Eight affordable games from Ubuntu Software Center

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Dear Esther

For US$ 10, the developer of The Chinese Room sets the player on a deserted island, completely alone and with no memory, where he must try to make sense of his surroundings. The player keeps running into tumble-down houses, rusty shipwrecks, strange graffitis, and other legacies of former inhabitants (Figure 6). Occasionally, a narrator emerges who reads letters from a woman named Esther and diary entries of vanished inhabitants. The narrator pops up every time the player reaches a particular site on the island. The messages seem totally random, and, to get the complete story, you must traverse the island a number of times.

Figure 6: Dear Esther: Caves contain strange glowing wall graffiti.

Dear Esther alternates between game and artwork. Although the 3D graphics and controls resemble a horror action game, there are neither enemies nor an explicit goal to pursue. The player just roams through a particularly depressing landscape gradually picking up clues about the island and its inhabitants (Figure 7). The graphics may not be up to today's standards, but they effectively present a bizarre atmosphere. Together with the bit-by-bit story line, they keep the player's attention. And then there's that mysterious blinking transmission tower in the distance…

Figure 7: In Dear Esther, you wander over a deserted island, most of the time along the coast, as shown here.

The ambiguous ending after an hour's walk through the game might disappoint some players, but Dear Esther is better understood as a piece of interactive art than as a typical game.


In Edge, the player rolls a cube through a 3D landscape of white blocks. The aim is to get your colored block through 28 levels, with numerous obstacles in the way (Figure 8). Loose plates break away under the cube, and blocks move in all directions or morph into different shapes. Each level has small flashing cubes that are hard to get, but open up a collection of bonus levels.

Figure 8: In Edge, you need to collect small colored cubes and roll them to a target.

While playing, you can tilt your own cube over the edge of a block, which either folds up or plunges down. With a little skill, you can balance the block on the edge, and you often need to. If the cube accidentally rolls over the edge of the landscape, the game simply moves your blocks back to the botched spot. However, Edge stops the time required to pass through the level. For the balancing act on the edge, the game kindly deducts some time again (Figure 9). If you're particularly fast, you get an award and access to bonus levels.

Figure 9: Edge: Balancing on an edge wins you valuable time.

Edge is a clever blend of puzzle and skill that will cost you only US$ 6. You quickly want to get to the next level. The difficulty increases at just the right pace, and new game elements and obstacles make the game interesting. The timing motivates you to rediscover levels you've already been on. The sparse graphics have their own charm, although the tinny retro music can be nerve-grating after a while.

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