Author: Sarca

I write, I game, I knit, I watch, I mainline coffee.

[Review] Dear Esther: Landmark Edition (PC)

I’ve been on a real Walking Simulator kick thanks in part to a recent playthrough of What Remains of Edith Finch. So naturally I wanted to dive into Dear Esther, a seemingly popular Walking Sim by the developers who brought you the grand Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture.

Dear Esther is a story that begins with you walking around a large island. As you hit certain targets in the game, a male voiceover starts to speak, “Dear Esther…” The voice tells you stories about himself and some history of the island. The sequence of the story is disjointed, but you quickly get the sense that what you are hearing are letter excerpts from a man to his beloved.

The island is pretty bleak for the most part as sunken ships dot the shoreline and hollow houses perch on the edges of the path. Items are located that indicate someone was once there. A large lighthouse can be seen in the distance. You walk and find obscure clues in caves. Just when you think you’re at the end of one path, another one opens up to you.

You are alone with only this inner voice to piece together why you are wandering the island. You definitely have a palpable sense of dread and sadness. Something happened here. Something happened to Esther. Something is about to happen to you.

Dear Esther is a simplistic game: you use your WASD keys to move and there are no save states. Largely, it’s a mystery waiting to be solved. I normally relish mysteries, but I can’t say I particularly enjoyed this one. The story is obtuse, and left me starving for clarity. I was also largely disappointed in the game’s overall graphic environment. Rocks looked like turds, and there were a lot of rocks! For the most part, the graphic jewels occurred towards the end of the game, but until you get there, you get smeared dulled landscape and blocky objects devoid of tonal gradation. Puzzling especially considering I was playing the Landmark Edition, an overhauled version from a very pared down release from 2008 that was supposed to be a vast improvement.

Probably the nicest scene in the entire game…at the game’s end.

Jessica Curry composed the acoustic music in this game, and I wish I could say it was the best I ever heard. It probably was except my quick-draw thoughts of “Geez, this is one ugly game” overpowered the background noise. Sorry, Jessica…

Yeah, I can’t say I enjoyed my stroll through Dear Esther

2/5

Dear Esther (Landmark Edition)
The Chinese Room
2012

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[Review] The Beast of Lycan Isle (PC)

Luna and Tara are best friends and traveling buddies who are set to rendezvous on Lycan Island – a normally bustling tourist trap that has turned dark and inhospitable in its off-season. Luna arrives only to find that Tara has disappeared from her hotel room. You go searching the Island for your friend, and find a wolf is on the loose. With the help of Brina, an old woman with special powers to manipulate the wolf, you search the entire island for your friend before it’s too late. Has a wolf got a hold of Tara, or has she turned into one of them?

The Beast of Lycan Isle has been sitting in my Steam library for many years. Obviously, I had forgotten all about it! For the most part I can say this is a game reminiscent in style and feel to Angelica Weaver, right down to the ever present voiceover instructions which can get tedious. There is a lot of leading and hand-holding here, which is perfect for the beginner gamer. Clues are always present but the voiceover is constant. This one is a little low on the hidden object scenes, but high on the puzzles and collecting of items around the environment.

I think others would enjoy the Beast of Lycan Isle, even though there are plenty of elements I did not enjoy about it. On top of the constant hand-holding, I didn’t care much for the look of it, or the characters…and the plot seemed a little odd. Yeah, I didn’t like it, and I would never want to play this again. HOWEVER, the newbie gamer might / would likely get something out of it.

2/5

The Beast of Lycan Isle
Gogii
2012

[Review] White Haven Mysteries (PC)

Something happened at the old White Haven…Dr. Conlon the head researcher was doing trials on a serum that would reverse the effects of mental disorders testing it on young patients. Some would say he managed to help his patients reverse the effects. If only the Federal Drug Administration would have approved the antidote already instead of banning it! It didn’t help that those five children administered the serum ran away from White Haven causing so much negative attention…which inevitably caused the manor to shut down and 20 years on it’s slated to be razed. Dr. Conlon has since disappeared from sight to parts unknown…

How is it you woke up at White Haven’s dilapidated doorstep? You are groggy and can’t remember how you got here, or why. You are met with a little girl who knows you and says you used to live there. She lures you into the manor – and the door shuts on you abruptly. The little girl vanishes down the corridor. You roam the halls seeing her in an apparition. You feel like you are going insane. A voice gets in your head, saying you must find the antidote before you go crazy. Who was that man’s voice? Dr. Conlon? Who is that little girl? Do you know her?

White Haven Mysteries has been sitting on my Steam account since 2013, and I have to wonder why I waited so long to play it. It’s a pretty good game with an interesting story. The game is from 2012, but don’t let its age fool you: everything looks fairly modern. And if you want to get creeped out, you’ll find it in the unsettling imagery, as well as music that reminded me a lot of Alan Wake (one piano note playing on a loop, and the sound of a gust of wind deafening you).

I really enjoyed the hidden object scenes in this one. The game does have typical scenes, but also did something a little different to make the game even more challenging:

Yeah, man! This HOG is worse than looking through a junk pile…

Canadian game developer Gogii also gave some nudge-winks at their Canadian roots, infusing some “very Canadian” items in their scenes, including having to locate Canadian old-school $1 bills (not in use in Canada since 1987…) and an airline ticket that looks destined for Europe, but the YYC destination would send you to Calgary, Alberta.

Overall, I’d recommend White Haven Mysteries. I see it go on sale on Steam frequently: pick it up on sale for cheap!

4.5/5

White Haven Mysteries
Gogii
2012

[Review] What Remains of Edith Finch (PC)


The Finch family have seen their share of tragedy. Edith Finch, 17, knows this all too well. As the last living member of her large family, having gone through the death of her mother, Dawn, a couple of years earlier, she reluctantly sets out to document her family’s legacy. Her Mom left her with a key she thinks gains her entry into the old Finch homestead on Orcas Island, Washington. The house itself is an interesting structure; its profile, strange. It stands perched on the edge of a cliff overlooking the ocean. It was abandoned 6 years ago when Dawn decided in haste to take Edith and leave. Grandma Edie was left behind; the nursing home was to pick her up in the next morning.

Just looking at the home from the grown-in path, you can see it holds some secrets. What happened there? What is this place? Why did they leave? Edith gains access to the property and begins her journey. What she finds is a house that has been left untouched. The dining room table is still set with plates from their last night’s Chinese meal.

A lifetime was lived here as books are stuffed in every corner, and pictures fill the walls. This house is out of the ordinary, however. Some would say it’s cursed as each bedroom belonged to a Finch family member who has since passed, and the door to each is sealed up from the outside. Edith gains access to them via elaborate secret pathways, and finds shrines to her relatives, as well as clues and stories around their passing. All the while we also learn why Edith has come here; her discoveries are memorialized in a journal that will remain a testament for the next generation…

When I first started What Remains of Edith Finch, I wasn’t sure what to expect. A Walking Simulator, your journey begins at the mouth of a trail leading up to the Finch home. A fence and a gate stop you. “No Trespassing” signs are posted, and immediately I said, “Oh goody!” An armchair urban explorer for DECADES, I have always loved to read stories, look at photos and videos of abandonment, and wonder “what happened here?” What makes people leave a house and all the contents behind forever? I have quite an imagination…

(The truth is usually less glamorous; an estate dispute among family, or the property gets sold to a developer, and they are slow to do anything about it…but I digress).

What Remains of Edith Finch does everything right: the graphics, the atmosphere, the story, the music, the character development…I’m gushing. I can’t help it: this game is pretty darn good. It explores the connections between family and the mortality we all must face. Each member of the Finch family is given their own time; and some of the tales told are disturbing, but for the most part, heartfelt. Don’t get too hung up on it being about death – I mean there is plenty here. But, the stories are touched with a bit of legend, humour, imagination, but most of all, love. The interactivity is wonderful and there is something to like that would appeal to everyone.

This game is short (under two hours). You can easily replay it and notice something new you never did before too. The beautiful and emotive score by Jeff Russo (from the band Tonic) adds to this rich story; and vinyl natch fans will dig the brown smoke vinyl release the score was given that I have yet to pull the trigger on (a lil $$ for this Canadian…).

I highly recommend What Remains of Edith Finch. Do yourself a favour and PLAY IT!

5/5

What Remains of Edith Finch (PC)
Giant Sparrow
2017

[For the Love of ‘Fee] Fresco Percolator: Still the Perfect Perc One Year Later

I thought I would take this opportunity to share an update on my “endless search for the perfect perc”. As anyone who has been following along with me knows, the house of Sim has seen its share of coffee cock-ups in relation to our percolators, in that we can’t seem to keep them working. Check out this blogpost, and this one, AND this one for more in-depth analysis.

To recap briefly: since 2011, we have had 6 electronic percolators tramp through our kitchen, including 2 Cuisinart, 2 Hamilton-Beach, one DeLonghi, and one Proctor-Silex. Most have failed within the first year of use. It was frustrating, to say the least.

It wasn’t until we searched for a stove-top perc, that the tides changed for us in the Fresco brand percolator, purchased off of Amazon. I am here to say ONE YEAR ON, the same Fresco from last year is still in use: still functional, still very easy to keep clean, and we are still very happy with it. Best purchase ever!

Last year, within two weeks of using the Fresco percolator, I switched out the plastic top it came with for a Fitz-All glass percolator topper I bought from Home Hardware for $6. A great purchase, and helpful hack. It’s still working well. I can only imagine what that plastic topper would look like today if I kept using it…

The Fitz-All glass topper shown here “fitz” perfectly

Cleaning the Fresco perc is an absolute breeze. It’s dishwasher safe, and if I need to clean out the coffee ground basket, running it through some boiling cleaning vinegar does the trick.

Still, it does take me 20 minutes to brew a pot o’Jo with the stovetop perc. But, whatever, I’ll sacrifice my time for a good cuppa. This Fresco perc is built to last and makes a smooth brew! We are very happy with it; no looking back!

 

[Review] Haunted Past: Realm of Ghosts (PC)

Sara Haverston gets a call from Solicitor Mr. Malloy, and learns she has just inherited a large estate. Details about the estate remain a mystery. But, she soon finds out more as she encounters the ghost of her dead mother who is hiding out from an evil force that has taken over the estate. Room by room, Sara must systematically clear out the evil spirit by finding glyphs and other objects that will chase it away.

The estate itself is a dark and depressing place, but you as Sara gain access to a portal of light in each room – a gateway to a brighter and more cheerful equivalent of the room you are in. There you can also find objects that can be hidden away so that once you “cross over” back to the dark side they can be used to chase the evil away and save Sara’s mother’s spirit.

The first time I played Haunted Past: Realm of Ghosts was back in 2011 when I was tearing through Hidden Object games like there was no tomorrow. I remember writing down on “my list” that it was pretty good… And it is still a good game, albeit a little short at under 3 hours. It’s also a little dated in the graphics department, but the overall plot and mechanics still hold up. The soundtrack to Haunted Past is very eerie; if you play, make sure the volume is turned up and the lights off! Guaranteed to give you the willies.

About my only real complaint is the very tinny voice overs which likely had to do with the game’s age. The music however came out crisp and clean…and creepy!

I found Haunted Past: Realm of Ghosts on Steam at a huge discount. Pick it up if you are so inclined. You won’t be disappointed.

4/5

Haunted Past: Realm of Ghosts
Gogii
2011

[Review] Drizzlepath (2015)

From Tonguc Bodur, the creator of Bottle (a game I reviewed last year), comes another walking simulator called Drizzlepath. This one has mixed reviews on Steam, but what the hey, I must have got it for $1 on sale. It was touted as “a relaxing journey to the top of the mountain”. Who else needs a stress-free trip up a mountain? Count me in!

Drizzlepath starts with you amid a landscape of mountains, falls and a lake. You are in the lake treading water and make your way to shore. Immediately you are met with a bale of turtles basking in the sun. Now, this was a surprise! Turtles happen to be one of my favourite animals ever, so I couldn’t help but feel encouraged this game was going to be something special.

You follow a fenced trail around the hillside and eventually you navigate to the top of a mountain. As you traverse, you are met with a drizzle of rain, and a serene landscape. I was excited to encounter more animals along my way, including chickens, frogs, and even lobsters. Several homes dot the landscape along the way, but you can’t access inside of them, and no one is around to talk to.

I’m the type who likes to break the trail and explore the surroundings…I quickly realize why the creator put up fencing along the path: the areas outside it were not graphically developed quite as nicely as along the path. That’s not to say the imagery along the path was overly polished; often, the mountains and grass missed detail; areas were blurry or filled in with streaks of colour. Although not a complete wash, I do wish there was a bit more attention paid to the detail in the landscape, especially when energy was obviously spent on such a minute detail as rendering droplets of rain precisely as I walked along the landscape.

Admittedly, I was disappointed there weren’t more interactions with people, places and things in this game. Perhaps if you were able to pick things up, collect things, read or enter some of those buildings, I would have gained some understanding as to what the goal of Drizzlepath was. Unfortunately, there wasn’t much to grasp on to, and the game’s disembodied voiceover wasn’t much help with my enlightenment. I am figuring the narration plays a role in the overall plot, however, the female they got to narrate speaks with a thick accent that I can’t place, and was difficult to understand. There was no closed captioning here to help; where are the subtitles, people?! From what I could understand, most of the dialogue sounded like nonsense: all I caught on to was something about knives and donkeys, and waking “your Apache friends up” (?!). Obviously, the narration of Drizzlepath must be an important element of the game and I didn’t catch any of it at all. I am certain there is a story behind this walk, but I have no clue what it was. Particularly puzzling was the weird and abrupt finale:

[scroll over for SPOILERS]

You find yourself at the end of the path where you find a tent and a roaring fire pit at the edge of a precipice. Three men with their backs to the camera are standing just beyond at the edge looking out into the distance.

[END OF SPOILERS]

Others were saying how relaxing a game Drizzlepath is, but frankly I felt unsettled most of the time. To me a relaxing walk is wide open spaces. Very often in this game, I was wading through thick brush or squeezing through crevasses or walked along very narrow paths. Not to mention the time near the end when I tumbled down into the drink…and I think, died. I made it back to life through a checkpoint in game.

There are other games in the Tonguc Bodur universe, including sequels to both Drizzlepath and Bottle, but I am holding off exploring those for now. Overall the stroll in Drizzlepath was more enjoyable than its younger sim sister, Bottle, but Bodur needs to do much better with making the plot lines in his games much more accessible than he has been, especially if he wants a wider audience. To appropriate a phrase, “man cannot live on scenery alone…” That is pretty much all you get here.

2.5/5

Drizzlepath
Tonguc Bodur
2015