Friday, April 25, 2014

Moebius: Empire Rising Review

Introducing Quasimodo, jet-setting antiques dealer

  • Developer: Phoenix Online and Pinkerton Road
  • Publisher: Phoenix Online Publishing
  • Release Date: 15 April 2014
  • Time Played: 9 hours

Here it is, the second Kickstarter project by Sierra alumni to bear fruit. Last year it was Leisure Suit Larry: Reloaded and this year, we have a new mystery point 'n' click adventure game by Jane Jensen, designer behind the classic Gabriel Knight series. As everyone knows, I'm a bit of a fan of old school point 'n' click adventure games, especially ones by Sierra so I pretty much jumped on every Kickstarter project with ex-Sierra developers involved such as Al Lowe, Scott Murphy, Mark Crowe, Lori Cole, Corey Cole, Jane Jensen and even Jim Walls (who we have sadly not heard from since the failed Precinct project). While Leisure Suit Larry was a great series, it wasn't my favourite back in my youth so when Leisure Suit Larry: Reloaded was released last year I was more excited by the fact it was the first cab off the rank rather than its subject material. Moebius: Empire Rising however is a whole different story (no pun intended); I really enjoyed Jane Jensen's previous adventure games in the Gabriel Knight series and Gray Matter so I was expecting more of the same from Moebius: Empire Rising.

Plot (5/5)
Moebius: Empire Rising sees you mainly playing the role of Malachi Rector. Malachi is an antiques dealer that has the uncanny ability of correctly identifying legitimate antiques from fakes. He's also a bit of a profiler, able to deduct character traits by examining a few tells (a bit like Sherlock Holmes). In fact Malachi's character reminds me of Robert Downey Jr's interpretation of Sherlock Holmes; they can both deduce the truth of an item or person with seemingly insignificant clues, yet they are also both socially awkward, not able to keep their mouths shut at the right time. Malachi comes off as a bit of a snob with severe trust issues which means he's not a very likeable character but things changes during the course of the game. Anyway, it isn't long before your services are recruited on a murder case by a mysterious organisation called F.I.T.A. and this is where the story begins.

One of the strengths I have found in games by Jane Jensen is that her games always have memorable characters, at least with respect to Malachi and another character later on called David Walker. In fact the duo reminds me of Sherlock Holmes and Watson quite a bit (you'll see why if you play the game) and being a fan of all things Sherlock Holmes, I approve; it probably helps that the characters have depth and aren't two-dimensional. They have their own flaws and quirks just like anybody else, and it's not just a simple case of good versus evil.

Even though the ending seems to hint towards a sequel it still left me satisfied that most things had come to a close. Moebius: Empire Rising's plot is definitely one of its strengths.

Gameplay (4/5)
Moebius: Empire Rising works like your traditional point 'n' click adventure game. You have an inventory where you stash any items you pick up, you can combine items in the inventory to make new items and you can use items in your inventory to interact with the environment. You're able to use the mouse to look and interact with your environment, and also walk around. Like previous Jane Jensen games, you're able to travel to different locations within a city although at some points it gets a bit ridiculous how far you have to travel to get an item (e.g. flying back to New York to pick up a bottle of alcohol).

In terms of puzzle difficulty, I think it's just about right. They're not challenging by any means for veteran adventure game players, but thankfully the puzzles are generally logical which means it's easier for a new generation of adventure game players to solve them (no washing horse carriages to cause it to rain for example). I didn't have to resort to any hints or walkthroughs while playing but for those who haven't played a Sierra adventure game before, be warned! You can die in this game! Admittedly, it's much harder to die in this game than the old Sierra adventure games but it does happen.

One aspect of the game that did annoy me sometimes was the profiling parts. These occur when you meet a person for the first time and try to judge their character by the expression on their face, what clothes they're wearing, whether they're fidgeting or not, etc. While most of the time it's pretty easy there are occasions where it doesn't seem so obvious (at least not to me) - so it turns into a game of process by elimination in guessing the combination of choices to proceed further in the game. Tedious and not much fun I can assure you.

Sound (4/5)
Voice acting is generally of a good quality with many of the voice actors having worked on Telltale games (e.g. The Wolf Among Us, The Walking Dead, etc.) including Malachi's voice actor, Owen Thomas, who also voices Omid in The Walking Dead game. The pronunciation is a bit off at times though: I'm pretty sure "Helene" is supposed to be pronounced "Hell-en" not "Hell-lean".

Music (5/5)
Another of this game's strengths has to be the fantastic music composed by Robert Holmes. Holmes is Jane Jensen's husband so it's no surprise he has also collaborated on her previous games, such as Gabriel Knight and Gray Matter. Both of those games had terrific soundtracks and this remains the case with Moebius: Empire Rising. I particularly like the credits song (which they play at the beginning for some reason - would've made an awesome ending song) which is called "The Wheel". It even has Raleigh Holmes, Jane and Robert's daughter, on vocals, which is fantastic considering she is in the midst of recovering from ovarian cancer (you wouldn't be able to tell listening to the track).

Graphics (2/5)
Guys, graphics doesn't maketh the game but it really helps. Especially in a point 'n' click adventure game.

Yes I know Jane Jensen has addressed the issue about the graphics, and yes I know the budget for the game was pretty small by modern standards at $435,316 (I did back the Kickstarter project after all) - so keep that in mind when I say this but: the graphics are abysmal. And I'm not talking about the entire game mind you, but mainly the poor animation and character models, especially for Malachi Rector. He looks like the Hunchback of Notre Dame and when he walks, it looks like he's going to trip over himself. Not only that but there are some scenes where the background images are very low res - a particularly bad one is when you're wandering the streets of Cairo.

The second wonder is why are we using low-resolution background images in Cairo

Replay (3/5)
Unlike some other point 'n' click adventures I'm actually quite tempted to give Moebius: Empire Rising another go. Maybe it's something about the memorable characters, jet-setting around the world, or simply hunting for more Steam achievements. Whatever the case, even if you only play the game once, the 9 hours of gameplay is a decent duration for a point 'n' click adventure game - probably of similar length to a whole season of The Walking Dead (the game of course).

Polish (4/5)
I heard of some reports of bugs but thankfully I didn't experience any personally. There were times where while attempting to skip conversations the game would appear to hang for a few seconds (making me think the game had crashed) but each time it was a false alarm and the game continued on as normal. I'm also not too big a fan of the inventory system - it seems more cumbersome than inventory systems used in point 'n' click adventure games of the 90s! Why do you need to use so many clicks to do stuff? Why must you equip an item in your inventory for use first before using it to interact with the environment? Why can't you just drag and drop directly from the inventory? Anyway, it's a minor quibble about the interface but it seems like a step backwards.

Score – 8/10

The story, music and puzzles are what hold this game together - it's just a shame about the poor animations and low resolution graphics. If you can overlook the graphical flaws you've got a pretty good mystery adventure game on your hands. And with Jane Jensen at the helm, why wouldn't it be?

If you want to get the game, you can get it on Steam, GOG or Phoenix Online's website.

If you like this game, you might like...

[ LINK: Official Moebius: Empire Rising Website ]


Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Choicest VGM - VGM #126 - Lemmings - tim2

Composed by: Tim Wright
Arranged for DOS version by: Tony Williams

Here we have another original composition for Lemmings by Tim Wright with the very creative name of "tim2" ("There are some who call me... Tim?"). This track is very whistle-able (if that is even a word) and suits the cute nature of the Lemmings.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Thief Review

Garrett: Public Enemy No. 1

  • Developer: Eidos Montreal
  • Publisher: Square Enix
  • Release Date: 28 February 2014
  • Time Played: 22 hours

Not content to resurrect just one classic franchise, Eidos Montreal are now responsible for entering a new game into the Thief series, which is simply called "Thief". Thief happens to be the first game on my Top 10 Anticipated PC Games of 2014 list that I've actually finished a review for (Broken Age doesn't really count yet) and for good reason. It's hard to make a good stealth game, one where you pick locks, pick pockets and sneakily takedown enemies with a blackjack; things the original Thief games (apparently) did very well. Couple that with an intriguing plot against a steampunk setting and you've got yourselves a classic. Eidos Montreal did a really good job with Deus Ex: Revolution so I felt confident they could do a similar job with Thief. Were they up to the task? Read on to find out.

Plot (3/5)
According to this thread, it appears that there are lots of hints to suggest that this new Thief is actually set hundreds of years after the original Thief games. This might seem confusing for reasons I won't go into here so let's just go with what we know. You play the role of a Master Thief known as Garrett who resides in a clock tower (God knows how he gets any sleep). Anyway, turns out some time before the actual game starts, a friend known as Erin (who is also a thief) tags along on your mission. You are both witnesses to some weird ritual but unfortunately Erin falls into the vortex of whatever is being summoned and somehow you're slightly affected by what occurs too. Fast forward to the present and you're trying to get back into the swing of things but it soon becomes apparent that things aren't quite what they seem.

Most of the plot is revealed through notes and cutscenes since sadly there isn't a means of actually having conversations in Thief besides major characters who give you missions (shopkeepers don't really count). Besides them, it's a very quiet, and lonely game, but that's the way Garrett likes it right? Consequently, the plot seems to be rather piecemeal compared to previous efforts like Deus Ex: Human Revolution, and this just makes it worse when you come to the seemingly rushed ending. Ultimately I had to check if my interpretation was correct but even if it is, there are still some loose ends that haven't been resolved. It's a shame because the steampunk world of Thief seems to be one definitely worth elaborating.

Gameplay (4/5)
You play Thief from the first-person perspective (most of the time). As Garrett the Master Thief, you can sneak up behind guards or civilians to either knock them out, steal their money or to just remain unseen as you slip hidden into a cabinet. You're also able to scale rooftops, fire several types of arrows (such as water arrows, flame arrows, poison arrows, etc.), use objects to create distractions, disable traps and (my favourite) pick locks. So there is considerable freedom in what you can do here and I especially like how they implemented lock picking segments.

The only criticisms I have is that even though there is quite a bit of freedom on how to approach problems, which includes which way to enter a fortress, it can be deceptive at times. For example, you can usually scale walls or jump onto crates - however sometimes even though it looks quite easy to climb on a crate or scale a wall, you won't have the opportunity to do so. That's because you can only climb at certain points, which are marked for your convenience, but it does mean there are only a limited number of ways to get to places (which sometimes involves trekking around the map to find an appropriate place to climb up).

Also, despite the piecemeal plot, the game does have some memorable main storyline missions with some fun gameplay. There are even some entertaining side quests but the majority of side quests (especially the Basso ones) will eventually become a bit repetitive and have diminishing returns.

One of the "mini-games" you will encounter is finding secret switches hidden behind paintings or bookcases

Sound (2/5)
Voice acting seems to have improved in Thief when compared to Deus Ex: Human Revolution, although there's probably not as many audio samples recorded. Unfortunately the voices are way too soft sometimes and is drowned out by background noise - so the opposite to the problem I had in Deus Ex: Human Revolution!

Music (4/5)
Thief doesn't have any memorable music, indeed it is used sparingly (music tends to get in the way of when you want to hear footsteps). What is there though is a mix of electronic and creepy movie music.

Graphics (5/5)
I'm a big fan of the graphics. There's a lot of detail in this steampunk world with generally high-resolution textures. Also, like the recent Battlefield games, you're able to see your feet, legs and arms while navigating the world in first person, which makes the game that extra bit immersive. The only minor quibble I have is that the lip-synching is a bit off during some cutscenes.

Replay (2/5)
It took me 22 hours to finish one playthrough and that's doing a majority of quests in the game which is a decent amount of time. Unfortunately a lot of the pilfering the city of loot (some of these come under side quests) becomes rather monotonous and ultimately not really beneficial (unless you absolutely have to upgrade every aspect of your character). Yes, there are challenges you can do where you aim to beat your mate's best time and there's always the dreaded DLC to invite replays, but I think I'm quite satisfied with one since there's not much beside what is mentioned enticing me to return.

Polish (3/5)
I didn't encounter any serious bugs thankfully but there was a game-breaking issue earlier this month where people couldn't progress past Chapter 4. Also reloading savegames sometimes results in enemy NPCs changing their routes or popping up right next to you when initially they were on the other side of the room. Thankfully, this was rare but annoying when it occurred since it required a rethink in terms of strategy.

Score – 7/10

The new Thief definitely has pretty looking graphics and the gameplay is generally solid, however the average plot, rushed ending, audio issues and other bugs may only have you playing the game once and never again. A reasonably fun steampunk stealth FPS for players who have never heard of the original games, but it might be a step too far for veteran fans of the franchise.

If you want to get the game, you can get it on Steam.

If you like this game, you might like...

[ LINK: Official Thief Website ]


Sunday, April 20, 2014

Choicest VGM - VGM #125 - Lemmings - tim1

Composed by: Tim Wright
Arranged for DOS version by: Tony Williams

And now onto some Lemmings music by another composer, Tim Wright. Apparently the story with the two different composers (according to Wikipedia)was that the original composer, Brian Johnston (artist Scott Johnston's younger brother) sampled copyrighted music in creating his tracks. Back in the old days, composers apparently didn't need to care so much about copyright, especially when it came to traditional or classical music. However, since Brian had a lot of tracks based on traditional and classical music, Tim Wright was recruited to replace the tracks.

This is the first of Tim Wright's tracks, aptly named "tim1". Whenever I hear this track I could almost imagine the Lemmings grooving to an 80s mix tape.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

A fan of Command & Conquer and looking for a new RTS? Introducing Petroglyph's Grey Goo

Coz everybody loves mechs

Poor Petroglyph hasn't been really having much luck on the RTS front in recent years. They *were* working on an MMORTS known as End of Nations for some time but that unfortunately was then turned into a MOBA and is now presumed cancelled by publisher Trion Worlds. Besides smaller strategy games based on other IP or mobile games, they haven't released a proper RTS since 2008's Universe at War: Earth Assault.

Who are Petroglyph anyway you may ask? Well Petroglyph were founded in 2003 by a majority of the developer that used to be known as Westwood Studios. Everyone remembers those guys right? They were responsible for the classic RTS series Command & Conquer, amongst several other games (mostly RTSs). I bought into both RTSs they produced since their inception, namely Star Wars: Empire at War and (as mentioned before) Universe at War: Earth Assault. While the graphics didn't do it for me at times or the pathfinding, these games were still solid RTSs and when you've got the legendary composer Frank Klepacki doing the music you've got some pretty awesome soundtracks on your hands!

So here we are 6 years later and they have now announced a new RTS title that they will release later this year called "Grey Goo". No, it's not the sequel to World of Goo and yes, it does sound like a weird name - but apparently it's related to a potential doomsday scenario where self-replicating nanomachines go rampant and pretty much bring the end of the world by breaking everything down to "grey goo".

Anyway, here are some interesting points about the game:

  • Petroglyph claims that Grey Goo will focus more on tactical decisions instead of micro-management. This sounds like a departure from old school RTSs and even recent RTSs like Starcraft 2 where micro-management is the key to success
  • The game will feature three factions: the Beta, an alien spacefaring race that relies on piloted mechs; Humans who are technologically advanced and almost totally reliant on robots; and the Grey Goo - which I guess is the main antagonist but little has been revealed about them yet . The factions seem to have borrowed elements from C&C3 (with respect to a totally alien race like the Scrin) and Universe at War: Earth Assault (a totally robotic faction)
  • Humanity has got rid of war machines and weapons as part of their backstory - it's an interesting concept. The alien race known as the Beta are actually more similar to what Humans or Terrans are in other computer games (i.e. function over form, highly mobile and with several dangerous weapons at their disposal).
  • Petroglyph claims that the Grey Goo faction will be "unlike anything players have ever played before" and that this will be one of the things that makes this RTS stand out from others.
  • Game is to be released on Steam. Apparently you can even play on a LAN but you need to at least have Steam on Offline mode.
  • Being published by a previously unknown company called Grey Box who hasn't published anything to date. I'm guessing it's a company owned or created specifically to have Grey Goo as its flagship product.
  • Aim to be released later this year - so I'm guessing Q4 2014.

[ LINK: Official Grey Goo website ]

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Moebius: Empire Rising - First Impressions

If only they did a better job with the animations...

Moebius: Empire Rising is the second Kickstarter by a Sierra alumni that has successfully delivered a final product (the other is Al Lowe's Leisure Suit Larry: Reloaded). Jane Jensen, famous for being the writer of the Gabriel Knight series, has given us another mystery game for us to play with where you take on the role of an antiques dealer called Malachi Rector. Apparently, he's not just any antiques dealer as he's apparently got photographic memory, a keen eye for profiling and is a bit of a genius when it comes to history. In some ways, he reminds me a lot of Robert Downey Jr's interpretation of Sherlock Holmes.

So here's my experience with respect to the first two hours of Moebius: Empire Rising

What I like

  • Plot: It comes as no surprise that the game has a rather strong plot so far with Jane Jensen at the helm. It's very similar in style to other mystery games by her such as Gabriel Knight and Gray Matter
  • Gameplay: It's your typical point 'n' click adventure and seems to be made for PC - thankfully not a console or mobile port like so many games are nowadays.
  • Music: Music is top notch just as it was in Gabriel Knight and Gray Matter, thanks to Jane Jensen's husband, Robert Holmes. The intro/credits theme is a true delight, sung by Jane and Robert's daughter, Raleigh Holmes.

What I don't like

  • Graphics: The only thing really letting the game down at the moment are the graphics. Yes, I know that graphics don't maketh the game, but you usually have to at least have passable graphics in a point 'n' click adventure game. Malachi always seems hunched and has a really wonky walking animation while the clothing textures for all the characters are of a low quality. Also, while I don't mind the mix of 3D objects against painted backdrops occasionally they seem to forget adding high-resolution backgrounds as some are very pixellated.


So far I'm enjoying the plot and if it continues on this course, the game's most important aspect will at least be safe. The graphics are really off-putting though and it's a shame that they didn't do a better job with it - even Gray Matter, which was released a few years ago has better walking animations and 3D models.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Choicest VGM - VGM #124 - Lemmings - Lemming3

Composed by: Brian Johnston
Arranged for DOS version by: Tony Williams

Here's the final Brian Johnston track from the game Lemmings to enter the Choicest VGM list (the remaining ones are done by Tim Wright). Unlike the image of an army of Digger Lemmings I had with the previous track, I think this track is a perfect accompaniment for a Builder Lemming, building an enormous staircase into oblivion - since sometimes that's what you end up doing when you realise that you don't have quite enough bricks to make it to that elevated platform...

Thursday, April 10, 2014

The Wolf Among Us - Episode 3 : A Crooked Mile Review

You get to choose two out of three locations to visit in this episode. I've already made the first choice, this is for the second.

  • Developer: Telltale Games
  • Publisher: Telltale Games
  • Release Date: 8 April 2014
  • Time Played: 1.5 hours

It seems Telltale are now back on track with their 1-2 month gap between episodes as the latest episode of The Wolf Among Us, "A Crooked Mile", is now available to play. So how does this episode compare with previous ones?

Note that the review will read very similar to previous The Wolf Among Us reviews as not really much has changed besides the plot.

Plot (5/5)
The Wolf Among Us is set during the 1980s in New York City. Fairy tale characters (aka "Fables") now live amongst normal humans (called "mundanes") in their own immigrant neighbourhood known as "Fabletown". Some fairy tale characters, who can afford it, use "glamour" in order to disguise their true appearance from mundanes. Those that cannot afford to disguise themselves are sent to "The Farm" in rural New York. You play Bigsby Wolf aka The Big Bad Wolf, whose job is sheriff of Fabletown. Consequently it's your job to keep the peace and in this third episode, you finally make some leeway on who you and Snow White believes to be a murderer. Things aren't always what they seem though, and you soon discover there's a bigger conspiracy lurking in the background.

Just as it was with the previous episodes, there appears to be a branching narrative in this game so conversations will be slightly different based on your relationships with other characters or certain clues you notice. At the end of an episode, you're also able to review whether you sit with the majority or not when it comes to pivotal choices in the game (e.g. showing compassion to a character or not).

Like the second episode, this episode was quite short compared to the first one (only about 1.5 hours long) however the plot seems more intriguing. There's definitely a lot more anger, angst and action too - the atmosphere is volatile and people are starting to get more desperate.

Gameplay (3/5)
Just like The Walking Dead, and indeed previous The Wolf Among Us episodes, gameplay may seem minimal by some since it basically consists of very simple puzzles ala the adventure game genre incorporated with visual novel elements (e.g. conversations having an impact on character relationships) thrown in with a bit of Quick Time Events (QTEs) for action sequences. For those valuing gameplay over plot, you have been warned!

What I do like about this episode though is that at one point you're given a choice of which place out of three to investigate first - with only time to investigate two. This gives the player a little bit more freedom in tailoring their own story which is always welcome.

"Gren won't remember this." Some self-referential humour by Telltale there

Sound (4/5)
Voice acting is great but that's to be expected from veteran voice actors – the only issue I had was that the audio was sometimes too loud or too soft.

Music (4/5)
The game has some moody 80s-style synth which fits the game perfectly (this is a neo-noir game set in the 80s after all). Nothing too memorable but top quality stuff all the same.

Graphics (4/5)
The graphics are on par with The Walking Dead and since this game is also based on a comic book, it has incorporated a similar style. The only issues I had was the occasional framerate jumps and the occasional animation glitch.

Replay (3/5)
Just as it was in The Walking Dead, replaying The Wolf Among Us will reveal a slightly different narrative depending on the choices you make. Just as I did with the previous episodes, I tried to continue my stoic and professional approach, i.e. refraining from violence where I could (admittedly it was more difficult to this time around).

Unlike The Walking Dead, it's slightly more difficult to get all achievements, requiring you to explore different choices I believe in order to unlock all of them (which in turn invites at least one replay).

Polish (4/5)
Unfortunately, as it's a Telltale game, it uses the most recent Telltale Tool so the interface is a very console-friendly one, not a simple point 'n' click adventure. The game also has the annoying Type 1 save system where progress is autosaved but you never know when the next save point is.

Score – 8/10

Like Episode Two, Episode Three or "A Crooked Mile" seems to be a bit shorter than the first episode, however the anger, angst, atmosphere and action in this episode will keep you on the edge of your seat as you delve even deeper into Fabletown's dark secrets.

If you want to get the game, you can get it on Steam or Telltale Games.

If you like this game, you might like...