Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The First Five Months of The Indie Elitist

So around five months ago I started on my new blog, The Indie Elitist.

A few things have changed in the blog since then but overall I have stayed consistent to me original idea to provide reviews (of varying sizes) on indie games in a elegant, loving, and very structured manner. Personally, I think that this is the perfect venue specifically for indie games and at some point I might go more in-depth about that but for now I just want to point out what I have been up to over there for the last five months.

I have written a total of 98 articles, of which 15 got the prestigious Must Play rating and 31 got the still impressive Should Play rating. I absolutely loved every single one of these games, and would highly recommend all of them.

In addition to these gems I also created a number of pages; Most notably The Art of Indie page, which  features all of the games that I feel are particularly beautiful; And the Ongoing Sales page, which showcases all of the best ongoing indie game sales.

What Makes you Tick: A Stitch in Time

Just posted a article on What Makes you Tick: A Stitch in Time over at The Indie Elitist.

The following is a excerpt from the article.

A Stitch in Time was a absolute pleasure to play and is a fully realised and full length sequel to the freeware adventure What Makes you Tick. What Makes you Tick, itself, is a fantastic adventure but now in the much longer and far more substantial adventure A Stitch in Time there is just that much more to love, particularly the expanded plot.

A Stitch in Time takes place immediately after the end of the first game and continue from there, ending the immediate story arc but leaving the ending open enough to continue in the future. This time round, you play as Nigel Trelawney, the son of one of the Smith Institute scientists, Dr. Anthony Trelawney. Most of the game is comprised of you trying to settle your recently deceased fathers estate in Ravenhollow, the town that the Smith Institute is set within. And for the most part this involves your quest to find the insignia rings of the nine members of the Smith Institute. But all is not well in Ravenhollow, Thugs from the castle has taken over the town and are enforcing tyrannical rules and taxes on the people, people have disappeared, and other nefariousness things have occurred. But even more so then the overarching story is the local dialogue and happenings that drive the player forward and are simply superbly crafted.

The most impressive aspect of the entire game is the presentation. The graphics are simply a superb, detailed, hand-drawn, masterpiece; There is simply so much detail put into each scene, with numerous objects that are never used other then simply to be there, all of them being fully realised with beautifully drawn and detailed graphics and descriptions. The soundtrack is similarly well done and a pleasure to listen to, but quite restrained and obviously not mean to take centre stage. The one thing missing is voices, of which there are none; But I, for one, did not mind.

What is there to say about the puzzles? There is a lot of them. They are all of a high professional quality. The entire world, pretty much, is open form the very beginning and many extended puzzle arcs can be attempted at the same time or in any order. You can even rest in a few places flipping the time from day to night and back again which is needed to solve many puzzles. And in each time period you have a full, different, world to interact with. At night some people go to sleep, others come out, and some objects and animals appear or disappear depending on what time it is; And you are not artificially restrained to a small section at night, sure there are a few shops that are closed, but other places open up. One very impressive feature is that I cannot remember a simple puzzle that I liked less then any of the others. They are all good, and they all fit well within this amazing world created by Matthias Kempke.

There is just so much to like about What Makes you Tick: A Stitch in Time. I don't think that it contains a single element that I liked less relative to the rest of the game and none of them were anywhere close to what I would consider average quality. The entire game is fantastic and in my opinion the best commercial adventure game to be released in the last few years.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Girl with a Heart of

Girl with a Heart of is a new action adventure by the new indie developer Bent Spoon Games. Its most redeeming feature is the wide use of choice in its narrative. Unfortunately, the most obvious feature of the entire game is the unpolished nature of it. From the very start, with the games logo, it is obvious that both the game has very little polish, outside of the dialogue, and that this is probably a new developer with little experience.

The graphics are interesting, and I rather like them. But like the rest of the game there are a few rough edges. It is a rather unique and even psychedelic style, not that that matches the gameplay. They are 2D and in particular I liked the player portraits but in general the abstract nature of a bunch of it was rather nice.

But the list of problems is quite long. The text is horrible looking, the game is quite short, and while there is a RPG and combat system there is almost no combat whatsoever.

But all of that does not have to ruin a game with redeeming features. And far more then any other game this game's narrative feels like real narrative, not at all unpolished. You seem to be constantly barraged with natural choices that effect the game world. These choices are given in both a obvious fashion (e.g. answering "Yes" or "No" to a question) and non obvious fashions (e.g. simply telling someone about a particular part of your day). It feels like you are having a real non scripted conversation with someone when you have to remember there history and make sure never to tell them something without weighing the consequences. This makes one common way of playing, that I use a lot, absolutely obsolete. You cannot just exhaust your dialogue tree as many options in it are choice making to use and absolutely do not give you any warning. It also makes it very replayable.

So I would recommend this game but I would not recommend that someone actually buy it. There is a minimum amount of polish in all areas of the game that you should expect when playing a commercial title and that is simply lacking here. But maybe I am being to old-fashioned, if you intrigued by experimentations in narrative and want a game that focuises on that to the exclusion of all other aspects then this might be just the game for you.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Costume Quest

Costume Quest is the second, and most recent, Double Fine game to make it to the PC since Psychonauts. And like Psychonauts it has a lot of style.

Costume Quest first came out on PSN and XLA and as such is quite a small game even with the addition of the DLC Grubbins on Ice. This is seen in all aspects of the game, from the plot to the gameplay. Everything is as minimalistic as it can be without sacrificing any of the necessary pieces. But altogether, including Grubbins on Ice, it does weight at about seven hours (if you wanted to get a 100% completion rate, not that it is all that hard or time consuming.

Basically, Costume Quest is a RPG where your party turns into super powered versions of your costumes while in battle and when out of it walk around as normal kids completing quests and searching for stuff. The battle gameplay depends on two main factors that you must worry about and your current level, but since the amount of XP you can acquire is set just visit all the houses and battle everyone you see and you will be at the expected level. The things that you actually have a hand in is your costume and battle stamps. You get new costumes be searching the map and finding pieces of costumes and as soon as you have a new one anyone in your party can use it. They all have different stats (health and damage, important early on but less so latter), special attacks (which you can use once every three turns), and some have environmental abilities. For the most part the ones that have environmental abilities are necessary at some point to continue, but the amount varies a lot and particularly the robot costume is useful simply because it allows you to walk far faster. The battle stamps start out quite mild but by the end are where most of the customization comes in; Do you want any one character to have double the attack power, get a huge amount of health every turn, or have a powerful stun attack; you can do that, the only problem is that you are limited to one per character.

The game is simply fantastic and a must play for all lovers of Psychonauts.

Friday, November 4, 2011

250 Indie Games You Must Play (a book review)

I am moderately conflicted on how I should spin this review. It is not a bad purchase to make, being moderately inexpensive and one of the only books about indie games; It even received universal praises from someone I would considered an absolute expert in all things literature and indie gaming; But there are still more then a few issues I had with this book that I want to touch on in this review, but first to the description.

250 Indie Games You Must Play is separated into three main sections with a very minimal introduction. This introduction most notably contains a few page attempt at a definition of what indie games are and a few other pages showcasing a bunch on mini interviews with prestigious indie developers. After this you are quickly thrown into the thick of things with by far the biggest section, Download Games; This section features indie games that are both free and can/have to be downloaded to be played. After this section you have Browser-Based Games and then finally Commercial Games, with all games in all sections being available for PC at the very least.

Regarding the games themselves; They are not the ones I would of chose, if only because I have not even heard of a large percentage of them and have played even less; But of the ones I do know I have some different opinions of many of them and know of many games that I would of included (not that I would expect to agree with all of the choices). Also all games are not created equal and 250 games is a lot of games, I think a more exclusive sub list could of been included within this 250 to show off the very best of indie games and provide a starting point for interested newbies; Because as it stands now, even showing its age, I would recommend IndieGames.com's An In-Depth Indie Game Guide over and above this book for people interested in starting their foray into the world of independent games.

Every game in each of these sections takes up one page and consists of a short description, a link, and finally a single full colour glossy picture. The descriptions are all pretty much boilerplate with three paragraphs; The first describing the story, the second the gameplay, and the third is mostly dedicated to describing the game itself, including awards, competitions, sequels, and sometimes additional thoughts on the game or just anything else that did not fit into the preceding paragraphs. The entire description is quite devoid of opinion or anything even close to a review on the game and sticks to the facts. The links are all relatively short and uniform and were constructed specifically for this book and redirect to their respective IndieGames.com articles.

So now for the bad. The writing is not unique or amazing; There is not a new and unique opinion being expressed here or even beautiful poetic writing, it is simply cold hard facts professionally written and you can get longer and more detailed posts on any one of numerous sites for free. Over and above this, the book has more then a few issues I just consider unforgivable. To start off with a few games seemed to be in the wrong section; One "Download" game in particular I spent more then enough time searching for a downloadable version of the game to come to the conclusion that if one existed I would be very much surprised. And what I don't get is that all you have to do is flow the link provided to know that these games are in the wrong section, so how do you miss that? And don't even get me started on the in-book game links.

These links seem to be designed far more to promote one of his sites, IndieGames.com, then to actually serve the readers of his book; not that this is a horrible thing to do, of all the existing sites IndieGames.com is the best one for this in my opinion, but the book itself is already providing a description so why link to another one? And what does he do when IndieGames.com never did a review of the game in question, he links the review of the sequel. And many of the IndieGames.com reviews themselves have broken links and you have absolutely no way of getting a copy of the game from them (making them basically useless). There are so many of these broken links that I would wager that most of them were present even before this book was written, which just seems particularly lazy. So is that what we have come to in this age of the internet, books are outdated before they are even released because they absolutely must contain links and no one will be bothered to even check before hand let alone maintain them after release? As far as I am concerned this make the book faulty and broken, I feel like I bought a Lego set and it came missing pieces (and my Lego recreation of Big Ben turned out looking more like the Leaning Tower of Pisa). But there is a solution to this link problem, even more then one.

The most simple and elegant solution uses the nature of the links themselves to their full potential. They are designed to be redirect links, they can be internally, silently, and quickly changed to point anywhere you want. So point them the game's homepage (or most relevant page if no official page exists); And run a automated script that checks the current links to see if they still exist; Then, if these sites go offline you a person can spend 50 seconds looking for a replacement. Using this solution you would not even have to change the book, you could implement it as is. Alternatively, you could link to a specifically designed page that contains a few links and even a archived copy of the game in question (browser and commercial games exempted) so that you can guaranty easy access to the game at all times. In this way you have a set standard quality page you are linking to and do not need to link directly to some unofficial sketchy forum post or similar, and can even include a link to the IndieGames.com review.

In summery, I don't know what to say. It is a one of a kind book but it is also far from perfect. And I am far from comfortable critiquing a fellow indie game reviewer that is so far ahead of me in terms of success and skill. But ultimately it has its faults and at least for me they are significant. I loved the too short introduction and would of loved to see it expanded with possibly the games serving as examples to a overarching narrative instead of simply a unsorted list of games.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

The Art of Indie

Recently finished a page dedicated to the graphical art of indie (independent) games over at my other blog The Indie Elitist. It is primarily a list of games that I found particularly beautiful.

So if this sounds interesting to you check out the page here.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Research and Development

Here is another entry into my Half Life series of articles. This one is about the Half Life 2 mod Research and Development (Indie Elitist review), which uniquely is a action FPS puzzle adventure, set within the Half Life universe (Half Life Universe, The Story Thus Far). In Research and Development you are are not given any weapons and you solve a lot of logic puzzles, but that does not mean that it is without action, explosions, death, combine, and zombies; in fact you encounter all of these in large quantities and dispatch more then a few of them though interesting and unique means.

Definitely worth a playthrough, so if you are interested check out its homepage.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Hard Reset

Just finished reviewing Hard Reset, a cyberpunk FPS, over at The Indie Elitist.
Summery: I liked it.
So if you like the occasional FPS you should check this one out.

Excerpt from the article:

Hard Reset is a very enjoyable game with some great high definition graphics, and as such is a unique entity in the world of indie gaming. If this was just one more FPS produced by mainstream gaming I would be talking about this game with decidedly more style then normal with some interesting game mechanics that at the very least makes it somewhat unique and worth a try; But it is not just one more FPS, it is one of the only original indie high definition FPSes.

Graphics wise, Hard Reset has a lot of attitude. The game is completely full of explosions, electricity, bright signs and lights, huge structures in the distance, and large and small hovercraft going by at all distances. These high definition graphics are replaced with a comic book style story between the levels, which overall was just OK. There are a few parts that don't look fantastic, the main menu for example, but overall it is quite high definition and beautiful.

And the gameplay is almost as interesting as the presentation. While it is a FPS, it plays very much like a top-down shooter, with a huge amount of the environment being destructible and it being very important that you use at least some of it to help take out the hordes of enemies. It is very important to have a good sense of where you are and to be constantly mapping out the environment so that you can use it to its fullest. This is simply a necessity and even playing on normal difficulty (with the difficulty going from easy, through normal and hard, to insane) it would be near impossible too make do without it.

The biggest problem with the game is its short length, hardly explained story, and abrupt end. The game simply ends and credits role with no absolutely no warning. You are not quite in the middle of combat but you have not really accomplished anything when it is simply over (you are literally in the middle of a objective); And bundled with its short length it feels more like a episodic game then anything else. Which I really believe that the company should of been more forthcoming about; Because buying Hard Reset the game that might feature sequels down the line, but not necessarily, is a lot different from paying for Hard Reset: Episode 1 which is at most only half of a game, with only a fraction of a game's plot.

But I liked it, and while it is pretty short it is not that short and very replayable because of the weapon upgrade feature that makes every character come out quite different.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Half Life: (Blue Shift, Opposing Force)

There were two expansions too Half Life (review, story synopsis) made, both by the outside developer Gearbox Software, Blue Shift and Opposing Forces. Both games are moderately short and take place at the same time as Half Life and like Half Life as set within Black Mesa and the alien world Xen. Additionally, they both have negative and positive aspects and while they overall hold the same Half Life feel play very differently.

Blue Shift added a High Definition pack that upgrades both Blue Shift and Half Life, if you so desire (note: it is not the default and it actually rather tricky to get Steam to even do it). But other then this it pretty much relies on content from the original Half Life set within new levels and challenges. In this game you play the security guard, Barney Calhoun and what I loved the most about it was the how tactical it often got while you were fighting groups of enemy soldiers, requiring intelligent use of grenades and remote controlled bombs to prevent you from being overwhelmed (which I found was not necessary in the original Half Life).

Opposing Force adds a bunch of weapons and removes a few others from the original Half Life, overall making your entire arsenal usable and far better then the original. In it you play Adrian Shepard, a US marine and one of the enemy characters in the original game (though not specifically). The best part of this game is, by far, the new and powerful weaponry, but one of the bigger features is the addition of the ability to control a squad of soldiers, engineers, and medics who help during battle and in the case of engineers are sometimes needed to progress. Unfortunately, these squad controls are also the worst implemented aspect of the entire game and are not even adequate in simply getting all of your squad to follow you around.

Both of these games were a pleasure to play and both are great in there own way and I would recommend them to anyone.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Adventure Lantern Issue (October 2011)

That right, another Adventure Lantern issue has just been released and it is a Halloween/horror themed edition. And if I may say so myself I think it is one of our better recent issues.

In this issue I contributed the last review in my Dracula series featuring a completely new review of Dracula 3: The Path of the Dragon, which is a very memorable game and I think in generally overlooked far too often, with a fantastic and unique plot. Secondly, I also reviewed a new game and the first by its developer Baron Wittard: The Nemesis of Ragnarok, which is just crammed full with many many challenging logic puzzles that often require you to explore all over to find the solution to them.

There are also reviews for Alter Ego and Blood Ties by our esteemed editor Ugur and a interview with one of the developers of Asylum.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Portal 2

So finally got around to playing Portal 2 and I liked it but I do have some concerns and some things I did not like about it. One of the annoying parts of the game is that it simply did not work until I tried it two days ago; The game would not start and I had not even heard of many people encountering this problem and I am normally the last person to have problems playing games with my computer.

Basically, Portal 2 is Portal with a normal game like plot, a longer single player campaign, and a quite long cooperative two player online multiplayer, and new puzzles elements.

Lets start with my first point and, what I would call, the most controversial part of of the entire game, how it is far more like a normal game. There are long, numerous, and unskippable cutscenes throughout; A whole lot of dialogue, and lots of new environments and situations. In a lot of ways this is fantastic, most of the dialogue I love, it is simply hilarious; But it is not the same elegant minimalistic unique game that Portal was and is. This part of the game is quite well done and a very enjoyable but it is not Portal. While Portal gave you extremely well written witty and well placed dialogue, in Portal 2 someone is almost constantly chatting into your ear and there is as many cut scenes as puzzles. And a lot of the dialogue is fantastic but some of it is not, for the most part there is just so much dialogue that eventually you go over the same stuff multiple times. So yes it is terrific and better then almost all mainstream video games but it is not in a whole other category like the original.

On to the length; I would call it a four hour game (single player campaign), which is ridiculously short but then a lot of people will probably take longer. And then add onto that the multiplayer which is supposed to be almost the same length again. But I for one have no interest in coop, and of course should not be included in any game length stats. Coop sounds interesting but unless you have a friend who wants to play it with you then it is going to be a very hit and miss. You simply cannot progress one single step if your partner is unwilling or unable to help.

So what about the puzzles? The puzzles are another controversial feature in my opinion. Yes, the additions work pretty well and are fun to use but they just seem too complicated. The original Portal works so well because it does something basic and simple, bridging two areas of space together seamlessly. But my biggest problem with the puzzles is simply the design, that is it is far too closed.  The original Portal was great partly because quite a lot of the walls were made of portal-supportable materials, basically unless a surface needed to be inaccessible or ruin the entire puzzle it was left usable; This allowed multiple solutions, the very enjoyable challenges, and a lot or real analytical problem solving; That's all gone now, instead you have puzzles where every portal-able surface will have to be used at some point to solve the puzzle, which is a linear one solution puzzle (with not very many steps). So basically all challenge has been taken out of the game.

If you have not noticed yet I am really not sure how to rate this game. It is good but it is a horrible sequel to Portal. It is a very fun game, but ultimately I think it is more like a very well polished turd then anything else. Portal is great because it has a inner beauty, but most of Portal 2's beauty is just skin deep.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Half Life Universe, The Story Thus Far

I have been playing a lot of Half Life (1, 2, 2: Episodes) games recently and one key aspect of all of them is the passive plot. There is a lot going on in the Half Life universe but it is not shoved down your throat, you have to work for it and often you will be in the dark and have no idea what is happening. So I recently set out to figure out what was going on while I was playing the Half Life games and what did I miss between and before the games, the following is a summery of my findings (for more detailed information check out The Half Life SAGA Story Guide).

Prior to the our first contact with the Half Life universe in Half Life original quite a lot was going on. Apature Science was developing its portal technology and GlaDOS was made operational; And the Combine Empire invades the Vortigaunts's, unseen and unnamed, homeworld. A long interplanetary war ensues and in a final desperate act they flee to Xen (the alien world that you encounter in Half Life), a "dimensional transit" station.

GMan orchestrates The Resonance Cascade by supplying the test sample that Gordan Freeman uses. The denizens of Xen notice and begin to flee to earth but the Combine has already taken notice itself. The Black Ops are sent in to clean up the incident and kill anyone they find. Barney Calhoun escapes the facility with a group of scientists (Blue Shift). A third never named race of aliens start teleporting to Black Mesa and attacking both the humans and aliens from Xen they find there; Shephard kills the Gene Worm facilitating this second invasion, and who is itself coming though a portal to Black Mesa at the time. He is then taken into custody by GMan to prevent the story of Black mesa getting out and the facility is destroyed in a nuclear explosion, originally set by the Black Ops, disarmed by Shepard, and then rearmed by GMan (Opposing Forces). By the time of the arrival of the second aliens, Gordon Freeman has already travelled to Xen and now he defeats Nihilanth, the leader of the Vortigaunts (freeing them from his slavery like absolute control), and is recruited by GMan to work for him and put into stasis, ending Half Life.

The following is a recount of the chaos that ensued between the original and Half Life 2; Sometime within this mess it is believed that the events of Portal take place. The Resonance Cascade spreads creating The Portal Storms depositing aliens from Xen all over earth. The human populations huddle together in urban areas behind fences and armed guards abandoning the outside world to the aliens. The Combine launch an all out assault on earth using these Portal Storms, and the Vortigaunts ally with the humans in this struggle. The Combine immediately start building their Citadels and converting humans to the Overwatch. Dr. Breen is modified and made administrator of earth, and in his first act he surrenders earth, and for the most part major opposition is ended (7 hours after the invasion started). The Survivors disperse into the country and rebel fighter groups start to form while the remaining major cities are renamed to City 1, ..., City 27, etc..

Humanity is repeatedly told that this is simply a traditional period in joining the Combine's Universal Union, but of course the Combine has already started their Borg like genocidal assimilation of the Humans and enslavement of the Vortigaunts. The Overwatch implement their Suppression Field, blocking human procreation. A chemical is put into the water to make people gradually forget the past and the Combine begin to drain earth's oceans.

Gordon Freeman returns from stasis, sent by GMan to help the rebellion. He lands a huge blow against the Combine at Nova Prospekt sparking a major rebellion. Continuing to be directed by GMan, mostly from the shadows, Gordon is successful in destabilizing the reactor of Combine's capital on earth City 17's Citadel. GMan's objective accomplished, and the Citadel about to blow leaving the Combine leaderless and fractured, GMan returns Gordon to stasis ending Half Life 2Episode 1 starts immediately after this with GMan going back to rescue Alyx Vance but being blocked by a group of Vortigaunts who rescue her themselves, transporting her to the Citadels base and then forcing Gordon Freeman out of stasis and sending him after her. These Vortigaunts continue to block GMan from now on, severely restricting his ability to guide and communicate with both Alyx and Gordon. Before they lose the Citadel completely, the Combine set it to create a super portal and send a transmission to their homeworld asking for reinforcements. This portal is created and the request sent, destroying the Citadel in the process and ending Episode 1, but soon after the resistance is able to shut down this portal and in the process learn the location of the long missing Aperture Science research vessel, the Borealis, thought to have far advanced portal technology on board. And in the final scene of Episode 2, Eli Vance, one of the leading scientists of the resistance and Alyx's father is killed, by a newly hatched Combine advisor.

So the Combine on earth have been thrown into a fractured chaos and reinforcements from their homeworld have been delayed, but the Combine Advisors have also just entered the scene and proven to be nearly unstoppable personally and likely will prove quite effective at regaining control of the dispersed Combine forces.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Kaptain Brawe: A Brawe New World

Just posted over at The Indie Elitist about a great adventure game I just finished playing, Kaptain Brawe: A Brawe New World.

The following is a excerpt from the article:

The graphics are nice and really good but I would not go so far as to call them great. The puzzles similarly are good, there are a few problems, a few good parts, and few sections that show a lot of promise, but overall it is just good/decent. Probably the most interesting part of the entire thing is the setting, which is a steampunk Victorian, scifi, alternative past. But by far the most well done part is the dialogue. For the most part I find games that try to be funny, just corny and forced sounding; Which is not at all how Kaptain Brawe turned out, it is quite funny and more then worth not skipping.

But everything is not rosy. The game is a little buggy and way too short. It has around three hours of gameplay and not really worth the original selling price of $20 (you can find it for less now). Also at some points the dialogue is just filled with mistakes and the ending seemed really inconsistent to the rest of the game; The entire game seemed to be trying (quite hard at some points) to keep the adventure G rated and then at the end the villain gets sodomized by two inmates, which just seemed out of character.

Overall it is a great game and I liked it a lot. I hope that they produce sequels and I will play them, but there are two things that would really benefit from some polish. In the game you control a total of three different characters, by switching between them, and Rowboat the robot, who is used like an item. And it works great, they have very different personalities and often they must be used in tandem to get past a obstacle. But the characters are so diametrically different that I would of loved puzzles that could be solved in different ways depending on which character you are currently controlling and puzzles that are only solvable using a specific person because it requires a specific mental or physical trait. As it stands now the puzzles and their solutions are just too generic, Kaptain Brawe is supposed to be a overly brave stupid action obsessed hero type and yet he solves normal mental puzzles like everyone else and shows a complete lack of interest in just charging in and solving a puzzle disregarding of the dangers. The second thing I would love to see improved is the setting, it is supposed to be the 1800's but in space with one major invention and conceivably a bunch of others that it inspired. But the technology level is just far to high in all areas. Sure Kaptain Brawe's ship is made of wood but it still is absolutely filled with technological marvel after technological marvel and some places actually look like a futuristic normal scifi location, with metal domes and force fields. In some areas the technology should be extremely lacking and far more Victoria era steampunk architectural really should of been used (even the oldest looking, least technically advanced, things looked at least one hundred years too new).

Friday, September 16, 2011

Half Life 2: (Episode 1, 2, Lost Cost, Mission Improbable)

While Half Life 2 (my review) has a moderately self contained story and is a full game, the end of it does not end the Half Life 2 story arc. From the onset three episodes were planed that would take place immediately after the events of Half Life 2 and would theoretically provide some sort of stable situation regarding the Combine and the resistance. Simply named Episode 1 (2006), Episode 2 (2007), and Episode 3 (unreleased, and long delayed), this series rivals the original Half Life 2 game in quality in many aspects; And together with the non-cannon short game Lost Coast, and dare I suggest, non-official (but with a similar quality) Mission Improbably mod, you get the entire Half Life 2 universe.

What I really liked about the two episodes was that they were not at all afraid to try something new. They are filled completely with short, interesting, and unique situations and quite possibly better then the much longer Half Life 2; whether you are exploring a huge complex antlion burrow, defending against waves of Mawmen in complete darkness, or lobbing bombs onto striders, it is just terrifically unique and well worth playing. And one tiny, but very much appreciated, improvement made in Episode 2 is the separating of the flashlight from the suits main power and a improved battery for the flashlight.

Your partner, Alyx Vance, sniping through the window in Episode 1.
A tiny section of the beautiful antlion nest in Episode 2.

Lost Coast is a short tech demo/single level Half Life 2 game. While you play Gordon Freeman and you are playing in the Half Life 2 world the story's events are not considered canonical as far as I can tell, and there is really no timeline that could include them and make sense. Lost Coast takes place completely on some cliffy coast, where you must travel up the cliff face and explore the monastery on the top, shutting down the Combine headcrab artillery. Its decent, nothing special compared to the rest of the Half Life 2 collection.

While you never get to go to this town, across the water, it is almost
always visible and plays an important part in the plot.

There is just one more Half Life 2 game I want to talk about, and I believe it is the only other game of note that features Gordon Freeman set within the Half Life 2 universe. Mission Improbable is a three episode (only the first two are currently released) Half Life 2: Episode 2 mod with a completely new story. While the gameplay of this mod is actually very well done, it is the visuals that impressed me the most. It looks absolutely amazing; By far the best to be seen in the entire collection of Half Life games. With huge open spaces where you can see for miles and actually go there, the graphics are simply fantastic. Add to that great solid gameplay and interesting situations and puzzles and you get a game that is every-bit as good as the other, official, Half Life 2 games mentioned here.

Adventure Lantern Issue (September 2011)

The September issue of Adventure Lantern had just been published, and like always it is filled with adventure gaming goodness. And while the issue is small I did manage to sneak three of my own reviews into it.

In this issue I submitted my slightly improved The Immortals of Terra review, with its incredibly deep scifi universe; A brand new review on The Silver Lining: What is Decreed Must Be, which is a great start to a series I am still very interested in (but I really need to make the time to play a few more of its sequels); And the second review in my series on the Dracula trilogy. Additionally, Ugur Sener reviewed the first two Adam's Venture episodes.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011


Finally got around to plaything this commercial turned free action platformer. I, and I can only assume every other person with any sense, has admiring this great retro looking game from afar and now that it has been released for free I no longer had any reason to put of giving it a try. And here is the recounting of my experience:
  • First try, died after about 5 seconds on second encountered enemy.
  • Second try, died after about 5 seconds on spikes right after third enemy.
  • .....
  • 6th try, died after about 10 seconds on the 7th enemy (pretty sure I am still only about 1% done level 1).
  • Gave up.
  • Tried a few more times and got to the first level boss, but no apparent way to even damage him.

So while the game looks amazing, and does not even look all that hard, it is; The strange thing is that you actually have quite a lot of health and I normally love games that give a challenge. Still it looks great, and seems to play quite good as well, I just could not get into the hang of it.

I recommend anyone who is a fan of Ghouls ‘n’ Ghosts style super challenging action platformers give it a shot, but I for one am done trying to completely it (or even just a single level).

You can download Arvosine here.

No Time to Explain

No Time to Explain, the instant KickStarter success, has just got significantly more cool and been released. What they did was upload there own game, very shortly after release, to The Pirate Bay (a torrent site), allowing anyone to download it for free (normally $10). The one catch is that the version they uploaded is all pirate themed and apparently moderately more buggy.

So you can download this game right now and give it a try before you buy, and while you are waiting for it to finish downloading you might as well read this interview on the pirate version and why they made it.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Half Life 2 (a review and a comparison to the original)

Half Life 2 is the 2004 sequel to the critically acclaimed original Half Life (my review) and set fifteen years into the future. Since Gordon Freeman's victory, things have taken a turn for the worse and the earth is now under the totalitarian and dystopian rule of the Combine. These Combine, in addition to running a quite normal totalitarian police force, also employ a few alien monsters/creatures you will recognize as well as a few new ones, which they unleash onto the resistance.

In Half Life 2 you run, you jump, you shoot, you platform, you drive, and you solve physics based puzzles. The puzzles are actually quite good, if far too infrequent and being physics based make the game seem really down to earth and immersive. The platforming, and in particular the driving, is also quite well done and entertaining, but I think more of it could of been done without the constant pressure of enemy fire; Which is really my biggest gripe with the game, the near constant action.

For the most part you are in firefights, and while I think that Half Life 2 handles this action better then the original I sure enjoyed the greater amount of peaceful and non-action sequences in the original. Additionally, while the plot of the of the original had a few mysterious unexplained sections you had a basic idea of what was going on and what you did not know; This is not at all present in this sequel; You are working for the still completely mysterious G-Man; Fighting against an enemy that you have never seen before and other then the obvious observation that they are some sort of totalitarian police force you only know their name, you know absolutely nothing about where they come from, what they want, or even what they have been doing; And the rebels, you suddenly appear after fifteen years and everyone takes it in stride, does not even bother to get you caught up in recent events, and apparently have recruited the vortigaunts, a common enemy from Half Life who apparently have become a race of Yodas (incredibly wise and powerful) in your absence.

For the graphics I am somewhat divided, Half Life 2 still looks great and has even better graphics then the original is a few ways but I also think that a few things look significantly better in the original. Overall, I would say that Half Life 2 is superior but it is not quite as cut and dry as you might expect, but no matter where you think it stands with regard to the original it still holds up even to today's standards in attention to details and high resolution realism (while it is obvious that the original looks dated).

Overall, played basically back to back with Half Life original, it is simply not as good a game as the original. It is still a great game, and different enough that I hesitate to say it is objectively worse; I sure enjoyed the original  more, but I am sure that some people will enjoy Half Life 2 just as much or even more. But Half Life 2 does not really need to be compared to it predecessor and standing with the other games of its era it looks quite good, and it is undoubtedly one of the top FPSes of its decade.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011


Limbo is a very famous indie XBLA platformer that recently got ported to the PC, giving me and many others the ability to finally play it. At its core it is simply a platformer with some puzzles but what makes it great is its style.

It is wonderfully dark, and I am not just talking about the graphics. The giant spiders, zombie worms, murderous children, and effective traps are all fantastically realized and delightful cruel, made all the more poignant because you are playing as a child. And while the officially explained plot is minimalistic I think it is safe to say that it all takes place in a dream that he has after falling asleep in a forest.