Friday, May 30, 2014

Covert Action and several other Microprose classics on sale

Enter the world of top secret agent, Max Remington, in this Microprose classic: Sid Meier's Covert Action

Good Old Games is currently having a weekend promo called the "Three Dollar Treasures" where all games in the promo are only $3 USD. What the promo name doesn't advertise though is the fact that a good deal of these are classic Microprose games, such as the spy role-playing game, Covert Action. Yes, I know that Sid Meier isn't exactly too proud of the game if this paragraph is anything to go by but it has a special place in my heart as being that awesome espionage version of Pirates!

There are also a lot of other classics here (some of which I already have) such as Pirates! Gold, Sword of the Samurai, Sid Meier's Colonization, Rex Nebular and the Cosmic Gender Bender, Bloodnet, Silent Service 1 and 2, and Darklands.

[ LINK: Official Good Old Games website ]

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Choicest VGM - VGM #132 - Space Quest I (VGA) - Main Title Theme

Composed by: Ken Allen

We now return to our obligatory Sierra game soundtracks and this time round we feature the music from Space Quest I - not the original one with PC Speaker audio, but the VGA version released in 1991. What better way to start the soundtrack than with the Main Title Theme. While I've heard several iterations of the Space Quest Theme, I have to say the SQ1 VGA version by Ken Allen would have to be my favourite. It sounds very heroic and noble - exactly what Roger Wilco ain't - but hey it's a sci-fi comedy adventure right? Reminds me a bit of the Spaceballs main theme actually - both are parodying Star Wars after all.

Special thanks to Quest Studios for making these tracks available for all Sierra fans to enjoy.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Moebius: Empire Rising Soundtrack Review

  • Name: Moebius: Empire Rising OST
  • Label: Phoenix Online Publishing
  • Composer(s): Robert Holmes
  • Number of Tracks: 32

What does Gabriel Knight, Gray Matter and Moebius: Empire Rising all have in common? If you said, they're all designed by the brilliant Jane Jensen you'd be right - but not the answer I was looking for. They also happen to have all have soundtracks composed by her husband, Robert Holmes. I really enjoyed the soundtracks from Gabriel Knight and Gray Matter so I was expecting more of the same with Moebius: Empire Rising.

How would I describe the music on this album? It's mostly the kind of stuff you'd expect in a spy thriller action flick, but it runs the gamut of decades with the earworm Moebius Main Theme having a very 60s-70s vibe to it, to a very 90s sounding The Warrior and the Savant thanks to some wailing guitars. I think the strong tracks by Robert Holmes tend to be either the rock tracks (ones potentially performed by the rock band The Scarlet Furies, which he plays with, along with his daughter Raleigh) or the piano pieces, such as Drowning in the Seine (which has a very Gabriel Knight feel to it) and the soulful Opening Up.

Speaking of Raleigh Holmes, she does an excellent job of providing vocals to this gem of a song called The Wheel:

Really awesome song - great for a credits song, except they decided to have the credits at the beginning for some reason - like a TV show intro I guess?

While there are a few highlights there are also some filler tracks (i.e. ambient stuff not really worth a mention) and these are responsible for the slightly lower score. I especially dislike Central Park as it sounds like circus or carnival music - maybe I'm missing something or maybe it's meant to be mocking the American political campaigning system? Not sure but it just seems out of place.

Overall audio quality on the album seems to be average or worse at times though. There's definitely some crackling in the background on a few of the tracks. However, that's not going to hold me back from listening to the Moebius Main Theme for the 2,000th time.

Score - 6/10

Robert Holmes proves he's still got it when he comes to game soundtracks, and Moebius: Empire Rising is no exception. The rock tracks and piano pieces on this album tend to be its strengths and he's definitely got an earworm with the Moebius Main Theme - if only there was more of it, much more.

There are a couple of ways you can grab this album: either via the publisher's website for $9.99 USD or via Steam as a DLC (also for $9.99 USD). If you get the game from GOG, you'll get the soundtrack for free!

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Choicest VGM - VGM #131 - Utopia: The Creation of a Nation - Music 4

Original composition by: Johann Pachelbel
Arranged by: Barry Leitch

For our final track to on Utopia: The Creation of a Nation's soundtrack we have Barry Leitch's rendition of the famous baroque piece that gets played at almost every wedding, Pachelbel's Canon in D Major. Even though this isn't an original composition of Leitch's, and even though it's a baroque piece of music, it still managed to be a perfect match with the gameplay, i.e. the music tends to build up and become more complex or grand - just as a space colony would, as it expands and becomes a better place to live.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

The Shivah Review

Don't you be messing with this rabbi

  • Developer: Wadjet Eye Games
  • Publisher: Wadjet Eye Games
  • Release Date: 22 November 2013
  • Time Played: 1.5 hours

When this originally came out (and I'm referring to my first experience with the game, i.e. the 2013 remastered edition, not the original 2006 one) I had to double-take. Not because it was an old school point 'n' click adventure game - I've played plenty of those, even one published by Wadjet Eye Games called Resonance. What got me that the game's protagonist was a rabbi. I can't say I've ever played a game where you control a rabbi and since I actually don't know much about Jewish culture I thought it'd be worth a look. I did however wait until it was 50% off so I got it for a measly $2.50 off Good Old Games.

Plot (5/5)
In "The Shivah", you play the role of a disgruntled rabbi called Russell Stone. His synagogue has seen better days with almost nobody attending his services. It's unclear of when he started to become cynical and lose faith but by the time the game starts, Rabbi Stone is ready to throw in the towel. He's almost broke and only a miracle could save him and his synagogue now. This is when he receives a visit from a detective investigating the murder of a former follower of his synagogue. Apparently the man left a sizeable amount of money in his will for Rabbi Stone which surprises him as he hardly knew the man. The game follows Rabbi Stone's investigation as he determines who the man was and why he left so much money in his will.

I really enjoyed the plot as it touched some interesting themes such as existentialism, faith (or lack thereof), causality, and what it actually means to be a Jew (did you know there's actually a lengthy article on Wikipedia called "Who is a jew?"). It's definitely the game's strength and probably why it won an AGS Award for Best Dialogue writing (AGS stands for Adventure Game Studio, the engine that many retro point 'n' click adventure games are developed with).

Gameplay (4/5)
Gameplay is like your traditional point 'n' click adventures except like Resonance, you're not just limited to physical inventory items but ideas, thoughts and questions. You can use these thoughts when asking questions and in solving puzzles. One aspect of the game I also liked was how you had to pick from three styles of answers - one usually being an honest one, another usually being a sarcastic or misleading one, and third option being the "rabbanical" response. Apparently, at least according to this game, rabbis often answer questions with another question, so it's funny seeing what question Rabbi Stone will give as an answer sometimes, and whether or not the person he's talking to, bites. It's especially funny when you try and use a rabbanical response on another rabbi...

What words you use actually become important during a couple of crucial moments in the game where combat becomes very similar to insult swordfighting from the Monkey Island series. Without giving too much away, I was actually a bit mislead when I saw a couple of reviews commenting the Monkey Island swordfighting mechanic was in the game, so be warned: It's similar but not the same (SAME SAME BUT DIFFERENT!).

In terms of difficulty, the game was reasonably straightforward, so it's probably easy for adventure game veterans except for the final scene of the game which took me several retries until I got it right. It's also annoying you can't save during this last part meaning if you retry the sequence, you'll probably be clicking like crazy to skip already read dialogue.

R.E.M. would have a song for this situation

Sound (3/5)
Voice acting in the game is really good. There aren't any A-grade Hollywood actors involved but it's very high quality considering it's an indie game. While the quality of the voice acting was good the quality of the sound samples themselves though weren't Occasionally there was some crackling of the audio especially when shouting was involved.

Music (4/5)
The soundtrack is another aspect of the game that was remastered in the 2013 version and I must say that I'm a fan. It's definitely got a jazzy, noir feel to it and I like how they even try to incorporate some Jewish sounding clarinets to it, the music for Stone's Office being a particularly good example.

Graphics (3/5)
For those who love the latest in cutting-edge graphics, I can guarantee you're going to be disappointed. The game has a 640x480 resolution meaning the game is really pixellated and looks like an early 90s Lucasarts or Sierra adventure game. However, for adventure gaming veterans such as myself, this isn't really an issue and in fact amplifies its retro feel. The funny thing is, the 2013 version actually has much better graphics than the original - at least with respect to backgrounds and portraits.

Replay (2/5)
The game's only major fallback is that it's short: 1.5 hours short. There are some achievements that you might want to get that will encourage a replay or two, and there's even multiple endings (although they're not too different from each other) but in the end, you'll still only play the game for a few hours at most.

Polish (5/5)
The game is pretty well polished and I didn't encounter any serious bugs - but you'd expect that from what is a pretty short game.

Score – 8/10

If you're uncertain about paying a few dollars for this game, you could always try the demo... wait, there's a demo? For a 1.5 hour game? But seriously, this is a game with a mature plot that touches existentialism, losing faith and what it means to be a Jew. Even though the game is short and a bit rough around the edges (even with the remastered edition) I think it's worth the few dollars Dave Gilbert is asking for. Also, what's with point 'n' click adventure game designers sharing the surname "Gilbert"?

If you want to get the game, you can get it on Steam, GOG or directly from their website.

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

[ LINK: Official The Shivah website ]

Monday, May 19, 2014

Choicest VGM - VGM #130 - Utopia: The Creation of a Nation - Music 3

Composed by: Barry Leitch

Music 3 from the primitive RTS game, Utopia: The Creation of a Nation, is the fastest-paced of the four tracks and often made into a dance mix as a result (two examples I know of are Adrian Everson's remix and Dayta's; both use Music 3 as source material). The part of the track that is often remixed occurs straight at the beginning and eventually segues into some funky synth slap bass at around 00:40. Like other tracks in the soundtrack, it fits the game perfectly, as the music tends to build up the tempo and complexity - just as a space colony would.

This track is aka "Astoria II" on the SNES version of the game.

The Walking Dead Season 2 - Episode 3: In Harm's Way Review


  • Developer: Telltale Games
  • Publisher: Telltale Games
  • Release Date: 13 May 2014
  • Time played: 1.5 hours

Episode 3 for The Walking Dead Season 2 was released this month and it seems to be a tad shorter than previous episodes but it packs quite a punch even though it's half an hour shorter. If this review seems to look similar to the previous episode reviews that's because it is - but what would you expect considering only the plot changes between episodes?

Plot (5/5)
In this episode, Clementine and her group are effectively imprisoned at a large warehouse where another community has setup. Apparently some members of Clementine's current group used to live there but managed to escape. At the community you'll get to meet a whole bunch of new characters to meet including even more from the 400 Days DLC.

This episode is definitely one of the darker ones with respect to exploring the human psyche, zombies really taking a back seat until right at the end. There is one particularly gruesome part which you get a choice to see or not and which I by mistake chose to watch mainly because I thought I could perhaps have Clementine interrupt it at the last minute; instead I may have started to unlock her darker side (one of the themes that is explored in this episode). What is also interesting is seeing how Carlos's daughter, Sarah deals with the real world having been mostly sheltered from its cruelty and harshness until now.

Gameplay (3/5)
For those that have played The Walking Dead: Season One, you know the drill. Gameplay is pretty light, with simple puzzles and the game feels more like a visual novel. The game is mainly conversation driven and focuses more on your relationships with characters more than anything else. You'll occasionally have some Quick Time Events (QTEs) during action sequences but that's about it.

Sometimes you've got to be cruel to be kind

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 a suitably atmospheric music soundtrack; while there are no memorable themes it is effective in setting the sombre, depressing mood to the game.

Graphics (4/5)
The graphics are similar to The Walking Dead Season One (as you'd expect) and are the best I've seen in a Telltale game yet adopting a thick edges, comic-book style (a similar style is adopted in The Wolf Among Us). The only thing that annoyed me was the fact the framerate tended to jump all over the place at times.

Replay (2/5)
Just like Season One, the ending you receive depends on the choices you make in the game, so there is some attraction there to replay the episode (and indeed, the whole game once it is released). Also like Season One, achievements are still very easy to acquire (i.e. proceed to a certain point in the story) and there's not enough variety to encourage multiple playthroughs. I had to give the episode a slightly lower score on replay though as it was a bit shorter than expected - although it seems all Telltale games are heading this way.

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 – 7/10

If you like your Walking Dead episodes dark, this is the darkest one I've played yet with some pretty confronting scenes in store for the player. If only the episode wasn't so short.

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

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

[LINK: Official The Walking Dead website]

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Choicest VGM - VGM #129 - Utopia: The Creation of a Nation - Music 2

Composed by: Barry Leitch

We now move on to Music 2 from the primitive RTS game, Utopia: The Creation of a Nation. This track starts off slow and my brother and I used to give it the nickname "Andy the Elephant" - not quite sure why but maybe the track is extra funny if you imagine it being sung to those lyrics: "An-Dy the e-le-phant". No? Oh well. Anyway the track plods along for awhile until it picks up at around 1:50 in this video and starts to sound like a funky dance version of Chopin's Funeral March. Well, it doesn't sound very enticing the way I described it just there but have a listen anyway :). Like other tracks in the soundtrack, it fits the game perfectly, as the music tends to build up the tempo and complexity - just as a space colony would.

This track is aka "Vega III" on the SNES version of the game.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Little Racers STREET Review

Pretty splash screen - not actual in-game graphics though

  • Developer: Milkstone Studios
  • Publisher: Milkstone Studios
  • Release Date: 7 Feb 2014
  • Time Played: 5 hours

Already at a very affordable $8.00 USD, I think I purchased Little Racers STREET for only a couple of bucks while it was on sale. So obviously the price was a factor when I purchased this game but there was another reason. Not since the late 80s - early 90s have I played a played an isometric racing game like Ivan "Ironman" Stewart's Super Off Road (now there's a mouthful) and there's something about it that I love. Maybe it's the simplicity of the gameplay or the fact using a keyboard to play the game doesn't put you at a disadvantage.

Gameplay (3/5)
Little Racers STREET is a pretty simple game. Its an isometric racing game where you simply use the keyboard (not sure about other devices since I just used keyboard) to navigate your car around the track. Up is the accelerator, Down is brake and spacebar is nitro - and that's all you need to know to play! Oh "H" is horn but I don't think it has much use. As you can see, the game is a really basic arcade racer but I love the fact you can get by just fine with a keyboard. Races are usually pretty short too so this coupled with the fact you don't need any extra equipment makes it an ideal game to play when you have a short break on your hands.

So overall the gameplay is pretty solid and there are approximately 200 races to choose from based on 60 different tracks. There are also weather effects to dice things up a bit and you've got over 40 cars to pick from all in different classes from A-E, all with different performance statistics that can be upgraded with cash.

The only thing I can fault with the gameplay is ironically what also makes the game great: its simplicity. Also you'll be racing on one of two maps each time, so it can start to become quite monotonous, especially considering some achievements require a lot of grinding. The game lacks longevity if you don't take full advantage of multiplayer, but more on that later.

Weather effects such as snow will (obviously) affect your car's handling

Sound (2/5)
The game only consists of basic car engine and horn noises, but they do the job. How high could you expectations be from an arcade racer? Especially one without any licensed vehicles.

Music (4/5)
There's only a few tracks used in the game but they fit the mood perfectly.

Graphics (3/5)
The game consists of some basic 3D graphics, i.e. low polygon counts, but just like the game's audio, they do the job. One thing in particular that I like (even though this is common in racing games) is the ability to customise the decals and paint jobs on your cars which adds a bit of variety, and is a bit more than I expected from an arcade racer.

David Hasselhoff, eat your heart out.

Replay (2/5)
The game is reasonably fun. Simple to learn but difficult to master (which is what all good games should be IMHO). Unfortunately, it's replay score could've been much better if there was a larger online cohort. Every time I tried to play during Australian hours there was nobody online and there's only so much grinding of achievements you'll be able to take before things start to get boring. If you had a whole bunch of friends playing this on the other hand, I could imagine it being heaps of fun, and definitely receiving more replays.

Polish (5/5)
The game is pretty well polished and I didn't encounter any serious bugs - but you'd expect that from such a simple game.

Score – 7/10

What you see is what you get. Little Racers STREET is an unpretentious isometric arcade racer that can be heaps of fun if you can find some people to play it with; grinding achievements in single-player or even completing daily challenges will eventually become rather dull meaning the game's longevity is heavily dependent on satisfying multiplayer gameplay.

If you want to get the game, you can get it on Steam or directly from their website.

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

[ LINK: Official Little Racers STREET website ]

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Choicest VGM - VGM #128 - Utopia: The Creation of a Nation - Music 1

Composed by: Barry Leitch

Now we move on to one of my favourite game soundtracks of the early 90s, one that happens to be from a potentially obscure game called Utopia: The Creation of a Nation. Developed by Celestial Software and released by Gremlin Interactive in 1991 for MS-DOS and Amiga, this was one of my early experiences with an isometric city builder/RTS. Keep in mind that this was released just before Dune II and as such was a very primitive RTS (you basically built units and then sent them off to attack an enemy off the map). There was no mini-map, just a separate map screen you had to access. The game also only had a limited set of scenarios and only four music tracks that you had to load up manually.

Although there were only four tracks, they were all composed by the accomplished video game composer, Barry Leitch who has composed soundtracks for hundreds of games including Supremacy, Privateer Righteous Fire and TFX. He also apparently composed many iconic Amiga game soundtracks but since I never really played many Amiga games (except those that were ported to PC) I can't really comment on those ones :).

What you're listening to now is Music 1 from the Utopia soundtrack which I always remember as the intro cinematic music. It's a bit slower than the other tracks but it's got a good beat and it suits the game's theme perfectly, i.e. setting up a vulnerable alien colony and expanding it to become a "utopia". It's apparently aka "Alpha Ceti" on the SNES version of the game (what? This game made it onto the SNES?).

Sunday, May 11, 2014

South Park: The Stick of Truth Review

Cartman's forces prepare to strike

  • Developer: Obsidian Entertainment
  • Publisher: Ubisoft
  • Release Date: 5 March 2014
  • Time Played: 13 hours

So I was umming and ahhing about purchasing this particular game. I must confess that I'm a bit of a fan of Obsidian Entertainment but when I heard that the guys behind cerebral RPGs like Planescape: Torment (during their Black Isle days) and Knights of the Old Republic II were making an RPG based on the South Park franchise, I was scratching my head at the news. It didn't seem like a good match and while I enjoy certain South Park episodes, I can't say that I'm a devoted fan. So based on the fact it was a game about South Park, I thought I would give it a miss. However, a member of my new usual haunt, the Whirlpool Forums, suggested I give it a chance:

Majority of South Park humour the last few years has been pop culture references, I dare say you'd enjoy it if you don't mind a bit of adult humour. :)

So I decided to give it a go but is the game worth it if you're not a South Park fan?

Plot (2/5)
You play the role of a new kid to South Park and are often referred to as such (when you're not being called "Sir Douchebag"). The New Kid is a silent protagonist which results in a lot of characters talking on your behalf during the course of the game (and is a source of some of the humour). As soon as you arrive in South Park your father forces you to go and make new friends with other kids in the neighbourhood which include many well-known characters from the series such as Butters, Cartman, Kenny, Stan and Kyle. You'll meet several more later on but what all these kids are doing are LARPing (Live-action role-playing) a Dungeons & Dragons-like game where Humans and Elves fight over a magical artifact known as the Stick of Truth. Apparently whoever controls the Stick of Truth, controls the universe (and no we're not talking about Spice from the planet Arrakis).

The plot happens to be a blatant rip-off of Skyrim though as you're known as the Dragonborn or Dovahkiin, you learn various Dragon Shouts (which are naturally a variety of farts in South Park) and even the interface and loading screens are similar. However there's a lot of South Park references that the fans will recognise (I'm not even a hardcore fan and even I recognised several) and they often crop up in side quests or even the main story quests as antagonists. There are occasional glimmers of genius, especially the jokes which act as social commentary: the pervasiveness of Facebook in modern society being a particular example (and a reason why it reminds me of Redshirt a bit), but this game is definitely more of a goldmine for South Park fans and mileage may vary for anyone else.

Also it's worthy to note that this is the first game I've played that has an Australian R18+ rating that goes with it. However, even though it's received a rating indicating only adults can play it, it still manages to have some parts of the game censored. Apparently Australia wasn't alone in this regard and different countries/regions also received their own customised censorship messages which describes what happens but doesn't display it. I have to say I'm actually kind of relieved I didn't get to see them.

Good to see Australia get a mention, even if it's for the wrong reasons

Gameplay (2/5)
This is Obsidian Entertainment. I don't understand. They usually do wonders to games - for example, I loved what they did with Dungeon Siege III as they brought more role-playing to the game than previous iterations (so it was more than just a simple hack 'n' slash). This game however is just a Western take on a JRPG using the South Park franchise. i.e. combat involves turn-based battles with you and a party member of your choice, against one or multiple enemies. You do happen to use Quick-Time Events in order to perform more effective attacks but that's about the only addition to the formula (and not a terribly good one at that). So while the gameplay mechanics are tried and true, and while for all intents and purposes they are serviceable, it's not that much fun, and not what I'd expect from Obsidian Entertainment.

Also whoever designed the inventory interface should be shot - unless they were trying to make it intentionally annoying - but that's an argument for another time (i.e. games should only go so far in parodying annoying features).

Beware Al Gore's speech on climate change!

Sound (5/5)
Audio is as authentic as you can get, using various sound samples from the show including voice acting by the original cast (which admittedly is mostly Trey Parker and Matt Stone).

Music (4/5)
The soundtrack isn't a terribly memorable one but it's pretty good with even a couple of tracks sounding very similar to Jeremy Soule's Skyrim soundtrack.

Graphics (5/5)
The visual style employed in the game consists of really basic 2D animations but you've got to give Obsidian Entertainment full credit for making such a faithful adaptation of the cartoon series.

Replay (1/5)
I managed to finish the game after about 13 hours and that's with about half of the side quests completed. I found it a bit of a struggle to finish the game though due to the crude nature of the jokes. I know South Park is intentionally meant to offend - that's its trademark humour and maybe I'm just a bit squeamish, but I've got to be honest - there were a couple of times I wanted to quit and stop playing, instead of trying to persist through some very cringe-worthy scenes.

Polish (4/5)
The game is fairly well polished - and usually I'd be joking about numerous bugs since it's an Obsidian Entertainment game. However, since it's not like traditional RPGs that Obsidian make, that's probably a major contributing factor. Multiple story arcs and hundreds of decision points tend to be hard to test for. I disliked the console-like auto-save system, aka the dreaded Save System Type 1 (according to a previous article I published). It occasionally means having to restore from somewhere slightly further back since you're at the mercy of wherever they decided to trigger the autosaves.

Score – 6/10

If you're a hardcore South Park Fan, add an extra point: the game is definitely one of the most faithful games to a franchise I've ever played. Otherwise, if you're an Obsidian Entertainment fan hoping for something deep and meaningful (without jokes about someone's anal cavity), you'll have to look elsewhere.

If you want to get the game, you can get it on Steam or at popular retailers (e.g. EB, JB Hi-Fi, Big W, etc.)

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

[ LINK: Official South Park: The Stick of Truth website ]

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Choicest VGM - VGM #127 - Lemmings - tim3

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

To wrap up our tracks from Lemmings, here is the final Tim Wright composition that will feature with Choicest VGM. Just as it was with the track "tim1", I think this track would feel right at home on an 80s mix tape or even in a disco. It's definitely got a new wave feel to it.