Thursday, 20 December 2012

Anna - Review

Anna is a first person horror style adventure game which is very similar to point and click adventure games in that you need to search the environment for items and hints to what you need to do. It's created by Dreampainters and it's available on Steam. It focuses heavily on the exploration side of things.

The levels are quite small and focus on a lot of puzzles within these limited areas. It's a nice touch as you get to really explore an environment which makes it feel like a much deeper world rather than running through an environment so quickly you don't notice most of it. It's also nice to discover things you must have walked past many times and never noticed.

Unfortunately my view of the game get worse from here on in. Maybe it's not my type of game, or maybe years of mainstream run and gun games have reduced my patience so much that games like this lose their charm on me, but you should know I appreciate what this game tried to do, I just don't think it worked.

Some of the puzzles are, as far as I'm concerned, impossible to figure out with any kind of logic. It may work with the weird fantasy setting but I couldn't get my head around it. You could argue it comes with a guide and there's plenty of help online, but I don't think that can really be used in it's defence as if it's too difficult you have to use the guide for half of the puzzles (like I did) then it's less playing a game and more following instructions.

I found the inventory system to be awkward and unintuitive to use, which became a problem when you have certain areas of the game where you have to use one item after the other about 30 times in a row.

I'm now going to talk about the horror aspect. As horror is always better when you don't know what's happening I'm going to put up a spoiler warning and let you know when it's over, so here goes.

***Spoiler Warning***

The horror works well, and is done well for saying there is no real enemy there to be scared of. The sound effects nicely set an atmosphere and hint at the story but after wandering around the environment for a while (and you will be) you notice the noises being repetitive and come to realise they are just ambient sounds that don't mean anything.

The few appearances of 'other beings' come quite rarely, which I like as it really made me jump when they happened. I recall one in particular which was some kind of bush with arms reaching out of it which then moved towards me quickly which made me jump, but as far as I could tell there wasn't any link to the main storyline and this disappointed me.

***End of Spoiler Warning***

A problem I found with the ending of the game, without any spoilers this time, is that there is multiple endings which I usually like but I felt absolutely no connection to the main character and didn't really follow the story until I get right to the very end of the good ending and by that point I had completely lost interest.

There is one more thing that you need to do to get the good ending which really got my back up, so I'm going to hit up another spoiler warning while I have a rant.

***Ranting Spoiler Warning***

To get the good ending you need to get to the end of the building you spend the whole time in. The game gives you a key, so I used it on the door that had remained locked while I was in there and the game suddenly ended after some text that I didn't really understand. I can accept this, even if it is a bit annoying as there is no auto-save feature and I hadn't saved in a while. That was my own fault.

It would have then been fine to say, if you had looked harder you would have discovered this and got the better ending for actually exploring the environment. But that's not the case.

The bit that annoyed me was that I checked the guide to look for the best ending, the guide stated that you had to hang around in the attic for some time before the room changed and new options became available. Apparently this scales depending on how long it took you to complete the rest of the game. I found it took around 10-15 minutes of doing nothing but waiting before it randomly revealed itself to me. If I'm incorrect about this fact feel free to correct me, but I did nothing special and all of a sudden it changed.

This really annoyed me as it was impossible to figure out, even with the guide I questioned the fact that I was doing the right thing.

***End of Overly Long Ranting Spoiler Warning***

Also the hands... the stretched hands. As an artist they pained me a little inside.

In conclusion I would recommend this game to people who like point and click adventures or need a break from shooters and are willing to spend some time searching corners. I wouldn't play it again and would think twice before buying their next game, but I do appreciate what they attempted with the game and wish them all the luck in the future.

Monday, 17 December 2012

Ib - Review

So as we have broken up for Christmas I though it would be a good time to play some different games as I get on with work. The first of these is Ib.

Ib is a game created in RPG Maker where you play a young girl who travels with her parents to an art museum when things start to take a strange turn where the art takes on a life of it's own and she gets trapped alone in a world where strange things are commonplace.

The game is a mixture of puzzle solving in a strange and weird environment and jump scares. It makes exploring the world interesting as it is a very unpredictable game and by the end I felt myself feeling for the characters much more than I though.

The levels are well thought through and know how to make you cautious and certain set pieces are amazingly clever in a way that completely freaks you out. So I have to applaud some of the puzzles. Unfortunately I cannot say that for them all. While I may not be the best puzzle solver there were a few moments where I had to check a guide as it was just confusing or hard to find the exact part where the player was expected to do something. This was not a problem too often however so it wasn't game breaking.

Although I am not a jumpy person when I get scared the game got me a few times during the game when things suddenly attack you or jump out of hiding.

The endings are also nice and varied and I won't ruin them here. The endings are not entirely different and there isn't any major plot twists you can miss, it just depends how much you care about what happens to the characters. Needless to say I got what I would consider the worst ending, clearly I need more practice at these games. I obviously researched the and some of the endings certainly leave a nicer after taste but the only thing that really changes is what happens to Ib herself.

The art work within the game is well done for saying it is an RPG Maker game although I have to point out that the player character Ib looks much older when she is walking around than she is meant to be, this game as a sudden shock when I was already quite far through the game and looked into a mirror, showing a piece of artwork of my reflection.

The music within the game is a nice touch and it's used well to build tension and to warn of the arrival of something sinister. It certainly adds a whole new level of immersion to the experience.

I feel like I'm going to be saying this a lot for these indie title reviews, but you really must play it. It is not exactly a ground breaking game but you're sure to enjoy it and a review really cant get across how good it is even if I fill the review with spoilers.

Sunday, 2 December 2012

Schuld and Cry

At the risk of sounding like a stuck up guy who only plays indie games I'm going to talk about Schuld today. I do play mainstream games too, but everyone talks about the new Assassin's Creed or Call of Duty and personally I find indie games to be much more interesting...the good ones anyway.

I think it is probably the focus on story over gameplay in indie games which appeals to me as I have always been big on games with stories, hence why the Final Fantasy series is still home to some of my favourite games ever. I'm now wondering why I haven't done a blog post of Final Fantasy, maybe sometime soon.

Back on topic, I recently watched Cry play Schuld over on his Youtube Channel. Cry is another amazing youtuber who does lets play videos and while he isn't as downright hilarious as PewDiePie he brings a totally different quality to his videos. He has the best narrating / acting voice I've heard on youtube and he brings an air of seriousness to the game, but always stops to have fun along the way. Watching him play a game like Schuld is perfect as he carries the weight of the serious story but still lightens the tone with the odd comment or two.

As for the game. It's once again a story based puzzle game similar to The Witch's House although I don't think the story is as strong as during certain parts of the game the character suddenly decides to do something drastic and often out of character to advance the story. But the dark themes and the things it forces the player to come across along their journey are interesting and horrifying in equal measure.

The ending seems particularly abrupt. Suddenly changing setting and introducing new characters which are essential to the story and you are supposed to have strong feelings towards them, which is difficult when all you have to go on is the word of the confused player character and this blank slate of a character you have just been handed. During the ending sequence I also got the feeling that the player character is as bad as the enemy, although the game never really explored that and just assumed you were still the good guy which I think is a massive shame as an ending which took such concepts on board could have had a more powerful ending than The Witch's House.

I'm aware that all I have said is it's like The Witch's House but not as good, but trust me it is still a good game and one that everyone should at least check out even if it's not your kind of game.

Thursday, 22 November 2012

The Witch's House and PewDiePie

So, I've recently started watching PewDiePie's lets play videos over on Youtube. Honestly, I thought I would hate them. I expected someone who thinks way too much of themselves will be playing games expecting everyone just to sit and watch him, and watching other people play games has never had great appeal to me.

Luckily, I was wrong. I honestly think PewDiePie is one of the funniest things on the internet and I'm so glad I gave him a try, watching him freak out over horror games, sing to Parappa the Rapper and create the most messed up Spore creations have given me endless laughs over the past few days. But while this is all well and good, this isn't what made me want to write this blog post.

Recently I watched PewDiePie finish playing a nice indie title called The Witch's House where you play a young girl trapped in a house with magical powers and you have to try to escape. The game is both scary, in a jumpy kind of way, and very funny, particularly watching someone else play. The creepy theme which it follows works very well and makes the player uneasy about everything in the house.

So, it's a pretty good game, why write a blog post about it? The ending. The TRUE ending. An ending hasn't had this kind of effect on me in a long time, possibly since Braid, and even then I thought Braid's ending was a bit forced. I'm going to write about it without spoilers for as long as I can, but I'll flag up a spoiler warning when I give something away.

I found the ending was a massive contrast to the rest of the game as although it was scary it gets at you in a way that makes you jump, then laugh, then try to get around it. The ending has none of that fun, it's very serious, and very sad. There is a massive twist which is revealed in a wonderful way that has you quickly learning more step by step until it all becomes clear. There are even videos on Youtube looking back at how some of the books throughout the game suggest the twist, but in a way you would never guess it.

Anyone who hasn't played / seen this game should go do so now... I'll be waiting for you here...


Although it may at first seem like the ending is just a bunch of text squashed in at the end of the game so it has some kind of a story to justify the game it actually works much better than that. Sure, looking back at the ending you can think, 'Well, that's a very generic boring ending. It turns out you we're the bad guy all along' it's the reveal of the information and how everything you know comes together to make sense that really stood out for me. The realisation that all of that horrible stuff inside the house was your doing, including putting a young girl, your 'friend' though the agonising and slow death. How horrible. But to then see the character that you helped get through this nightmare turn her own father against her was heartbreaking.

The way the girl attempts to call out to her father but cannot because you damaged your body before switching are terrible and then the father shouting...calling her a monster...before shooting her twice. Not only this but the father seemed like such a nice, loving parent who only wanted to help his daughter, and in doing so, killed his own daughter. All of these things shouldn't have much of an affect, after all you've only really just met two of the characters properly, but it's so moving that you can't simply brush it off.


Honestly, this ending had me thinking for days after I saw it. That's the kind of effect it had. And when it comes from a small indie title that I didn't really expect much of then it comes as a pleasant, yet horrifying, surprise.

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Stacking - Review

Stacking is a Playstation Network, Xbox Live Arcade and Windows game developed by Double Fine Productions, the team that made games such as Brutal Legend and Psychonauts but is a smaller, arcade game like Costume Quest. It is a game about Russian stacking dolls with the core gameplay mechanic being that you can jump inside any NPC that is one size bigger than you and control them, with each one of them having a unique ability which can be used to complete tasks.

The concept is obviously quite unique and sounds good in theory, but to pull it off and still make the game interesting and fun would be a tall order for a game studio but with the unique comedy that Tim Schafer brings to all of Double Fine's games it makes it an interesting and amusing adventure around a wacky world that makes close to no sense and yet is a pleasure to explore.

From the beginning the game makes you wonder what you've just bought. It opens with some dolls which have a very simple model used for the majority of characters which is textured on a flat surface and while this actually works very well the immediate reaction is probably not the best one. The introductory scene then goes on to have no voice acting involved and instead uses text plaques in a similar style to old silent movies, whether this was a good choice or not I am not sure as it can make the cutscenes last a little longer than I would like them too and if I look away from the scene for a few seconds to talk to someone then I can miss part of the story. On the other hand when it is combined with the obvious stage setting and props it creates a weird but wonderful kind of cinematic.

So the game is a weird 3rd person game where you possess dolls, that may not seem so enthralling, but the real genius of the game comes from the characters and the abilities each one brings to the table. Finding different characters is always a treat as each one has a such a strong personality you can instantly get a feel for the kind of person they are and can even pretend to live their life for a short while. The abilities each one brings can be fun to use such as the 'Northern Kiss' head-but or simply shouting 'Good Day, Sir' in a hilarious manner as you watch the crowds of people around you give you weird looks. Some of these abilities come with an additional side mission such as the Northern Kiss in which you have a hit 5 different mime actors. Most of these are not difficult but can be fun a few moments in between tasks.

The missions themselves can all be solved in multiple ways with up to 5 solutions for some of them, this means you have to think outside of the box, generally 1 or 2 of them are easy to figure out so they won't slow down your game if you're just a casual gamer or have trouble getting your head around the mechanics but at the same time there are some solutions which involve real tactics and skill so if you want to complete them all and unlock all of the hidden gems within the game then you best have your thinking cap on.

The game is arguably too short, especially if you don't stop and linger on each task, but these games a only short arcade games so a full length game cannot be expected (although certainly wouldn't be unwelcome). These small games that Double Fine are making are fun little titles that are also good for testing the waters and experimenting with what gamers like, dislike and what they are willing to put up with.

I will hopefully return soon with the review of another of these short Double Fine games I picked up recently which is Iron Brigade (formally known as Trenched). Or at least I will once I can get Windows Live to let me play the game I actually paid for.

Saturday, 27 October 2012

Botanicula Review

I've wanted to write a review for this game for quite a long time, so I thought it would be a good one to start off my blog. So here goes nothing...


Botanicula is a point and click indie game developed by Amanita Design which is based in the Czech Republic. Amanita has made a few games in the point and click adventure genre, some of which are not completely unknown such as Machinarium and the Samorost games.

I first became aware of Amanita Design when I picked up Machinarium sometime while it was on sale on Steam and instantly fell in love with the style. Well actually...tell a lie, at first I thought 'what the hell is this? this is boring' then after I had played it for a few hours I then realised I loved it. The characters as well as the art and animation in the game are something of an oddity and yet they all work so well together that they become amazing. After playing though this game I eagerly awaited another of their games to be realised. This game was Botanicula.

And I was not disappointed.

The first thing I noticed when I picked the game up was that the art style had changed from a grungy robotic city to a world of colourful plants and insects, this is not a bad thing however as I found that the quirky design had managed to convert so well over to this new world that this environment was brought to life even more than their previous title.

The gameplay is simple, it's point and click, as the genre would suggest, but it is so much more than that. I, like many others, hear the words point and click and instantly think that it cant be that interesting or exciting to play, but Amanita have totally converted me. The puzzles in the game are imaginative and mind boggling, sometimes to the degree of being too difficult or not explaining what to do or what your capable of, but this can be part of the joy of discovering this strange new place and the world is so vivid and interesting that you cant help but keep playing to see what weird and wonderful thing could be just on the next screen.

The characters, both the player's party and the NPCs, are so interesting and unique, some of them make you wonder how the developers came up with something so weird, others make you wonder how the designers ever came up with something so awesome. You collect cards throughout the game as a way of recording your experiences and the characters you meet along the way, they also work as a reward, unlocking new animated scenes if you collect them all. This works as a nice nice incentive to get people to fully explore the world you've created without hindering people who don't care, the only problem I found was that although I went looking in every last corner I still didn't collect all of them, it may be possible to do without a guide, but I certainly didn't manage it.

The final thing I would like to get to is the sounds. The sound effects in this game are what made this game, for me, go from a decent game to an amazing game. Throughout the game I found me and my sister crying with laughter as we heard the noises some creatures made, sometimes it got annoying, but until that point it was hilarious. I obviously can't show you the sounds on here, but if you get this game (and you should) then you will certain see what I mean.

It's crazy, it's pointless and it's impossible not to like this game even a bit. Botanicula is a game that as far as I am aware not a whole lot of people have played and yet it's one of the few I think everyone should play. If you are bored and need to kill a few hours, or you see this pop up on sale give it a try. If you don't get dragged in by the games charm then there's nothing I can do for you now...

My Personal Blog

Here I intend to write stuff that is more personal to me, but still related to my line of work. Sometimes I'll be writing game reviews or handing out movie recommendations, other times I may just write some musings on news and the like.

Only time can tell.