake up on the floor, disoriented, and lean against a nearby table for balance as you stand. Perhaps a sign you enjoyed yourself a bit too much last night but, somehow, you don't think so. Something just doesn't feel right. First of all, where is everyone? What happened? Where are you? More importantly, who are you? Thus you commence your search for answers in The Freewill Cycle: Volume 1 (Redux Edition), a revised and refurbished point-and-click adventure created by William Buchanan and available exclusively here at Jay Is Games.
Just like in the original version, this revamped first installment of a two volume game series blends puzzles into narrative in a style that's clearly reminiscent of The Journeyman Project and Myst. Apparently alone on some sort of spacecraft, explore each room searching for clues on how to escape this unearthly and portentously empty metal edifice. Follow your cursor, which can usually be relied upon for help as it changes direction wherever you can turn or back up and morphs into a magnifying glass or closed fist (in most cases) when you can examine or interact with an object. Items you pick up are stored at the bottom of your screen; just click and drag an object from your inventory to where you want use it. As in real life, the areas of interactivity for these objects is limited by their function; a key will only fit precisely in a keyhole, for example, and a glass should be set squarely on a flat surface.
Although adhering to the same basic structure and gameplay as the previous edition of The Freewill Cycle: Volume 1, navigation, story and scenery have all been improved to render the game as, according to Buchanan, it "should have been." Old puzzles have been modified and new ones added. There are also additional user features such as "save" and "mute" buttons, as well as text labels of items and interactive areas, if you select "Casual Experience" mode before beginning the game. Even so, the "Director's intent" mode—played with lights out and headphones on—is recommended for maximal immersion! As many details have changed and the story has been expanded, those familiar with the initial release of volume 1 still have much to discover and enjoy here, including a new ending that better paves the way for volume 2.
Analysis: While the scenario, setting and some of the puzzles are essentially the same as the original, a first effort by Buchanan—who was, at the time, a novice to game design—this "redux" edition of The Freewill Cycle: Volume 1 is very nicely transformed. It compares well, on a smaller scale, to those aforementioned classic adventures which inspired this creation. The original is categorized as an escape game yet this version, while in many respects not wrongly dubbed an escape, is more aptly described as a narrative adventure for how well it builds plot, utilizes characterization and integrates literary devices into the experience.
This is evinced by the need to consider and synthesize what you read as well as in the setting: inanimate and relatively sterile yet it's sullied by insinuation. A feeling of foreboding follows you every step you take and is imbued by the spacey-spooky soundtrack and hollow tone of your footfalls. Everything you read has subtle indicators and allusions, useful for problem solving your way out as well as making conjectures, mulling over possibilities and postulating theories—all while leaving you full of questions. It's short. You'll wish it was longer, but the next installment (which is on the near horizon) promises fulfillment.
While certainly improved from the first effort, this second version still contains some flaws. Navigation is somewhat cumbersome, especially at first before you're familiar with the surroundings. If you're not careful, it's easy to miss an integral item or area, leaving you wandering through rooms, wondering what you're missing or whether you're going crazy. That issue can be compounded by somewhat picky hotspots which, as mentioned above, require you to be precise in using an item lest you think it's unusable. Finally, while the excess of information in the notebooks and emails is great for fleshing out the story, it can be misleading, especially if you get caught up in details and miss a hint. Frustration over these parts has the potential to spoil the experience so, if you find yourself in that situation, it's a good idea to take a break then come back to play again. You should play twice, anyhow, to encounter both the "bad" and "good" endings. After walking away, you might realize you're thinking about it more than you expected.
The Freewill Cycle: Volume 1 (Redux Edition) has that sort of lingering aftereffect, a mark of a good gaming experience. It's not just the music that will be stuck in your head when you're done; the infinite abyss of space and time keeps many a poor soul awake a night in contemplation of the unthinkable.
[Note: the game file is 14.4 MB; it may take several moments to load fully.]