Broke? Game store closed for the night? If you’re reading this then you’ve got everything you need to play some excellent free games right now! In Cheap as Free, I look at fantastic games that won’t cost you a penny, often developed by people who just love games as much as you do.
Twisty’s Asylum Escapades looks and plays like a lost episode of The Twilight Zone, placing you in the shoes of a giant floating brain with a mouth full of sharp teeth and a bone to pick with the staff that imprisoned him. You don’t get to work the weird floating brain detail in this asylum without some combat skills to help you out, so expect resistance from almost every single member of staff in this strange adventure. It’s a silly game, as you would imagine, but one that has some decent challenge and interesting gameplay concepts during your time with it. It can be a bit clunky in places, but overall, your evening would not be wasted while spent playing this game.
Like I said, just about everyone is after you — so when the janitor comes at you with a spinning attack from his push-broom, you can’t say I didn’t warn you. The other nurses and doctors are also quite capable in combat, and all attack relentlessly once they see you. They’re pretty tough, too, all taking multiple hits to put down and capable of some fancy moves. The doctor wielding a machete was brutal, costing me more of my lives than any other enemy type. Even the huge interns and armed security guards that appeared later in the game had nothing on those old guys in their thick glasses. Geriatric ninjas, that’s what they are.
Since these guys can chew you apart, the game has a few mechanics to help you get through. The first one, and one you’ll be using for a lot of the game, is your instant-kill attack. This works best when you use it on an enemy that isn’t paying any attention to you, so staying hidden helps a lot. Many of the enemies have pretty random movement patterns so it can be hard to stay out of sight at times, but their difficulty also dictates how much they move around. Harder enemies not only require more hits to put down, but also don’t give as many opportunities to sneak up on them. It provides a consistent challenge, and also adds some stress to any attempt to go for an instant-kill.
That’s not saying you can’t try for one in combat. Your basic attack does pretty low damage, requiring a good couple of hits to kill an enemy even if it does stun them for a moment, so doing instant-kills is always preferred. You can still try to land your instant-death attack during regular combat, though, but it has very specific timing. You need to wait for an opening between moves, something that happens quite rarely even with the most basic enemies, and then use it. It’s very hard to time, and I often mashed the attack just hoping it would work, only having minimal success. You’re better off using your basic attack and trying to stay lined up with the enemy you want to hit — something that’s not especially easy given the game being in three dimensions. It’s not an unfair challenge to put down enemies, but it is hard enough that you’re going to want to stealth kill as much as possible.
Then again, you have a few more options you can unlock as you play. One item you can pick up is a disguise, one that fools the enemies and is also hilarious to use. Have you ever tried to hide a brain by putting a shirt over it? If yes, you scare me. If no, you’re going to enjoy the sight of the brain wandering past people, a shirt carelessly draped over its frontal lobe. These are limited in amount and don’t last all that long, so I didn’t find them all that useful except for in a few spots or when I wanted to see what a whistling brain wearing a shirt looked like.
Your better options are in hypnosis and resurrection. You gain abilities that let you take over some of the dazed patients of the hospital, getting them to join you and help fight off the dangerous nurses and doctors. After that, you can obtain the power to bring dead bodies back to life as ghosts that fire ranged shots, turning every kill you make into a new ally. You can only have two at a time, but that’s still two helpers keeping the enemies off you. The best part is that your partners attack extremely aggressively, meaning that enemies focus on them exclusively until they’re killed, always giving you an easy way to take a break if you need one. You can also use this distraction to sneak in and nail a quick stealth kill while the enemy is focused on your buddies. The bad part is also that your partners attack extremely aggressively, so they will probably hit or shoot at an enemy you could have otherwise stealth-killed, drawing you into a fight you didn’t need to have.
The ally system is handy, turning combat into a careful dance. With stealth kills and suicidal allies, you can typically distract or kill most of the enemies you run into. Even basic enemies can cut off a decent chunk of your health with a few hits, so keeping them busy or killing them without a fight is always best. That being said, the fights are actually quite fun and interesting because of how quickly things can turn for or against you. You could rush in with two partners, only to find more doctors coming from around a corner and your ghosts dropping dead as they get swarmed, suddenly finding yourself in a very bad situation. Your ghosts might have almost dropped a doctor, though, and a few hits from you kills him, allowing you to resurrect him as a ghost and turn him on his allies, giving you enough time to instant-kill another. The tide of combat turns really fast both ways, and that chaos becomes one of the game’s strongest points.
Controlling combat is another story. It’s easy to attack and switch moves using the mouse buttons and wheel, but turning and general movement feels a little slippery. I often felt like I moved a bit too much any time I wanted to do something, so I’d overshoot my targets often and miss basic attacks or instant-kills. The hypnosis and resurrection attacks are less fussy, but basic attacks could be frustrating at times and hard to land. While your attacks do stun the enemy, allowing for free follow-ups, they also knock the enemy back, which was hard to follow. With the slippery movement I’d find myself pushing into the enemies and moving a bit past them, or I’d pull up short to prevent the previous problem from happening and find myself unable to land a hit. It made combat a bit harder, but nothing too bad. It still feels a little too floaty for my taste, but it’s something I adapted to and could work around. Besides, the stealth kills and AI partners cover for most of this issue and buy you time to deal with it, so the programmers have created a system that resolves its own problems. The issues still exist, but you have the tools to deal with them.
If those enemies do catch you and put you down, hopefully you’ll have some lives stocked up. A nice touch was that I could actually fail the game — a scary prospect since you don’t actually start with any lives. It made playing the game stressful at points, but nothing too bad since you can actually accrue lives pretty easily. To gain more, you have to collect points which you gain from picking up posters for some unknown reason. You get one point per poster, but there are several types of posters and if you collect the same type of poster multiple times in a row you get a multiplier per poster. It maxes out at X5, but you can still get a lot of points by being fussy about what you pick up. Then again, there are posters on almost every surface, so even just collecting every one you see will get you to a point where you can easily build up points and lives. It was almost a shame that the points system made collecting lives a little too easy, but you can always change the game’s difficulty if it bugs you.
For whatever reason, you need to have a set amount of points to progress to the game’s final area. I found this a bit annoying as I already felt like I was drowning in points, but there weren’t all that many points in the final area so if I ran out of lives there, I might have been screwed. The game does throw you through some gauntlets of ranged enemies and a tough final boss out there, so I can see the devs wanting to make sure the player had enough lives before venturing out. It was a nuisance to have to go back for more points when I felt like I was done, though.
I didn’t feel like looking around for more posters since the facility is large and without any style of map. The asylum is quite big, and while the game does a good job of making areas look different by adding varied objects or changing the colors of the hallways, it’s still pretty easy to get lost. Most of the game is spent roaming around on specific floors, hoping that you’ll find the location you’re trying to get to. The game is good at giving instructions on what floor you need to go to, but once you’re there, you’re on your own. You’ll have a pretty good understanding of the game’s layout by the time you finish it, but the general wandering about I tend to do when I start a game definitely isn’t recommended. You can go anywhere you want in the facility from the start, so you can get yourself pretty lost unless you know where you want to go.
I’m not saying a map function would have helped, though. The game is more of a throwback to games like Doom and Wolfenstein 3D where you had to make your own maps or learn layouts. This game does its best to make each area look different, so if you come across something new in the wall design, you know you’re on the right track. It’s not perfect in that there are often many branching hallways that all look the same in these areas, but it’s still nothing that took me all that long to work with. You do need to pay attention to your instructions, though, so people who normally ignore in-game messages might want to pay attention.
The looks of those varied hallways and enemies might not impress you all that much. It’s a decent looking 3D game, but it’s one that’s put together by only a few people. It doesn’t look incredible, but it does possess a certain goofiness because of its amateur look that sits well with the silly theme of the game. A game about a bloodthirsty brain makes perfect sense with these graphics, and their limited nature ends up adding to the comedy that makes up most of the game’s charm.
Twisty’s Asylum Escapades is a funny game, after all. Putting a shirt over a brain to dodge enemies? Putting a fish on your head to lure bats into giving you a gate key? Being a giant brain that eats people? It’s all pretty goofy stuff, and each time I turned a corner and found a new janitor cleaning up the blood from the last janitor I killed, I cracked up a bit. Then I killed him too. Every time I really paid attention to the fact that I was a giant brain feeding on human necks, I got a little chuckle out of things. It’s a bizarre concept built around having a bit of fun, and it made the game pretty appealing while I played it.
It has a few issues that might bother some, but having a fun evening with it where my bank account didn’t budge one bit was more than enough to make me happy with Twisty’s Asylum Escapades. Combat is intricate enough to keep me invested and careful, and the overall fun nature of the game made it very easy to laugh at and enjoy. The two developers at Twisted Jenius have made a pretty good game to wile away a couple of hours with – one that’s well worth checking out.
Twisty’s Asylum Escapades is available, delightfully free, from the developer’s site.