[Review] Sonya: The Great Adventure (PC)

Sonya: The Great Adventure had been popping up on Steam as a suggested game repeatedly since my big 2019 Winter Sale buy where I bought a couple of hidden object bundles. And lo and behold, the Summer Sale is on…and looky here, I am pretty much stuck here at home on staycation…what more is a girl to do but buy more games?

What convinced me to buy this game in the end? First it’s called “Sonya” which is a name you don’t come across too often…but, I have a close friend also named Sonya (spelled Sonia, actually). Second, the artwork of the trailer was bright and modern. I know this has tripped me up before, where an attractive 2 second trailer shows the good bits, only to buy it and it’s a Windows 10 compatibility mess; however, to quote Mortal Kombat, “Sonya wins!” In gameplay, it really does win! The plot, however, is pretty tiresome…

Sonya’s sister Lily has been kidnapped by armed assailants, who have also locked you in a room. Once you escape, you are ported to parts unknown to figure out who has taken her. You find doorways blocked by coloured smoke. To gain access, you must find orbs that can destroy the smoke, so you can gain access to Sonya’s sister. Along the way, you discover the assailant has left a string of victims behind, so it is imperative you find Lily before it’s too late! Are you asleep yet?

Really, the strength of Sonya: the Great Adventure is in the gameplay. I’ve often ignored the plot for a decent hidden object game, and have managed just fine. Here, we are rewarded for our moderate ignorance in a nice array of puzzles and HO scenes. The only thing is that Sonya lacks a map since there is a bit of backtracking. However, the game does have a clue indicator by way of a blinking eye that gamers can use to indicate areas of interest (as opposed to constantly hitting the hint button). My version also provided a walkthrough guide, so I could refer to it when completely lost (which wasn’t too often).

Stylistically, I liked the look of the game overall. My main complaint is more that the voice-acting left a lot to be desired and the font they used was very difficult to read. However, the graphics and soundtrack felt modern which, for a game from 2012, is impressive. The puzzles were more challenging than the hidden object scenes. If you buy this game on Steam, you are also given achievements (if you are into that…)

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention there is a bonus game after you’ve completed the main story, because, Sonya’s adventure was great, and she now needs to find her way home.

Overall, I would recommend Sonya: the Great Adventure, if anything, for its variety of puzzles and hidden object scenes.

3/5
Sonya: The Great Adventure
SpecialBit
2012

[Review] The Guest (PC)

The year is 1986. Evgueni Leonov is a scientist from Volograd who is in Boston to deliver a speech at a conference. Somewhere along the way he ends up a guest at the Oak Wood Hotel in Belmont, Massachusetts. “Guest” is a loose term here as you wake up as him in a hotel room, doors all locked (including the bathroom!). A message is left on your answering machine: “Take your pills! Go to bed!”

The room is tastefully decorated. Strange clues are left strewn around. Soon after finding appropriate items and solving some puzzles, you gain access to the dark bathroom, then out of the room to another dim room…and another …and another, until you reach the end of this obtuse and implausible tale which, I can only gather, is the result of someone who got high one night. The plot in the Guest made little sense to me and left me with more questions than answers: Was this scientist mentally ill? On hallucinogens? Were people trying to suppress him to do experiments on him?

The Guest is a puzzle adventure game that is a lot like the Room but really not as good. You can easily navigate around a room using keyboard and mouse. Every object you find can be stored in your inventory, but not all will be used which is something not seen too often in adventure games like this. Every dark room requires you to find a light bulb. The puzzles themselves can be mind-benders, and I think that in itself is the game’s strength. There was one maze of corridors I was made to walk though to reach the end; I was stuck in this hell for at least 10 minutes straight until I found my way out (rage quitting was imminent). Overall though, I think there is something to offer in the puzzles, but the Guest isn’t something I’d want to play again. There are better games out there…

2.75/5
The Guest
Team Gotham
2016

[Review] Agatha Christie: The ABC Murders (PC)

A puzzling letter is delivered to Belgium detective, Hercule Poirot, from an “A.B.C.” alerting him that something is going to happen that he will have to solve. Soon he and his friend, Captain Arthur Hastings, are called to Andover to help Chief Inspector Japp with solving a murder. The first victim is Alice Asher, a tobacco shop owner who was bludgeoned to death. Soon, more murders emerge with an interesting pattern: the murderer is focused on killing in a pattern by running down the letters of the alphabet. There is also another peculiar but distinct signature too: an ABC train schedule guide is found at each crime scene. Poirot (you) must wade through the long list of suspects, and investigate and reconstruct the crime to find the murderer before there are more victims.

My friend Liam (The Donovan Viper) gave me a free Steam code for Agatha Christie: the ABC Murders, and wow! What a game! Not only is the story based on arguably the best mystery writer of all time, Agatha Christie’s novel of the same name, it was a well-fashioned point-and-click mystery game. Often when starting a game like this, the first 10 minutes set a tone in me that makes or breaks a game. The ABC Murders struck the right cord out of the gate, and I dove right in.

In this game, you thoroughly explore the crime scene for clues, which are then used to determine motive of the crime and who is responsible. You can have Poirot take a hard line or a softer tone with suspects and witnesses, and each direction provides a different response. Observation is key – everything is up for scrutiny – a suspect’s clothes, their appearance, their demeanor, even body language. Based on your intel, you are made to reconstruct the crime scene, which will then play down for you so that you can figure out if it makes sense. If it doesn’t, Poirot will tell you! But, the game itself does not penalize players for making incorrect choices which is always welcome. You do, however, get more game achievements for making correct choices.

The graphic style of the ABC Murders is right up my alley: fresh and vibrant. No pixel hunting here! I was very pleased to see how the devs chose to take an intelligent and sophisticated pace with the story and not dumb it down for the player. There is also an eloquence to Hercule Poirot – someone I have never played before in a game – in exhibiting a quiet ego compared to the arrogant Sherlock Holmes, who has come off as a true snob in one or more games I’ve played…

Agatha Christie: the ABC Murders is an excellent point-and-click mystery game, and I very much recommend it! My thanks again to Liam for providing me with a Steam code to this fab game. Thanks, Mate!

5/5

Agatha Christie: the ABC Murders
Artefacts Studio / Macroids
2016

[Review] 9 Clues 2: The Ward (PC)

The date is July 13, 1954. A new case comes into your P.I office, by way of a frantic call: “It’s coming!” it says. Your partner traces the call to the remote Mnemosyne Asylum. Once there, you witness a man propel himself out a window – was it suicide or murder? The man is Dr. Crow, resident Psychiatrist who treated an interesting cross-section of mental health patients. The dilapidated building that houses the asylum had a fire a few years back caused by one of the asylum’s patients, Zed, and somehow the mental hospital still exists. Zed, a schizophrenic, is suspected in Dr. Crow’s death, as well as the demise of another resident. He may also be the one who caused a nurse’s mental breakdown. Yet, there is a mysterious dark figure roaming the halls, striking when you least expect it…is it Zed? You must solve the 9 Clues to find if Zed is responsible, before you become the shadowy figure’s next victim…

9 Clues 2: The Ward is a sequel to the most excellent 9 Clues: the Secret of Serpent Creek, and it too hits out of the park. It follows a similar tone to Serpent Creek in terms of graphics and gameplay. The graphics were right up my alley – clean and bright for a dark-themed game. There is the clever “search the clues” aspect that we have seen before in Serpent Creek, but is still interesting. You play detective by scanning the crime scene for 9 clues, then you are charged with figuring out how they fit into a proper sequence of events. A deduction scene then plays where the crime is played back. This device reminded me a lot of the Sherlock Holmes games I’ve played in the past.

Beyond that, the hidden object scenes and puzzles in The Ward were similar in nature to what we have seen before, but they were still fun. If I have any gripes, it would have to be the wooden voiceover acting (you’d think they would have learned their lesson…). That aside, it’s the unusual and suspenseful story that 9 Clues 2: the Ward tells that made me want to see how it ends.

Recommended!

4/5

9 Clues 2: The Ward
Artifex Mundi
2014

[Review] Home Is Where One Starts (PC)

For some, childhood memory can be a powerful thing. I am one of those who has vivid memories of childhood from as early as age 2. Scents and sounds also help trigger memories in me. The rustling of leaves, and the “click click” of a 10 speed, for example, bring me right back to childhood.

Home Is Where One Starts is a short walking simulator from David Wehle (The First Tree) that explores those feelings and sensations that tangible objects trigger in memories of childhood. You play an adult who is reflecting on her childhood as a little girl as she waits for the school bus.

The game begins at the foot of your driveway, with your schoolbag at your feet. You are instructed to find 8 memories and as you search, you are free to explore around the yard, and across the road to a neighbouring farm. You grew up in a home on a large piece of land on a rural route. It’s deserted and run-down now, and the ghosts of play dates’ past and a broken home are evident in the rusty swing set and garbage strewn throughout the property. Exploring, you as a gamer discover clues to your character’s upbringing – a troubled father, poverty…Yet in this world, you were a girl with aspirations of being an astronomer, and coping mechanisms in the imagination you developed while playing in the forts and hiding places you had made around the yard.

Home Is Where One Starts, however sad the themes presented in it are, is a beautiful game. It’s easy to navigate around using the WASD keys and mouse. I loved the graphics which stylistically reminded me of What Never Was or Marie’s Room in how good they are. You spend most of your time outdoors, and the graphics and sounds reflect that; the sun is up, trees sway in the breeze, and birds are chirping. A serene soundtrack round out the pleasant experience. It’s a short game (20 minutes) which is the perfect length here to tell the tale, but I liked the environment so much I spent well over an hour exploring.

Home Is Where One Starts is a good game – I highly recommend it!

5/5

Home Is Where One Starts
David Wehle
2015

 

[Review] Empress of the Deep 2: Song of the Blue Whale (PC)

Empress of the Deep 2: Song of the Blue Whale is another offering from New Brunswick-based Gogii Games. I played its predecessor, Empress of the Deep: The Darkest Secret, in 2014! Back then, I recall it being a damn fine HOG with an adventure element. Gogii does produce a half-decent sequel in Part 2, in graphics and gameplay, even while the storyline itself is a little strange.

In the Darkest Secret, Anna discovered that she is the Empress of the Deep – her sister Pandora was jealous of her and had her locked under sea in a tomb, asleep. Pandora destroyed the tomb, and Anna narrowly escaped with her life. Now in Song of the Blue Whale, she is being summoned to the Temple in the Sky to find the four Children of Light and save them from Pandora’s evil clutches. In this temple she must also seek the animal guardians who will free the children and restore harmony. Yes, a lot of responsibility on Anna’s shoulders!

The sequel holds the Empress of the Deep canon well. My memory might be fuzzy on the past, but I think Part 2 might be stronger than its predecessor. It certainly has a lot to offer… The puzzles are engaging and varied; I found the hidden object scenes clear and interesting, but easy. The game is short (it took me under 3 hours to complete), but there are plenty of scenes to navigate. If I am to offer any critique, it would have to do with being given a map that I had difficulty deciphering, and that there seemed to be quite a bit of backtracking which made me lose my place a lot.

Mostly though, I really enjoyed the atmosphere in this game – the beautiful soundtrack, the odd soundbites of children talking and the serenity of water falling. Like its predecessor, there are aspects of the game that give a feeling of peace, similar to the Fall, or even Myst. And one takes pause at the calming pace at which the voiceover of Anna is delivered, acted by none other than Lucy DeCoutère (Trailer Park Boys). Gogii chose rightly here; just perfect!

Overall, Empress of the Deep 2: Song of the Blue Whale is a fine compliment to the first set, and often goes on sale on Steam – I highly recommend that you pick it up when it does!

4.75/5

Empress of the Deep 2: Song of the Blue Whale
Gogii
2011

[Review] Bury Me, My Love (PC)

“Bury me, my love” is a Syrian phrase that loosely means “take care on your journey; don’t die before I do.” Lately, the plight of Syrians has been all too real, with the civil war continuing to rage, kill and destroy the country, forcing millions of people to escape to safety. For many Syrians, fleeing their country is a double-edged sword; as at the heart they love their country, but they know it’s too dangerous to stay. Their pilgrimage to a better life comes with a foreboding sense of peril and excitement.

There is no better game out there that I’ve played that gives witness to the plight of a refugee escaping conflict better than Bury Me, My Love a phone simulator-type game that is more “Choose Your Own Adventure” than a phone-snooping operation. Its premise is relevant, and the stories are realistic and immersive.


Nour and Majd are a married couple from Homs, Syria. Nour is a Physician who leaves Majd behind to seek asylum in Germany. Meanwhile, Majd is a history scholar who teaches, runs the family shop part time and looks after his mother. You play as Madj, who communicates with Nour via a Whatsapp-type of text messaging app. Majd is there to provide encouragement, and advice through Nour’s daily strifes. Nour is also an independent woman who scoffs at wearing a hijab in public, even though Majd encourages her to for safety. Nour’s journey begins as she waits for a cab ride to the airport to catch a plane to Turkey, but the anxiety begins immediately when the cab is late. Most text messages are sent by your character automatically. Every once in a while, you will have to choose from two responses which will have an impact on the outcome of Nour’s story. Squabbles, jokes and loving conversation string the bleak and palpable uncertainty of Nour’s living experience as she constantly has to decide between two equally shady decisions with unknown consequences.

There are apparently at least 19 endings to Bury Me, My Love, each uniquely different, so I felt free to experiment with situations just to see how Nour’s story could end. I replayed this game at least eight times – some with a very happy ending, some with shocking consequences. The conversations feel real, and you’ll find yourself vested in Nour and Majd’s story enough to want to try the game again.

Overall, I was quite impressed with Bury Me, My Love‘s localized language. I don’t know about the other languages (French, Arabic, etc), but this game was like I was reading text messages from a couple from North America. No broken English here, and it was appreciated, because I’ve played some games from devs who have not taken the time to get a proper translation. There were even funny autocorrects, missing words and misspells that are common among us all in texting; so the conversation felt natural, and well paced.

This game is not without a few glitches. When I first fired up Bury Me, My Love, for some reason I couldn’t get my mouse or keyboard to work with it at all. I couldn’t even exit out of the game without the usual ctrl-alt-del method. I am guessing something updated because I started the game this week and my mouse worked fine. Who knows why…I also experienced some unexpected crashing a couple of times; it was fine since this game autosaves (hooray!) so I was able to get back into the swing of things easily.

I did notice a wee bit of a continuity gap in a couple of the story lines where money and ID were stolen from Nour, but were miraculously back in her hands three text exchanges later, or she had ID and now doesn’t. Maybe 19 endings is too much for the developers to keep track of?

In any case, Bury Me, My Love is an immersive experience I won’t soon forget. It’s also available to play on iOS and Android. I highly recommend it!

5/5

Bury Me, My Love
The Pixel Hunt
2017

[Review] Terraria: Surviving this COVID-19 Pandemic Underground (PC)

Hello! I pretty much mothballed this blog since the world was forced to stay home two months ago. Not much happening – I’m working from home, baking banana bread, watching movies and gaming. What do you play when in a pandemic? Surprisingly, my answer has been Terraria.

Terraria is an open world survival game where you create and carve your world while being pestered and attacked by blobs, eyeballs, bats, insects and zombies. You start above ground with simple tools and low health but are able to collect gems, ore, stone and wood as you dig and explore your surroundings. The crafting of better tools and objects comes by using items such as a work bench, anvil, and smelter, which you can either purchase or find as you explore caves and abandoned underground shelters deep in the earth. Characters like a merchant, mechanic, mage and nurse all come to stay around you to help you in your quests if you need them. Fighting bosses, completing goals or killing a large number of, say zombies, provides you rewards, such as better armor or a flag which you can display in your abode. And the more you dig and find things, the more your inventory fills up. Luckily, trunks are scattered all over the underworld and you can store items in them.

My Steam purchase history says I bought Terraria January 2, 2012; over 8 years ago! The first time I tried playing it was with the hubs in co-op and it was a cumbersome experience. My account said I had played over 40 minutes and I just remember being lost and anxious. Throw forward to March of this year, and the hubs, being part of the Quick Save Club, a podcast that focuses on PC gaming, encouraged me to try their Game of the Month, Terraria. Instantly, memories came flooding back. “No thanks,” I said., “I don’t remember liking it.” But, I relented and found myself installing the game and playing it.

Well, folks, it turns out, my cure for pandemic anxiety is to start digging underground, and I have not stopped. The Terraria underground universe is dark, vast and interesting, and is pretty much a hodge-podge of worlds found above ground: sandy desert, Amazonian greenery, Icy cold Arctic, and some scary lava-pit place that I try to avoid.There might be other places I haven’t even found yet!

The tunnels I’ve dug so far…

The other fun part I’ve discovered is the collecting of items and somehow fashioning a home as you go to house them all. The internet is full of examples of how people have unleashed their creativity in Terraria, and created some truly amazing homes. And apparently, Terraria is getting an update in Terraria: Journey’s End this very day that provides even more customization and new gameplay! Hoo boy! That said, I didn’t go too cray cray with my home…(click pics below for a closer look)

There is so much to Terraria, and I’ve been told I have only scratched the surface of the game by simply digging tunnels and not completing boss challenges. I have completed over 80 hours of gameplay…just by digging tunnels! There is something weirdly satisfying about digging in, creating paths, and finding secret caverns or even an old abandoned mining outpost. So relaxing and fun! I never thought I’d write that about an open-world sandbox game but here we are!

I don’t know how long this pandemic is going to last, but I am glad to have Terraria to keep me sane.

Stay healthy!

Terraria
Re-logic
2011

[Review] Infected: The Twin Vaccine (PC)

A timely game coming at you!

Infected: the Twin Vaccine is truly a disturbing tale that I never thought could happen in our times, but here we are in the midst of the Covid-19 outbreak! Cities are shutting down! Mass panic at the Costco! People are dying! Never had I any idea that we would be living in these times – and what the heck – while I am in social-isolation (at least for the weekend), why not play a game about the extreme version of our reality?

A plague has ripped through Oxford City, killing many of its residents. Patient Zero is a set of twins, Tiffany and Theresa Morrisey. Tiffany didn’t survive the illness, but Theresa made a full recovery. And now she is considered the one with the secret to the cure but she has coincidentally gone missing. Oxford has been under mandatory evacuation, and with residents gone, the authorities want to blow it up, but what if the girl is still in Oxford, hiding? The world won’t have a chance of survival! Could her father have anything to do with her disappearance? And what about Carl, the local hobo who is taking advantage of the deserted town – what is his involvement? You as a doctor must return to the abandoned town and find Theresa before it’s too late.

Infected: The Twin Vaccine is from New Brunswick developers Gogii Games. I have had quite a history with Gogii, reviewing several of their offerings – some good, …some not so good…but Infected: the Twin Vaccine is pret-tay good for a game from 2012.

Some decent production value at the onset as we are introduced to the plot via a very realistic-looking news report. The game itself is the average length of 3 hours and has a variety of hidden object scenes with plenty of item-collecting and some fairly easy mini-games in there for good measure. Overall, I recommend the game for the surprisingly timely on-point story.

About my only complaint about Infected is there is a lot of pixel hunting in the HOG scenes, which is a large portion of the game. The map could have been much better too but at least there was a map!

Infected: the Twin Vaccine was sitting in my Steam library a long time – so long in fact that it’s no longer sold in the Steam Store! It’s too bad because this one has a pretty rich story and the gameplay ain’t half bad. It still lives for purchase via Big Fish Games, though, and I recommend it!

4/5

Stay safe and healthy out there!

Infected: the Twin Vaccine
2012
Gogii Games

[Review] Telling Lies (PC)

From the creator of Her Story, comes one of the more anticipated games of its kind, Telling Lies, an interactive video game. Like its predecessor, Telling Lies has users explore videos on a computer to discover the truth behind David Smith, FBI Agent, and what he has done. A real web is weaved that includes his wife and family back home, his duties as an undercover agent, and other possible lives led in secret. You play as Karen Douglas, a former FBI agent who has stolen a hard drive full of videos she will review to get to the truth behind David’s past. She / You view the videos on her desktop – a sim of a Windows 10 knock-off. By entering keywords, or highlighting them within the videos’ closed captioning, you review dozens of recorded video chats and conversations between David and many key people in his life. You can scroll forward and backward through videos to figure out timelines, and you can also jot down notes using the computer’s “memo app”. You only have a finite amount of time to view material on the hard drive, so you have to move fast.

As a spiritual successor to Her Story, Telling lies does some things well. The story itself stretched out for miles and seemed a bit of a rabbit-hole, which wasn’t bad, just difficult to keep the sequence of events straight; I understand this is a goal to the game. The acting was impeccable, anchored by Logan Marshall-Green’s David (the actor is best known for starring in Prometheus). I really enjoyed the look of the game, particularly being able to see Karen’s face reflected on the computer screen as you view the videos.

However, I have to say I was disappointed in Telling Lies, particularly in its gameplay. As good-looking as this game is, it is simply window-dressing, because the video-viewing is a mess. That’s right, the one thing this game relies on to tell its story is a complete shit-show. Telling Lies uses video chats between characters, but players only see one side of the chat. This could mean you would view a 3 minute video, with most of it having one character nodding back at the camera as they are listening to someone you never hear in the same video…yet you feel compelled to watch in case you miss something important. To watch the other side of the convo, you have to enter the right keyword, and maybe then it will come up. We never see a full conversation side-by-side, and heated discussions are left one-sided, which totally lost their impact; this dynamic really took me out of the story.

Speaking of keywords, entering a keyword brings up every video with that keyword in it. The only thing is, the video starts playing right when that keyword is used, so a 7 minute video could start playing 3 minutes in! One can rewind the video from the beginning, but it’s a very slow tedious process. You can see how there are some serious problems here! The game itself becomes how one can view a lot of videos quickly and there is no fast seamless way to do that! Not fun!

I’ve been grappling with whether or not I would recommend Telling Lies to others…and I am on the fence. I think some people would get something out it, while others would be frustrated by the gameplay. Your mileage may vary…

2.5 / 5

Telling Lies
Sam Barlow
2019