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Wages of Darkness

Wages of Darkness

Welcome to Gaming on the House; don’t look down and and mind your step! Each week, we’ll be climbing the rooftops of the gaming industry to seek out great experiences that everyone can track down and play, and the best part is they’ll all be free! That’s right; FREE! Gratis. Comp’d. Unbound. Unrestricted. Zero-down. On the House!… we talk about free games here, is my point.

Many may be surprised at how many fantastic games are really out there that everyone can legally enjoy with no monetary commitment. Taking together all the flash and browser games, freeware downloads from the independent scene, speed programming archives, free-to-play business modules, and even promotional re-releases from big name publishers, there’s a never ending supply of great games new and old waiting to be played, and it’s our goal to play them all! So, if you’re strapped for cash or just waiting around for that next big release to hit retail, why not give these games a try? After all, they’re free; what have you got to lose!

The festival of Samhain is upon us, I hope you’ve taken the time to carve your turnips! As we continue on towards the “darker half” of this year, this month, Gaming on the House will be carving our own lanterns in remembrance of a few projects that honor the guising, the bogeys, and the arcane divination associated with the impending annual habitudes, lest we be caught puling like a beggar at Hallowmas.

That’s a fancy way of saying we’re talking about horror games all October.

Wages of Darkness

Wages? This game is freeware!

Genre:  Sensory Point and Click Adventure
Link to Game: http://www.adventuregamestudio.co.uk/yabb/index.php?topic=46284.0
Game Info: Developed for the April 2012 MAGS competition (it also won!) by Baron with graphics by Kastchey and music by Doc Savage; updated and released online in June.

A game doesn’t need to be a lengthy experience to offer something interesting. Apparently, game’s don’t need much on the screen either. Wages of Darkness is roughly 10 minutes in length, and features little to no visual stimulus, yet it still finds its footing with thanks to the underlying concepts behind the game, along with an intriguing level of mystery throughout the core experience that will stick with you after it’s rather clever conclusion.

Wages of Darkness is a graphical adventure without graphics. Your character, a fighter pilot named Marina whom you see pictured in the game’s brief opening, finds herself underground at an experimental government facility, unsure of how she got there, with only the understanding that something has gone horribly wrong. It is up to Marina to get herself to the shelter before it’s too late, as she quickly becomes aware that she is not the only being down there. Unfortunately, with the power out, and the facility’s stated “Protocol 13” soon to take effect, Marina must navigate through rooms of pitch black darkness, feeling her way around each room to locate items of interest and make her escape.

This would’ve been a lot easier for Riddick

By moving the mouse over the room area, the lower HUD will tell you what Marina is feeling; be it a rope, a wall, a vending machine, a ladder, a hatch, etc.; and from this sensory interaction, you can determine the room’s puzzle and what is needed to solve it. Some items can be picked up; some items are waiting for you to use another item on, and some items can be combined. Such a type of game, heavily focused on pixel-hunting and initial guess work would easily grow tiresome for a longer release, so in the case of Wages of Darkness, it’s short length benefits the overall experience. With only 5-6 rooms to move through, the concept works well to only give a taste of the game mechanic, without overly abusing a gamer’s patience.

Also fortunate for a game featuring little to no scenery is that the writing within the game itself is excellent, and well suited to the game’s dark atmosphere. Marina’s self-motivational calls to action are encouraging and personal, descriptions of the rooms and items are responsive to a player’s understanding, and the occasional peril-written notices that the things chasing Marina are drawing closer heighten the immediacy of your required actions. For a game that needs to rely so much on text to convey the game at hand, it is nice to see that the words on screen can both enhance story as well as gameplay.

As with last week’s review, the continuation of this article will now discuss some aspects of the game better revealed first-hand, so if you haven’t yet gone through the game, you may want to check back later, as there will be spoilers to follow. Considering the time investment, the game is easily worth a shot, as it offers a few fun adventure puzzles in a new light (read: no light), and conveys an intriguing story with a twist that not everyone will be able to predict at first.

The safety of the Alamo; nothing bad ever happened there…

If the game does have one weak point, it would be the vending machine puzzle. A high concept puzzle where a machine (too heavy to budge) blocks the doorway, and using the coins you find on the ground, you pump out a few soda cans from the machine until it becomes light enough to knock over. The puzzle is clever, and I appreciate the logical train of thought needed for it to be solved, however the puzzle can prove frustrating as it conveys no sense of progress along the way. You aren’t sure how many coins are on the ground, or how many sodas are required to topple the machine, or really if putting coins inside is doing anything at all. This wouldn’t be so bad if only three to four coins were needed, but it’s a total of seven coins required; that’s seven coins that you pick up off the ground, seven times you’ll click on the coin silhouette from your inventory, and seven times you’ll drag the coin over to drop into the vending machine, all without any indication that you are any closer to your goal. Some additional text to hint towards progress would have aided this puzzle so as not to be so inconclusive (it’s not like coins have the biggest scan areas for a mouse around the room anyway, so finding and picking them up can be tasking), as well as speed up that particular puzzle so that the character can grasp the actions needed and move on.

Unless of course, those coins were the actual “wages” of darkness, and the extended time to complete that particular puzzle was designed as a plot point.

That minor gripe aside, I largely enjoyed the game, primarily due to the game’s ending. Upon seeing the ending, I immediately drew parallels to two other horror works that may have offered some inspiration alongside the developer’s own creativity.  The first, somewhat obvious, is Night of the Living Dead where the film’s protagonist is unexpectedly gunned down at the last minute, despite his heroic actions throughout the film. The second, a little more obscure, is a short story by H.P. Lovecraft (let’s not get into a habit of talking about him here, I’m a Poe man, through and through) called “The Outsider” (which fortunately for me, is about as close as Lovecraft’s gotten to Poe), where a character that only existed in darkness crawls out to civilization, and encounters a monster, only to find that he was looking in a mirror. It is that same type of revelation that falls upon the player as Marina makes her way towards that final lit up shelter door. We come to know that Protocol 13 was already in effect. We observe the antler, rope, pipe, and bowl for what they really were. We hear what real human interaction behind the door is still like (by the way, voice acting was so so).

The effectiveness of the game’s ending is not only due to its sudden act of revelation and abrupt closure, but for also how it makes the player look back at the actions they completed. The items, once revealed, present some lingering fridge horror for the player (I climbed out of that first room with WHAT?) to which their revelations only lead to further questions. It’s that type of feeling that the best of Gothic literature builds off of; not pulling back the curtain to fully detail the grotesque and macabre, but to keep it tactfully hidden away, lurking in the background, yet ever present. After all, what should be scarier, seeing the horror, or being blind to it while believing it’s there?

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