Sunday, November 30, 2014

First Impressions - Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed

Yes. It's a Russian WWII general, standing on a miniature tank on an American aircraft carrier...

I managed to get quite a few Sega games during the most recent Humble Bundle, aptly named the "Humble Sega Bundle". One of these games was Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed, a game I've been meaning to get for quite some time now due to its "Overwhelmingly Positive" reviews on Steam and the fact it looks like a light-hearted Mario Kart clone except with some gaming characters I'd actually like to give a go at racing with. So I've played the game for about an hour now and here are my first impressions.

What I like

  • Bright and colourful: Lots of vibrants colours and bright, exciting maps makes you feel like you've stepped into Las Vegas or something - well especially on the casino levels I guess!
  • Some familiar faces: One of the big attractions of this game are the characters from Sega's franchises, such as Sonic the Hedgehog, Tails, Doctor Eggman, Ulala from Space Channel 5, B.D. Joe from Crazy Taxi, Gilius Thunderhead from Golden Axe and some stranger additions such as General Winter from Company of Heroes 2, Willemus from Total War: Rome II and Football Manager from Football Manager. There's even non-Sega related characters such as Danica Patrick (NASCAR driver), Wreck-It Ralph and the fellows from Team Fortress 2. There's sure to be a favourite amongst the line-up there, although I'm sad there's no characters from my favourite Sega game, Streets of Rage, in the line-up.
  • Morphing vehicles and morphing tracks: While it might put some off that you have these wacky vehicles that can morph into boats and planes, this makes things interesting since you might be good at handling the car well enough but when it comes to flying the plane or driving the boat, handling characteristics change, sometimes dramatically.

What I dislike

  • Nobody seems to be playing it anymore: Sadly, when I tried to find people who play the game multiplayer online, there was nobody on. Sure it might be because I'm in Australia and the game's been out for awhile now, but I was hoping I'd at least find one player around. It's a similar problem I had with Little Racers STREET, which is a pity because I could imagine both games being really fun with friends or other players.
  • Easy to lose sight of track in plane mode: While it's usually kind of obvious where the track is when in car or boat mode, in plane mode it sometimes isn't - and during those times it's damn annoying since you'll be hitting invisible walls and wondering which direction to take in order to get back on the track. Sure you have the minimap to show you roughly where the track is but it doesn't show which direction you're facing.
  • Separate controls configuration program: In this day and age, why do you need a separate program in order to configure your keyboard? I suppose I shouldn't complain since at least you have the option (unlike some games where the keys are hard-coded and you can't change them at all). Anyway it's kind of annoying, plus it does some weird crap when you enter the program the first time (since nothing is assigned) but when you select keyboard again (for example) it then finally shows you the defaults. This brings me onto my final point...
  • No tutorial: Okay the game is pretty basic as it is but it would be nice for a simple tutorial to explain why I'm collecting these coins and what they can be used for - also what purpose does levelling particular racers serve? What are the default keys (they don't tell you so you're just expected to be psychic it seems).

Verdict

Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed seems to be good at what it strives to be and while at first glance it might look like just another Mario Kart clone, it does innovate thanks to the transformable racing vehicles and the fact the track itself tends to change after each lap. The only worry I have is that the game might get a bit dull if there's nobody around to play with.

[ LINK: Official Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed website ]

Saturday, November 29, 2014

First Impressions - Guacamelee! Gold Edition

And I thought my jokes were bad...

I've only played just under an hour of Guacamelee! Gold Edition so far but it's been enough time to learn the ropes and make a bit of progress through the game. This actually happens to be one of the games I bought in my last Steam Sale haul. Despite the game receiving a solid Metacritic rating of 88 it was still a bit of a gamble for me considering I'm not a fan of self-proclaimed "Metroidvania" games. The setting however, which reminded me of one of my favourite adventure games of all time, Grim Fandango, made me think twice. The game only selling for $4 is what made me take the plunge.

What I like

  • Not just a platformer: Thanks to the addition of wrestling combat moves to the game, it definitely makes things more interesting and ensures the game isn't just your everyday platformer.
  • Music: The soundtrack is inspired by Mexican music such as Mariachi, a style of Mexican folk music. It can be an acquired taste but I personally love it and it definitely makes the soundtrack stand out from its peers. Kudos to Peter Chapman and Rom Di Prisco.
  • Art style: The game has got a very Mexican Art Deco style to the artwork - it's basically similar to Grim Fandango except in 2D. I really dig the art style and its clean lines.
  • So many pop culture references: If there's any pop culture reference out there whether it be an internet meme or a gaming in-joke, it's in this game. I've only played a short time and have come across several references including the ORLY owls, Super Mario Bros., Grumpy Cat, gaming blog Destructoid, Viva Pinata and Minecraft.

What I dislike

  • Nothing: I can't think of anything to dislike about this game save for the fact that ultimately it's still a platformer, which isn't my favourite genre but as mentioned before, they've done a good job to make things fresh by adding wrestling moves to the formula. Also, the game isn't ideal on a keyboard but they do warn you about that before you play.

Verdict

I'm not terribly good at platformers so hopefully the game continues on its path of a linear difficulty curve. What I've seen so far though is hard to fault. I love the art style, I love the music, the combat keeps things interesting and there are several chuckles to be had whilst identifying all the pop culture references you'll come across.

[ LINK: Official Guacamelee! website ]

Friday, November 28, 2014

First Impressions - Dragon Age Inquisition

With an accent like that, you've got to be from Lon- I mean Denerim

Well I've managed to play a good 15 hours of Dragon Age Inquisition and I've hardly made a dent in terms of the things I can do in this game (it's that large compared to its predecessors). I'm only level 7 and haven't actually completed any of the areas you're able to unlock after the introductory area called Haven. Anyway, now is a good a time as any to give a rundown about what I like and dislike about Bioware's latest RPG.

What I like

  • Rich backstory: It wouldn't be a Bioware RPG without a rich backstory and once again Dragon Age doesn't disappoint in that department - although it's had two games in order to build upon right? In this Dragon Age you finally get to visit the kingdom of Orlais and learn more about the world of Thedas and its inhabitants.
  • Voice acting: Once again you've got top quality voice acting here with the likes of Claudia Black, Kate Mulgrew, Brian Bloom, Ali Hillis (who played Liara in Mass Effect) and Freddie Prinze Jr. (who played James in Mass Effect 3), just to name a few.
  • Music: I kind of miss the original Dragon Age theme and the Hawke Family Theme from Dragon Age 2. I think I still have a preference for Inon Zur's compositions but Trevor Morris, composer for Dragon Age Inquisition is no slouch either and while I haven't warmed to his soundtrack yet, it definitely has that epic quality befitting a series like Dragon Age Inquisition
  • Beautiful vistas: There are some definitely beautiful places to visit in Dragon Age such as the cliffs of the Storm Coast or the many majestic waterfalls you'll come across on your journey.

What I dislike

  • Buggy: The game is still pretty buggy. One such bug is disappearing NPCs which wouldn't normally be a problem but one particular NPC is an advisor on your War Council - so he's not exactly a minor character.
  • Keep seems to have little effect on story: At least this seems to be the case so far - and this is 15 hours into the game. Sure, there's the line or two from NPCs that are directly impacted by the history you develop in the Keep but it doesn't seem like it has much impact on the current world. It might also just seem this way since in a game like Mass Effect, you're Commander Shepard in all games whereas in Dragon Age, you portray different characters. Consequently you're always starting off as a nobody again which means it's unlikely people will simply approach you and talk about how awesome you are - except for being the Herald of Andraste of course.
  • Microstutter: I knew that using the Frostbite engine would have consequences. Just like in Battlefield 4 it seems that I am receiving microstutter during cutscenes (or framerate drops) and I'm not the only one. Thankfully, BioWare have been made aware of this and are investigating the issue for its next patch.
  • Dragon Age: Skyrim: While Skyrim is a good game, I always felt it was way too large or diluted when compared to the rich storytelling in games like Mass Effect, Dragon Age or Knights of the Old Republic. Traditionally you weren't able to travel to as many places as you could in an Elder Scrolls game, nor would you be able to complete as many quests. But I always felt that this was more of a quality vs quantity trade-off. By focusing on less areas, Bioware could invest more into the story and especially characters of the game. While they still seem to have managed that in Dragon Age Inquisition there are a lot of boring fetch quests that don't really seem to do much except give you the opportunity to gain more loot - just like Skyrim. To add further insult you're even able to ride a horse - just because.

Verdict

I'm a bit annoyed by the framerate drops during cutscenes but the game runs well enough during normal gameplay. While I don't like the fact the game is so huge now, it so far hasn't really come to a detriment to the overall story, so it seems like Bioware are saying you can have your cake and eat it too by accommodating for two kinds of fans. Dragon Age Inquisition has still got that Dragon Age charm (or classic Bioware RPG charm) that makes me want to play the thing non-stop - however unlike previous Dragon Age games, a lot of that time is spent collecting materials and crafting things rather than focusing on the plot.

[ LINK: Official Dragon Age Inquisition website ]

Thursday, November 27, 2014

First Impressions - Elite Dangerous Gamma

Landing ships isn't my forte - actually, I'm not very good at this game in every regard

It's not long until Elite Dangerous, the latest instalment in the legendary Elite series by David Braben will be released to the world: 16 December in fact - just in time for Christmas. However, before that occurs, lower tier Kickstarter Backers of the game (which includes myself) have finally been given a chance to experience the game in its "Gamma" state. Admittedly, this is the first time I've ever heard of a game being in a "gamma" so I'm just going to consider this as a paid open beta of sorts. After downloading the game overnight, I was ready to give the game a whirl for a few hours so I could gather my first impressions.

What I like

  • Realism: This is pretty much what it boils down to when you're deciding to get this game. If you want the most scientifically accurate space sim on the market, Elite Dangerous is it. A basic understanding of Newtonian physics is a must if you have any chance of navigating around the galaxy or succeeding in combat. Also, just like real life, there are a whole bunch of rules. You can choose to break them but you'll probably be fined, or worse, vapourised into space dust. So make sure not to loiter too long around someone else's landing pad or attempting to land without first asking permission.
  • Massive scale: Thanks to the wonders of procedural generation, the developers have managed to fit quite a few star systems into the game - 400 billion in fact all across the Milky Way. 150,000 of the star systems will be based on actual astronomical data but the rest are randomly generated.
  • Music: While I was at first sad that no music from Frontier: Elite II made it to Elite Dangerous in some shape or form (I really loved David Lowe's main theme for Frontier and the "Blue Danube" for docking sequences was perfect), Erasmus Talbot, the composer for Elite Dangerous, has done a superb job in bringing that epic space opera feel to the game.
  • Graphics: The graphics are fantastic and since everything is drawn at a 1:1 scale, you will be awestruck by the size of planets and just the beautiful vistas you'll be able to take snapshots of for the many star systems you'll visit (in fact, from what I've been reading on forums so far, this is probably one of the highlights of the game to date). There's also great attention to detail with almost everything - dogfights are especially tense since the more damage you take, the more cracks you'll see on your canopy - meaning you're that close to being ejected into the cold vacuum of space.

What I dislike

  • Buggy: Admittedly this isn't the final version of the game, but with the release date only a few weeks away, there's still some work to do. For one, the tutorial that teaches you how to travel between star systems (a pretty important lesson if you ask me) causes you to get stuck in hyperspace for eternity.
  • Steep learning curve: There is a price to be paid for making a game realistic and that means it also has a steep learning curve. Well to be honest, it doesn't need to be this way if they had better (and functioning) tutorials, but the tutorials only cover a fraction of what you need to know and if you take just a quick look at the controls screen for Elite Dangerous you'll notice there are hundreds of things you can do with your ship (at least it seems like hundreds anyway). Combat is definitely tricky in Elite Dangerous - thanks to the Newtonian physics model you actually have to make good use of retro thrusters in combat in order to stop overshooting your target or just going off on a tangent (literally).
  • Mouse and keyboard at a disadvantage: While on the topic of steep learning curve, the game is also pretty difficult to play with a keyboard and mouse, which most players won't care about (since why buy a space sim if you don't get to use a joystick right?) but it has to be mentioned for fans of games like Freelancer (which did mouse and keyboard exceptionally well). As the game is trying to be more realistic, turning on a horizontal axis is excruciatingly slow so you'll have to tail targets using the vertical axis, meaning it's more difficult to correct yourself with a mouse and keyboard as opposed to a joystick. Joysticks also have the neat feature called continuous throttle which is especially critical during combat.
  • Lonely universe: The universe is a big place so it's unlikely you'll bump into anyone most of the time (human or AI) although I've yet to come across a human player in-game yet, except for maybe that bastard that tried to interdict me last time...
  • Laggy: There does seem to be a bit of lag when entering/exiting Space Cruise and Hyperspace which I believe is server related (although I can't be certain on that point). I only mention this as well since when I first attempted to play the Gamma I had quite a bit of trouble even connecting to the server.
  • Plot: Apparently the game's plot is going to be revealed through news posts and even missions/events down the line, although I haven't experienced anything like that yet (well except for reading the news articles). Maybe it's still early days so hopefully there's a bit more of something resembling a plot, campaign or at least set of missions maybe specific to each faction.

Verdict

I'm definitely content at the moment to just keep exploring the galaxy and performing trade runs/courier missions in Elite Dangerous. However there is a steep learning curve when it comes to combat that I'm not sure I'll ever overcome, not to mention it remains to be seen if there's going to be any more improvements in terms of the plot to give me something to strive for - otherwise accumulating wealth for the sake of accumulating wealth is going to get boring pretty fast.

[ LINK: Official Elite: Dangerous website ]

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Where are they now? - Tom Loughry

Chevrolet CERV III of course... what do you MEAN you've never heard of it before?

For this week's "Where are they now?" post I'm going to be talking about a developer that's probably not as well known on the PC gaming scene but nevertheless worked on a game that was quite memorable for me and that game was Test Drive III: The Passion. The game was probably one of my earliest experiences with a 3D VGA open-world car racing game and it's the experience I had with this game that shaped my future expectations with respect to titles like Test Drive Unlimited and Test Drive Unlimited 2. The developer I'm talking about was responsible for the graphics and design of Test Drive III and his name is Tom Loughry. Tom seems to be especially famous for his games on the Intellivision console during the early 80s and this is where I'm getting most of my information about the guy since information elsewhere on the interwebs is sparse. So without further ado, lets see how Mr Loughry started, what he did in the industry and where he's at nowadays.

Tom apparently got his start in the game development industry by helping some friends who were working for a company called APh Technological Consulting. APh was a company that was contracted by Mattel (yes, the same company that sells Barbie dolls) to develop games for its Intellivision console which was released in 1979. Tom gained a reputation as a "finisher" and was nicknamed "the fireman" because he knew how to get stuff done and was often finishing other developers' projects.

Tom's first game at APh was Boxing which was published in 1980 and this would be the first of three games that he would not start himself but instead be responsible for finishing (all three games were started by different developers). His second game was 1981's Sub Hunt which was started by John Hershberger (who is now a prominent computer scientist) and his third would be 1982's Advanced Dungeons & Dragons aka Cloudy Mountain.

Tom finally got to work on his own game from start to finish when he developed 1983's Treasures of Tarmin but it was also around this time that APh management was becoming a bit "unstable" and almost all of APh's senior staff left.

Tom then worked on some console games for Activision such as Worm Whomper (1983), The Dreadnaught Factor (1983) and Alcazar: The Forgotten Fortress (1985).

After working at Activision, he ended up at Accolade. It's about this time that Tom started to mainly work on PC games. While there he developed the first-person tank game, Steel Thunder (1988), Test Drive III: The Passion (1990), Gunboat (1990), Grand Prix Unlimited (1992) and Speed Racer in the Challenge of Racer X (1993) .

Tom then worked at EA in the late 90s helping EA develop PGA Tour 96 (1996) and Need for Speed III: Hot Pursuit (1998). An interesting bit of trivia that Tom mentions is that the lead programmer for Need for Speed III was noneother than Brad Gour, who used to also work at Accolade (on the first two Test Drive games) before leaving for Distinctive Software Inc. Brad's departure from Accolade is also the reason Tom was given the task of developing the third Test Drive game.

Unfortunately, while working at EA Tom sustained a "severe overuse injury" and ended up "destroying a tendon" which put him out of commission completely. Consequently, it's been over a decade since Tom has been typing at a keyboard let alone developing any games. He does seem to be receptive to his fans though, being a guest on a podcast called Intellivisionaries only a few months ago.

LINKS:
[ MobyGames: Tom Loughry ]
[ Intellivisionaries Podcast Episode 6 dated 24 Feb 2014 ]
[ Intellivisionaries Podcast Episode 10 dated 29 Jun 2014 ]

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Gems of War Review

Pro tip: Leave the wall alone - it can't actually hurt you! (ORLY? YARLY. NOWAI!)

  • Developer: Infinity Plus 2
  • Publisher: 505 Games
  • Release Date: 20 November 2014
  • Time played: 5 hours (INCOMPLETE)

Before I go any further let me tell you two things about this game:

  1. It's a mobile port
  2. It's Free-to-Play

Are you still with me? I suspect some of you aren't. When people hear "mobile port" and "free-to-play" in the same sentence they probably think of freemium titles like Candy Crush which try to extort the player of his/her hard-earned cash. There's no doubt that there are some downright evil "free-to-play" games out there, ones where it's nigh on impossible to progress or succeed without relinquishing some coin, and then there's "free-to-play" done right - games where there is very little or no disadvantage to having a free account with income being generated only for cosmetic changes such as custom costumes or skins.

I don't think Gems of War is one of the "evil" free-to-play games although I'll go into that after I talk a bit about the plot.

Plot (2/5)
From what I've experienced so far, which is actually quite little in terms of the overall campaign, but most of what could be considered the first storyline mission or mini-campaign, the plot is rather lacklustre and definitely not the main focus. At the beginning of the game, you along with some old codger are trying to kill waves of enemies as you work your way up a spire to kill a lava worm or something. No real reason why, just because you have to. You're a hero! It's what you do!

A lack of focus on the story isn't necessarily a bad thing since it does mean they've placed most of their focus on the gameplay, which is probably the most important aspect in a puzzle game.

Gameplay (4/5)
Okay, let's first talk about the actual gameplay before talking about Gems of War being a Free-to-Play title. So, the game is very similar to Puzzle Quest, which is no surprise considering Infinite Interactive is behind this game, the original creators of Puzzle Quest. Yes, I do realise that somehow they have a funny developer name of Infinity Plus 2 - I have no idea what that's about but trust me, there's a reason this game seems like a Puzzle Quest sequel - that's because it is, save for the name. The game is also similar to another game by Infinite Interactive called Puzzle Kingdoms which used the same match-3 mechanic but instead of your player character going toe-to-toe with an enemy instead you had several units or an army fighting against another army. Just like Puzzle Kingdoms, you'll command multiple units in Gems of War but that's where the similarities end.

So just like in Puzzle Quest you'll be fighting several battles that you'll come across by visiting kingdoms. You can do storyline quests/battles and you can do challenges which reward skill points you can use to upgrade your units. You're also able to join guilds for the first time although you're unable to actually play with anyone in the guild since there isn't any real-time multiplayer whatsoever in this. You can spend gold towards completing guild projects but that's the extent of the cooperation. There's only a limited number of things you can do with a guild really as there's no means of communicating with other members (e.g. via chat or forums) and the guild customisation options leave a lot to be desired. Also, whenever you fight other players, you're not really fighting them in real-time but fighting an AI that is controlling their current deck of units.

Okay, so you're probably thinking this doesn't sound too bad but is this a "Pay-2-Win" title? If I wanted to be completely honest, I couldn't say. If you're treating this game as a single-player game, definitely not (since it doesn't matter if you pay to get an advantage then, right?). If you're playing competitively (trying to get your guild to be the top of the leaderboards) - maybe, although I hope not.

You see, every battle you undertake in Gems of War requires the use of gold or coins. If you don't have enough coins, you pretty much can't play. However, you usually generate a sufficient number of coins each day (at least enough for a few battles daily) not to mention winning battles effectively reimburses some of the cost (a bit like visiting Medicare for a rebate on the doctor's visit). Unless you go on a mad spending spree on stuff, you're unlikely to run out of gold anytime soon. You can spend real money to buy things like in-game gold along with skill points and some cosmetic items. So if you spend real money, you're going to level up faster or be able to play the game more often than a player who doesn't spend any money - unless that player is a gun at the game and never loses. This isn't really a big deal (at least I don't think so) if you're treating the game as a single-player experience. The grey area comes about when you're trying to take your guild to the top of the leaderboards.

In order to make your guild rise the ranks of the leaderboards, you have to win trophies and the way you win trophies is by fighting other players (or at least the decks of other players as you're actually just fighting the AI). I do believe the game has a matchmaking system which tries to match you with someone of a similar skill level but what I'm worried about is when that doesn't work - or worse, when matchmaking it doesn't take into account the level of the player's units and just the player character's level. I can't really say this for certain but I find it unlikely there would've been such an oversight, so fingers crossed my negative scenario doesn't occur in reality.

The main screen

Sound (5/5)
Sound effects consist of the typical fantasy battle fare. No complaints.

Music (4/5)
The music isn't too memorable being your typical epic fantasy affair.

Graphics (2/5)
Graphics are pretty basic but they've employed a similar approach to presentation as they did with the original Puzzle Quest. There's not much in terms of animation but the art for the various creatures and backgrounds are nicely done.

Replay (5/5)
It probably takes about 5 hours to finish all of a kingdom's quests and I do believe there are 15 kingdoms in total to unlock meaning there's potentially 75 hours of gameplay here which isn't too bad for a puzzle game (not to mention the game doesn't, or at least shouldn't end when you finish all the quests as you can still "invade" other players or attempt to finish all the challenges associated with each kingdom). The game is an addictive time-waster and I can see myself playing this almost daily for a quick 15 minute game or so.

Polish (3/5)
When the game originally came out I had some issues with respect to the game freezing and losing connectivity, meaning I couldn't get to play the game. Fortunately, I haven't encountered any of those issues recently so hopefully they won't crop up again.

Score – 7/10

Gems of War is a worthy successor to Puzzle Quest in the gameplay department, taking elements from the original game that started it all and the more strategic Puzzle Kingdoms and offering it for the very attractive price of $0. Sure, spending some real money might mean less grind or that you're able to play the game for more than 2 hours a day, but if you're not intending to play the game for longer than that daily, then you'll never really need to open your wallet - unless you want that sexy looking Dragon Armour...

Gems of War is available from these retailers:

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

[ LINK: Official Gems of War website ]

Monday, November 24, 2014

Choicest VGM - VGM #158 - Quest for Glory III - Eastern Fricana Savanna



Composed by: Rudy Helm

This piece plays when the Hero ventures east from the Liontaur city of Tarna towards the Simbani camp, the Simbani being a people obviously modelled off the Maasai people of East Africa. Before you arrive there you'll have to cross what is known as the East African Savannah - er, I mean the "East Fricana Savanna". The music is really epic and I think that's why it sticks in my mind to this day - probably the most epic main city departure music you'll ever hear in a Quest for Glory game, but to be fair, it's not like Quest for Glory 1, Quest for Glory 2 or Quest for Glory 4 had much in terms of wilderness music. I especially like it when the harmonising kicks in around 1:06.

Thanks to Sierra On-Line and Quest Studios for providing these memorable tracks.


Sunday, November 23, 2014

First Impressions - Enslaved: Odyssey to the West

I've got a feeling we're not in Kansas anymore.

During this year's Steam Summer Sale, I managed to grab quite a few games and one of those games was Enslaved: Odyssey to the West for a neat $5 USD. The game is set in post-apocalyptic America but the story is apparently based off one of the great classical novels of Chinese literature known as Journey to the West. I'm fascinated by Chinese culture, history and literature so while this is probably a very liberal take on the story, I was nevertheless intrigued to see how Ninja Theory adapted it.

What I like

  • Tie-in with Journey to the West: As I've already mentioned, this game is a post-apocalyptic, sci-fi adaptation of Journey to the West. So you've obviously got characters like Monkey and Tripitaka but it's interesting how the developers represent them in this world (and how they came about with those names). I also found some amusement in how they adapted magical items in the original story into pieces of technology for the sci-fi game version
  • Top notch voice acting: Monkey is voice acted by noneother than Captain Gollum Haddock himself: Andy Serkis and he does a splendid job of it. Lindsey Shaw as Tripitaka is no slouch either.
  • Breathtaking combat: While other aspects of gameplay might not be so good the combat is really quite exciting. Monkey is actually pretty vulnerable if you don't time your blocks well enough and the slo-mo finishing moves makes the game look like a John Woo film. All we need now are the doves.
  • Great character detail: Despite the rest of the game's graphics having quite a few low-res textures (apparently this game was originally a 2010 game for consoles) the painstaking detail that must've gone into the character models and animations is obvious.

What I don't like

  • Annoying camera angles: Unfortunately Enslaved: Odyssey to the West is one of those games with an automated camera angle. Consequently there will be many times where during combat the camera will be flying all over the place and it'll be difficult to focus on the action or realise which way you're really facing now.
  • Hard-coded keybinds: A minor pet peeve of mine but I don't like games that force you to use certain key bindings (and I suspect a lot of PC gamers would agree). One of the worst offenders is middle mouse button being hard-coded since that also happens to be my Push-to-Talk key for TeamSpeak.
  • No long-term appeal: While the levels I've played so far require a minimal amount of puzzle solving, overall there doesn't seem to be too much variation in the type of enemies you fight (robots) or how to approach the level. Ultimately, everything comes back to how good you're in combat anyway since even if you're able to be stealthy and avoid some combat there will always be some mechs you'll have no option but to fight with, especially during boss fights. The game is also quite linear too which makes the gameplay seem dated when compared to other games from 2013 such as Tomb Raider


Verdict

I'll never be able to get over the annoying camera angles and I'm starting to doubt the game's ability in drawing me back due to monotonous gameplay. However, the game is a sci-fi adaptation of a classic work of Chinese literature and this, along with the sublime voice acting and character animations, have kept my attention.

[ LINK: Official Enslaved: Odyssey to the West website ]

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Finding Teddy Review

Five little speckled frogs, sat on a speckled log...

  • Developer: LookAtMyGames
  • Publisher: Plug In Digital
  • Release Date: 3 December 2013
  • Time played: 2 hours

At first glance, Finding Teddy isn't usually the sort of game I go after. Games that look like retro, 8-bit platformers are commonplace nowadays so even though I know I should never judge a game by its screenshots, this is what I thought Finding Teddy was. I originally got the game as part of one of the Humble Bundles, even though the original intent of purchasing the Humble Bundle was to gift it to a friend. Turns out he already had many of the games so I ended up with quite a few (and now I feel like Homer Simpson in that episode - you know, the one where he buys Marge a bowling ball as a gift).

Anyway, on closer inspection turns out that despite the game looking like a retro platformer, it's actually a retro point 'n' click adventure - well sort of - without the verb interface.

Plot (4/5)
So what exactly is this game about? Well as you've probably guessed by just reading the title, it's about a little girl on a quest to find her teddy bear. One night, what appears to be a giant spider, grabs the girl's teddy bear right out of her arms and drags it into her wardrobe. The little girl pursues her teddy bear's abductor and ends up in a magical world. The wardrobe being a portal to another world is obviously inspired by the likes of "The Chronicles of Narnia" and the little girl exploring a cute but dangerous fantasy world seems reminiscent of "Alice in Wonderland".

Since there's not really any information about the world and no conversation trees (as you would normally do in classic Lucasarts point 'n' click adventure games) a lot is left to your imagination and while that's generally a good thing it also means there are several questions left unanswered, not to mention it's hard to find anything deep and meaningful in the game if you don't know what exactly you're dealing with.

Alternatively, there probably is a hidden meaning to the whole story (maybe the little girl is fighting her fears and doubts personified or something?) but it's so subtle (at least to me) that it just flew over my head.

Gameplay (3/5)
The game claims to be "the revival of Point 'n' Click" which is a bit misleading, unless you take the term literally in that you can point and click using your mouse, but even then many games already use that as a control scheme on the PC so it's not exactly a revival then either. Anyway, what I think they're trying to say is that it's a revival of point 'n' click adventure games and while that'd be the closest genre to this game, it's a very basic point 'n' click adventure if you wish to define it that way. Sure you click to interact with items or to pick up items - you can even store items in your inventory and use them on objects in the environment. Besides that though, there are no conversation trees and no way to examine or look at items. This was quite annoying sometimes since thanks to the retro graphics, it was hard to tell what exactly I was carrying in the inventory at times: a plastic bag? A parachute? A vest? It would've been nice if they at least allowed you to hover over the item and a tooltip popping up notifying the player of what the item actually is.

Also, puzzles are generally easy once you figure them out although sometimes I found that I was at ends with the controls. For example, in order to use items from your inventory, you have to click on the protagonist, select the item and then click on the environment. There's no help to indicate how you're meant to use the interface so I just assumed you drag and dropped items from the inventory onto the environment. Sadly, this would result in me just interacting with the environment without using the inventory item and I would often die as a result, mistakenly thinking that the inventory item didn't work. So half the challenge was learning how the game actually worked instead of actually solving the puzzles. This is about the time that I come in and say "you can tell this is a port of a mobile game".

One aspect of the game I did like was solving some puzzles through the use of musical spells a bit like the old Lucasarts adventure game Loom. However, unlike Loom you'll discover that these musical spells are just a front for something else...

Isn't Tarant a city in Arcanum?

Sound (5/5)
To be honest, I don't actually recall much in the way of sound effects besides the sound the inventory makes when you open it. Music plays a much larger role in this but the sound effects that do exist are effective enough.

Music (3/5)
If you purchase this game on Steam you'll receive the soundtrack for free - it's just a pity that it's not exactly something I'd recommend. I mean sure, the music complements the game well but it's just a minimalist, ambient affair. If you want an example of a retro-themed, mobile-centric adventure game with a fantastic soundtrack I'd recommend people check out Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP.

Graphics (3/5)
Graphics are of the pixellated, retro kind. I guess it has a certain charm to it (if you're into these kind of graphics) otherwise it feels like a bit of a time warp back to the 1980s (although with more colours).

Replay (1/5)
The game is incredibly short; it only took me two hours to complete and I was stuck on puzzles half of that time too! Consequently there isn't much reason to replay the game unless you want to unlock special scenes and Steam achievements. You're also able to earn Steam Trading Cards.

Polish (5/5)
Game doesn't seem that buggy to me but then again you wouldn't expect it to be considering how minimalist the game is :).

Score – 7/10

Don't do what I did and immediately throw Finding Teddy into the generic retro platformer basket: Finding Teddy is a simple but entertaining point 'n' click adventure inspired by the likes of "Alice in Wonderland" and "The Chronicles of Narnia". While the game is terribly short, it's a nice little distraction for point 'n' click adventure gamers for an hour or two.

Finding Teddy is available from these retailers:

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

[ LINK: Official Finding Teddy website ]

Friday, November 21, 2014

All Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective Episodes Now Available for $5

Ah good ol' FMV

Anyone remember an old FMV game where you got to play as Sherlock Holmes by a company called ICOM Simulations? The game probably seems quaint by today's standards but they were cutting edge back in its day (this was 1991 mind you, CDs and FMV were a relatively new thing). Zojoi, successor to ICOM Simulations re-released this game a couple of years back (which I was ecstatic about) but unfortunately the game seemed to only be available on mobile platforms and Desura (which I wasn't so ecsatic about). In this age of digital distribution, there are many of us who are quite picky when it comes to entertaining new platforms/websites - I even know of some friends who refuse to play any game that isn't released on Steam! While I'm no snob, I do already have accounts with five gaming-related digital distributors (i.e. Steam, Origin, UPlay, GOG.com and Humble Bundle) - so a sixth is really starting to stretch it for me.

Anyway, some good news today for those who just want a DRM-free copy of these classic Sherlock Holmes adventures: you can now get all three direct from Zojoi's recently established store for $5 USD! It was an insta-buy for me and that's not all - you can even get some of their other retro adventures from their site, including the original Shadowgate. Definitely worth a look if you want to own a bit of gaming history or to relive these old classics! :) (Apparently, I'm still no better at Sherlock Holmes even with 2 decades experience - EPIC FAIL)

[ SOURCE: Shadowgate Kickstarter November Update ]
[ LINK: Zojoi Store ]

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Lucasarts Legends go to Kickstarter to fund retro adventure game

Hmmm that chainsaw looks familiar - and so does that user interface

Over the past couple of years we've had a whole bunch of ex-Sierra developers going to the crowd-funding platform Kickstarter in order to bring back point 'n' click adventure games. Al Lowe and Replay Games managed it, Jane Jensen managed it, the Guys from Andromeda managed it, Lori and Corey Cole managed it and even Jim Walls gave it a shot (but unfortunately his project Precinct did not meet its target and was cancelled). Of course, it all started with an ex-Lucasarts employee, Tim Schafer with the hugely successful Double Fine Adventure campaign (now known as Broken Age) raising a whopping $3.3 million - although as you know, even the money raised was insufficient to fund the entire game.

So it's been pretty quiet in terms of big name developers over the past few months but out of the blue comes Ron Gilbert, one of my favourite developers of all time, and Gary Winnick, another legendary Lucasarts developer (mainly known for his awesome artwork). What they both have in common is that they were designers on the very successful 1987 point 'n' click adventure Maniac Mansion. What set this game apart was the fact you were able to control up to three characters; two of these characters you picked at the start of the game from a roster of six. Each character had their different strengths and weaknesses when it came to solving puzzles - they even had their own theme songs! Unfortunately, Maniac Mansion was a bit before my time, but its sequel Day of the Tentacle wasn't and it still ranks as one of my favourite games of all time (judging by how much of the game I can quote off by heart). Like its predecessor, Day of the Tentacle also had you controlling multiple characters but this wouldn't be the last game that allowed you to. Last year, The Cave was released allowing you to control three characters selected from a roster of seven. The game was fun but it was mainly a puzzle platformer and sadly not a point 'n' click adventure. What I find funny, reading the review again is my comment saying "I still don't understand why Ron Gilbert doesn't just make another point 'n' click adventure game!" Well it seems that almost two years later, my prayers will finally be answered!

Fast forward to today and we have Ron and Gary pitching a new, but retro-styled, point 'n' click adventure game called Thimbleweed Park. The Kickstarter project has only been around for a couple of days but it's already managed to raise over $200,000 - so it's looking pretty likely that it will reach its modest target of $375,000. "But wait", you say, "isn't there a chance they'll pull a Schafer and say that $375,000 isn't enough later down the track?" Well I guess there's always that chance but the difference here is that Ron and Gary are working on a game that is very similar to their previous efforts in the 1980s - to the point that it will look almost identical to Maniac Mansion thanks to its retro graphics and interface. So in a way, there's nothing new here. These guys are experts at this sort of thing and they're basically just creating another 1980s style point 'n' click adventure - so I think the risk is pretty low considering they're not entertaining thoughts of using a newer, sexier interface, gameplay formula or graphics engine.

Anyway, the game apparently has multiple endings, five characters to control and is set in an eerie town very similar to Twin Peaks (as one backer mentioned). I've backed the game along with almost 6,000 others and it's still got another 28 days to go before the funding deadline. No news about stretch goals yet or if they're even going to introduce stretch goals but let's hope they can do something awesome - like getting one of the original composers on Maniac Mansion to score the soundtrack or something. Or even Michael Z. Land! That'd be a dream come true.

[ SOURCE: Thimbleweed Park Kickstarter Project ]

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Where are they now? - David P. Gray

Hugo's House of Horrors

For those who were active with graphical adventure games in the early 90s, you've probably heard of the game Hugo's House of Horrors. While its graphics seem amateurish, especially nowadays this game was a solid competitor to graphics adventure games by the giants of adventure games: Sierra and Lucasarts. Of course, it probably helped that the game was shareware too but what you might find amazing is that the game was developed by one man: David P. Gray. So who is this David P. Gray and what's he doing now?

Well, there's not actually that much information on the man but he does mention during a 2013 interview that he spent a good deal of time playing arcade games during his university years and it's probably this continuing passion for games that prompted him to start developing them on his own. He was always a fan of the granddaddy of adventure games that originally came out in 1976, William Crowther's Colossal Cave Adventure (a.k.a. ADVENT, Colossal Cave or simply Adventure, which is where the genre derived its name from), so it's probably no surprise that he wanted to develop an adventure game himself. Despite David's first game having a story very similar to Lucasarts's 1987 Maniac Mansion, David has never played the game and actually drew a lot of inspiration from Sierra's 1987 Leisure Suit Larry in the Land of the Lounge Lizards. So in 1989, David developed Hugo's House of Horrors and in 1990 it was released to the public.

Hugo's House of Horrors was quite a success but David thinks the game was just at the right place at the right time. The game was an early example (if not the first example) of a shareware graphical adventure game and it quickly filled the shareware shelves of stores along with the catalogues of low cost disk vendors.

David released two graphical adventure game sequels to the first Hugo game with Hugo II: Whodunit? in 1991 and Hugo III: Jungle of Doom in 1992.

After completing the Hugo adventure game trilogy, David wanted to make one last game with Hugo as the protagonist but decided to develop a 3D game, with similar visuals to Wolfenstein 3D. Due to the technical difficulties in creating a 3D engine from scratch David took much more time than he wanted in developing what would be called Nitemare-3D: it took him 18 months to develop compared to the 3 months it took to develop the first Hugo game. Considering Doom was released in 1993, Nitemare-3D was a bit outdated in the graphics department although its saving grace was that it was more puzzle-oriented than your average First Person Shooter. The game did receive some glowing reviews and it even won the 1995 Ziff-Davis European Shareware Award for Best Game. However after this gruelling experience, David decided to return to making simpler, casual games as an individual developer.

In 1996, David released Jigsaws Galore a digital jigsaw puzzle game that allows you to import images and create your own. Despite its simple concept the game occupies most of David's time nowadays and the customer base has reached the point where he can barely continue as a one-person outfit anymore. About a year ago, David planned to port the game to iPad and Android and it seems that he's at least got the game on iOS as it was released on the iTunes Store in only two months ago.

Will David ever make another Hugo game? It's very unlikely. David seems quite content for the series to remain in the past and he has "no overwhelming urge or need to reboot the series". So if you're wanting another Hugo game, you're out of luck. If you like jigsaw puzzles though, why not check out Jigsaws Galore?

LINKS:
[ MobyGames: David P. Gray ]
[ Gray Design Associates Official Website ]
[ Wikipedia: Hugo's House of Horrors ]
[ Retrodrome: Interview with David P. Gray by JoshWoodzy dated 20 Feb 2013 ]

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Mars: War Logs Review

These costumes almost make me think I'm in a 1980's sci-fi film by David Lynch

  • Developer: Spiders
  • Publisher: Focus Home Interactive
  • Release Date: 26 April 2013
  • Time played: 12 hours

I originally heard about this game thanks to a fellow Whirlpool Forum user that suggested that Mars: War Logs was a sleeper hit. He mentioned that despite the game having low production values, for the price you could do a lot worse if you wanted some more Mass Effect-like action. As you know, I'm a big fan of the Mass Effect series so if a game is even remotely close in terms of gameplay, story and atmosphere, it'll get my attention. I managed to grab Mars: War Logs on sale, which means it must've been pretty cheap considering the game is only $15 USD full price.

Plot (4/5)
Mars: War Logs is a sci-fi role-playing game set on the planet - well you obviously know which planet it's set on - and it's a few hundred years since the planet was colonised. Terraforming projects didn't go quite as planned and the planet is one desolate hellhole where its inhabitants now fight amongst each other to secure the most precious resource on the planet: water. Fighting these wars are the Water Guilds and your character is from the youngest of the guilds known as Aurora. This guild has a tradition of naming its citizens after virtues, and your character's original name is "Temperance". Temperance however had other plans and decided to call himself "Roy" instead as he's actually not a big fan of the virtues nomenclature.

Enter Innocence Smith, a young man who is captured and sent to the same prisoner camp that Roy is incarcerated in. Over time they start to develop a bond, along with plans of escape.

I really think the game has a promising setting. There aren't many RPGs I can think of from the top of my head that are exclusively set on Mars, except for maybe Ultima: Martian Dreams and the game has managed to incorporate "space magic" into the game just like Mass Effect did (except instead of biotics and element zero, you now have "technomancy"). I like the backstory with the different guilds and while the characters are rather 2-dimensional most of the time, there is one particular scene (which probably gave it its R18+ rating) that is actually quite confronting as it involves a choice of encouraging sexual favours for saving someone's life or discouraging it. I can only hope that most players picked the latter instead of taking advantage of the situation. Games should do more of this - making us feel uncomfortable by giving us moral dilemmas or showing how easy it is to fall prey to morally reprehensible behaviour.

Unfortunately the moments of genius in the plot are few and far between. What makes things worse is that the scriptwriting isn't exactly top notch either with some lines of dialogue not exactly flowing as smoothly as they could.

Gameplay (3/5)
Mars: War Logs has similar gameplay to action RPGs like Mass Effect or Fable. You play the game from a third-person perspective and dispatch enemies using a combination of the WASD keys and mouse in order to move towards your target and attack them. You're also able to kite or roll around to dodge attacks as well as block attacks. When enemies are blocking attacks there's an alternate attack to break the block and that's pretty much melee combat in a nutshell. You're also able to use a nailgun in order to dispatch enemies from afar yet ammo is hard to come by earlier on in the game not to mention you're sometimes better off just using a club instead since they do more damage in certain scenarios, especially when attacking from behind. Finally, you're also able to invest points in Technomancy although I never ended up using it that much since I felt it was too fiddly and underpowered. By the time you were able to unlock the Technomancy skills, I had already invested so much into other areas - not to mention dispatching Technomancers (who are meant to be badasses) isn't too difficult if you can just throw sand in their face and clobber them to death while they're clearing their eyes.

The game also has a basic crafting system where you can quite easily come across various components that are used in upgrading your armour and weapons, as well as for crafting ammunition or health injections. Once you find merchants though I think it's actually cheaper to some degree to sell components and use the serum (serum being the currency on Mars) to purchase health injections and ammo from them instead. Still, the ability to craft ammo and health injections is always available if the need arises.

I keep asking myself the very same question

Sound (3/5)
Voice acting is amateurish with emphasis placed on the wrong words not to mention some words aren't pronounced correctly either. The sad thing is, I'm playing the game after they updated it with new voice acting. You heard right. When the game was originally released it had some poorly translated dialogue from the original French version of the game and hilariously bad voice acting to boot. While there have been significant improvements it's still nowhere near the quality of other RPGs such as Mass Effect, but of course games like Mass Effect have huge budgets, so keep that in mind.

Music (3/5)
Sadly, I didn't really get excited about the music. It's mostly an ambient, electronic music affair and while its functional it's by no means memorable or noteworthy. Thankfully, you can decide whether you like the soundtrack for yourself, even if you haven't played the game since it's free off the official website.

Graphics (3/5)
The game runs on an engine developed in-house called the Silk Engine and while the game overall runs smoothly enough, the graphics do remind me of older games that were released a few years before Mars: War Logs such as Mass Effect 2 and even the original Mass Effect. Also, while I'm sure Mars was made to intentionally look like a dump it would've been nice if there was some more variety with the buildings, background scenery and even the NPCs themselves. A lot of them look very similar to each other - in fact everyone on Mars seems to be white come to think of it... except for the Mutants. Not much diversity whatsoever, with respect to everything.

Replay (3/5)
I'm actually tempted to play a second playthrough of this since choosing which side to join happens around the middle of the game and I'm curious to see how different from each other they are (at the very least you'll have a different boss and a different option for your third companion). Besides that you've got your usual Steam achievements and Steam Trading cards to collect as well.

Polish (4/5)
Technically, the game seems to be rather well polished and I didn't encounter any serious bugs - however there are a lot of spelling and grammatical errors.

Score – 6/10

Mars: War Logs while flawed, is generally a fun game to play and if you're wanting to pick up a cheap RPG in the same vein as Mass Effect while you're waiting for Bioware's next offering, this is probably your best choice. It's just a pity that Mars is such a bland, dull and desolate place: the level design is uninspired, the NPCs are all carbon copies of one another, the voice acting is mediocre and the music is nothing to write home about. Despite these flaws, Spiders has a good baseline with Mars: War Logs and I wouldn't mind seeing a sequel if they could ramp up the production values.

Mars: War Logs is available from these retailers:

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

[ LINK: Official Mars: War Logs website ]

Monday, November 17, 2014

Choicest VGM - VGM #157 - Quest for Glory III - Apothecary



Composed by: Rudy Helm

We now move onto the third Quest for Glory soundtrack to feature on Choicest VGM (as you can tell, I'm a big fan of the series). Wages of War takes the player's character, known as the Hero of Spielberg, to the tropical region of East Fricana, a region obviously influenced by Ancient Egyptian and Maasai cultures. He first starts off in the Liontaur city of Tarna where the local apothecary is a man known as Salim Nafs who happens to be a stereotypical hippie: He sports a scraggly beard, wears tie-dyed clothes, only eats vegetables, promotes peace at every opportunity and likes to smoke drugs. Salim eventually makes a return in Quest for Glory V: Dragon Fire and is voiced by one of my favourite voice actors: Steve Blum.

The music that plays when you visit the Apothecary is also interesting as it has a very similar bass line to the famous 1967 song by Jefferson Airplane, "White Rabbit". This is probably no coincidence considering the song "White Rabbit" is all about taking drugs and often associated with hippies.

Thanks to Sierra On-Line and Quest Studios for providing these memorable tracks.


Sunday, November 16, 2014

Monaco: What's Yours Is Mine Review

We get signal.

  • Developer: Pocketwatch Games
  • Publisher: Pocketwatch Games
  • Release Date: 24 April 2013
  • Time played: 10 hours

I managed to grab Monaco: What's Yours Is Mine (or just Monaco for short) quite awhile ago when it was on sale as a 4-pack. The game is advertised as a "co-op heist game" where you're meant to assemble a team of 4 people to "pull off the perfect heist". As you know, I'm a big fan of co-op games and this one sounded like it required a bit more intelligence than the average co-op game. The game also has eight classes to pick from, all with different strengths. I also love class-based games so considering Monaco is co-op and class-based it seemed silly not to miss out on this golden opportunity. The game is apparently critically acclaimed too with a Metacritic rating of 83 and Steam rating of "Very Positive" with 91% of reviewers rating it Positive.

Plot (5/5)
To be honest, I didn't concentrate too much on the plot at first but you start to appreciate the differences between each of the characters and ultimately the story when you realise the campaign isn't finished once you complete "the Locksmith's Story". After that you experience the whole story again but from a different perspective: from the perspective of the Pickpocket. My lack of concentration with respect to the plot (sometimes it's difficult to read the story when other players are rushing you to start a game) and lack of experience watching heist and caper films, probably put me at a disadvantage when I read what the big reveal was (don't worry, I'm not going to spoil it for you). Suffice to say, it really blew my mind. The story is deceptively good considering it's an indie game that didn't need to have a good plot - just good co-op gameplay.

Gameplay (4/5)
Speaking of good co-op gameplay, Monaco thankfully excels in that department. In fact, you're more likely at a disadvantage when completing levels if you play it single-player instead of multiplayer. This isn't to say that some levels are impossible in single-player (at least the ones I've played) - just that they're made that more difficult due to the lack of extra abilities you could take advantage of.

So what exactly does that mean? Well let's start from the beginning. In Monaco, your objective is usually to steal something valuable from a certain location and escape in one piece. There are eight classes to pick from in achieving your goal such as the Locksmith who is fast at picking locks, the Lookout who is able to detect enemy movements on the map and the Mole who is able to break down walls with his "Freedom Spoon" (yes, that's what he calls his digging tool). If you're playing single player, this basically means you have eight lives (one for each class) when attempting the level. Run out of lives and you have to restart from the beginning. Usually it's possible to complete a level in single player when focusing on the primary objective but your secondary objective is to clean out the level of all its coins. The more coins you get the less you're penalised for your final score (which is represented by a time - obviously the lower the time, the better). Cleaning out levels can be incredibly tricky alone since some areas of the maps really benefit from having two or more skills available (e.g. the Redhead seducing a guard to a dark corner only for him to be knocked unconscious by the Cleaner). Consequently, if you want the high scores, you'll need to bring some friends along - or members of the public, since by default games in Monaco are open for anyone to drop in and play with you.

The quality of the players I've found range from the suicidal (players charging around the map alerting every enemy in sight), to the irresponsible (a.k.a. "it's not me who is the problem, it's my team"), to the co-operative - the latter being what you'd expect in a game like Monaco. When you've got a player willing to work as a team, the game is truly one of the best gaming experiences you can have (like most co-op experiences done right). It's not so much fun when you have someone who doesn't know what they're doing or just wants to do their own thing without communicating their intentions.

The only thing I can really criticise though (besides knobs on the Internet) is that it took a bit of getting used to this game as the controls aren't the most intuitive and certain quirks of the game (e.g. weapon ammo being tied to how many coins you collect) don't seem to have parallels with the real world.

When your only means of escape is swarming with guards, you know you're in for one hell of a ride

Sound (4/5)
Audio is actually very important in this game and thankfully quite a bit of effort has been taken with respect to the sound of incoming footsteps while you're hiding in ventilation shafts or shipping containers. The aural cue actually helps you decide whether it's safe to come out of not (which is complemented by the visual cues of footprints).

Also everyone in Monaco speaks French, so top marks for authenticity. There shall be no taunting about your mother being a hamster of your father smelling of elderberries.

Music (5/5)
Music is performed by the very talented Austin Wintory who was the man behind great soundtracks on Journey, The Banner Saga and Leisure Suit Larry: Reloaded. For Monaco, he's decided to focus mostly on piano solos which work well considering this is a game heavily inspired by heist or caper films. Think of comedic music from silent films and you're probably on the right track.

Graphics (2/5)
The only real downfall to the game are the graphics. You'll either love or hate the top-down, basic polygon, Minecraft-style graphics and while I wasn't the biggest fan of the graphics when I first started playing, I eventually got used to them and now I recognise what are items of interest and what aren't.

Replay (3/5)
It took me about 8 hours to complete both the Locksmith's campaign and the Pickpocket's campaign (which officially conclude the original single-player campaign). However there are several origin story missions and the developers were nice enough to release a follow-up campaign (which is apparently "brutally difficult") a year later. There are also Steam Trading Cards and Achievements to collect, not to mention this is a game with leaderboards so it definitely encourages you to find a group of mates to see if you can beat the top scores.

And if that isn't enough for you, there's also numerous custom missions out there too. You can even try making one of your own if you're keen.

Polish (5/5)
I didn't encounter any serious bugs while playing the game, but considering the game has now been out for well over a year, that's probably not entirely surprising.

Score – 8/10

The graphics might take a bit of getting used to but the great soundtrack by Austin Wintory, the intriguing plot, charming characters and wholesome co-op play makes this game pretty good value for money. If you're looking for a heist/caper game that values co-operative play Monaco might be just the ticket.

Monaco: What's Yours Is Mine is available from these retailers:

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

[ LINK: Official Monaco: What's Yours Is Mine website ]

Saturday, November 15, 2014

GameMaker Studio Turns 15

Today GameMaker Studio celebrates its 15th birthday. You read right, GameMaker Studio has been around for 15 years! Back in 1999, Mark Overmars created the first public version of GameMaker but it was called "Animo" back then. The software is apparently used by 1.2 million developers each month which sounds ridiculously large (especially considering how little of those developers actually end up completing a game and selling them commercially - it's actually quite depressing).

YoYo Games acquired GameMaker in 2007 and apparently there's a new GameMaker Studio version 2.0 in the works.

To commemorate this milestone, I've decided to trawl through the few GameMaker games I've reviewed right here on Choicest Games and showcase the quality of the games made with this nifty software.

Hotline Miami - 8/10




Hotline Miami is probably one of the most well known, if not the most well known game to be developed using GameMaker Studio. While I never originally thought of playing it due to its violent nature, you soon find out that the game is much more than that (or is it?). The game will require you to be stealthy, have good aim, be good at puzzles and have a bit of luck in order to navigate through its difficult levels. The 80s inspired soundtrack (which you probably hear so much about) is pretty damn good too.

Gunpoint - 8/10




This is another one of those beautiful rags to riches stories. Okay, not quite rags to riches, but it did enable a game reviewer to quit his day job in order to pursue a full-time career as a game developer - how cool is that? The game is kind of like Deus Ex or any stealth action game but instead of it being a third or first person shooter, it's a platformer. Also, the jazzy soundtrack complements the neo-noir setting perfectly.

Spelunky - 7/10




While Spelunky didn't quite grow on me as it did with other players, the game is still pretty damn popular and critically acclaimed. With a Metacritic rating of 90 and a Steam Rating of 92% Positive, there are a lot of players that really love this retro-style, rogue-like platformer.

Cook, Serve, Delicious! - 9/10




I don't give 9/10s lightly on Choicest Games, let alone to indie games but Cook, Serve, Delicious! is that good. It combines typing-tutor-like gameplay along with some business/management sim elements in running your own restaurant. I don't even like cooking shows but somehow I like this game, very much. It's also refreshing to see a game that doesn't need to use violence as a drawcard although it'd probably also be kind of awkward having a violent cooking game.

Risk of Rain - 7/10




Risk of Rain is actually a really fun, rogue-like co-op platformer set on an alien planet. While I did have some issues getting it to work, after I managed to get a few games going with mates, it's actually quite addictive. The prog rock inspired soundtrack by Chris Christodoulou is sublime too.

So do you have a favourite GameMaker Studio game? Which one is your favourite? Are you surprised to find that one of the games listed here was developed using the tool?

[ SOURCE: GameMaker Blog: GameMaker Turns 15 Years Old ]

Friday, November 14, 2014

Next Civilization: Beyond Earth Update to revamp difficulty, health system and even leader traits

Shaun Seckman and Pete Murray during the last Firaxis Livestream

Several hours ago, Firaxis posted a video from their livestream giving a tutorial on modding, in particular how to add a building to Civilization: Beyond Earth. While this was definitely interesting what would be of more interest to the fans at large was the extra info Pete Murray provided with respect to gameplay changes in the next patch. These changes were added to a master list located on the 2K Forums and I've reposted the list here for your convenience:


[GAMEPLAY]
• Revisiting difficulty level scaling. Increasing difficulty when playing on Apollo.
• Implementing balance pass on Health system (penalties, bonuses).
• Adjusting certain Virtues for balance.
• Implementing overall unit balance pass (strength, production and strategic resource cost, affinity level requirements, location on tech web).
• Implementing leader/sponsor trait balance pass (Kozlov, Barre, Rejinaldo, and Elodie), as well as some seeded start option adjustments.
• Implementing Covert Ops updates and exploit fixes.
• Implementing Trade Route balance and adjustments, including simpler UI.
• Implementing gameplay bug fixes as reported in the community (Quests, etc.).
• Implementing general AI improvements.
• Adjusting Affinity reward ramping when earning Affinity from Quests.
• Adjusting Station distribution, and arrival timing.
• Improving AI, including energy management, tactical management, tech and victory approaches, etc.

[ENGINE]
• Correcting screen resolution problems, particularly related to the 144hz refresh rate full-screen (or lack of full-screen) issue.
• Investigating a start-up problem where the game shuts down with an error immediately following the opening movie.
• Investigating crash issues submitted by users, and through Steam crash reporting.
• Adding an in-game option to disable depth of field effect for players that prefer the game without this.

[UI]
• Ongoing updates to in-game text, tool-tips, etc.
• Correcting an issue where actions could be missing from embarked workers (like repairing a pillaged water improvement)
• Adding "Completed" section to city production menu so players know what they just finished.
• Adding advanced touch controls, gesture support, pen support.
• Adding color icons to the tech web (categorized) with an option to disable.
• Better inform players of approaching AI victory, and updated victory/defeat screen with additional information.

[ACHIEVEMENTS]
• Achievements not firing if Max Turns was set in previous games. Also investigating some other possible causes.

[MODDING]
• Fixing 2D leader fall-back image support for all graphics quality settings

[MULTIPLAYER]
• Correcting multiple desyncs and investigating a crash due to content mismatch.
• Ongoing multiplayer improvements.
• Increasing geographic range of server browser distance filter.


On the gameplay front I find it very interesting that they're revamping the Leader traits since that doesn't often happen in Civilization at least not until a couple of years later when you're releasing a new DLC. This would hint that they were really way off with the Leader traits, although I can't tell one way or another since apparently it sounds like they might nerf Elodie and Kozlov with respect to their free tech but I actually struggled playing Kozlov in my last game - however that might just be because of my unfamiliarity with the game still, instead of any other reason. A simpler UI for the trade routes would be welcome since I liked it how you could sort trade routes by yields, like the ones that made the most gold in Civ V - why couldn't they just bring that UI back in?

I definitely welcome the additional UI information which is sadly lacking in the current version of Beyond Earth especially not knowing what your cities have built or what the technologies on the tech web actually unlock at a glance (colour coding would be welcome and it's not surprising that it's one of the most popular mods on Steam Workshop at the moment). Also knowing how close to victory the AI is would be beneficial - I mean you can check if you go to the victory screen by a progress bar but (a) that doesn't really tell you much and (b) you still don't get alerted whenever the AI gets closer to achieving victory.

Thankfully, I haven't been experiencing too many crashing issues except for the occasional desync when playing multiplayer so hopefully the guys on Firaxis get on top of that, especially for those poor sods that haven't been able to even play the game yet!


Thursday, November 13, 2014

Technologies that lead to Orbital Units in Civilization: Beyond Earth

It's the FINAL COUNTDOWN...

Introduction

Recently I've been playing a game as the Slavic Federation and as you know their unique ability is that Orbital Units stay in orbit for 20% longer, and the first one launched grants a free technology. Obviously, to take advantage of their unique ability you need to be able to build Orbital Units in the first place, but which of those technologies in that jumbled mess of a technology web unlock new Orbital Units? It's not easy to see at a glance so I thought I'd spend some time examining it and have compiled a list of not only the technologies that unlock Orbital Units but what the Orbital Units do, what their resource requirements are and how much research it costs to get them.

Hopefully this will be a useful little "cheat sheet" for those playing as General Kozlov and wanting to know where they should focus their research.

I've sorted the Orbital Units in order of research cost with the lowest at top and the highest at the bottom.

Orbital Units

Miasmic Repulsor
  • Pre-requisite Tech: Ecology
  • Pre-requisite Tech Cost: 95 Beakers
  • Tech Critical Path Cost: 95 Beakers
  • Cost: 80 Production
  • Duration: 6 turns
  • Effect Range: 2 hexes
  • Effects: Clears Miasma
  • Strategic Resource Cost: None

Miasmic Condenser
  • Pre-requisite Tech: Alien Ecology
  • Pre-requisite Tech Cost: 770 Beakers
  • Tech Critical Path Cost: 1119 Beakers
  • Cost: 130 Production
  • Duration: 10 turns
  • Effect Range: 2 hexes
  • Effects: Generates Miasma on affected tiles starting from centre
  • Strategic Resource Cost: 3 Petroleum, 1 Xenomass

Tacnet Hub
  • Pre-requisite Tech: Communications
  • Pre-requisite Tech Cost: 770 Beakers
  • Tech Critical Path Cost: 1245 Beakers
  • Cost: 80 Production
  • Duration: 60 turns
  • Effect Range: 2 hexes
  • Effects: +20% combat strength, +20% ranged strength and +5 HP heal every turn for friendly units
  • Strategic Resource Cost: None

Solar Collector
  • Pre-requisite Tech: Photosystems
  • Pre-requisite Tech Cost: 1160 Beakers
  • Tech Critical Path Cost: 2025 Beakers
  • Cost: 80 Production
  • Duration: 60 turns
  • Effect Range: 1 hex
  • Effects: +1 Energy on tiles you own. Any city in range also receives +20% overall
  • Strategic Resource Cost: None

Weather Controller
  • Pre-requisite Tech: Climate Control
  • Pre-requisite Tech Cost: 1160 Beakers
  • Tech Critical Path Cost: 2025 Beakers
  • Cost: 130 Production
  • Duration: 60 turns
  • Effect Range: 1 hex
  • Effects: +1 Food on tiles you own. Generates 1 to 2 new basic resources on unimproved tiles across its lifespan
  • Strategic Resource Cost: 2 Petroleum, 1 Titanium

Holomatrix
  • Pre-requisite Tech: Civil Support
  • Pre-requisite Tech Cost: 1160 Beakers
  • Tech Critical Path Cost: 2025 Beakers
  • Cost: 130 Production
  • Duration: 60 turns
  • Effect Range: 1 hex
  • Effects: +2 Culture on tiles you own. Any city in range receives 50% less intrigue from enemy covert activity.
  • Strategic Resource Cost: 3 Petroleum, 1 Floatstone

Lasercom Satellite
  • Pre-requisite Tech: Orbital Networks
  • Pre-requisite Tech Cost: 1160 Beakers
  • Tech Critical Path Cost: 2405 Beakers
  • Cost: 130 Production
  • Duration: 60 turns
  • Effect Range: 1 hex
  • Effects: Once in orbit, establishes contact with Old Earth, which is part of Emancipation Victory and Promised Land Victory. Any city in range also receives +15% science overall.
  • Strategic Resource Cost: 2 Petroleum, 1 Titanium

Orbital Laser
  • Pre-requisite Tech: Cybernetics
  • Pre-requisite Tech Cost: 2480 Beakers
  • Tech Critical Path Cost: 3345 Beakers
  • Cost: 130 Production
  • Duration: 60 turns
  • Effect Range: 2 hexes
  • Effects: Bombards hostile units with 50 ranged strength
  • Strategic Resource Cost: 2 Petroleum

Phasal Transporter
  • Pre-requisite Tech: Cybernetics
  • Pre-requisite Tech Cost: 2480 Beakers
  • Tech Critical Path Cost: 3345 Beakers
  • Cost: 130 Production
  • Duration: 30 turns
  • Effect Range: 1 hex
  • Effects: Enables units to perform a one-way Phasal Transport from any friendly city to any affected tile
  • Strategic Resource Cost: 2 Petroleum, 1 Titanium

Planet Carver
  • Pre-requisite Tech: Astrodynamics
  • Pre-requisite Tech Cost: 2480 Beakers
  • Tech Critical Path Cost: 3989 Beakers
  • Cost: 200 Production
  • Duration: 30 turns
  • Effect Range: 2 hexes
  • Effects: Bombards hostile units with 120 ranged strength
  • Strategic Resource Cost: 4 Petroleum, 1 Titanium

Orbital Fabricator
  • Pre-requisite Tech: Geoscaping
  • Pre-requisite Tech Cost: 3216 Beakers
  • Tech Critical Path Cost: 6561 Beakers
  • Cost: 130 Production
  • Duration: 60 turns
  • Effect Range: 1 hex
  • Effects: +1 Production on tiles you own. Generates 1 to 2 new strategic resources on unimproved tiles across its lifespan.
  • Strategic Resource Cost: 2 Petroleum, 1 Titanium

Deep Space Telescope
  • Pre-requisite Tech: Orbital Automation
  • Pre-requisite Tech Cost: 3216 Beakers
  • Tech Critical Path Cost: 7205 Beakers
  • Cost: 200 Production
  • Duration: 60 turns
  • Effect Range: 2 hexes
  • Effects: Once in orbit, eventually leads to discovery of The Signal, which is part of the Contact Victory. Any city in range also receives +25% science overall
  • Strategic Resource Cost: 2 Petroleum, 1 Firaxite

All-Seer
  • Pre-requisite Tech: Dark Networks
  • Pre-requisite Tech Cost: 3216 Beakers
  • Tech Critical Path Cost: 7205 Beakers
  • Cost: 200 Production
  • Duration: 30 turns
  • Effect Range: 1 hex
  • Effects: Removes all Covert Agents and Intrigue from any city in range. Prevents any covert activity or intrigue increase as long as it orbits.
  • Strategic Resource Cost: 4 Petroleum, 1 Titanium

You can also view this guide on Steam.