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Freeware Garden: Donald Dowell

Don’t get me wrong, I really do adore those big, ambitious freeware games incredibly kind people make for us, but I simply cannot understand how they manage it. Also, why? Why spend countless hours creating something most people will probably ignore and never get paid for it? Why create a game as big and polished as Donald Dowell and the Ghost of Barker Manor and just give it away?

Well, I frankly do not know, but my theories do tend to cover everything from “some people are rich” to “art is not about money” and I’ve decided I won’t care about such things anymore; they are far too mind-bogling. I’ll just enjoy those gloriously rare point-and-clickers of the Donald Dowell variety and probably guilt myself into finally finishing that 3-rooms freeware adventure I’ve been working on since May.

Oh, yes, and try to make you fully appreciate what a lengthy and great adventure game Donald Dowell and the Ghost of Barker Manor really is, because, well, it really is. No, really. It is, and if everyone had played it already we’d be able to save a lot of time and probably discuss freeware FPS XIBALBA (which is really good too).

Anyway, better focus on Donald and his Barker Manor antics. This is after all one of the select few games to start off with you discussing vampire-killing techniques with a Karl Marx who’s prone to remembering the most gruesome bits of proletarian history, while sneakily setting the game’s tone. A slightly serious, slightly surreal and definitely tongue-in-cheek tone that could honestly be compared to Monkey Island’s and thus a tone that really works for comedy.

The game, you see, is generally low-key and that’s exactly why its few, properly hilarious jokes do stand out. Even better, it’s neither afraid to use all sorts of humour nor beneath the odd fourth-wall breaking or utopian socialism joke.

Laughs aside, Donald Dowell is a great, traditional and less linear than expected adventure game too. Its many puzzles are well-designed and varied and include everything from the traditional use-object-on-object mechanic to involved mechanical puzzles, the dialogue is witty, the graphics idiosyncratic but lovely, the numerous cutscenes are short and masterfully directed, the soundtrack is more than pleasing and there are layers upon layers of polish.

Add in the dozens of locations and the huge supporting cast of characters and you have an impressively expansive point-and-clicker most sane devs would rightly charge for. The game’s demented menagerie of irritable painters, suspiciously pointy-teethed hotel managers, people called Von Salad and normal looking receptionists begs to be met, as exactly do the ghosts, the traditional horror cast, the elves and the time travelers.

Why? Because they are pretty brilliant for starters and because this is a ghost story starring an eighty-year old guy and involving famous ghostbuster Bob Delano; absolutely anything can happen in stories like these. Even the main plot can get unexpectedly refreshed and expanded upon, just when you thought you had everything sorted out and were waiting for the game to end.

[Donald Dowell and the Ghost of Barker Manor is available for Windows and in three languages: English, Italian and Bulgarian]

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Konstantinos Dimopoulos

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