My phone is a pretty boring place, filled with productivity applications that are more focused on work than pleasure. It wasn’t always this way, indeed I used to find all sorts of weird and wonderful titles to play on my phone mostly because I had the time to play through them during the hours I’d spend in transit to work every day. However I simply haven’t had that time to myself any more and so the world of mobile games has passed me by, with likely many good titles falling by the wayside. Today I finally make the return back to the platform and if there are many more titles like Monument Valley I believe I’ll need to make an effort to stay.
You are Ida, princess of a realm long forgotten. The world you inhabit is beautiful but barren, bereft of almost any signs of life yet filled with the signs that many have been here before you. Somehow though you can’t help but feel responsible for this and the quest for forgiveness is what keeps pressing you forward. So many questions lay before you, who built this place, where are they now and what led to their apparent downfall?
Monument Valley is a fantastic example of minilmalism, combining solid colours, soft gradients and simple lighting effects to great effect. Every puzzle screen has its own unique style to it which means that the game never gets visually boring or confusing. This is complimented by the use of Escher-esque style drawings with impossible structures and non-Euclidean geometry which, whilst also being amazing samples of this style of work, also function as the game’s main puzzle mechanic. Overall Monument Valley makes a great visual impression, one I’m sure many other games will draw inspiration from.
The core game play of Monument Valley is in the style of other non-Euclidean based games like Anitchamber or The Bridge (although it’s much closer to the latter) where you’re required to figure out how the rules of the geometry in your world work. The things start off relatively simple, only requiring you figure out that your perspective is the key, however you’re quickly thrown into the deep end where the world never behaves as you’d initially expect it to. The puzzles are very well laid out however as you’ll often be introduced to the prime mechanic in its most simple form at the start of the puzzle before you’re introduced to a use case that will require some lateral thinking on your part. There’s also a lot of visual red herrings to ensure that the puzzles aren’t too obvious but they’re uncommon enough as to not be overly frustrating.
This all culminates in a game that’s an absolute joy to play. The beautiful visual elements combined with the inherently non-intuitive puzzle elements just gave me this feeling of exuberance that few games have. There were so many times I’d be stuck on a puzzle for a few minutes before figuring out the solution which would give me a grin that wouldn’t go away for a long time. Probably by far my favourite puzzle out of the lot was the box as the way it was designed evoked this child like excitement in me every time I opened it in a different way. It speaks volumes to the developer’s ability to create an experience that is as fun as what they’ve created.
Monument Valley does suffer from a few usability issues, at least on my Xperia Z. A lot of the touch controls felt like they were either far too sensitive, making me spin the puzzle pieces wildly with little input, or not sensitive enough, leaving me to think that certain pieces couldn’t be moved. I’m willing to admit that this might be a hardware issue rather than something wrong with the game itself however it did make some sections more frustrating than they needed to be. Since I’m on Android though your mileage may vary as I’m sure some more mainstream handsets will function better than my now aging Sony.
The story elements are pretty light on in Monument Valley, told only in the snippets before each puzzle and when you find the old lady hiding wherever she is, but it’s enough to elevate the game above other pure puzzlers. Given Monument Valley’s rather short length it’d be unfair for the story to develop much more than it did but I definitely feel there’s potential for this world to be expanded upon more, possibly with additional puzzles. Needless to say I’d love to see Monument Valley get the full release treatment as I believe the concept still has a lot of legs in it.
Monument Valley is a testament to what the mobile platform is capable of creating, combining gorgeous minimalistic graphics with great game mechanics to create an experience that’s up there with many high budget titles. Whilst it falls short in a couple categories, namely it’s overall play time and so-so controls, it makes up for it in spades in almost every other regard. It’s not a game I’d recommend for everyone, indeed any minimalist title is exclusionary by nature, however for lovers of good puzzle games you really can’t go past Monument Valley.
Monument Valley is available on Android and iOS right now for $4.99 and $4.99 respectively. Game was played on a Sony Xperia Z with about an hour of total play time.
I was never really a big fan of doing books of puzzles, like crosswords or sudoku. I understand the attraction to some degree, once you’ve got a modicum of skill in doing them such puzzles can be relaxing as you don’t really think about much else while you’re doing them. Since I’m primarily an escapist when it comes games the idea of doing puzzle only games like Lyne didn’t really appeal to me at first but after playing for a couple hours it became more of an optimization problem, one which had a very simple set of rules that could create rather complicated problems.
The basic premise of Lyne is simple, there’s a bunch of different coloured shapes and all you need to do is connect them all together. All of the shapes of one colour must be connected together so you can’t be tricky and skip certain blocks to make your life easier. Additionally every path can only be crossed once which means that the path you take for one colour will determine what paths are left available for the remaining ones. The number of puzzles available in Lyne is rather staggering, on the order of 600 or more by my guess, which should be enough to keep even the most intrepid puzzle solver busy for a while.
Lyne is incredibly simplistic in its aesthetic, using solid colours and distinct shapes for everything. At first I thought the unlocking of additional colour palettes was a bit of a gimmicky way of getting you to play for longer but they actually function really well as a visual break. Since the style is so basic everything starts to blend into each other after a while so changing up the colours helps to stop that from happening. The pallette unlocks seem to be spaced out evenly enough so that you’ll get a new one before you get bored of your current one which, I admit, did make me play for longer than I’d first anticipated.
The puzzle sets are well thought out, starting out easy in order to introduce the concept for that set and then ramping up the difficulty as you make your way through each of the puzzles. For me personally the most challenging ones always seemed to be somewhere in the middle of the set, usually because I was missing some trick that would enable me to progress through it. Indeed the more puzzles you do the more patterns you’ll recognise , something which can both simplify and complicate a puzzle for you. For me some basic rules like finding out which paths must go somewhere and dividing the board up by colour helped to get me past some of the trickier puzzles although even those could some times leave me in a tizzy.
The daily puzzles were an interesting aside from the regular sets as, from what I could tell, they are generated on the day using some kind of algorithm. In fact I think this is how most of the puzzles were likely generated however the sets have been guided somewhat by the developer whilst these sets seem to be far more random, with some of them being incredibly easy whilst the others horrendously complex. Still if you’re the kind of person that likes doing a puzzle daily then this will be a brilliant little feature for you as it’s almost guaranteed that these puzzles will be unique every day.
Lyne is an interesting minimalistic puzzle game that looks deceptively simple on first look. The mechanics are simple enough that you can figure it out without instruction but, like many things with simple origins, mastering those rules will prove to be far more challenging. Like all games of this nature though it does tend to become somewhat repetitive after a while however if you’re the kind of person who thrives on technical challenges like this then Lyne will provide endless hours of enjoyment.
Lyne is available PC, Windows Phone, Android and iOS right now for $2.99, $2.49, $2.99 and $2.99 respectively. Game was played on the PC with4 hours of total play time and 27% of the achievements unlocked.
The number of games that were mobile exclusives that make the transition to another platform, whether that’s PC or consoles, is vanishingly small. It’s obvious to see why this is as many of the concepts used in mobile gaming like, touch input and interface design, simply don’t translate readily between those platforms. Platform transition issues have always been a problem for developers, as was shown with the consolization of PC games, but the problem space has been well mapped out over the course of the past decade. Mobile games still struggle with this unfortunately and whilst I really wanted to like Deus Ex: The Fall it was a glaring example of the struggles that developers face when doing mobile to PC transitions.,
You are Ben Saxon, an ex-military agent who served with the Belltower corporation during the Australian civil war. Your career with them was ultimately cut short when bad intel sent you straight into the middle of war zone, your entire team lost when your transport was shot down. However in the midst of all the chaos you managed to meet with someone, Jarron Namir, who recruits you into his special operations team called The Tyrants. With your new augs and all the resources you could ever want at your disposal the future looks good, that is until you uncover the truth about why you were sent into Australia.
Deus Ex: The Fall is a game based on the Unity engine and in that regard it’s actually quite impressive. The graphics are comparable to Deus Ex: Invisible War with a few lighting and rendering tricks helping it to feel a little more modern. Compared to Human Revolution though, a game that was released 3 years ago, it looks like a bad rip off. On a smaller screen, say a tablet or your phone, they’d look a little bit more impressive but on a PC it just feels streets behind everything else. This would mean that if you were craving a taste of the new Deus Ex universe and couldn’t run Human Revolution, for some reason, then it’d be a good place to start.
The Fall essentially a cut down version of Human Revolution in almost every sense, from the skill trees to the weapons to the environments that you’ll be playing in. It’s very clear that everything about The Fall was designed with the mobile market in mind with most of the levels and missions broken down into chunks that can be completed in 5 to 15 minutes. The core game mechanics are still there with the stealth functioning largely the same and the gun combat comparable but, again, modified for the mobile interface. Whilst there’s definitely been a non-zero amount of work done on the transition from mobile to PC the unfortunate reality is that The Fall still contains numerous glitches, bugs and weird quirks on game play mechanics that heavily mar the overall experience.
Human Revolution really got the stealth mechanic nailed down tight and it was nice to see that the majority of mechanics had made their way into The Fall. Most of the levels have numerous different pathways snaking through them allowing you to sneak up on nearly every enemy and take them out silently. However there’s a discrepancy between what you can see in first person mode and what the NPCs can “see”, allowing them to sometimes detect you through walls when, from your point of view, there’s nothing that can be seen. Once you’re aware of this it’s not too hard to work around however it’s a glaring reminder of the limitations of mobile as a gaming platform as I’ve never had this kind of issue with other stealth games on PC.
Combat is extremely clunky which, when coupled with the extremely rudimentary AI, makes it unchallenging and ultimately not satisfying. The recoil mechanic functions by zooming your view in and moving it up slightly, something which is horrifically jarring and doesn’t really add any challenge. Now I played Human Revolution as a primary stealth character and I played The Fall in much the same way however the times when I felt like it’d be fun to run and gun instead were stopped dead in the tracks because of how bad the mechanics are. It’s for that reason that I never really ventured into the buy screen as I could get past every section without using a single weapon.
The talent trees contain familiar upgrades including all the hacking and stealth upgrades from Human Revolution. They pretty much all function pretty much the same as they did previously with the main difference being just how quickly you’ll be able to unlock most of them. Much Human Revolution The Fall seems to be optimized for hacker/stealth players as the majority of things are hidden behind hackable panels and in long air ducts.I have no doubt that if you took the time to thoroughly investigate all of the levels you’d be able to unlock every ability without too much trouble as I managed to get ~60% of them before I got bored and just bypassed everything.
As I alluded to earlier The Fall suffers from many issues due to its transition from the mobile version of Unity to the PC. The first issue I noticed was that sounds just refused to play which also meant the subtitles didn’t stay up either. I traced this back to my headphones (a pair of Logitech G35s) as once I unplugged them everything seemed to work fine. It wasn’t limited to that either as the hacking screen would simply refuse to be moved around which was something of a necessity considering how limited the zoom was. I’m pretty sure this is due to the way you’d handle input on mobile (with DragStart and DragEnd events) which doesn’t directly translate to how PCs with mice work (MouseClick even and then track pointer movement). There were also some rendering issues apparent in a couple levels which wasn’t game breaking but was rather annoying.
The story was semi-interesting although it was so simplistic that it was hard to get into it. There are some familiar faces that appear in the previous games which I thought would be a cool way to give some more backstory on them. However they’re really only there to show their faces before the real meat of the game continues so it just feels like a tease to those who enjoyed the story of Human Revolution. Probably the worst part about it is the huge, glaring TO BE CONTINUED at the end which means seems to indicate that this is going to be an episodic adventure although we’re fast approaching a year since its initial release with no more content in sight.
Deus Ex: The Fall is yet another unfortunate example of how mobile-first games simply don’t translate well into the PC world. It feels like the same amount of time and effort could have been dedicated to implement this as a DLC for Human Revolution, something which I think would’ve seen this story done a lot more justice than what it was on the mobile platform. I may be singing a different tune if I had played this through on my phone but the fact is this was made available through Steam as a game for the PC. In that regard it’s hard to not call it as it is, a bad port that needed a lot more work to even be mediocre.
Deus Ex: The Fall is available on Android, iOS and PC right now for $10.49, $7.49 and $9.99 respectively. Game was played on the PC with 4 hours of total play time with 57% of the achievements unlocked including the pacifist one even though I killed multiple people.
The number of games I know that have made the transition from a mobile platform to the PC is vanishingly small. Primarily this is due to the limitations of the mobile platform that necessitates simplicity in almost all respects, something that is at odds with the expectations of gamers of other platforms. Some do make the jump, indeed they can even be quite palatable if some effort is given to the transition, however their roots are always indisputable with the trade mark multiplicities baked into the very core of the game. Echo Prime, a new title from Robot Entertainment who are behind the Orcs Must Die! series, is a textbook example of a game with a primary platform in mind that suffers when translated elsewhere.
You’re an elite enforcer on a quest to protect the galaxy from an alien threat. During an engagement with the enemy however your ship becomes damaged and drifts slowly towards a black hole. However this black hole is actually a tear between this universe and the wider multiverse allowing you to establish a link with a race of beings called the Echoes. This link grants you abilities far beyond that of any normal human, enabling you to protect the galaxy from the imminent alien threat. From then on its up to you to fight your way through untold hordes of enemies ranging from robots gone awry all the way up to massive alien commanders, ready to squash you without a second thought.
As is the case with all mobile ports the graphics of Echo Prime are incredibly simplistic, done so that it can run on the widest range of devices possible. There’s no option to crank them up to ridiculous levels on the PC unfortunately, so you just end up with the same thing running at a larger resolution. This means it runs well but honestly there’s rarely enough happening on screen to stress even a decade old PC, even if you try to do something silly like run through the whole level to bunch up all the enemies together (there’s rarely more than 20, total, in a level). This makes it somewhat obvious that the target market was most certainly not the PC and more on the mobile market.
Echo Prime is a hack ‘n’ slash time waster with every level being no longer than a couple minutes long and you never being swamped with more than a handful of enemies at once. There’s 2 basic forms of combat the first being a simple ranged attack that you can spam by holding down. The second is a melee attack that you’ll automatically switch to when enemies are in range. The enemies you’ll face are just about as varied with them being designated as either melee or ranged and acting accordingly. If this isn’t sounding incredibly nuanced to you then you’d be right on the money as it’s catered more towards spamming attacks, either kind will do, than any kind of meaningful strategy.
It became clear early on that the AI in the game is rudimentary, to the point where I’m sure that the path finding algorithm is a straight “walk directly at the player” for 90% of the enemies. Whilst there are some elements of strategy that you can potentially take advantage of (environmental hazards like oil slicks and toxic gas) you likely won’t need them once you figure out that you can shoot nearly every enemy before they get on screen. This is because enemies are placed all over the level before you start and will remain there until their either hit with a projectile or they come within a certain range of you (which, you’ll note, is after you can see them).
This is not to say that playing a true melee character wouldn’t be viable, it certainly is given the fact that melee weapons are usually an order of magnitude more powerful. Consequently if you’re a classical min-maxer like myself you’ll quickly learn that there’s no need to buy any weapon but the very best you can for your level bracket. The first time doing this is a little bit of a struggle (time wise more than anything else) but after that you’re pretty much guaranteed to waste any enemy near you without having to think about it. This means that the challenge of the game is almost non-existent, removing any sense of driving purpose to improve on your character.
I will admit that the Echo system is pretty cool, allowing you to choose from an incredibly massive range of augmentations to spice up the game play. Better still you’re allowed to choose one from another player to use for that campaign, something which can lead to awfully broken builds like my double-double shot build which could spawn upwards of 20 bullets with a single click. This also sends back credits and upgrade points to the people you borrowed them from, encouraging you to upgrade your Echoes fully in order to have them picked before anyone elses. Unfortunately once you find a build you’re comfortable with you’re quite unlikely to stray from it, even if you happen to borrow an Echo that has some cool abilities.
It’s painfully obvious that the whole game is designed for fat fingering on a tablet screen with all the buttons being huge and all the controls having touch centric ideals built into them. This works horribly on PC with the dodge function detecting “swipes” all the time, often leading your character to dive in a direction that you didn’t expect them to. Worse still the large collision radius used for the cursor can mean that you sometimes end up clicking on things that you can’t see, like when you’re clicking on the edge of the screen to move forward. It’s highly frustrating to use and the game’s simplicity is its saving grace in this regard as any kind of twitch reaction is nigh on impossible.
The story is incredibly basic, being told primarily through small chunks of text before the mission begins. It’s little more than a bit of flavour text as it often doesn’t amount to much more than “You need to clear this place out” or “We need to defend this because of X”. Indeed past the initial set up the story seems to be a second thought something which is entirely a symptom of the game’s design to be picked up, played for 5~10 minutes, and then put away. This might be passable on a mobile device but in a PC title it really doesn’t cut it.
Echo Prime is a perfect example of why straight ports of a mobile game are just not compatible with the PC platform. The simplistic graphics, pick up/put down nature and extreme simplicity is perfectly suited to a platform where those things are key but when brought to the PC it just feels cheap. The idea has a lot of potential and I believe that Robot Entertainment could make a great version of it for the PC, however this current incarnation is far from that, showing its mobile roots almost too proudly. For PC gamers I’d rethink buy this on your PC as it’d be much better suited to your phone or gaming tablet.
Echo Prime is available on PC and iOS right now for $9.99 and $5.49 respectively. Game was played on the PC with 4 hours total play time and 25% of the achievements unlocked.
Often the origin tale of a developer can be just as interesting as the games they develop. Long time readers on here will know that I’ve got a soft spot for Wadjet Eye Games who’ve been responsible for publishing some of the best pixel-art adventure games in the last couple years but they’re also a developer themselves having released numerous titles previously. Their first ever game was called The Shivah, initially done as a entry into a monthly game contest, but quickly became their first commercial title. I unfortunately never even heard of it at the time, most likely because I was deep in the throws of my World of Warcraft addiction at the time, but they’ve since remastered it and released it as The Shivah: Kosher Edition and they provided me with a copy for review.
You play as Russell Stone the lone rabbi of a small synagogue in New York city. It’s not the easiest of times for Rabbi Stone as his congregation has been steadily shrinking and the bills keep piling up. Just when he was about to pack everything in he gets a knock at the door: the police want to see him about something. As it turns out a former member of his congregation left him a large sum of money in his will, more than enough to keep the synagogue open. Puzzled as to why this strange windfall has come his way rabbi Stone sets out to find out the reasons as to why this money was left to him and the circumstances in which came.
Whilst I never played the previous version looking through the various guides and reviews of the previous edition of The Shivah shows that a lot of work has gone into revamping the visuals with every aspect being redone. The difference is quite stark with every scene now having a lot more detail, fidelity and lighting effects. It’s the kind of thing that I’ve come to expect from every game Wadjet Eye publishes and I’m glad that their in house titles are no different.
The Shivah is an adventure game where you’ll spend the majority of your time clicking on things, reading through text and figuring out where to go next in order to progress the story. Whilst I can’t comment on its previous incarnation it does feel like this was the part was left pretty much as is as the mechanics are quite simple and barring a couple of the challenges you’re not likely to get stuck at any one position for long. I think this is telling of its origins as an entry to a game challenge contest as many games done in a similar fashion eschew elaborate puzzles due to the constrained development time.
Whilst there’s an inventory system it’s thankfully kept to the bare minimum, mostly serving as another point of reference for solving the other puzzles. I must admit that playing The Shivah I felt like I’d been spoiled by more recently releases in the genre with many implementing a clue system to record pertinent details. The Shivah has this for a few things but there were a couple times where I found myself forgetting a name and having to scramble around the game looking for it again. The notable lack of feedback for some turning points, like in other games where a clue being added to your journal was a good indicator that you could progress, can also leave you wondering what else you need to do. Thankfully most of the time you can get past that by simply travelling to another location but I did manage to get myself caught up in my own head a couple times.
The story is interesting, running you through the trials and tribulations that religions face in the modern day and how the rigorously devout deal with them. Whilst I was a little sceptical as to it being of any interest to me the way The Shivah deals with people compromising on their ideals and how others react to that is quite intriguing. I might understand the plight of the modern day Jew but I’m very familiar with people holding one stance publicly yet doing something else privately and the way The Shivah deals with such hypocrisy has a very real feeling about it.
With it being a rather short game though it’s hard to deeply empathize with any of the characters and whilst some of the scenes can be confronting on an emotional level it certainly didn’t elicit emotions of the same level as say To The Moon (although to be fair few do). The Shivah does get a lot of bonus points for having a story that changes depending on your actions though as how you resolve the situation will greatly depend on how you conduct yourself. Thankfully getting all of them isn’t too difficult so there’s no need to keep a treasure trove of saves lying around and the auto-save function ensures that you’ll have all the chances you need to get the ending you want.
The Shivah: Kosher Edition is a short but sweet experience from Wadjet Eye games, capturing the essence of what led to the publisher’s creation and showing how remastered games in this genre should be done. It’s a simple title, one that’s aptly suited to the iOS platform that this version is available on, and whilst the replay value isn’t high if you’re a fan of Wadjet Eye style games then you’ll definitely enjoy The Shivah.
The Shivah: Kosher Edition is available on PC and iOS right now for $4.99 and $1.99 respectively. Game was played on the PC with 2 hours total play time and 60% of the achievements unlocked. A copy of this game was provided to The Refined Geek for the purposes of reviewing.
I remember sitting in one of my university classes, it was Game Programming Techniques which I was giddy with excitement to be in, and being proposed a simple yet poignant question: how many of you have tried to code a game? The room was filled with students who had spent much of their past few years at university coding but out of the dozens of people there only a few raised their hands. The answer as to why was the same for all of us, we simply did not know how to go about it. Fast forward to today and thanks to tools like GameMaker and Unity it’s possible for anyone, even non-coders, to be able to create a production quality title. Lilly Looking Through is a great example of how these tools enable people to create, without the necessary background in flipping bits.
Lilly is just like any other ordinary kid, letting her curiosity run wild as she ventures around her own little world. One day though something strange catches her eye, a piece of cloth that appears to move with a life of its own. However she can never seem to get close to it, the devious strip of cloth always flitting away at the last possible second. Then suddenly the cloth seemingly takes a dark turn, snatching up Lilly’s brother Ro and whisking him away faster than Lilly can run. What follows is Lilly’s journey to get her brother back, taking her through all sorts of wonderful and whimsical worlds.
Lilly Looking Through has a decidedly Dinsey-esque feeling about it, with the backgrounds all being lovingly hand drawn. It reminded me of the many similar types of games I used to play as a kid like The Magic School Bus and Mario is Missing, albeit with the additional twist of all the animation being done using 3D models. The developers behind Lilly Looking Through should be commended for blending the two elements seamlessly as traditionally it’s usually very obvious where the distinction lies, something that I find quite distracting. The background music is also quite enjoyable, being a great backdrop to the sumptuous visuals.
At its core Lilly Looking Through is a 2.5D point and click adventure game albeit without the usual trimmings of an inventory system and the requisite try this item with every other item to see if you can progress. This is quite typical of the indie scene where general mechanics are left to one side in favour of other things and, in all honesty, it’s refreshing to play a game that doesn’t have a cornucopia of things to do in it. Thus the majority of your time in Lilly Looking Through will be spent solving puzzles and drinking in the scenery you find yourself in.
The one twist in Lilly Looking Through’s puzzle mechanics is the use of her goggles you pick up early in the game. These allow you to switch between two different times in the same world, allowing you to accomplish things that would otherwise be impossible. It’s by no means an unique or innovative mechanic but it does do its job well by making you think about how to use the two different worlds effectively. The rest of the puzzles build off this mechanic, playing on the notion of time passing and setting up things accordingly.
For the most part the puzzles are challenging, encouraging you to look at the scenery around you and figure out how everything interacts in order to unlock the next section. Indeed my favourite puzzle of the lot (shown below) required you to initially play around to figure out what everything did and only then could you approach it scientifically. However the puzzles that rely on understanding colour theory are, to be blunt, unintuitive and just frustrating. I have a basic understanding of how colours mix together but I know that there’s a major difference between mixing paint and mixing light and trying to figure it out intuitively just doesn’t work. It would be ok if this was just a single puzzle but the last few all rely on the colour mixing mechanic.
The story is also pretty simplistic and whilst I’m not adverse to an absence of dialogue (indeed games like Kairo are a powerful experience) it did feel somewhat hollow. I think much of this stems from the fact that Lilly Looking Through is heavily focused on the visual aspect of the game, and in that respect it does well, however it’s just not enough to carry the game on its own. Don’t get me wrong I think it’s still a great little story, especially if I’m guessing right in that their target demographic tend towards the younger generation, but it really is the bare minimum to keep it moving forward.
Lilly Looking Through is a gorgeous little game, one that rewards the player for being inquisitive with a visual display that is quite impressive. The early puzzle mechanics are fun and enjoyable however the later stages that assume some knowledge of colour theory unfortunately let it down, leading to a frustrating experience that feels more like luck than anything else. Still I think it’s a great little game, one that is probably best played by your youngest relative while you watch from the sidelines.
Lilly Looking Through is available on PC and iOS right now for $9.99. Game was played on the PC with around 2 hours total play time.
One of the biggest arguments I’ve heard against developing anything for the Android platform is the problem of fragmentation. Now it’s no secret that Android is the promiscuous smartphone operating system, letting anyone and everyone have their way with it, but that has led to an ecosystem that is made up of numerous devices that all have varying amounts of capabilities. Worse still the features of the Android OS itself aren’t very standard either with only a minority of users running the latest software at any point in time and the rest never making a true majority. Google has been doing a lot to combat this but unfortunately the unified nature of the iOS platform is hard to deny, especially when you look at the raw numbers from Google themselves.
Android developer’s lives have been made somewhat easier by the fact that they can add in lists of required features and lock out devices that don’t have them however that also limits your potential market so many developers aren’t too stringent with their requirements. Indeed those settings are also user controllable as well which can allow users you explicitly wanted to disallow being able to access your application (ala ChainFire3D to emulate NVIDIA Tegra devices). This might not be an issue for most of the basic apps out there but for things like games and applications that require certain performance characterisitcs it can be a real headache for developers to work with, let alone the sub-par user experience that comes as a result of it.
This isn’t made any easier by handset manufacturers and telecommunications providers dragging their feet every time an upgrade comes along. Even though I’ve always bought unlocked and unbranded phones the time between Google releasing an update and me receiving them has been on the order of months, sometimes coming so late that I’ve upgraded to a new phone before they’ve come out. This is why the Nexus range of phones directly from Google is so appealing, you’re guaranteed those updates immediately and without any of the cruft that your manufacturer of choice might cram in. Of course then there was that whole issue with supply but that’s another story.
For what it’s worth Google does seem to be aware of this and has tried to make inroads to solving it in the past. None of these have been particularly successful but their latest attempt, called Google Play Services, might just be the first step in the right direction to eliminating at least one aspect of Android fragmentation. Essentially instead of most new feature releases coming through Android updates like they have done in the past Google will instead deliver them via the new service. It’s done completely outside the Play store, heck it even has its own update mechanism (which isn’t visible to the end user), and is essentially Google’s solution to eliminate the feet dragging that carriers and handset manufacturers are renown for.
On the surface it sounds pretty great as pretty much every Android device is capable of running this which means that many features that just aren’t available to older versions can be made available via Google Play Services. This will also help developers immensely as they’ll be able to code against those APIs knowing that it’ll be widely available. I’m a little worried about its clandestine nature however with its silent, non-interactive updating process which seems like a potential attack vector but smarter people than me are working on it so I’ll hold off on bashing them until there’s a proven exploit.
Of course the one fragmentation problem this doesn’t solve is the one that comes from the varying hardware that the Android operating system runs on. Feature levels, performance characteristics and even screen resolution and aspect ratio are things that can’t be solved in software and will still pose a challenge to developers looking to create a consistent experience. It’s the lesser of the two problems, granted, but this is the price that Android has to pay for its wide market domination. Short of pulling a Microsoft and imposing design restrictions on manufacturers I don’t think there’s much that Google can do about this and, honestly, I don’t think they have any intentions to.
How this will translate into the real world remains to be seen however as whilst the idea is good the implementation will determine just how far this goes to solving Android’s fragmentation issue. Personally I think it will work well although not nearly as well as controlling the entire ecosystem, but that freedom is exactly what allowed Android to get to where it is today. Google isn’t showing any signs of losing that crown yet either so this really is all about improving the end user experience.
Since my review of the original The Walking Dead from Telltale games I’ve found myself far more involved in the IP. I’ve watched all the TV episodes and whilst it isn’t my favorite show out there it still ranks up there as one of those shows that I’d say is recommended watching. Of course I understand that while they share the same source material the games are far more true to the originals and whilst I haven’t had the chance to read through them I can definitely attest to the incredible amount of character development that happens in The Walking Dead series. 400 Days is an episodic DLC for The Walking Dead, serving as an introduction for the story that will come with season 2. Now I’m not usually one for DLC but The Walking Dead stands out as one of the best episodic, story focused games out there which made this hard to pass up.
400 Days gives you a brief introduction into 5 different story lines that all within a short time frame of each other. They serve as the character’s origin stories, ostensibly the ones that will be used as a basis for season 2, and since you’re playing through them you have a certain amount of control over how their characters develop. All of them come with baggage, both from before the outbreak and after, and how you deal with that will determine how they play out in the future. This rings true to the rest of the series which was highly reactive the choices you made, even the ones you thought were of no consequence at the time.
Considering this is just a DLC it comes as no surprise that there’s been no dramatic changes to the art style or general game mechanics. It still feels very much like you’re playing a game that’s taking place in a comic book as style that works incredibly well, seemingly taking the idea of authenticity to its utmost conclusion. The voice acting has remained top notch as well with all the lines delivered with the expected emotion and gravity befitting the situation happening on screen. It shouldn’t be surprising really as this is essentially the 5th time they’ve done this and every time Telltale games have shown they can deliver.
Unlike the previous installments which followed Lee and Clementine’s quest to stay alive in a hostile world 400 days instead gives you the option of picking which story arc you’d like to investigate. Whilst I’m sure that many will do pretty much as I did, going from left to right, there’s no right or wrong way to play through them. They do intertwine however which means that it’s up to you to form part of the narrative through deducing the links, however they’re not exactly subtle so I don’t think anyone would miss them. Each of the stories are unique and provide you the opportunity to shape their character in some way and with a few cases you can (I suspect) radically change their behavior.
Mechanically it plays essentially the same as The Walking Dead did with the addition of a couple more mechanics that feel like they are there to test the waters for the next season. You’ve got your usual adventure game mechanics of clickable items which you can then interact with however since this is essentially just a bit of background story for each of the characters there’s really no puzzles to speak of. There’s a few challenges but the NPCs tell you exactly what to do so unless you deviate from that then there’s really nothing to threaten you. You could almost consider the mechanics unnecessary as they are as basic as you can get however I do appreciate them as they help to break up what would otherwise be a monotonous experience.
Thankfully it looks like Telltale has taken some of the lessons learned with previous releases and applied them to this one as my experience with 400 days was completely bug free. The worst thing that can happen in story focused games like this is game issues breaking immersion and The Walking Dead had enough of them that I had a couple occasions where I just stopped playing because of it. Hopefully this trouble free experience translates well onto season 2 as that was probably the only negative thing I can remember about The Walking Dead.
Of course that’s all second to the incredibly confronting stories that 400 Days manages to tell in its short play time. Every single one of the story lines will force you to make a hard decision, some a choice between two that neither of which you can completely agree with. Some of the things you’ll do thinking they were the right thing to do, or were simply the only way you could react given the situation, will put you on a path that you don’t agree with. How you deal with that will impact on how the character reacts later down the track and, if the foreboding is anything to go by, how the story of season 2 shapes itself.
400 days fits right in with the rest of The Walking Dead series, providing a little taste of what’s to come in season 2 and giving you the opportunity to shape the story before it starts. If you enjoyed the previous series then you’re sure to like 400 days as the same game play and story telling is there, it’s just the people you’ll be following is different. If you haven’t played any of them then I’d strongly recommend you do as they’re one of the stand out story first titles in recent memory and if 400 days is anything to go by season 2 will continue on with that tradition.
The Walking Dead: 400 days is available on PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox360 and iOS right now for $4.99 on all platforms. Total game time was 2.5 hours with 88% of the achievements unlocked.
Much to the chagrin of many of my friends I haven’t really got into the whole Walking Dead craze that seemed to sweep the Internet over the past couple years, mostly because my wife went ahead and started watching them without me. Couple that with the fact that I’m a terrible reader (I only seem to find time for it on long haul flights) I have also given the comics on which the whole craze is based a miss. I tell you this because The Walking Dead game seemed to attract just as much fandom as the IP’s other incarnations but that was most certainly not the reason I decided to play it. Instead I had heard that Telltale Games had done well with this particular franchise and since their treatment of Sam & Max was pretty decent I figured the hype was probably well earned.
The Walking Dead takes place in modern day America with you playing as Lee Everett, a university professor who’s been recently convicted of killing his wife’s lover and is on his way to jail. On the way however the police car you’re in hits an unidentified person sending the car tumbling over the embankment and leaving you trapped in the car. After looking around it’s clear that something is amiss with the officer who was driving you rising from the dead and attempting to attack you. Things only seem to get worse from here on out as you struggle to survive and protect the few people you manage to team up with.
Whilst I haven’t played many Telltale games (although I’ve watched someone play through most of the Sam & Max series) I still got the feeling that their titles had a distinctive style and The Walking Dead certainly fits in with that idea. Due to the extreme cross platform nature of The Walking Dead the graphics aren’t particularly great but the heavy use of comic-book stylization (I’ve seen people say its cel-shaded but I’m not entirely sure about that) means that it still works well. The animations and sound effects are somewhat rudimentary but this is made up in spades by the voice acting which I’ll touch on more later.
Whilst The Walking Dead is more like an interactive movie with game elements the core game mechanics are those of an adventure game coupled with a few modern innovations like quick time events to drive some of the more action oriented sections. If you’ve played other titles in the same genre like Heavy Rain then this style will be very familiar to you where the game play elements are there to serve as a break from the usually quite intense story sections. Of course decisions you make during these sections can also have an impact on how the story unfolds, something which The Walking Dead informs you of at the start of every episode.
Even for a modern adventure game the puzzles that are thrown at you are rather simplistic usually consisting of you tracking down a particular item or following the bouncing ball in order to progress to the next area. Some of the puzzles are also completely optional, as far as I could tell, as there were a couple times when I’d do things that didn’t seem to have any impact past the scene in question. For a game that is heavily focused on the story rather than the game play I can’t really fault it for this as hard puzzles usually only serve to break immersion and frustrate the player but if you were expecting The Longest Journey level brain ticklers than you’ll be disappointed.
What I was thankful for was the simplistic inventory system that shied away from having some form of combine or use one item with another item type mechanic that a lot of games like this have. Usually this just ends up in frustration as you try to find the right item combination in order to solve the problem, something that I’m not usually a fan of. Instead if you have an item that can interact with something in the world it’ll show up as an option taking a lot of the guesswork out of the equation. Sure figuring something out can be fun and The Walking Dead certainly has some satisfying challenges but playing inventory item roulette isn’t one of them.
The Walking Dead is, for the most part, bug and glitch free however I had several occasions when the game broke on me in one way or another. Typically this took the form of the keyboard or mouse simply not responding during an interactive section, rendering me unable to progress any further until I reloaded. This wasn’t usually a problem but sometimes it did mean losing a bit of progress, forcing me to replay through a section. By far the worst bug was when a particular cut scene somehow managed to double itself up with all the characters saying their lines twice over the top of each other and the animations attempting to do the same. Personally I’d put this down to the multi-platform release which means that the amount of time that Telltale could spend on QAing each platform was reduced significantly. In all honesty though I thought most of these bugs would be ironed out given the time since the initial release.
Realistically though you wouldn’t be playing this game for the game mechanics, you’ll be playing it for the story. The Walking Dead tells you in no uncertain terms that the choices you make will affect the outcome of the game and that’s 100% true. Depending on the choices you make certain characters may or may not be alive, people might react to you differently or you might end up in a situation that you didn’t expect to find yourself in. At the end of each episode you’ll also be greeted with a statistic screen which shows how your choices lined up with the greater community and the results can be rather surprising at times.
What really got me initially were the small decisions that I’d make in the heat of the moment having drastic repercussions later on, sometimes right after doing so. Traditionally your choices in these kinds of games were almost irrelevant due to the complexity of creating multiple story arcs that have some level of coherency. The Walking Dead still has decisions like that at times during the game but it’s hard to know which one is which before you make it. I can’t tell you the number of times that I found myself wanting to go back and change something because the result wasn’t what I had expected but since there’s no quick save/load function (a deliberate omission) there’s really no way to do it unless you want to play the whole episode over again. Even then you might not be able to shape the story in the way you want.
I also want to give a lot of credit to the voice acting as it’s not easy to make something fully voice acted and have it come out as well as it has in The Walking Dead. Whilst there can be some strange fluctuations in tone should you choose different types of responses (Lee usually has passive, neutral and aggressive options) the sound bites themselves are well spoken and full of emotion which is probably one of the reasons I found it so easy to sympathize with the characters. There’s been quite a few games I’ve played recently that have been ruined by sub-par voice actors so The Walking Dead was a welcome change and one that I hope more game developers take note of.
The story was one of the great examples where I could hate everything that was happening but still felt a deep emotional connection to most of the characters. The relationship between Lee and Clem is a beautiful one and whilst I won’t spoil the ending anyone who’s been through it will tell you that it’s utterly heart breaking, to the point where I was just staring at the monitor, not wanting to accept what was happening. From what I can gather though this is what The Walking Dead franchise is all about and it does a damn good job of making you care for a lot of people before putting them through all sorts of hell, taking you along with them.
The Walking Dead is a great example of an episodic game done right as each of the sections stands well on its own but together they form something that is very much greater than the sum of its parts. The graphics are simple yet well executed, the voice acting superb and the story so engrossing that you’re likely to be thinking “what if” for a long time to come after you finish it. If you’re a fan of adventure games or The Walking Dead itself then there’s going to be a lot to love in this cinematic adventure game and I can recommend it enough.
The Walking Dead is available on PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox360 and iOS right now for $24.99, $29.99, $29.99 and $14.99. Game was played on the PC with around 10 hours played and 100% of the achievements unlocked.
Us PC gamers are always slightly wary of ports. The reasoning behind it is twofold, primarily stemming from the fact that many ports are rush jobs, leaving us stuck with interfaces that were obviously designed for another platform and failing to take advantage of our PC hardware. It’s also partly due to our slight bruised pride from no longer being the platform any more and the issues with ports just seem to be yet another strike against us. Strangely enough though I’ve found ports from the portable market, mostly from iOS and Android, have actually been quite good with Galaxy on Fire 2 genuinely surprising me with how well it translated to the PC platform. Waking Mars is another title that found its fame on the mobile market and now, thanks to Steam’s Greenlight project, has found its way onto the PC.
Waking Mars is set in the not too distant future of 2093 where a team of scientists, including you playing as Liang, have been sent to investigate some of the caves that were discovered on Mars. You’re not going in blind however as some time before your team sent a robot, named OCTO (presumably because it had 8 legs), down to investigate and the pictures it sent back indicated there was life down there. However shortly after sending those pictures communications were lost and whilst his recovery wasn’t a prime directive it did necessitate the need to go down and investigate these life forms further and discover a whole new world that has been lurking underneath Mar’s surface for an eternity.
Unlike most of the adventure/puzzle/point and click adventures I review on here Waking Mars isn’t done in pixel art fashion. Rather its done in a hand drawn style, one that’s very familiar but I can’t place my finger on where I’ve seen it before. Whilst the animation is a bit wonky at times, for both your character and some of the NPCs in the world, it’s still quite passable. The colour palettes are also quite bright and varied which helps to make sure that you don’t get visual fatigue looking at the same sodden brown landscape for hours on end.
The core game of Waking Mars is a cross between exploration and puzzle solving. Primarily your aim is to increase the “biomass” of each section by making the various creatures and plants reproduce in the little section you’re currently in. Initially this just starts of with you planting seeds and watering them (which then makes them produce more seeds) but it grows into a complex puzzle of what you should plant where and managing the different types of soil in order to make sure you can produce the required amount of biomass. Once you reach the required level the door to the next level will open up, allowing you to dive deeper into the cave.
As far as puzzle mechanics go its pretty novel especially when you get further along when there are certain plants that will kill other plants which also spread voraciously if not kept under control. Each room obviously has an intended solution, one that if done properly will see you complete it with a minimum of fuss and waiting. This can be something of a blessing or a curse as early on you don’t have the right tools to undo your mistakes. Thankfully up until a certain point all the puzzles are designed to not block you until you get to a stage where you can generate any number of the right seeds you need, as shown below.
This particular level also demonstrates the potential for emergent game play mechanics that can be lovingly exploited should you have the time to do so. In this particular area I had what I called a Yellow Seed Reactor (the ones that can grow in the acidic ground) where regular green seeds seemed to collect. Also in the same area was a couple of those life forms that eat the green seeds to reproduce and since the seeds will keep coming as long as I don’t pick them up they had a near infinite supply of food with which to reproduce. In the same area there was also one of the acidic plants that reproduces when it eats one of those little things so whenever I needed a couple of those seeds I’d simply travel back there and wait.
Indeed the way I completed that level was by simply sitting there and watching the reactor in progress as there really is no limit to the amount of times those little buggers can reproduce. It can also backfire horribly on you as they run away when you get near them and the collision detection gets a bit wonky when there’s 100 of them together, usually resulting in a mass suicide that drops hundreds of biomass in a second. I’d be lying if I didn’t say it was hilarious though because seeing them all explode out only to fall over and die is pretty bloody funny.
Past a certain point however the puzzles start to feel very samey as you’re just repeating the same motions over and over again. Once you’re in the big chamber you have pretty much unlimited access to all the seeds you need which makes most of the harder puzzles moot but at the same time it also means you’re forever trucking back and forth between locations in order to get the right materials ready in order to progress through. This might not have been as much of a problem if I was playing it on my smart phone since I’d only be playing it for 10~20 mins at a time (and its broken up perfectly for that) but sitting down and playing it for a couple hours means the repetition gets to you and doesn’t make for compelling game play.
The story is also semi-interesting although it feels like it was lacking any direction. Your motives seem to wander from investigation to getting back to base camp to investigating random signals at different points on the map, all without a clear sense of direction. There’s heaps of additional objectives to do but there’s no driving force, either in upgrades or in terms of the story, to push you to do them. Again this feels like an artefact of its mobile origins where it was designed to be picked up and played for a bit and then put down again until the next session.
Waking Mars is fun and novel, exploring an idea that all my fellow space nuts would love to be true. The core game mechanic is certainly refreshing after all the exploration/puzzler games I’ve played of late but after a while it starts to look all the same. The so-so story that has troubles with direction and pacing doesn’t help this either but that doesn’t stop Waking Mars from being a game that’s worth a look in. I’d probably recommend it on Android or iOS as it seems to be well designed for that and whilst it doesn’t translate badly to PC I still think you’d have a better time elsewhere.
Waking Mars is available on Android, iOS and PC right now for $4.99, $4.99 and $9.99 respectively. Game was played entirely on the PC with 3 hours played and 47% of the achievements unlocked.