Saturday, June 27, 2009

Three Cards to Midnight Review

Even though I haven't played many of the Tex Murphy games I did manage to play one called "Under a Killing Moon". The game was truly ground-breaking for its time. Actors were captured on video and then digitally rendered into the game and you were able to move around in a 3D world much like you did in FPSs of the time (but this was rare or unheard of in adventure games). Also the conversational system was innovative since you chose how you wanted to reply not what you wanted to reply, which means you never knew quite what was going to be said next. The only game I've seen recently that does something similar is Mass Effect.

You can understand I was quite excited then when I heard that adventure gaming veterans Aaron Conners and Chris Jones were back at the helm of a new mystery adventure game called "Three Cards to Midnight". The game is now finished and available for download from their site, so let's see what it's like!

(Oh as a sidenote, I was unable to take videos of this game for some reason, so I took screenies instead, sorry!)

Sound (3/5)
Kudos to Big Finish Games for getting professional voice actors for their game which helps to bring life to the dialogue and cutscenes in the game. Unfortunately the sound quality is very poor for an adventure game and it even occasionally stutters during cutscenes, making it hard to work out what is being said. Of course, the sound quality was probably reduced to make the game smaller overall so it wouldn't take so long to download, however it must be mentioned that it does impact on the experience somewhat.

Music (3/5)
There is some good atmospheric music in the game, the composer Matt Heider (who collaborated with Aaron Conners and Chris Jones before on Tex Murphy: Overseer) did a good job in making the music spooky, eerie or dreamy when it needed to be. However, once again the quality is poor and grainy, and it's probably for the same reasons the sound quality was reduced: to ensure the game size was reasonable for downloading purposes.

Graphics (2/5)
I know graphics don't maketh the game but you know, you kind of expect some crisp visuals in adventure games and I'm sad to say they aren't in this game (except for maybe the UI itself and the level puzzles). The actual graphics for the rooms where you play most of the game is very pixellated, so much so that it can be detrimental to your success! Since the core gameplay for Three Cards to Midnight is hunting for objects in a room that are associated with a word (more on the gameplay later) it's crucial that you can see what object you're clicking on and it doesn't help if it's just a mangling of a few pixels not resembling anything at all. Also the cutscenes while generally functional could be better. Sometimes the animations for the actors aren't very fluid and some scenes are just plain bad (one scene has a guy firing a gun but the only way you can tell is by listening to the audio since there is no muzzle flash).

Plot (5/5)
Unfortunately this might be the only section where the game excels but you wouldn't expect any less when Aaron Conners and Chris Jones are in charge. The game is an excellent paranormal mystery story and since you can choose the order to reveal cards in the game (which in turn reveals which cutscenes you'll get) the story is told slightly differently each time you play it.

At its core, Three Cards to Midnight is a word association game. The bulk of the game has you picking a tarot card which will reveal a location or room. Your job is then to click on objects in the room that relate to the key words that are linked to the room. For example if the keyword is "honey", if you see a teddy bear in the room, clicking on it should give you points for the associating "honey" with "bear" to give "honey bear". Accumulating enough points in a room will trigger a cutscene or memory. Also you can do traditional puzzles in each room which is also dependent on you accumulating a requisite amount of points. How well you do the word association and the puzzles will determine the "power" of the tarot card you initially picked. This comes important later in the game since the more powerful the card the likelier you're able to beat your nemesis. The game is also divided into chapters and there are three tarot cards in each chapter.

It is good that because of the ability to be assessed on your performance, you can have different potential endings to the game, which isn't a common feature in adventure games. However, it is these very puzzles that make the game annoying. To me, puzzles are fine (even though I'm not very good at them) but word association is kind of dull and not exactly the most riveting gaming experience. Another problem with using word association as the gameplay mechanic is that the game turns out to be very "American-centric". For example, they use "cell phone" instead of "mobile phone" (so you might end up hunting for the wrong thing) - also there are American cultural things like "Flag Day" and "Martin Luther King Day" which don't exist outside the U.S. This ends up severely limiting who can play the game successfully since even native English speaking Australians and British may struggle on some rooms.

Replayability (3/5)
Unlike most adventure games, there are multiple endings to Three Cards to Midnight depending on how well you perform puzzles and which cards you pick at the end of the game. This creates some replayability value for the game. However, I'm finding it hard to persuade myself to do so. There's something missing due to the puzzle solving being only loosely related to the cutscenes - traditional games are usually better in this regard. For example, in the Secret of Monkey Island, firing off a crudely made catapult will result in comedic effect by the accidental sinking of your ship. In Three Cards to Midnight, scrambling to find random objects in a room that are associated with the word "sugar" or "honey" or "love" will trigger off a memory where the key word is mentioned - it may feel good the first time around but some of these cutscenes are only short snippets and not very memorable on their own.

The game does appear to have DRM (or at least a serial key check) but it's pretty non-intrusive so it's no big deal. The game's interface is also pretty good too with a very helpful tutorial system. However, there are a couple of bugs out there. One of them involves clicking on a seemingly empty game button but when you do, it freezes the game. Also it seems that you're unable to skip the credits screen, which is rather annoying too. Fortunately these are either hard to find bugs or ones that don't get triggered that often.

Overall - 58%
Not a bad first outing for Aaron Conners and Chris Jones, but the poor artistic elements (which tend to be important in graphical adventure games) and word association gameplay lets it down. Let us hope the next game Aaron Conners and Chris Jones works on, which sounds like it might be a new Tex Murphy game, fares better.

Battlefield Heroes is (finally) out!

Yes after all the delays apparently it's out - well I didn't see any big hoo-ha about it on its original site, but my guildies managed to stumble across this webpage, and once you sign up for an account and download the game, it's fully operational - I've played around a bit and haven't encountered any major problems so far, which is a good sign! Go here to get the game!

Also, check out the awesome new trailer they have for Battlefield Heroes, made to be like an 80s cartoon intro or perhaps a kid's toy ad :):

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Guild Wars Eye of the North Soundtrack Review

  • Name: Guild Wars Eye of the North Original Game Soundtrack

  • Label: DirectSong/Artistry Entertainment Inc.

  • Composer(s): Jeremy and Julian Soule

  • Number of Tracks: 33

It was not long after I purchased the Guild Wars Prophecies soundtrack that I looked into getting my hands on a copy of the Eye of the North soundtrack. Once again Jeremy and Julian Soule worked on this album that took the music of Guild Wars into another direction.

Artistic Merit (67%)
Overall the quality of the tracks in this soundtrack are much better than Prophecies (and Jeremy Soule has had a couple or so years to refine the sound, so it figures). The instruments sound a lot more realistic (or maybe they even are real instruments) and the music sounds a lot more heroic as the brass section of the orchestra is used frequently. My favourite pieces tend to be the heroic-sounding ones that also incorporate a bit of the original Guild Wars Prophecies theme ("Beyond the Northern Wall", "Overture from Eye of the North" and "Song of the Shiverpeaks". This helps to remind the player/listener that they're in a foreign land although it has links to the original Guild Wars Prophecies storyline.

The woodwind sections of the orchestra also get good use in this soundtrack - tracks of particular note are "The Doomlore Flame" and "Horns of Gunnar's Hold".

There's also quite a bit of combat/action music this time around, and this was also the case with Nightfall. There is some good stuff in there too.

Value (100% - Good)
This album isn't as good value as the Prophecies soundtrack but it's still pretty cheap at USD $9.99! Just like Prophecies it's available as a direct download from DirectSong and has no DRM.

Length (100% - Good)
Not as many tracks as the Prophecies soundtrack but it's still got quite a few!

Total Score: 89%
For those interested in obtaining this album, visit DirectSong, register an account with them and then you're ready to order the album online with your credit card. Once the payment is approved you can download the soundtrack straight to your computer :).

Beyond the Northern Wall - Jeremy Soule

Song of the Shiverpeaks - Jeremy Soule

Horns of Gunnar's Hold - Jeremy Soule

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

E3 Videos Continued...

Another MMORPG but this is based off the venerable KotoR series... I just hope to hell they don't stuff it up! :@ (I so wish they made a KotoR 3 instead :'( ):

Kind of a weird narrator but here's the trailer for Street Fighter IV:

I know at least one friend that may be excited with this news... looks like they're making another Alien vs Predator game!

E3 Videos

Yes E3 is well and truly over but I thought I'd review some of the games that appear interesting and their trailers.

First up we have Need for Speed: SHIFT. It's looking very nice and it's good to see EA trying hard to appease the realism fans out there. Note that this Need for Speed is intended to have realistic damage. It also allows you to view around the entire cockpit and that part when you hear the heavy breathing? Apparently that's part of the game too when you enter tricky situations.

Next we have a trailer for Alpha Protocol. The trailer highlights how you get multiple choices when dealing with a situation. Obsidian Entertainment calls it the "3 JB's" (i.e. act like Jason Bourne, Jack Bauer or James Bond) and it seems to be used to effect in this trailer.

Can't say I like the new Dragon Age: Origins trailer too much (what's with Marilyn Manson in the background?) but I'm still looking forward to this latest Bioware offering:

Awesome trailer for Mass Effect 2 - and is that a Mini-Nuke cannon I see? Maybe the crew at Bioware have been playing a bit too much Fallout 3 recently :P:

Didn't actually play much of Mafia II but I have friends who rate it highly and the general atmosphere (especially the soundtrack) was excellent in the original:

Finally a new trailer for Borderlands! Too bad it's very short:

I'm not usually a fan of MMORPGs but a cops and robbers MMORPG sounds like a good premise. Here's APB:

Left 4 Dead 2 is already on its the way and here's the hilarious debut trailer:

More trailers on the next post (reason being I can't put too many labels on one post!)...

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Guild Wars Prophecies Soundtrack Review

  • Name: Guild Wars Prophecies Original Game Soundtrack

  • Label: DirectSong/Artistry Entertainment Inc.

  • Composer(s): Jeremy and Julian Soule

  • Number of Tracks: 36

I must confess that those four years ago when I bought Guild Wars a big drawcard for me was that Jeremy Soule was to compose the soundtrack. After being entranced by his beautiful work he did for Morrowind I wasn't disappointed when Guild Wars came around. The only thing that I could fault with the actual game was that the calm and serene tracks that would pervade most of the album was also used for combat sequences - this would be rectified however in ArenaNet's later games (i.e. Nightfall and Eye of the North). Anyway, Jeremy Soule's website DirectSong sprung up shortly after and gave fans of the music a chance to purchase and download the soundtracks online at a reasonable price. The only gripe I had at the time though was the invasive DRM that was bundled with it but that was enough to turn me away from wanting to purchase the album. Now however, it seems there is no DRM on the albums and since I've gotten back into the mood of playing Guild Wars, I too renewed my interest in its music.

Artistic Merit (65%)
Most tracks on this album are competently done and not many can be classed as what I call "filler" - the mainly ambient "Eve's Theme" gets a thumbs down from me, even if it does work as a necromancer theme in the game - it's just not very listenable on a CD player though! The same goes for the dreary "The Charr" and "The Great Northern Wall" - they are truly depressing tracks to listen to (yet again, they're meant to be when placed in the context of the game). The rest however, are pretty good. I especially liked the tracks that made use of the "Opening Theme", particularly "The Moment of Truth" (which was used in an early Guild Wars trailer), "Gwen's Theme" (a nostalgic piece that makes you imagine the beauty of Pre-Searing Ascalon), "Guilds at War" (a somewhat pompous, but appealing marching theme with horns) and "Tasca's Theme" (a track that is often played in the Shiverpeak Mountains). "Over the Shiverpeaks" should also get a special mention since it only has two "instruments" (the flute and strings/violin) but it is a truly emotional and beautiful piece. Finally the first lot of bonus tracks (not the new ones, which frankly don't fit very well with the rest of the tracks) are all highly recommended ("First Light", "The Elementalist", "A Warrior's Heart" and "Beyond the Ocean").

Value (100% - Good)
The album is available as a direct download from DirectSong - which means you don't get a nice CD cover but on the plus side, it seems DirectSong have got rid of their existing scheme of DRM and its music is now DRM-free! You also get a lot of tracks as part of this album thanks to not only a large number of original tracks but two lots of bonus tracks as well!

Some of the tracks may not be too special (some of the more ambient or artificial sounding ones) but overall there are enough good tracks to warrant the purchase - I mean it's only US$6 after all!

Length (100% - Good)
As mentioned there are a lot of tracks here, so it definitely doesn't fail on this front. I think pretty much all tracks featured in the game (and then some) are on this album.

Total Score: 88%
For those interested in obtaining this album, visit DirectSong, register an account with them and then you're ready to order the album online with your credit card. Once the payment is approved you can download the soundtrack straight to your computer :).

Guild Wars Opening Theme - Jeremy Soule

First Light - Jeremy Soule

Over the Shiverpeaks - Jeremy Soule

Monkey Island is back!

OMG! You don't know how ecstatic I am at hearing this news but Monkey Island is back, and it's not just one game, but a total of SIX games are promised: one is a remake of the classic first adventure, and the other five are mini-sequels!

Okay so first things first, Lucasarts are making a remake of the original Monkey Island and is aiming to get it on the Xbox 360 as well as distributing digitally on PC. The following features are included:

1. High definition graphics
2. Voice-overs (with Dominic Armato, the voice of Guybrush from the third and fourth games, reprising his role).
3. Re-mastered music (and from what I've heard so far, it's pretty good!)
4. Hint system
5. A little gimmick that allows you to switch instantaneously between the classic graphics and the new ones!

Here's a video on what it's all about:

It's coming out in "Summer 2009" so that means very soon!

They also have some pretty neat shirts on this page.

Also, Telltale games, who are partially responsible for the rennaisance in adventure games are now trying their hand at another Lucasarts franchise (as they've previously worked on the new Sam & Max games). They've decided to make five mini-sequels to Monkey Island 4. It will cost $35USD to get all five of the mini-sequels which is just under $50AUD so sounds like it might be worth it! The first episode will be released on July 7th.

Here's a video trailer:

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