Thursday, 27 September 2012

Completed: Blackwell Deception

Blackwell Deception is the fourth game in the Blackwell series by Wadjet Eye Games. It is a point and click adventure game that takes two to three hours to complete and continues the story of Rosa Blackwell and her spirit guide Joey. I have posted about the previous three games on this blog.

The gameplay is not much different from the previous Blackwell titles, though Rosa's smartphone purchase tightens things up a bit, it holds her notes, lets her look up information online and even lets her make the occasional phone call! It helps to reduce the tedious revisiting of the apartment that the previous games required when Rosa had to do a bit more research.

Rosa has become more public about her sideline of work and seems to have become more accepting that this Medium thing is her calling and that she can't quite get away from it, she has even started to advertise her services, allowing her to help more unfortunate souls. I am not sure that she really needs it though since she seems to stumble across ghosts around every corner.

I really enjoy the story of these games, Dave Gilbert has been continuing a fairly interconnected story since Blackwell Unbound, with each game revealing a little bit more about Rosa, Joey and the Blackwell family. I really liked seeing more about the Countess and the relationship between mediums and their spirit guides. I hope that Dave expands on this further next time, along with the other supernatural entities introduced in this chapter.

According to Dave posting on the Wadjet Eye forums, there are still another two to three games left in this story, it will be interesting to see where it goes.

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Completed: Back to the Future: The Game

Back to the Future: The Game is an episodic adventure game series by Telltale Games, one of the few companies to actually do episodic game releases successfully.

The series follows the movies, the initial tutorial scene is set about 7 months after Marty gets back at the end of Back to the Future 3, the bank believes Doc is dead and has started to sell off all of his stuff. By the end of that scene, sure enough there is a reason to get into the Delorean and head back in time, to where a significant portion of the timeline is set, 1931. Prohibition era Hill Valley.

I think Telltale games did really well with the art style, they avoided going for a realistic view, the character models are all recognisable, but have exaggerated features and simplified colours and shading. It means that the game is attractive without the system demands being too high, after all this is a game available not just for the PC, but also for the wii, PS3 and iPad.

The voice cast features actors from the films including Christopher Lloyd (Doc Brown) and Claudia Wells (Jennifer) and even Michael J. Fox, though his voice is used in a cameo role. The VA for Marty McFly, AJ LoCascio, does an admirable job imitating Michael J. Fox's voice from the films. The entire cast did a great job, it has been some time since I have watched the films, but none of their performances jarred with my memories of the films.

The downside of the episodic structure that Telltale uses for these adventure games is that you can see the reuse of mechanical plot and settings. Very few environments are used only once, instead the same locations are used over and over again during the course of the series, with changes to account for time jumps and new people being in charge. Each episode opens with a fairly simple puzzle to get you going then seems to flow into a familiar structure where you have a few different puzzles that can be tackled in parallel before more plot will occur.

Overall though the story fits very well with those of the Back to the Future films, time travel inevitably causing changes not due to intent, but just because being present introduces new elements. Always the goal being trying to fix what went wrong and having the bad guys get their comeuppance. Somehow, after all of the problems Marty faces trying to get back to 1986, the final timeline results in everyone being happier. Oh and of course a Tannen always ends up in manure at some point. It just wouldn't be back to the future without that.

Friday, 21 September 2012

Complete: Quake 4

Quake 4 is a direct sequel to Quake 2, it was made by Raven Software in collaboration with id Software.

It turns out, whilst the main character in Quake 2 won a major success against the Strogg, the war is far from over. Now the Big Gun and the Strogg Emperor have been killed a ground invasion of Stroggos is possible and Earth has attacked trying to do remove the threat of the Strogg once and for all.

It was really interesting playing Quake 4 so close to Quake 2, you can really feel the impact that time and technology has made, the id Tech 4 engine is capable of significantly better interactions and improvements in AI, animation and storage technology means that friendly soldiers not only exist but play an active component in the missions of the game. Admittedly they do restrict the amount of time you spend actively fighting as part of a squad, this is still very much a single man FPS, they justify this by making your character a scout, often being sent on ahead to find and deal with other routes and finding a way to let your squad inside.

What makes Quake 4 so interesting to me is that the enemies you are dealing with haven't significantly changed. Most of the Strogg you fight are recognisably the same or very similar to the Quake 2 enemies, though they have much improved models and more impressive sounds and a few minor new tricks. The crude attempts at horror in Quake 2 where you see the results of Strogg processing humans are painted in entirely new lights. You get a lot more detail in game as to what it entails and how the Strogg control and use their human resources.

Doom 3 and Quake 4 still have the best computer interaction I have seen in first person shooters, the way it smoothly moves between pointing your gun at things and pointing your mouse at interfaces feels a lot more natural than zooming in on the interface and having it fill the entire screen when you press an interaction button. While it results in some laughably simple interfaces, but I feel that the trade off is worthwhile.

Quake 4 also avoids the problems of Doom 3 by spending a lot more time in outdoor environments and areas with nice big windows, it doesn't rely on darkness as much to create tension and lets you see pretty vistas. I really like the approach of using what appears to be concept art as skybox backgrounds, it continues the tradition seen in Quake 2 and it gives you a better idea of Strogg cities and other background elements.

The guns in Quake 4 almost all feel good and filling an identifiable role, you get weapon upgrades at various points through the game, a techie will ask to see your gun, play around with it and suddenly it has a new ability. Unfortunately the Railgun has been significantly nerfed, it has a terrible fire rate and its upgrade (shots go through people) is of such minor utility that it isn't really worth being handed out.

I had a great time with Quake 4, it really helped having only recently played through Quake 2 and having it relatively fresh in my mind to contrast and compare.

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Completed: Cthulhu Saves the World

Cthulhu Saves The World is an 8/16-bit RPG parody by Zeboyd Games. It is available from Steam for an amazingly low price. I picked it up on launch but it took me quite a while to finish it.

It is built to be a very silly game, it has no respect at all for the fourth wall with Cthulhu only learning what is going on and determining his end goal by listening in on the narrator's opening spiel. Cthulhu has awoken ready to destroy the world, unfortunately (for him) an unknown holy cleric strips him of his powers. The only way Cthulhu can get them back is to become a True Hero.

Mechanically and graphically it looks and feels like an old SNES jRPG title, you have fixed characters interacting in a party, a limit of 3 characters at a time can be used in fights and it has random encounters and turn based combat. It seems pretty clear that the makers wanted to keep this old game feel, but didn't want to actually get bogged down in the flaws of these systems.

Random map encounters discourages exploration, so each location has a maximum number of random encounters, when that number expires you stop being interrupted. Not only that but you can trigger the fights by pausing and selecting fight from the menu at any time, meaning you can get all of the required fights out of the way when you are in a nice convenient location. You can also continue to have fights after the counter has expired as a way to grind XP if you want an easier time later on.

Similarly, whilst characters are fixed, their equipment types and abilities have a fairly linear progression to them, but the game lets you customise your party to your playstyle to a degree through a fairly elegant system. Whenever a character gains a level, you get a choice. Typically it will be between two variants of the same skill, or two different stat ups, you can gear your characters towards high damage single target spells over AOE, high defense and health over speed. I mostly aimed my party at doing high damage area attacks all the better to get the random encounters quickly finished, though at a hefty MP cost and leaving me in a more difficult position against bosses.

The game encourages quick and strategic combat in two different ways, monsters get more powerful the longer a fight lasts, and the player recovers MP based on how quickly a fight lasts, if you can throw a few heavy hits and finish a fight in one round, you may recover most of the MP you used. The game heals you up at the end of every combat, so MP is the resource that slowly dwindles as you explore a dungeon hoping you will find a save point to recover it rather than teleport back to town.

I really liked the use of the theme, I have to admit I haven't read deeply into the lovecraft mythos but I do enjoy it where it crops up in horror elements and it was good to see them parodied so thoroughly during the course of this game. It features all manner of lovecraftian names and locations taking advantage of the parodic nature to include them even though they don't make complete sense.

One of the key uses of the theme is insanity, here it is a condition that can be inflicted and removed upon your enemies. Insane enemies deal out and take more damage, it can be a good tradeoff to have a fast character use a move that inflicts insanity if the extra damage will let a move by a slower character to finish them off.

Overall, I think that the entertainment and length of this game are amazing for the price, I am not exactly nostalgic for 8/16-bit RPGs, I never really played them since my first home console was an N64, but this game is a bargain at the RRP.

Monday, 17 September 2012

Completed: Blackwell Convergence

Blackwell Convergence is in effect, the other half of Blackwell Unbound. In fact, Blackwell Unbound was intended to be an extended flashback sequence in this game until it ballooned out of proportion.

As a result it is full of returning characters, people that Rosa's aunt interacted with make their return as she attempts to allow three seemingly unrelated souls to pass on. It is interesting seeing Joey draw the connections between this game and the last, trying to deny the truth until enough evidence builds up.

I was pleased to have the Internet back in this game, I didn't really like the different item set up in Unbound, even though it made sense that Lauren would use a phone and phonebook. You still require a fair amount of trekking back to your apartment just to look up the next piece of information to let you progress to the next puzzle.

I think the links between this and the previous game really help pull me into the story, whilst I knew who the villain was, I still did not know how they were able to operate despite the mechanics not really changing. They make for an interesting character and help to give a little bit more of the previously missing information about the setting.

The game takes about two to three hours to complete and is a good third chapter for the series. I have to admit that I do have a tendency to mix up the titles a bit, I never remember which title goes with which number in the series, which is a minor problem given that these games have a clear continuity and don't make quite so much sense on their own.

Friday, 14 September 2012

Completed: Analogue: A Hate Story

This was a game that caught my eye a long time before I picked it up on Steam. It is a visual novel game, which I mostly associate with fairly terrible games I downloaded in my teens. The basic concept caught my eye however, you are an investigator sent to an old colony ship which has mysteriously appeared with no living crew on board.

Your task is to find out what happened and salvage any useful data from the ship, upon getting close you quickly find that the onboard AI is still there, and is in fact quite lonely and wanting to talk to you. She is a bit fuzzy on what has happened, a side effect of having been around so long apparently, but she has some files to show you and can pass on information as you go through them.

The ship's population was Korean but somewhere along the voyage they seem to have forgotten their origins and undergone a strange cultural shift, including resetting their calendar and history.

Analogue: A Hate Story is an interesting examination of relationships, male and female gender divides and a much more oppressive society than I am used to. I found the story fascinating and really enjoyed learning about the various characters and events, it has 6 different endings, I only finished the game once, but can definitely see myself coming back to it at some point in the future.

Monday, 10 September 2012

Completed - Saints Row 2

Saints Row 2 is a third person sandbox crime game that takes the model coined by the GTA series and emphasises the more extreme free and silly end of the spectrum. It is a game that I knew had a very good reputation, I have had friends recommend it to me repeatedly and I definitely can see what they meant.

I really enjoyed the freedom you get in this game, it technically forces you to do sidequests or just respect generating activities before you can progress through the plotline, but I found doing them rewarding enough that I always had enough respect stacked up to progress at any pace I desired.

The freedom does result in some odd dissonance in some places. Part of it is a common issue with have several different storylines that can be tackled in parallel. Every gang story begins with the story treating you as if you had just begun the game, the problem being that I handled each gang separately, so the final gangs were treating me as a little dog when I owned two thirds of the city.

Similarly the character creator and clothing systems are fantastic, you can make a character that looks and wears pretty much whatever you want, you can be a crossdressing black guy, a classy crime king pin, a scrawny young woman or even a morbidly obese old person. You can in fact be all of these sequentially during the game, since it merely costs $500 and a visit to a plastic surgeon to re-enter the character creator.

The only problem is that this is purely for the player's amusement, none of this makes a jot of difference, your gang does not notice or comment on your sudden penchant for not wearing any pants, or turning up the next day as a tiny slip of a woman after being a large british guy. The Boss of the Saints is not really your character, they are a distinct character with slight flavourings based upon whichever voice you have used. In Saints Row 2 you don't make any choices, you don't have any dialog trees, the only customisation elements are irrelevant to the plot and behaviour of your gang.

The game itself was great, and I have since moved on to playing through the sequel. Personally I would probably grab the sequel over this, but only because Saints Row the Third has a better PC port.

Sunday, 2 September 2012

My Baby Brother

Today would have been my youngest brother's 18th birthday. Unfortunately he passed away in January 2010 dying from a rockfall in the bush.

He was a bright, fit, active kid who was at a point in his life where anything was possible. I have no idea what subjects he would be doing or where he would be aiming in life if he were still with us. I mostly talked to him about games since that was our primary shared interest, the last conversation I ever had with him was how he planned to spend the rest of his summer holidays split between Call of Duty and Maple Story.

I and my whole family miss him dearly.

I have been musing over what to write for this post since I started this blog, but now all I really want to say is that I love him and miss him.