Often, I find free games that are good, but for whatever reason do not warrant a full review. They may be too short or too prone to spoilers to review separately, but are still interesting and worth a playthrough. The unifying theme for today’s picks is that they are all short and played from a first-person perspective. Enjoy!
Heartwood (Win/Mac) - Yeah, I know indies get a lot of flak for overusing the “slightly creepy dark forest” thing, but when done right, it works. Here, you find yourself in a grove of bare trees, in what is either a long-awaited arctic dusk, or simply some kind of dreamworld. The pure black of the woods, combined with the otherworldly hazy sky and haunting score, leads to a nice bit of atmosphere building. If you look around, you immediately see a rabbit, standing stark white against the rest of the world. If you follow it, it will eventually run off, forcing you to find your way by following an unknown noise. The good use of stereo effects (definitely use headphones) and navigation by sound is probably the high point of the game. Ultimately, of course, there’s not a lot of meat to it, but it’s a good example of games as poems - finding a way to create and exploit human emotions in a short and simple package.
Watashi wa hijo ni yoku nihongo hanasenai (browser) - This is an oddly beautiful digital garden. You walk around with the standard mouse/WASD setup, and you’ve only got two commands: left click to “grow,” right click to “doom.” When the game opens, you are in an empty white landscape, when a blue tree starts to grow and then stops. If you left click at it, you will shoot green particles that cause it to grow tall and sprout red boughs. As it does so, it will toss seeds out that cause more trees to grow, which you can help, ignore, or destroy as you see fit. Rocks also sprout and grow and shoot seeds (for some reason), and there is at least one kind of wildlife and at least one other kind of tree, which you can cause to grow using slightly different means you’ll have to figure out for yourself. There doesn’t seem to be any objective or stopping point, so this is really just a very neat, very relaxing toy. But once again, the music and atmosphere make it feel like more than that, and walking up a little ridge to see the enormous forest you’ve created feels pretty special. If you enjoyed Proteus at all, it’s hard not to recommend this, even if you only play it for a three minutes.
You Will Die Alone At Sea (Win/Mac/Linux) - This game was made for Ludum Dare 28, where participants had to make a game in 48 hours with a theme of “You Only Get One.” Here, the developer used that to mean that you only get one minute, floating on a roiling vector-graphic ocean, before you die. It’s nice to have the cards on the table like that. The game let you know it will only last one minute, the controls won’t really work, and there’s nothing you can do to stop your death. It’s incredibly simple (and short, obviously), but it manages to be kinda terrifying all the same. Maybe it’s my outsized fear of drowning, but finding myself helpless and alone, knowing I’m going to die any second is more than a little bit frightening. If you can put out of your mind the idea that the game will take longer to download and install than to play, this is worth a look.