The Freewill Cycle: Volume II
Whoa. For a second there, you were worlds away. But now, you need to focus on what's ahead. You have a job to do, and it's one you've done hundreds of times before. Just break in, deliver that sample where your employer wants it, then get out. So why can't you ignore this feeling of Deja Vu?... The Freewill Cycle: Volume II is a point-and-click adventure game submitted by William Buchanan for the escape-themed Casual Gameplay Design Competition 10. In it, your actions might change everything... or absolutely nothing at all.
Explore the currently-deserted office building, solving puzzles and viewing documents to bring you closer to the completion of your mission. The mouse cursor will change to let you know when an item of part of the scenery can be examined (by becoming a magnifying glass) or picked up (an open hand). Items picked up will be stored at the bottom of the screen, and to use one to solve a puzzle, click in, then click where you wish to use it. The game takes place in the first person perspective, so prepare to turn left and right to view rooms from all perspectives.
Analysis: At first glance, one might think that The Freewill Cycle Volume II is running in exactly the wrong direction, competition-wise. After all, the main thrust of the action is a break-in, the exact opposite of what we usually consider "escape" to mean. However, by the end, as the larger themes of the plot show through and their relationship to its prequel becomes more apparant, The Freewill Cycle: Volume II proves to have one of the cleverest interpretations of the CGDC 10 theme. The plot is effectively shown rather than told, with new wrinkles doled out at a measured pace, coming together to form a complex and satisfying sci-fi yarn. You approach a fully realized world as an outsider, breaking into not just the work-space of those employed by Verified Technologies, but also their troubled personal relationships. Sure, you could gun through the puzzles, ignoring all the intrigue revealed by the memos and e-mail accounts just waiting to be viewed by prying eyes. But what would be the fun of that?
Not that the puzzles are too shabby either. The game largely dispenses with the overly-technical sci-fi tool-using and pixel-spotting that troubled the first volume. While the puzzles maintain that level of speculative discovery, things feel a lot more user friendly this time around. Even just little things like, labeling the items you pick up, make it feel that the engine is working with you rather than against you, testing your mind rather than your patience. This even extends to the post-game commentary, something more developers should include, that helps smooth over anything you might have missed plot-wise. Sure, The Freewill Cycle: Volume II is happy to let you put the pieces of the jigsaw for yourself. It's just nice to be able to look at the picture on the front of the box when you need a little help.
One thing that sadly does return from the first volume is slightly cumbersome navigation. Many first person point and click games don't have the player explore such a space from so many perspectives. Having to turn and walk everywhere is probably more realistic that showing up in front of a door when you click on it, however it can become difficult to orient yourself at first. The similar-looking doors and offices and such do a lot to build the atmosphere of the futuristic, vaguely sinister corporate office, yes, but it makes it harder to tell where you are and where you are going. Takes some getting used to tis all.
However, a few extra clicks needed after mistaking one computer for another is a price easy to pay when the reward is a well-crafted story supported by atmosphere aplenty. The Freewill Cycle: Volume II is the kind of innovative game we at JiG hope for when running these Casual Gameplay Design Competitions, and it well deserves its place near the top of the rankings.
Author's Theme interpretation:
"At risk of spoiling the ending (SPOILER WARNING), this game resolves the questions and events from Volume I. The player will learn that they are responsible for the creation of a cataclysmic time loop. However, this infinite cycle can be broken with an act of free will at just the right moment. It is the player's main priority to escape this time loop. They'll need to think hard about everything they've seen in order to properly determine exactly what has happened, so that when the time comes, they'll be able to bring salvation to the universe." -William Buchanan
Pastel Games' feedback:
"The black background in the menu is a bad idea. make it fancy, it's a cover of the book."
"I like the ambient and sound effects. Great atmosphere. Good job here."
"The navigation is a bit tricky. For example - I want to go into lavatory - so I see the door in the corridor, and use the keycard, but it's not working. I have to be facing the door straight on, but that means I have to stand next to them in a position where I can barely see that door and then turn right. The problem with this is that when approaching something - you should always have it in sight in order to know where to click. It's a bit confusing as it is right now."
"I think that once I open the maintenance hatch - it should stay opened. Same goes for the trapdoor in the floor of harm's office."
"In the cargo bay - let's say I want to go back. I got the ultanium and want to return to machine. I click on the door but nothing happens. Again I have to click forward to tay exactly before the door, but I don't see the door right now, all I see is empty wall with a lamp. Now I have to click right and I'm at the door. That's confusing."
"It would be nice to be able to collect all those documents - you'd have them on your disposal to check the codes and passwords."
"Why do I have to enter the lock combination in the cargo door every time I'm passing? That should've been done once and then the door should stay open."
"Other than that - I like the game. The puzzles were not too hard, there was a bit too much backtracking and going back and forth through the same locations. Again - good atmosphere, good ambient, nice sound effects. Nicely rendered and items were finely drawn. Nothing more to complain about." -Mateusz Skutnik.
"Interesting plot, logical puzzles with great atmosphere. First person perspective was a great idea. It's like an extra puzzle in the gameplay. Player can't see entire rooms at a time so he has to make extra effort to solve the puzzles." -Karol Konwerski.