Saturday, October 31, 2015

Point and Click Adventure Review: Reversion Chapter 1: The Escape

Reversion: The Escape is the first of three planned chapters of 3f Interactive's point and click adventure set in a post apocalyptic future.  It's short, but it's free, and it's a good example of the kind of game play and story to expect in the chapters to come.

The game follows a man who wakes up in a hospital in Buenos Aires, Argentina.  Several years have passed, and the city has since crumbled after a major conflict.  The man is amnesiac, and doesn't remember anything about the himself, the war, or how he came to be there.  He discovers that he's locked in the hospital, which is under constant guard.  With the help of another patient, he has to make his way out of the hospital so he can begin his journey to piece together what exactly is going on.  His escape from the hospital is a rather short tale, but it's well told for the most part.  There are a few strange choices in wording that came from the translation from Spanish to English, but they aren't too bad.

The music is good, and the voice acting is decent.  It's a bit on the uneven side, but for a low budget independent title, it's not too bad.  It's about on par with the early releases from Wadjet Eye Games. The art style is quite nice as well.  The backgrounds have a lot of detail, and the character art style works well with the background art.  The character animations are a bit stiff, however. Thankfully, the puzzles in are really quite good.  They are challenging, without being overly so, and the solutions are all logical.  This chapter is one third of the planned product, so the puzzle difficulty is about what you'd expect at this stage of the game.

Reversion: The Escape is a decent adventure game.  The music is nice, and the voice acting is pretty good for a low budget indie adventure.  The art style is pleasing, except for some stiff character animations.  Thankfully, the story and puzzles make up for most of the shortcomings.  There are a few strange word choices that came about from the translation of the game from Spanish to English, but the excellence of the story still manages to shine through.  By the closing credits, you find yourself wanting to know just how the story will continue, and for a free sneak peak of an episodic game series, it managed to fill it's role quite well in the end.

Final Verdict:
3 out of 5

Halloween Treats

Happy Halloween everyone!

As is tradition on most years, Dave Grossman has updated his Pumpkin House of Horrors with a new pumpkin monstrosity.  In addition, Graham Annable has released a brand new spooky Grickle short toon, The Webb.

Here's a bonus, as even though it's not Halloween related, it is October 2015 related.  Universal has released a brand new official Back to the Future short called Doc Brown Saves the World on the Back to the Future 30th Anniversary DVD and Blu-Ray film releases.  The short takes place in 'our' universe, as it explains why our October 2015 doesn't have the futuristic equipment seen in the Back to the Future trilogy, Telltale's game, and the animated series.  If you want to see the whole thing, you'll have to pick up the box set, but Universal released a teaser trailer on YouTube.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Puzzle Game Review: Fire

Note that in the interest of full disclosure, I should mention that I was a beta tester for this game.

Daedalic breaks from the mold for Fire, a puzzle game that takes its inspiration from games such as Gobliiins rather than the third person puzzle adventure games that are the usual fare from the company.

The game follows a caveman named Ugh, who is kicked out of his village.  He travels across the world, in search of the elusive fire, so he can bring it back to his people and be welcomed back into their fold.  Along the way, he discovers mysterious glowing creatures who are trapped in glass spheres.  Ugh must solve various puzzles in order to free these creatures and proceed on his journey.

The art style is really charming.  It's presented in a cartoon style that works for the game.  The music is also upbeat and cheerful, which fits with the cartoon aesthetic of the game.  There is no voice acting, beyond grunts, sighs, and the occasional caveman gibberish. Thankfully, the game manages to overcome this in the tradition of silent cartoon stars of the past by having him display his thoughts through his expressions.  The various animations of Ugh and the creatures he comes across are really well done.

Much like Gobliiins before it, the puzzles are in the vein of changing something about the environment around Ugh, and then interacting with an object which will be affected by the change. These puzzles are well done.  They start simple and get progressively more difficult as they go on. They never reach the level of challenge of the Gobliiins series, but a lot of them are quite creative. There are some levels that deal with things like time manipulation or character morphing, which make for some really fun puzzles.

The main drawback of the game is that it is very short.  Depending on your level of skill with games like these, you could work your way through this game in a matter of a few hours.  The game does try to combat its shortness with three optional gold medallions in each stage, which are unlocked by interacting with various objects in the environment, much like the puzzles themselves. However, this just makes the game drag on, as the puzzles aren't as entertaining the second time around.

Fire is a nice change of pace from Daedalic.  It's Gobliiins inspired game play is short, but enjoyable. The art style is charming, the animations are adorable, and the music is fun.  There is no voice acting, so there is nothing in the form of dialog, but the minimal story that is there is entertaining. The best part of the game is the puzzles.  They are really creative, especially in the later levels.  That alone makes the game worth playing, especially if you can buy it at a price that compensates for its short play time.

Final Verdict:

4 out of 5

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Point and Click Adventure Review: The Feeble Files

The Feeble Files was Adventure Soft's rare departure from form once they began their successful Simon the Sorcerer series.  It didn't manage to live up to the magic of the first two entries in their most successful series, however, with some odd puzzles and an interface that was more frustrating than fun.

Feeble is a being from an alien planet who has a job probing lifeforms on other planets.  While doing his job however, he unwittingly becomes involved in a plan to overthrow the government.  It's a wacky setup, and the story does manage to mostly deliver on the premise, although often the humor falls a bit flat.

The art style is presented in pre-rendered 3D inside a fully two dimensional engine.  This makes for the traditional third person point and click style, with characters and backgrounds that have more depth.  It actually works pretty well for the most part.  Some of the 3D graphics in the cutscenes look quite a bit dated, but otherwise it's unique art style actually works well with the graphic style chosen. The puzzles are, unfortunately, a bit of a mixed bag.  There are some good ones that are fun to solve, however some of them are a bit lacking in logic, even for the wacky sci-fi world in which Feeble inhabits.

What really hampers this game however, is the interface.  The designers eschewed the LucasArts inspired verb bar of the first two Simon the Sorcerer games for an interface that must be opened, in order to have more room for background art.  Normally this would be perfectly fine, but in this case, navigating through the menu system is a pain.  It makes the game a lot more frustrating than it would be otherwise. The rest of the presentation thankfully makes up for some of its shortcomings, as the voice acting and music are both very well done.

Feeble Files is a real departure from form for Adventure Soft.  The story, music, and voice acting are well done, for the most part.  The pre-rendered 3D graphics in a 2D engine work well for this type of game.  However, while this attempt at entering the 3D realm fared much better than their later attempt at a full three dimensional game with Simon the Sorcerer 3D, the game has its share of problems that make it more frustrating than it should have been.  The puzzles sometimes are lacking in logic, but the main problem is the interface.  It's a shame, as if the team had implemented something more intuitive, the game would have been a lot more fun to play.

Final Verdict:

3 out of 5

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Point and Click Adventure Review: The Blackwell Epiphany

Wadjet Eye Games ends their Blackwell series on a high note, delivering some of the best puzzles and gameplay of the series along with a great story that ends the saga in a very emotional, but satisfying way.

The game begins as Rosa and Joey are tracking down a lead on a spirit in the area, only to find themselves in a situation for which they are not prepared.  A mysterious power is able to completely destroy spirits, which means that when Rosa and Joey investigate, they must both put their own souls in danger in order to try to stop it.  The resulting story is the most emotionally charged chapter of the series, and is compelling from start to finish.  Plot threads are revisited from past games, more is learned about the backstories of the characters, and the Blackwell legacy finally comes to a close. It's sad to know that these characters won't be appearing in other games, after getting to know them over the course of five games.  However, it's satisfying to know that they have received a fitting farewell.

The puzzles are some of the best and most memorable of the entire series.  There are quite a few areas where you have to switch between Joey and Rosa multiple times in order to solve puzzles. These dual character puzzles have always been the high point of the series, and, as the design of these puzzles in this chapter are done so well, they're even more enjoyable here.

The artwork always is evolving over the series, and it is at a high point in this episode.  It has the same slightly higher resolution of its predecessor, compared to earlier games.  This allows for some nice character closeup art.  The sprites are still pixelated, as the resolution is still low by modern standards, but the animations are very expressive.  The backgrounds are also excellent as well, having a great deal of detail despite the limitations inherent with the resolution chosen for the game.

The voice work is some times hit and miss in games by Wadjet Eye Games, but that's not the case here.  The voice actors for Rosa and Joey deliver some of their best work here, really delivering the dramatic lines with such emotion, that it makes the emotional gut punch that some of the story has that much more heart-wrenching.  The supporting cast is quite good as well, backing up the leads with aplomb.  The music is also well done, fitting well with the darker tone of this chapter's tale.

Rounding things out are the extras that Wadjet Eye Games are known for.  The optional commentary tracks and outtakes return, once again in the form of color coded letters that can be optionally clicked in the scene that relate to the relevant extra feature in question.  It's always nice to have these included in the game, especially when they are presented in the way they are here.  They work with the game flow, but, since they are completely optional, the prompts need not be present if they are not wanted.

The final episode of The Blackwell Epiphany is the series high point.  Everything is top notch, from the artwork, to the voice work, to the music, and especially the puzzles.  Most importantly, the story is fantastic, tying up loose threads, revealing character backstories, and delivering an emotionally charged, but satisfying conclusion to the saga of the Blackwell family and their spirit guide.  Their story is now over, but it has been a very rewarding one.  The Blackwell series is one that no adventure game fan should go without playing, The Blackwell Epiphany especially.

Final Verdict:

5 out of 5

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Choices-and-Consequences Game Review: Minecraft: Story Mode Episode 2

The second episode of Minecraft: Story Mode doesn't quite match the high standards set by it's predecessor.  Episode two is quite short, but it's wide amount of differences in the choices offers a lot of options for replay.

The first episode ended with a choice on locations, similar to Telltale's previous series, The Wolf Among Us.  This time however, the two different events will each take place in this episode rather than the previous, making the two choices feel like they have more impact otherwise.  The two locations really do play out very differently, and offer widely different gameplay throughout them. There are also a number of ways to go about your task to meet the member of the Order of the Stone that you have chosen, which not only offers up a different experience, but leaves room open for those actions to have consequences in future episodes.

The new locations are both really interesting, and widely different.  They both reflect the personality of the two members of the Order.  The architect's land is full of wonderous and wild buildings and inventions, whereas the bomb expert's land is full of crazy people known as griefers, who attempt to blow you up the moment you set foot on their soil.  These moments should be fun to people who are veterans of Minecraft, as they emulate and poke good natured fun at the experience of the game. However, they're also fun to people who aren't fans, as both paths are really fun to play as they are so vastly different from each other.

There are a few moments of adventure game puzzles here, which are optional, as there are multiple ways to solve a task.   The optional puzzles in The Walking Dead: Season One were nice to have, but as they weren't actually used to further the plot, they felt like added weight.  Thankfully, that's not the case here.  The way they are handled here works really well.  It's a trend that I hope Telltale continues in their future series, as it's a nice way to bridge their classic puzzle games with their modern choice based adventures. 

The other major choice, between who to save in the former episode, hasn't had much of a difference on the impact of the story so far.  The interaction with the characters will change depending on the choice,  however, there is a major plot point that is introduced with the return of your chosen character to the group. The problem is the same no matter which character you chose.  

The presentation continues to shine here.  The graphics continue to mimic the world of Minecraft, and all of the fancy invention has been designed to fit within the rules of the universe.  They all could be built in the original game, which helps make the game feel rooted in its source material, and is a nice touch.  The voice work continues to shine, as does the digital music, which continues to fit the world well.  The Tales from the Borderlands style opening credits also continue here, and continue to work well with the style of humor that this series has presented so far.

Minecraft: Story Mode episode two doesn't quite live up to the standards set by the premiere, but it comes close.  It's a much shorter experience, but the vastly different routes mean that gamers would get a lot out of a replay session.  The optional puzzles are handled much better than in The Walking Dead: Season One, as they are actually integral to the plot.  The music and voice work are excellent, as is always the case in Telltale's games.  In addition, the music and voice work are excellent, as is always the case in Telltale's games.The art style mimics Minecraft well, and the team went to great lengths to make sure that the outlandish inventions could actually be created in Minecraft, which should please fans of the original game.  The main drawback to the episode is that the short length makes the episode feel mostly like a setup for the episodes yet to come.

Final Verdict:

4 out of 5

Minecraft: Story Mode Episode 2 Is Out Now

In a very surprise release, the second episode of Minecraft: Story Mode is out already for most platforms. It will be released for Android and iOS devices on Thursday.

The season pass disc, a retail disc for consoles that includes the first episode on the disc and the ability to download the other episodes as DLC as they're released, is also in stores today.

Day of the Tentacle Remastered Screenshots

The remastered version of Day of the Tentacle, now known as Day of the Tentacle Remastered, has finally been shown in action to the public, and the first screenshots of the high definition art are now available.

This remastered version will also include high quality audio taken from the original recording sessions, the ability to use a new verb coin or a high definition verb bar in the remastered version, the ability to switch back and forth from the original and high definition versions, and commentary from the creators, including both Dave Grossman and Tim Schafer.

Telltale Publishing Label Launched

It seems that Telltale is going full out publisher now, with a new Telltale Publishing label.

They last published Hector: Badge of Carnage in 2011, but that was apparently actually co-developed by them. Telltale designers Dave Grossman and Mark Darin are credited with design on episodes 2 and 3.

The Jackbox Party Pack appears to be a completely different situation altogether, as The Jackbox Party Pack was already developed and published digitally by Jackbox Games. Telltale is simply handling publishing duties once it comes out on disc on November 10th.

This definitely shows how far Telltale has grown, as even after the success of The Walking Dead, they still had some of their own games published on disc by other publishers. Law & Order: Legacies was published on disc for Windows by Avanquest Software in November 2012, shortly before the release of the final episode of The Walking Dead: Season One. They are now large enough that they publish all of their titles on computers and consoles, and now have begun publishing games developed by other companies as well.

Day of the Devs 2015 Showing DOTT SE

Double Fine is returning for their third annual Day of the Devs. This year, they'll be showing Day of the Tentacle: Special Edition for the first time at the event.

Other games on display at the event will include ABZÛ, ADR1FT, Badblood, Below, Botolo, Burly Men at Sea, Death's Gambit, Donut County, Fantastic Contraption, Gang Beasts, Gnog, Hyper Light Drifter, Night in the Woods, Outer Wilds, Overland, Oxenfree, Pit People, Rising Thunder, Scale, Secret Legend, Sound Self, Spy Party, Tacoma, Thumper, Tilt Brush, Wattam, What Remains of Edith Finch, and Witchmarsh.

It will be held on November 7th from 3PM to 9PM PST at the Midway in San Francisco, and once again admission is free. RSVP for the event at their Facebook events page.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Point and Click Adventure Review: Dream Machine Chapter 4

The fourth chapter of the episodic handmade point-and-click adventure, Dream Machine, is the most ambitious yet.

In this chapter, the dream machine is finally used on one of Victor's neighbors. She is an elderly woman named Edie who is enjoying tea, so the object is to get her asleep so that Victor can put the dream machine helmet on her head. Once inside, things get really interesting as Edie's dream is related to her past.

The music has a suitably eerie vibe. It is memorably haunting and fits the creepy storyline and aesthetic for which the game is aiming.

The puzzles continue to be challenging yet logical. The beginning puzzle that involves getting Edie to sleep is really interesting. It involves several adventure game tropes, such as reading books for recipes and using the environment to come up with a solution to a number puzzle. Luckily, these puzzles are interesting and the rewards are great because the most interesting areas and the most beautiful art are yet to come.

Speaking of art, the backgrounds in this episode are fantastic. It continues to amaze me that this game is handmade. Many of the various rooms in Edie's dreams are beautiful. The high quality of the handmade art is one of the major selling points of the game. I can't imagine how long it took to build the backgrounds and implement them in the game.

The Dream Machine: Chapter 4 is the best episode yet. The interesting storyline, haunting music, and beautiful artwork work together to create a wholly unique experience. It absolutely sets a high bar for the episodes yet to come.

Final Verdict:
4½ out of 5

Chapter 3 ReviewChapter 5 Review Coming Soon

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Point and Click Adventure Review: Dream Machine Chapter 3

The third chapter of The Dream Machine follows the second with a bang, as Victor explores the dreams of the person he cares for the most.

This chapter starts right where the second left off, with Victor inside the dreams of his wife, Alicia. In her dream, she is the captain of a boat named the S.S. Albatross. The crew is quite unnerving because every person Victor meets in his wife's dream is an identical copy of himself, albeit with different jobs to perform. 

The artwork in this episode is the best yet. I continue to be awed by the fantastic backgrounds, especially considering everything is made by hand out of physical material such as cardboard. The walls of the ship and the metal stairs are really impressive, as they have a well-worn quality to them, with spots made to look like dust and faded paint. The strung-up lights adorning the ship are super impressive, considering that these rooms were created with real-world materials. I've worked on animation projects with clay, and it is very hard to get the lighting right. With the addition of lights, I'm really impressed that they were able to maintain lighting consistency in every area explored on the catwalk outside the ship's quarters.

The music continues to be pleasingly macabre. It's not anything I'd call memorable, but the haunting melodies work well with the atmosphere of the game.

The puzzles in chapter three also continue to live up to the standards of the episodes before them. They are challenging but fun and interesting. They are one of the best parts of this chapter.

Dream Machine chapter three continues to live up to the high bar set in the previous episodes. The creepy story, chilling vibe, and fantastic handmade artwork make this game a pleasure to explore. Chapter three doesn't set the stakes up with its finale the way the previous episodes did, but it's still a wonderful episode.

Final Verdict:

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Choices-and-Consequences Game Review: Tales from the Borderlands Episode 5

After the surprise emotional roller coaster of episode 4, the finale kicks the adrenaline up to eleven.

This episode finds Rhys and Fiona escape the clutches of their captors, and it also sees the reveal of the stranger. This final reveal is a bit surprising, but it makes sense as the final big bad of the game is revealed. The heroes accidentally unleashed a powerful weapon, and, with the game caught up with itself into the present, they will have to team up with characters that they have already met up with, and some surprise guests to defeat it.

The choice of characters to bring into this final battle ultimately is driven both by your choices in previous episodes, as well as how much loot you had collected throughout the entire adventure. These characters range from vault collectors to unscrupulous Pandora citizens, most of whom are new to this game, however, there are two fan-favorites from the Borderlands franchise as a whole as well. Each of these characters is voiced excellently and are all funny and entertaining in their own right. This final battle is performed entirely in quick time event button presses, but it’s epic enough that it is a lot of fun and doesn’t feel like a chore. In fact. it’s worth playing through more than once to see all of the optional characters.

The final episode wraps up the story in an epic matter, with a fantastic final battle, and a fantastic story that wraps things up with just enough threads left open with which Borderlands 3 can pick up and run.

Final verdict:

4½ out of 5
Episode Four Review

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Choices-and-Consequences Game Review: Life is Strange Episode 5 Review

The final episode is as spooky and jarring as the finale of the last episode suggested. Players will definitely be right with Max in wanting to get out of the situation, but when they find themselves in the new situation it doesn't become any better.

The butterfly effect is in full swing here, as Max struggles to make changes in the past that don't have dangerous repercussions in the present. She really does find herself having to choose between several bad choices over other bad choices.

The alternate universe idea from the last episode is kicked up to eleven here, as we find Max in multiple alternate universes. Some universes have more disastrous consequences than others, but each feels real and the people within are true to the personalities of the characters we've come to know, no matter to which timeline they belong.

Unfortunately, the episode makes a few missteps that keep it from being up to the high standards of the previous episode. The awkward slang from the villain is really terrible here. The few older slang terms that Chloe and Max used in earlier episodes is nothing compared to the terrible word puns in play here that just serve to make the player cringe, and take even manage to take away a bit of the evilness of the character. Not to say that being with this character still wouldn't be a terrible experience, but something's lost with these attempts at wordplay humor that come off as ridiculous rather than creepy.

The more troubling problem, though, comes at the end, when choosing between the game's two endings. It really does feel like there's a good ending and a bad ending, rather than the "Sophie's Choice" feeling that the game has been pushing towards. One ending is long and fulfilling in its own way, while the other feels rush and unsatisfying in comparison.

This lopsided finale doesn't quite live up to its promising start. All in all, however, the season still remains a great example of cinematic choices and consequences gameplay that fans of this type of game owe it to themselves to experience.

Final verdict:
4 out of 5

Monday, October 19, 2015

Choices-and-Consequences Game Review: Life is Strange Episode 4

The penultimate episode begins after the cliffhanger from the last episode, finding Max and Chloe in an alternate timeline created by Max's changes in the past. We finally get to see the full extent of Max's powers, and what can happen to her world when she uses them.

The story here is strong, and the choices have never been harder or more heartbreaking. Even though this is an alternate timeline, the actors really do an excellent job of making these characters really relatable, and you want them to have the best possible outcome. However, in this case, the best possible outcome really is up to the perceptions of the player. That makes these choices seem more real than those before them, even though the time spent with these versions of the characters is short.

The alternate universe also lent a lot to making Arcadia Bay feel fresher than it had since we first visited it. We're still exploring the same houses and locations, but the changes have made these areas a lot more fun to explore. There are also some weird disasters that don't quite seem natural, which seem to tie into the visions that Max has been having since episode one.

The episode also ends on another cliffhanger, as the main villain of the season is finally revealed. This entire season has been exciting, but this episode really was a wild ride. With the reveal at the end and the shock that came with it, the final episode definitely has to live up to a lot.

Final verdict:
5 out of 5