This may come as a surprise given my gaming pedigree but I never really got into the old Lucasfilm adventure games. It wasn’t a lack of interest, more that we were a MS-DOS/PC house and my friends who loved those games were all Mac families. So I stuck to my titles and they to theirs and so I was left to discover adventure games much later in life. I tell you this because I feel a lot of what should make Thimbleweed Park good is tied up in the nostalgia associated with those games. Don’t get me wrong, nostalgia is a completely valid thing to base a game on, however for those lacking the requisite history with the product/franchise/developer those same elements can be confusing, kitchsey or downright trite. Such is my experience with Thimbelweed Park, one where I can see a lot of what I know is likely to be a huge draw card for many but simply not for me.
Thimbleweed Park puts you in charge of a whole host of characters, ranging from two detectives who couldn’t be more different, to a young girl with aspirations to become a game developer and even a clown cursed to never be able to remove his makeup. The game starts off with the detectives investigating a murder in this sleepy town of just 81 people. What follows is a deep dive into the town’s history, how it came to be and why everything seems to hinge on a single dilapidated pillow factory on the town’s outskirts.
As the game was developed by the very same people behind all those Lucasfilm Games titles it should come as no surprise that its art direction reflects them to a tee. The art is perhaps a bit more detailed than its predecessors were with things like better shading being quite noticeable on comparison. Thimbleweed Part definitely leans more towards a stylized, cartoony feel rather than a pixel-art imitation of the real world which, again, is reminiscent of its spiritual predecessors. The simplistic graphics do belies a great amount of detail in some areas however, like the bookshelves (which in most adventure games would just be decorative) containing hundreds of titles in them. This is, of course, all part of the game’s core mechanics.
There’s nothing new or inventive about how Thimbleweed Park plays out and that’s very much by design. Long time fans of these specific kinds of games will be instantly familiar with the trademark grab-bag of verbs at the bottom left-hand side of the screen which dictate how you can interact with objects and NPCs. There’s your inventory which will contain a bevy of both useful and useless items, although which is which is an exercise left up to the reader. Every room is filled with details, some of which you’ll need to solve the current issue du-jour and others that will come in handy later. Indeed the structure of Thimbleweed park is done in such a way that there’s no dead-ends and no way for your character to die so you should (hopefully) never get stuck. Combine this with witty quips from all the characters, constant breaking of the fourth wall and not-so-subtle references to the developer’s previous employer and you’ve got a campy but interesting trip down memory lane…I assume.
As the game will tell you (if you listen to the pigeons, that is) Thimbleweed Park is a well designed adventure game in terms of mechanics and puzzle layout. For the first few chapters there’s always something to do and a pretty logical construction to all the puzzles. The inclusion of a to-do list for every character means that you’ll always have at least half a thought towards what you should be doing, even if it’s not immediately obvious. You will however still spend your time doing what you always do in these adventure games: trying a whole bunch of different item combinations and interactions until you finally figure out which one works. Of course once you figure it out it all makes sense, but the journey to that point can be quite frustrating at times.
Thimbleweed Park’s puzzle construction and layout might be both its greatest strength and weakness. Whilst it’s great to have a lot of avenues for progression having them early on can be something of a mixed bag. If you’re like me then you’re quite likely to chase down a bunch of red herrings that aren’t related to your current objective, just because they seem like obvious problems to solve. A good example of this is a puzzle in the diner which I cottoned onto very early on in my play through. Trouble with that was that puzzle didn’t need to be solved until right at the end of the game and so I ended up wondering what the point of it was, thinking I had wasted my time. This is in stark contrast to my general experience with adventure games (both new and old) which gate puzzles like that to keep you on track.
For people who really like to explore through everything though I don’t think this will be much of a problem. The amount of content in Thimbleweed Park is pretty impressive, putting the average completed play through at around 16 hours or so. For people like me though, those without the background in these titles or a deep interest in the story (more on that in a second) it can lend itself to frustration. This is why at around the 4 hour mark or so I gave up any semblance of dignity and headed for the walk through guides with reckless abandon. I do this because otherwise I’d be likely to quit the game in frustration and this way, at least, I can see how the story ends.
The story didn’t do much to grab me, unfortunately. Sure it’s refreshing to see a game not conform to the current norms for adventure games (both new and those in a similar style to this) but after a while some of those aspects start to lose its sheen. Breaking the fourth wall can be funny and thought provoking, but you can only do it so often before it becomes repetitive. The one-liners, repeated jokes and other story mechanics are good in moderation but that’s not something Thimbleweed Park has in large supply. I’m sure all these things that I’m mentioning as negatives are things that long time fans of these types of games say they love, and I’m not trying to take away from that. More I’m trying to show you what it looks like from an outsider coming in and, honestly, it just wasn’t all that and a bag of chips.
It probably doesn’t help that I didn’t really engage with the story past the first 4 chapters or so. The various character’s story arcs were only loosely coupled together which made their required co-operation to solve puzzles even more confusing. Again this comes back to the no-dead-end policy which, whilst ensuring the player can’t find themselves irrevocably stuck, means that certain things aren’t as tight as they could be. For me this appeared to be the story as the connecting elements just weren’t there to pull the whole thing together. Couple that with the items I mentioned before and the overall story experience just wasn’t up to the level that the hype surrounding this game would have you believe.
Thimbleweed Park is most certainly a game for the fans of the Lucasfilm Games series of years gone past, something which this old writer unfortunately let slide by. Had I not my experience of this game would likely be worlds different; a trip down nostalgia lane rather than a mediocre adventure game. All this being said though there is an inherit quality to the game, one that has obviously been shaped by the decades of experience by those who created it. So whilst it might be making my game of the year list I’m sure it’s going to be a delight to those it was made for: those with an inner child who still hold Lucasfilm Games in high regard.
Thimbleweed Park is available on PC, Xbox One, PlayStation 4, iOS and Android right now for $19.99. Game was played on the PC with 7 hours of total play time and 55% of the achievements unlocked.
I feel it’s pertinent that I get this out of the way before I start the review in earnest: Roguelikes give me the shits. I can understand the appeal that many find in them, figuring out a strategy to deal with whatever might come before you, however I really detest games that punish you with things that are completely out of your control. You get to a point where you think you’re doing great only to find that you hadn’t accounted for situation X which then proceeds to tank your game, forcing you to redo the entire section just so you can account for it. Whilst Gods Will Be Watching isn’t exactly a Roguelike (it describes itself as a Point and Click adventure, which it partly is) many of its gameplay elements take inspiration from the genre and, unfortunately, are the downfall of what would otherwise be a brilliant game.
Gods Will Be Watching is one of those games that started out as a entry to the Ludlam Dare game jam which received such wide acclaim that it then went onto a successful IndieGoGo campaign for development into a fully fledged title. You play as Sergeant Burden, a long serving member of the establishment who’s infiltrated himself into the idealistic rebellion group called Xenolifer. Your mission is to play along with them, gain their trust and hopefully limit the amount of damage they can do. However it becomes apparent that it’s not black and white when it comes to Xenolifer, or even your own organisation, and therein is where the real challenge lies. Can you protect everyone? Are you strong enough to make the tough choices at the right time? These are the questions you’ll be faced with and living with those decisions might be easier said than done.
Since the theme for the original Ludlam Dare entry was “minimalism” Gods Will Be Watching took the cue to use the current ultra-minimalistic pixelart styling that other games like Superbrothers: Swords and Sworcery EP are known for. There’s not a huge amount of visual variety in the game with the vast majority of it taking place within a single frame for each chapter of the game. It serves its purpose however, conveying the numerous visual clues and other elements form part of the core game play. It all kind of blurs into the background after a while as for the most part you’ll be spending your time in menus rather than constantly searching for things that you need to click on.
As I alluded to earlier the gameplay of Gods Will Be Watching is a mix between a traditional point and click adventure and a Roguelike. Each scene has a specific objective that needs to be completed in order to progress to the next chapter. Usually this objective requires you to play with a set variables in order to achieve the desired outcome so the majority of your time will be spent balancing them all out. Sometimes these variables are obvious, given to you in plain numbers, other times they’re hidden in the form of visual clues that you’ll have to decipher. There’s also several different ways of dealing with the problem at hand, some of which will make your life easier or harder depending on the objective. It’s an interesting concept however I feel that the execution has let it down somewhat.
You see I get the idea that there’s variables that need maximising and that you probably won’t get everything to go exactly the way you want however the inclusion of randomization feels like a big middle finger to the player. They mention this at the start, forewarning you that failure is to be expected and that you should just keep on trying, however the randomization can and will completely fuck you over numerous times before you get it right. It’s not even a matter of strategy after a while as even the best strategy can get completely wrecked by the random number generator spurting out a couple unfortunate numbers in a row. In a decently designed game this would be a low chance occurrence but in Gods Will Be Watching it happens constantly.
I’d probably be more forgiving if failing a chapter didn’t mean having to start all over from the start again, giving RNGesus another chance to fuck me over. Take for instance the torture scene where you have to distribute damage between the two characters in order to make sure you make it through the day. If your begs happen to fail, or you don’t get the response that allows you to rest, you’ll likely end up killing one of the characters. This isn’t to mention the Russian Roulette scene which can completely fuck you over, even if you use every trick at your disposal. The desert scene is even worse for this as even when I was doing things nigh on perfectly I still got ruined by random events that were out of my control which is where I ended up leaving the game.
Which brings me to the real reason why the random elements piss me off so much: the story is actually intriguing and one where I felt I was crafting my own little narrative within the game. Looking over the forums you can see how varied everyone’s experiences is, something that I really admire in a game when its done well. However like many games I’ve played as of late the mechanics of Gods Will Be Watching are just so onerous that those tasty morsels of story are so few and far between that they are simply not enough to keep you going. It’s a real shame as after reading a couple other reviews I’ve found out there’s still 2 chapters to go but, honestly, I just can’t be arsed to slog through the numerous rounds of RNG roulette in order to see them.
Gods Will Be Watching is a game I really wanted to like as it had all the makings of other titles in the genre that I had considered good. The simplistic presentation and story with a some level of depth to it, coupled with the ability to craft your own narrative above that, has great potential. However the Rougelike elements destroyed any hopes of that happening, trapping the story behind too many RNG determined gates forcing the player to spend hours redoing content in order to get to the next chapter. I’m sure there will be many people who say I didn’t get the point of it or some other bullshit but the simple fact is that Gods Will Be Watching failed to provide the writer with a good game experience, hiding its moments of brilliance behind mechanics that are simply not fun to play.
Gods Will Be Watching is available on PC right now for $9.99. Total play time was 5 hours with 10% of the achievements unlocked.
There’s no question that the Double Fine Adventure was responsible for showing that the Kickstarter model could work for games. The now miserly looking target of $400,000 blew by quickly and the final tally saw it being funded a whopping 800% over what they initially hoped to grab. Now I’ll have to be honest here, I wasn’t completely convinced that it would be worth backing because whilst I appreciate Tim Schaefer’s ability to make games people love I just haven’t been a big fan of his. My mind was changed slightly after I played through The Cave however and when Broken Age came up in one of the Humble Bundles I figured it was worth the price of admission and the first chapter was released just recently.
Broken Age puts you in control of one of two characters. I initially chose to be Shay (voiced by none other than Elijah Wood), a young man who seems to be the only passenger on a vast space ship. It’s not your regular kind of space ship however as everything seems to be very….childish with animated stuff animals running around and all the controls reminiscent of Fisher Price toys for toddlers. Indeed this spaceship seems to act more like a prison than a safe haven as the overly motherly computer foils any attempt that you might make to break the monotony.
At any time though, should you want a change of pace or you’re stuck on a puzzle that just doesn’t seem to have a proper solution, you can switch over to Vella, a young woman who has been given the honour of participating in the maiden’s feast. Nearly all your family is incredibly excited for you with the notable exception of your grandfather, a grizzled war veteran from a time long past. As you start to enquire about what the maiden’s feast actually entails the shocking truth comes out: you’re to be eaten by the huge beast Mog Chothra in order to appease him and avoid conflict with the village. Understandably you don’t want anything to do with this and vow to defeat Mog Chothra once and for all.
The art style of Broken Age is simply delightful with every scene exuding this feeling of meticulously hand painted scenes coming to life before your eyes. I’ll admit that the start I felt it was somewhat simplistic but as you play through you get a real feeling for just how detailed many of the scenes are, especially the ones that contain puzzle elements. Indeed when you revisit places throughout your adventure it becomes apparent just how much detail is there which you simply didn’t notice on the first time through. The art style also fits the slightly whimsical nature of the game which makes it even more impressive to me as I’m not usually one for that kind of style.
Broken Age is your typical point and click adventure game where you’ll spend your time shuffling your character around the environment, looking for things to interact with and solving various kinds of puzzles along the way. Unlike other titles in this genre Broken Age doesn’t attempt to put a unique mechanic or twist on the way the game plays through so it is really, truly an old school point and click adventure. Double Fine has gone to the effort to eliminate the inventory hell that plagued traditional point and clicks but apart from that the game would not be out of place, mechanically at least, if it was released a decade or two ago.
For the most part the puzzles are pretty rudimentary, usually requiring you to have the inquisitive kind of mind that long time players of this genre will already have. Most of the time you can solve the puzzles by simply clicking around and finding the things you can interact with and, should that fail, a quick rummage through the inventory typically gets you out of trouble. The final big puzzles of both Vella and Shay’s story lines present more of a challenge, definitely requiring you to think non-linearly, but they provide the lone challenge in an otherwise rather easy game.
One tip I’ll give without spoiling any of the story line is that, as far as I could see, there was one and only one solution to some puzzles. There were a couple times when I had thought that I had achieved a certain goal without needing to take a certain (seemingly obvious) path but found out later, after coming up blank on every other path, that I needed to do the obvious thing in order to progress. Thus if you think you’ve managed to skip over a section or picked up a useless inventory item you’re wrong and there’s something you’re missing.
However harping on the rudimentary-ness of the mechanics and complaining about how I over-thought some of the puzzles is a distraction away from the real core of Broken Age: its story. Initially I thought it was rather superfluous and poorly written, mostly due to me choosing Shay’s path first, however as you play on you realise that’s the point of that section and it’s setting you up for the grander plot. What follows is a beautiful story of two people looking to overcome tradition, in one way or another, attempting to cast off the shackles that have bound them since birth.
I will lament the fact that it’s episodic though as whilst I thought at one point this would be the future of games I always find myself wanting to play the whole thing through and grow disinterested in it between the lulls in content. This is not a fault of the game per se, more a gripe from a person who loves to envelope themselves in a game from beginning to end as one continuous experience. I understand the reasons for releasing Broken Age in this way but I would have not been mad if I had to wait another year to play the whole thing in its entirety.
Broken Age is a wonderful game, combining a whimsical art style with the tried and true adventure game play that Tim Schaefer is well renown for. It stays true to its genre, eschewing the current indie norm of adding in mechanics to distinguish themselves and instead opts for the more seamless improvements, ones that long time adventure gamers will be thankful for. Broken Age is definitely a game for the fans of Tim Schaefer and the adventure genre so I’ll stop short of recommending everyone play it but should you fall into either of the 2 previous categories then it’s definitely worth a look in.
Broken Age is available right now on PC for $24.99. Total play time was approximately 3 hours.
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.
Telltale Games has a reputation for taking IP that’s either old or from another media and translating it into a new game experience in their very distinctive style. If I’m honest I had avoided many of their titles as whilst it was cool to see things like Sam and Max make a comeback I had long left adventure style games behind, preferring the more fast paced worlds that FPS and RTS offered. Still it was hard to ignore the fervour that surrounded their interpretation of The Walking Dead and my subsequent play through of it showed me that Telltale was able to deliver a deep and compelling story. So when I heard about The Wolf Among Us I was sold on it instantly as the brief taste that 400 Days had given me of the signature Telltale experience had left me wanting for so much more.
The days of the fables living in their own world has long since past and they now attempt to fit into the world of humans through a kind of magic called Glamour. This allows them to take on human form so that they can blend in with the wider world, enabling them to live out their lives in relative obscurity. You play as Big B Wolf (affectionately referred to as Bigby) charged with being the sheriff of the Fabletown community, keeping everyone in line and ensuring the safety of all the fables that have made the transition to the real world. However the magic of glamour doesn’t change past deeds and many old rivalries are still going strong. It was only a matter of time before everything started to take a turn for the worse although you’d never expect Bigby, even with his chequered past, to be at the centre of it.
The Wolf Among Us brings with it Telltale’s trademark style for transitioning comic books to the PC gaming medium, favouring a heavily stylized world that’s light on the graphics but heavy with detail. Every scene feels like a pane pulled straight from a comic book with the only thing missing being giant speech bubbles above all the characters. The art direction has improved quite a bit over The Walking dead with the lighting having an almost oil painting like effect on everything. It’s hard to describe but The Wolf Among Us definitely has a similar feel to other Telltale games but there’s an air of refinement about it that their previous titles lacked.
The main game mechanics remain largely the same from their previous titles with the majority of it taking the form of a point and click adventure that’s peppered with quick time events for the more action oriented scenes. Like the artwork it feels a little more refined than their previous titles with the mechanics having improved UIs that are a lot more responsive. Of course the level of game play in The Wolf Among Us is deliberately simple as the focus is heavily on the story rather than anything else which may frustrate some players. I personally enjoy it, especially after such heavily interactive titles like Shadow Warrior and Grand Theft Auto V, but it’s definitely one of the more valid criticisms that are often levelled at Telltale games.
The dialogue system has seen a small change as now instead of the options being on top of each other they’re laid out as a bunch of squares and no longer begin to fade as the time runs out. The “say nothing” option also seems to be far more prevalent something which you can use to great comedic effect if you feel like doing so. These changes definitely make the options a lot easier to scan and choose between, especially when you don’t have a lot of time to make a decision, and I’m not quite sure how to put it but the flow of dialogue definitely feels different to previous Telltale games. I like it and I’d be interested to see what long time Telltale fans think of the changes.
Whilst I think Telltale are probably the only company to do episodic content right this is the first time I’ve come in at the ground level for one of their IPs and, if I’m honest, it’s actually a little frustrating to start this early. Each episode is a bit sized chunk, on the order of 2 hours each, and whilst they’re quite entertaining in their own right I’m not the kind of person who likes to go back and revisit games for DLC and the like. I most likely will for The Wolf Among Us but it still feels like it’d be somewhat better to wait 5 months until all the episodes are out and then binge on them over a weekend. This can be made up somewhat by the fact that multiple play throughs can be quite a rewarding experience with Telltale titles as the game can play out very differently depending on what seems like minor decisions.
I’m not familiar with the source material behind The Wolf Among Us so I can’t comment to how true to form it is (although I’m told The Walking Dead was essentially like for like) but the story is gripping and thoroughly enjoyable. Of course that’d be all for nothing if the voice acting wasn’t up to scratch but the casting has been done exceptionally well with Bigby’s gravely voice fitting his character perfectly. I really can’t wait to see how it develops over the coming episodes as the first episode was action packed enough and the small teaser they give you at the end is almost cruel in how many questions it raises.
The Wolf Among Us continues Telltale’s success with translating IP material onto the video game medium with skill that few other game developers can match. The current instalment is more than enough to get you hooked into this new world, leaving you clawing at the walls for more that won’t be coming for another month. Whilst the simplistic game style won’t be for everyone the story more than makes up for this, providing an extremely rewarding experience for those who take the small amount of time to experience it. Whilst I’d probably recommend holding off until all the episodes are out it still stands on its own as a great experience, even if its a little short.
The Wolf Among Us is available on PC, Xbox360 and PlayStation 3 for $24.99. Game was played on the PC with around 2 hours of total play time and 16% of the achievements unlocked.
If there’s one thing that Wadjet Eye Games does well it’s sci-fi point and click adventure games. I can remember seeing the trailers for Gemini Rue and just getting swept up in it, loving the idea of revisiting a genre I hadn’t touched in the better part of a decade. Their next release (although not developed by them) in Resonance managed to continue the trend, invoking that same nostalgic feeling whilst also bringing some solid game play that reinvigorated the genre. When I was approached to preview Primordia (and subsequently given the chance to play it before it came out) I was beyond excited and today I bring you my first day 0 review of Wadjet Eye’s latest game.
Primordia is set in a post-apocalyptic future where you play as Horatio Nullbuilt, a robot who’s found himself stranded in the middle of a vast desert with a ship called the UNNIIC. It doesn’t seem like he’s particularly unhappy with his current situation, having spent his time salvaging the wrecks in the nearby vicinity to build his companion Crispin Horatiobuilt, but that’s all thrown into disarray when a strange robot forces its way into his ship and, after shooting Horatio, steals the central power core dooming Horatio and Crispin to die when their charge runs out. Of course this will not stand and this begins your quest to find your power supply and see the mysterious robot brought to justice.
Like all of Wadjet Eye’s previous titles Primordia is brought to you in brilliant pixel-art form bringing the great level of detail that we’ve come to expect from them. The colour palette is distinctly post-apocalyptic future, favouring muted shades of everything interspersed with bright neon glows every so often. Like Gemini Rue before it this really does convey a certain mood as even when other characters greet you cheerfully you can’t help but shake that feeling that something is still amiss, something fundamental. Coupled with every line being fully voiced acted Primordia is exactly what I had come to expect, a pretty good achievement to say the least.
The core of Primordia is your tired and true point and click adventure. Each screen is essentially a mini exploration game where you’ll spend countless minutes pouring over every detail, hovering your mouse over each section to see if it lights up with text that indicates you can interact with it. Unlike other games which make interactive parts obvious by highlighting them Primordia gives you no such luxury, instead forcing you to use your eyes and mouse in tandem to discover each and every interact-able part. For some this will be an exercise in frustration but for those of us who revel in this genre it’s all part of the fun, at least for the first 10 minutes or so on every screen.
Like all point and click adventures Primordia follows the traditional game sequence whereby you’re given free reign over a particular section, being able to walk/click/interact as much as you like, but in order to progress you must solve some kind of puzzle that’s blocking your way. This usually takes the form of finding out which items work with each other which can then be used on said blockade in order to progress further but there are also challenges that rely on you being able to decipher riddles and logic puzzles. Cleverly such puzzles aren’t brute forcible like they are in many similar titles, giving you a couple tries before you’re sent away in order to find another way to solve it.
What I really love about Primordia, and indeed any of the more modern point and click adventures, is the revamps of the inventory system that take away much of the tedium that was present in their ancestors. Primordia has your typical inventory, which can get rather cluttered towards the end, but it also includes a “datapack” which stores critical information that you glean from the environment and NPCs. Gone are the days when you had to rely on pen and paper or solely on your memory in order to figure out the solution to a puzzle which is an absolute godsend. It can also function as something of a red herring too, providing you with information that’s not relevant at all, which adds some challenge back in.
Another great improvement is the use of side kicks, in Primordia’s case Crispin, as hint machines that can help you get unstuck if you’ve been struggling with a particular puzzle. The clues aren’t always helpful, indeed many times asking Crispin what to do results in snide remarks or things I had already thought of, but there were many points where I found myself simply unable to think of new ideas. It was at this point that Crispin could jump start my brain again which I was really appreciative of given the lack of a walk through guide that would do the same.
I have to admit that the first half of my time spent with Primordia was one of frustration as there were many puzzles that I just simply couldn’t manage to figure out in a decent amount of time. Eventually I figured out that I just needed to take a break from it at this point and upon returning would usually be able to continue on. However towards the end something just clicked and all the challenges started to make sense. It might have been dumb luck, indeed there were some puzzles I solved by simply clicking the right item on the right place at the right time without even thinking about it, but I still feel that there’s a certain mindset you need to be in. Once you get it though Primordia becomes immensely more enjoyable.
Of course the main reason I play games like this is for their stories and Primordia does not disappoint. Things are slow going at the start, mostly because its just focusing on you and your companion, but the lore and back story of each character slowly builds around you until you get to a point where you realise you’re in the depths of something that’s far bigger than yourself. The way it morphs from a simple story of “get my power core back” to a full blown political conspiracy story really engaged me and the last 2 hours I spent with this game just seemed to fly by. I get the feeling there are alternate endings as well, meaning I don’t think I’ve explored every option yet, which means there’s even a bit of agency granted to the player. That’s pretty rare for this kind of game.
Primordia is a fantastic game and it was everything that I had come to expect from Wadjet Eye Games. The art work is great, the characters vibrant and believable and the puzzles, whilst frustrating at times, are incredibly satisfying when you manage to complete them without any outside help. I could really go on but the fact is that you’d be much better off just playing it as the story is what makes this game so enjoyable and I’d rather not spoil it for you here.
Primordia is available on PC right now for $9.99. Total game time was approximately 6 hours.
Taking a fresh approach to a long running genre is no easy task, especially in something as well established as the point and click adventure. I’m something of a fan of this particular genre (mostly because I grew up on them) having reviewed 4 titles in this particular category in this year alone. McPixel then, whilst fitting the basic requirements to be called a point and click adventure, feels like its in a category in all of its own thanks to its rapid place and numerous and often quite hilarious ways you can fail a particular section. Suffice to say that McPixel isn’t your run of the mill indie game.
You are McPixel, a slightly overweight man who’s given the job of saving the day in dozens of situations, all of which involve a bomb of some sort that will explode in less than 20 seconds. You’ll visit all sorts of environments ranging from the mundane like shopping centres and people’s houses to the fantastical, including choice locations such as a giant butterfly and various spacecraft. There are no second chances in McPixel either and should you click the wrong thing at the wrong time or in the wrong order you’ll find your surroundings blown to pieces and you’ll have to restart from the beginning again.
McPixel’s pixel art graphics are pretty rudimentary but I feel that’s part of the appeal. Whilst there’s been many games that show just how much you can do with pixel art style graphics McPixel’s are far more reminiscent of those which I grew up on and the ones that my friends and I tried fruitlessly to replicate within MSPaint. The crudeness just adds to the hilarity when McPixel does something that you can’t represent that well with such a simplistic medium and he ends up doing something that you can recognize but also get horribly confused by at the same time.
McPixel’s game play takes the form of a pretty simple puzzler in which you have to find the right way to defuse (or nullify in some way) a bomb that’s set to go off in 20 seconds. There’s only one “right” way to do this and whilst some times it will be the obvious answer like stepping on the fuse most of the time it will be some completely unintuitive answer that either involves you thinking in a decidedly random fashion or happening the solution by complete accident. Should you get the solution wrong you’ll be exploded in a blaze of glory and moved onto the next puzzle. You’ll come back around to it eventually which requires you to flex those memory muscles in order to not make the same mistake twice.
The bomb locations aren’t always obvious and it’s more than likely that you’ll spend a couple tries on particular puzzles just figuring out where the bomb is and which of the solutions doesn’t work as intended. This is part of the fun though as the non-working solutions usually fail in some hilarious and incomprehensible way, leaving the area around you devastated (although McPixel is usually fine, strangely enough). These jokes are actually part of the game play as once you find all of them in a particular section you’ll unlock yet another section that you can play through.
Should you manage to successfully solve 3 puzzles in a row you’ll be treated to a bonus round which apparently takes place inside a Nyan Cow. I believe the bonus round is the same puzzle every time (from what I can recall it was the same in the 2 times I managed to get it) and I couldn’t for the life of me figure out what the solution was. Considering that most of the later puzzles took me a couple tries just to understand fully what was going on it’s not surprising that I didn’t manage to solve it, especially considering how bizzare it was.
The weird randomness that’s woven throughout McPixel’s many jokes is where all the fun comes from. I can’t tell you how many times I went to do something that I was pretty sure of what the outcome would be only to be hilariously surprised by the result. The humour isn’t for everyone, especially for those that find crude/rude humour boring or unfunny, but I definitely found a lot to like in the 100+ panels that I played through. There were many, many sections that had me laughing out loud at the sheer ridiculousness of it all, even towards the end when you’d think the jokes would start to get stale (they don’t, so long as you heed the warning at the start of the game).
It’s also a pretty bug free experience as I didn’t encounter any crashes or game breaking bugs. There was one particular section where things got a bit weird however which I haven’t been able to find out if anyone has had the same issue. In the elevator selection section you can choose from one of three sections by clicking on the elevator buttons. However when you hover over them, which you do to find out if you’ve beaten/played a section previously, it’ doesn’t line up with the sections you’ve actually played through. Hovering over the top button actually shows the “Locked” icon for the bonus section (which is actually the button to the right) but clicking on it will take you to the appropriate section. Nothing major and it was pretty easy to figure out but it seems like it would be a relatively easy fix.
McPixel is one of those little indie gems that comes along every so often that fails to comply to genre specific notions and is simply fun to play. The random, sometimes rude and crude humour was what made McPixel fun to play. This, coupled with the rapid pace and bite sized nature of all the puzzles, makes for a game that’s great just to pick up and play through a section whenever you’re feeling bored or want a break from whatever you’re doing. Considering that its now available on Android/iOS this means you can take it with you wherever you want and you can be assured that you’ll still be playing it for a long time to come thanks to the built in level editor.
McPixel is available on PC, Android and iOS right now for $4.99, $2.99 and $2.99 respectively. Game was played entirely on the PC with around 1.5 hours of total game time.
I’ve definitely developed a soft spot for Wadjet Eye Games over the past year or so. Whilst I skipped their last 2 releases (Blackwell Deception and Da New Guys) because they didn’t really tickle my fancy their other title, Gemini Rue, has ensured that I’ve kept a close on everything that they release. It was a couple months ago now I got an email from them about their upcoming game Resonance another sci-fi point and click adventure that caught my attention in much the same way Gemini Rue did. That combined with the few reviews I allowed myself to tentatively read was enough to sell me on the title, and many others it seems.
Resonance takes place in a world not too dissimilar to our own, being set around the same time. Throughout the game you will take control of one of 4 main characters: a scientist working with a brilliant professor on a new technology, a doctor who said scientist meets on the subway, a slightly renegade cop out to find the truth and a blogger (sorry reporter) who’s on the hunt for his next major story. When an explosion destroys the lab that the scientist is working for and mortally wounds his professor friend all 4 of their individual story threads come together as they try to find out the truth behind the accident.
It’s strange to think that this game has been in development for 5 years as at the time (we’re talking 2007) the idea of making a pixel art homage to the old adventure game genre would seem like a fool’s gambit. However Resonance has instead found itself quite at home with the current renaissance of pixel art titles that eschew modern graphics for a more nostalgic experience. Like many other pixel art games Resonance does not use a modern game engine as a basis, meaning that modern overlay effects like we’ve seen in titles like Superbrothers: Sword and Sworcery and Lone Survivor aren’t present. Resonance does well without them however and if you’re a fan of the genuine old school adventure then their omission will be a boon rather than a bother.
Resonance starts off with you choosing your own path through the opening scenes of each of the main characters. This helps to provide some of the back story for all the main characters as well as serving as the tutorial for the main mechanics of the game. There’s really no denying that Resonance starts off quite slow in terms of story progression and I found myself putting it down just after I had completed this first section and leaving it for a day. The good news is that after that the story picks up pace quite dramatically and for the rest of my time with Resonance I didn’t stop until I got right to the end.
I can attribute much of this to the near seamless experience that Resonance presents. For most adventure games, especially ones that do not appear to be using modern game engines, the interfaces are usually clunky, the puzzles radically unintuitive and there’s usually a whole lot of back tracking through countless scenes to get that 1 item that you should have picked up but forgot to at the right time. Now Resonance isn’t completely innocent in this regard (something I’ll touch on a bit later) but overall the level of polish in the adventure game experience is incredibly high, rivaling that of its other Wadjet Eye titles. Considering its production time this is somewhat to be expected but we’ve all seen other titles where the same amount of development time leads to horrible things.
The inventory system is unique to Resonance featuring 3 distinct categories of items and information that you will use throughout your journey. The first is your Long Term Memory which basically functions as a replay device for key scenes that you’ll need to reference at a later date and is automatically populated for you. Short term memory on the other hand is populated directly by you by dragging items of interest into them which can then be used in conversations later on. The final section is just your regular inventory, holding all the items you’ll need to solve puzzles and further the story.
It’s a simple system on the surface but the kinds of puzzles it can create can be rather complicated. For the most part the things you have to talk to the NPCs about are usually in the room with you but there are several times when you need to mention something to someone and the only way to do it will be by dragging something into STM then travelling to them. Thankfully this isn’t often and I can only remember 2 times when I had to do some back tracking in order to progress further. Indeed the amount of back tracking required for the entire game was very minimal, something that definitely added much of my enjoyment to this game.
Unlike most other adventure games you can actually end up killing characters or stuffing up the game in a way which would make it impossible to finish it. Thankfully instead of making you reload your save game in order to fix the problem Resonance instead uses a Braid-esque technique of rewinding back time to a point just before the point where you failed, allowing you to retry the puzzle/section. This is by far the best solution I’ve seen to issues like this as whilst you can save whenever you want reloading a game, especially if you’re stuck at one section, breaks immersion completely. This rewind mechanic is a much better solution and definitely kept me playing much longer than having to reload saves would have.
The puzzles are, for the most part, quite intuitive if you grew up on these kinds of titles. Like all adventure games Resonance has its own way of doing things and this does cause some frustration initially as you struggle with rudimentary puzzles until you realize you’ve been approaching it the wrong way. I’ll admit that a couple of the puzzles completely stumped me at the time and had me reaching for a walkthrough guide to get me over that hump. I only did that a couple times however as for the most part the puzzles can be worked out with a little creative thinking (and possibly getting a coffee to take your mind off it for 5 minutes). My only quibble would be with the mouse based problems as Resonance’s mouse support seems to be a little iffy and can lead to some frustration when trying to complete some puzzles (the pad wiring one comes to mind).
Games like Resonance often rely heavily on the story to provide the majority of entertainment value and, whilst it doesn’t disappoint in that department, I found the game play of Resonance quite enjoyable. Indeed after the first hour which felt like a bit of a struggle I never once asked myself why I was playing this or thought to myself that I was just playing this for the review. The combination of polished interface and challenging puzzles is more than enough to carry this game along for its 6 hour duration. Of course the story doesn’t disappoint either, but there are some issues with it that bear mentioning.
Whilst the motivations of all the characters are quite clear, since you’re playing as them, there comes a point in the story where one of the characters radically changes their motivations. This is to serve as a turning point in the story (and is the basis of the major twist) however since you’ve played said character from the start, ostensibly since the point where they had said motivations, you would think there were some clues as to what they was up to. There were none however and the whole scene serves to open up several other plot holes that remain unanswered. It’s the same problem that plagued Heavy Rain and now, with my rose colored glasses firmly placed on the table, I can understand everyone’s frustration. Taken as a whole the story still works but they could have done a better job with the twist so it didn’t riddle the rest of the story with holes.
Resonance really was a joy to play, effortlessly capturing that nostalgic feeling of playing through its pixel art predecessors almost 2 decades ago. It feels strange for me to say that it was the game play that carried this game rather than its story as with games like this that’s never been the case, for me at least. It’s no surprise then that it has garnered very favorable reviews from everyone that’s played it and I’m glad that I can count myself among them. It might not be a flawless experience but Resonance gets all the fundamentals right resulting in an exceptional game that adventure fans will love and us nostalgic nerds will gush over for some time to come.
Resonace from Wadjet Eye Games is available on PC right now for $9.99. Game was completed with around 6 hours of total playtime, score of approximately 300 and 63% of the achievements unlocked.
I’ve mentioned in the past that whilst I may have been playing survival horror games for a long time I’m not exactly their biggest fan. Sure some of the most memorable moments I’ve had whilst gaming have been in survival horror titles but they are very much the exception for me rather than the rule. Still I like to revisit the genre from time to time to see if there’s been any innovative changes that capture my attention much like the Nemesis did in Resident Evil 3. The latest survival horror game to cross my path came care of the latest Humble Indie Bundle and is called Lone Survivor. Thanks to my past wins with the Humble Bundle titles I figured it was worth a look in and gave it a full play through on the weekend.
Lone Survivor takes place in what appears to be a post-apocalyptic world ravaged by a virus outbreak. You, only referred to as You for the entire game, finds himself as the lone survivor of this outbreak having a really fuzzy memory of the events leading up to this point. You start off in an apartment complex and whilst you don’t know much about it you do know that the place you currently live in is not yours. The game then follows your quest to get out of the apartment complex and hopefully escape the town entirely.
Like many recent indie releases Lone Survivor’s graphics are of the pixel art form, paying homage to the gaming roots that many of my generation will be familiar with. Additionally whilst all of the art is done pixel by pixel there are a lot of modern effects laid over the top. Indeed the engine feels like its more modern as unlike other pixel art games I’ve played recently it was able to scale itself out fully and play in full screen windowed mode. Whilst this isn’t a big factor in the core game it does show that this game is very well coded which is surprising considering the majority of the work on it was done by a single person.
Now I know I shouldn’t judge a game by its name but you’ll quickly find that whilst you character thinks he’s the lone survivor in this world there are in fact a lot of other people around. Whilst its debatable whether or not most of them are actually there since your character seems to flit between fever dreams there are at least 2 other people around who don’t appear to be part of them. There’s also the monsters, of varying types, that wander the landscape and if the assesment of You is anything to go by they are the final forms of humans who were infected by the virus.
I will level some criticism at Lone Survivor’s choice of showing you the monsters extremely early on in the piece. After seeing them the anxiety about what you’re coming up against is gone and instead you’re just left with another challenge to face. In fact apart from 1 all the monsters are shown to you in an initial safe setting, allowing you to get comfortable with how to deal with them before you have to. I may not enjoy survival horrors as much as the next guy but the good survival horror comes from tension and knowing what I was coming up against long before I had to took away any real sense of urgency.
The core game play is divided into two sections: point and click adventure and a simplistic combat system. The first aspect, a traditional point and click (although “move and X” is probably more appropriate here) is your standard affair sending you all over the place to gather up items in order to progress to the next stage. Quite a lot of this aspect is optional as the required items to progress are rather easy to come across and if you’re good at the combat you won’t need to be hunting around for food to restore your health. Indeed since there’s a not-so-secret mechanic to get you both unlimited food and ammunition this side of the game is somewhat moot but can be rewarding if you like hunting out all the little extra pieces hidden around the game.
Combat is similar to that of other point and click style games like Gemini Rue. You have a revolver which you can shoot at enemies and you can aim in 3 different directions: low, mid and high. Capping enemies in the head means they go down slightly quicker and shooting at their feet makes them back off for a little bit. Realistically the enemies are just organic progression blockers serving as another puzzle for you to solve. Given that you have essentially unlimited ammunition there’s really no point to not waste every enemy you come across since you’ll be back tracking a lot, especially if you want to seek out all the items.
It’s not said to you explicitly until you finish the game but there is a kind of score being tracked whilst you make your way through Lone Survivor. Now a little Googling will find you ways to improve said score but I felt kind of cheated when I found this out as if you play the game without doing any research on it you’ll be completely unaware of it until the end. Those optional things you can do then seem to take on a whole lot more importance rather than just being an ancillary part of the game. I hate to say it but the inclusion of achievements, if the game was integrated well into Steam say, might have made me feel more compelled to actually do these things without having to reveal the hidden score. Maybe I’m just feeling bitter because my score was pretty terrible, but I feel my criticism is valid.
I can usually put aside technical faults of a game if the story is good but for Lone Survivor I can’t feel I can make that concession. The disjointed nature of the story and the complete lack of relatability of the main character didn’t really make me feel anything for those people in the story. Since the whole thing seems to flit between what appears to be reality and fever dream sequences I can’t help but feel there’s some deeper meaning to it that I’m just not getting. It’s not the same as I felt with Braid though where speculating about it was an area of intrigue, I’m more than happy to leave this one alone.
Lone Survivor is a game that is equal parts good and bad. The combination of pixel art graphics with modern tweaks makes the game visually pleasing and the coding behind it feels top notch. I also enjoyed the choice of music for the opening and closing scenes as it seemed to be quite fitting for the scenes in question. However the game fails to be an actual survival horror with there being unlimited resources at your disposal and the threats in the game really posing little danger to you. There are some satisfying moments in it like when you figure out how to make coffee or complete a puzzle without having to backtrack for ages but apart from that I didn’t find much else to like in Lone Survivor.
It’s very possible that my gripes are the result of my bias against the survival horror genre and I can’t not recommend the game because of that. Since it’s part of the Humble Bundle the cost to trying it out is exceedingly low, especially when you get so many other great games bundled along with it. For me personally though I don’t believe I’ll ever play through Lone Survivor again to see the alternate endings as I just don’t feel that there’s anything else in it for me. Whether it works for you though is an exercise that I’ll leave up to the reader as I don’t feel my rating can truly reflect the game’s experience, even if I adjust for my internal biases.
Lone Survivor is available right now on PC for any price you wish through the Humble Indie Bundle. Total game time was around 4 hours with the Blue ending and a rating of F.