adventure games

[Review] Lifeless Planet (2014) (PC)

An astronaut on a mission crash lands on a mysterious planet, loses his crew and wanders around trying to figure out where he is and if there is any life. This is complicated by the fact he has limited oxygen and must frequently find oxygen outlets and tanks around the planet. The landscape has a varied ecology, with desert, mountains, and greenery. He soon discovers utility poles on the horizon, which lead him to a tiny abandoned Russian outpost. He finds clues that at one point this planet was manned by Scientists from the Soviet Union but something bad happened. The astronaut thinks he is the last being on this Lifeless Planet…but then suddenly he isn’t so sure…

Lifeless Planet is a puzzle platformer that is pretty open-world. At first blush, I liked the look of this game. The astronaut reminded me a lot of an animated version of the MTV fella. The planet he explores was well rendered and I did feel a sense of foreboding with its empty landscapes. The premise of Lifeless Planet was also interesting enough to keep me going for over six hours. Maybe it was my endurance, or maybe my stubbornness, because this game has long stretches where nothing at all happens with one or two things that do blow your mind.

Let me tell you though, the gameplay to Lifeless Planet left a lot to be desired. You wander this astronaut around the planet using your mouse and keyboard, and overall, it’s a pretty frustrating and uncomfortable experience. The options menu was very pared down (at least in the PC version), with not much in the way of customization. This isn’t a problem if the developers make things easy on the gamer, but unfortunately that wasn’t my experience with this game. Try navigating your little astronaut around and have the perspective change on a dime from being able to see your astronaut far away, to an extreme close-up of the back of his head. Who can play a game like that? The gameplay was a pretty nauseating experience as a result. Open-world games can make my stomach flip at the best of times, especially if there is no option to add a cross-hair to the centre of my screen to help curb my stomach-flipping, and that option was not there in this game.

Lastly, the safe points in Lifeless Planet were false! I’d reach a safe point…or so I thought. Every time I’d return to the game, I would be sent back to the start of another level; I’d never start at a safe point. This was not just some odd glitch – this happened most of the time! And after the six hours of gameplay, with no progression in the storyline, and after repeating a level for the third time, my patience ran thin. I decided there was more excitement on my own planet, and walked away from Lifeless Planet. So it goes.

The game is available on PC, OSX, PS4 and Xbox One. Hope you have an better time than I did!

2.5/5

Lifeless Planet (PC)
Stage 2 Studios
2014

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[Review] Adam Wolfe (2016) (PC)

This past Spring, I picked up the game Adam Wolfe on a Steam sale. At first glance, what immediately struck me was how similar this game’s name was to a favourite game of mine:

Familiar? Yes, indeed; in appearance, and in initials (A.W.)! And the similarities go further – both games use aspects of the paranormal in their story. (Both A.W.s are different in genre, however: Alan Wake being more on the survival horror spectrum, while Adam Wolfe is hidden object adventure).

More to the point, the paranormal as a plot device in games is a familiar one. Adventure games in particular have used it repeatedly. I am quite familiar with it having played games like Angelica Weaver: Catch Me When You Can, and Shiver: Vanishing Hitchhiker, among many more. Some gaming studios have taken the device to dead horse flogging territory, using it over and over again (looking atchu, Big Fish Games…). You would think by now I would avoid games like this… but there was just something about Adam Wolfe that pulled me in.

Adam Wolfe is a paranormal investigator with the San Francisco Police Department, responsible for cases that are too “out there” for run-of-the-mill detective work. First order of business is to chase down a firebug who is wrecking havoc in the Bay area. He mantracks the perp and discovers there is something supernatural about the dude.

In this scene, the perp just melts on screen – literally!

Meanwhile, Adam’s sister mysteriously goes missing, and he soon discovers the firebug case he is investigating and his sister’s disappearance are interrelated. This leads Adam into the seedy underbelly of San Francisco, face to face with a strange cult whose leader claims he has the secret to eternal life on Earth. Along the way, Adam discovers a watch that allows him the ability to turn back time to a period when crimes took place; helpful to Adam who uses it in his investigation to get a better grasp of what happened. Using a cellphone, he is able to GPS his way around the city, and call his partner, Marv, back at the station, for information needed to further his investigation.

Over the four-part game, Adam Wolfe draws you into an intriguing story that infuses suspense and horror into the plot successfully.  There are indeed some scary moments in the game that made me jump out of my seat, which isn’t normally expected in a hidden object game. Granted, the plot devices of missing relatives, turning back time, and the supernatural is totally cliched in hidden object adventure games, but I forgive Adam Wolfe as there are bigger standouts that trump the negatives. For one, the quality of the graphics in this game are unparalleled when compared to other hidden object games I have played as of late.  The gameplay is taut and the puzzles are varied and challenging, including clear-picture hidden object scenes, and picture scrambles. Most interesting is the game gives opportunities to be a part of Adam’s police work: take crime scene samples, shoot Adam’s gun, beat up perps with fists, and drive Adam’s motorcycle through the streets of San Francisco…all in a day’s work!

Having played dozens of hidden object games in my life, Adam Wolfe is one of the better hidden object adventure games going, and is definitely worth your attention. Available on PC, Mac. iOS and Android, I highly recommend you pick this one up.

4.5/5

Adam Wolfe (PC)
MadHead Games
2016

[Review] Journey (2012) (PS4)

It was a Sunday night whim that got me playing the game Journey for the PlayStation 4. The hubs, BuriedOnMars, had tried playing this game earlier in the week and dropped it. But, he encouraged me to try it out to see how I liked it. I knew nothing about it going in, except that it was a type of walking simulator, which I very much enjoy (Firewatch, Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture).

In the first scene of  Journey we see an expanse of desert sand and a hazy sun in the sky; a sweeping violin music sets a melancholic mood. A star falls from the sky, and what we see rise up is a striking robed figure which is the character you maneuver. You lead this character across the sandy plain to come upon hilltop stone markers with bits of ripped cloth tied to them, blowing in the breeze. A high mountain presents itself in the distance, a bright beam of light shining at its apex. This is your destination – your destiny – as you traverse the desert. The bits of cloth are your life line. You play a tiny chime and the rags come to life by extending yours, and by chiming in, your character develops a scarf-like garment that flows behind them in the wind – an important garment that allows your character the ability to jump and fly to great heights.  This trait is important as it gives your character the ability to complete brief but important tasks to allow you to pass on to the next level.

Along the way, you encounter other figures like yourself – these are actual gamers in their own game networked in through the PSN, who like you are trying to reach the mountain. At this point you encounter a handful of companions that help you complete levels and get to the end. The game takes under two hours to complete.

The first thing that drew me in was the graphics and the music. The game had a middle-eastern flavour, which I particularly liked. The music was beautiful, and reminded me a lot of Glass Masquerade as it really gave the game that mystery flair. I am also a sucker for odd-looking characters with a mysterious past, and Journey‘s main character certainly fits the bill. The game looked great. The controls were simple enough: using the PS4 controller, besides the sticks, you really only had two buttons to worry about – X and O – which I can definitely get behind. Great music, neat-looking characters, gorgeous graphics, easy gameplay…what’s not to like?

Well…I kept wondering what the punchline to Journey was…what was the end game…the point?

Was I leading this character from birth to death? …The harsh landscape they must travel to reach higher heights…the fluidity of relationships as people enter the game and depart just as quickly. The symbolism is palpable which wasn’t the issue for me – I could actually get behind the theme. I had one serious problem with an integral part to the gameplay: I did not like the fact other players could enter my game to “help” me.

I encountered about 6 other players while in Journey, and found most to be a nuisance. Aside from one guy who stopped by to chime “Hi” and disappear, the majority walked in and took over everything, completing important tasks in the game before I was given a chance to even figure out what I was supposed to do. They were just too damn fast for me! I remember turning to BuriedOnMars and saying, “WTF? Get the eff out of my game! Whose game is this supposed to be anyway??” I was trailing behind these strangers like some pathetic chump while they leveled us both up.

I didn’t get that sense of accomplishment obtained by completing the game myself. This goes beyond co-op: when the hubs and I game, we are doing things together and taking turns on tasks that make sense for a multi-player game. Borderlands is a great example of co-op done well. Journey, on the other hand, had one linear task to complete at a time, and tasks that were really only meant to be completed by one player. So when you have two people, and the stronger player completes all the necessary tasks like they were trying to beat the game in record time, what am I left with?

I don’t like feeling inadequate when gaming, let alone in my life. I know myself well enough to know Journey‘s multiplayer component did not match my will at all. I am stubborn, I have endurance, I am passionate, and I am fiercely independent. If anything, my journey in playing this game highlighted those characteristics in me. So, I suppose I can say then that Journey has the “metaphor for life” analogy nailed down…especially when you’re dealing with me.

3.5/5 graphics

2.75/5 the rest

Journey (PS4) (available for the PS3 too)
thatgamecompany
2012

[Review] Firewatch (2016)

Collaboration post! 1537 and Caught Me Gaming have joined blogging forces once again to bring you a fulsome review of the game, Firewatch! I take on the game, 1537 takes on the soundtrack! Please go read his fantastic post here!

When tragedy strikes in life, often one needs to take stock and re-evaluate. Some run into the arms of family and friends for solace, others crave solitude.

Henry’s life was in an upheaval to such an extent that he felt his soul needed time to heal and be by himself for a while. When a Fire Watch job came up in the Shoshone National Forest in Wyoming, he figured the fresh air, the landscape and seclusion would do him good. It was perfect. And it wasn’t like he was completely alone either – Delilah, a fellow Fire Watch stationed at another post in the Forest a few miles away, was at the ready via walkie-talkie.

Henry’s days consist of watching the landscape and ensuring no fires are started. When Delilah radios in to alert Henry to some fireworks that were being set in the forest, an adventure ensues that develops into an intriguing mystery. Here, Henry is under the impression he is alone…but discovers some mischief afoot – some harmless…some downright frightening…

Firewatch is a very enjoyable first-person adventure game set in 1989. You play as Henry and don’t see much of him appearance-wise other than his hands and feet. Henry is given a map of the forest, which initially is rudimentary, but becomes more extensive as he explores and finds outposts in the park which contain maps that are added automatically to his main map. He also carries a compass, which in conjunction with his map, I found a bit confusing at first. For some reason, I kept reversing East and West (quite common behavior for me to get turned around…I honestly need to tattoo L on my left hand and R on my right to help me remember…). Yes, it was rage-quit central at the House of Sim…BuriedOnMars had to help me initially. Once I slowed down and got the hang of it, it was aces.

There is a lot of walking simulation in Firewatch. Thankfully the game doesn’t have a time limit so you can go explore the forest if you want, which I did extensively once I got the hang of navigating the landscape. The controls were simple to use (WASD keys and mouse), and of course, there was that cross-hair in the centre of the screen so I didn’t get motion sickness whilst playing.

Along with the map and compass, Henry is provided with a walkie-talkie that is used to communicate with Delilah. The interactions with her, whom we never see in person, involve dialogue choices, but none are quick-time events. Your dialogue options determine how much of a relationship develops between Henry and Delilah. My Henry initially was quite aloof and abrupt with Delilah, who tried her best to be friendly and accommodating with him, despite him acting like a bit of a dick to her. It isn’t until several weeks go by in the timeline of the game that their dynamic has changed, and the dialogue choices are more amicable.

Stylistically, I absolutely LOVED Firewatch. The game was awash in hues of faded yellow, red clay and blues. I read that the developers drew from old American National Park Service ads, and I can definitely see the inspiration.

1537 will get more into Firewatch‘s music, but I have to say that I didn’t notice much music until one scene when Henry encounters a couple of teens having some fun in the lake. They had left their boombox blaring to tunes very reminiscent of Taylor Dayne, but it wasn’t…it was poppy, synthy and overall, catchy! Very 80s.

Firewatch can be played in under 4 hours. Available on PC, MAC, Linux, Playstation 4 and Xbox One, this is one game that looks great and plays well and has a great story. I highly recommend it!

5/5

Firewatch (PC)
Campo Santo
2016

Thanks to 1537 for the game suggestion and the idea to join forces! Now go read his review!

[Review] Titanic’s Keys to the Past (Android)

All aboard for more Titanic-themed games! Let’s look at what’s available on the mobile market…

This next game review is for a game that is not that bad compared to what I have been playing lately…but it does have one major hiccup. I came upon Titanic’s Keys to the Past after having played a succession of very crappy “Escape the Titanic”-type games (I won’t waste your time on those…). Keys to the Past is a National Geographic game that I actually think is meant for children since Nat Geo have it up on their “Kids” website. I didn’t find the game immature; on the contrary, it was quite history driven, informative and entertaining.

You play as Lillian; someone whose family lineage has ties with the Titanic’s maiden voyage in 1912…Lillian’s great-great grandmother, Rosemary, was a nurse on-board the ship. The story goes that she tried, in vain, to save some people from certain fate, but they were in the third class area of the ship, and the gates separating class areas were locked up, preventing anyone in those areas from being able to flee to the lifeboats. Your great-great-grandmother did not have the necessary keys to open the gate, so she was not able to save those souls, and she too died, knowing she couldn’t save them.

Because of her family connection, Lillian is invited to the grand opening of the newly-built Titanic museum; a self-contained ocean-floor conservatory of the sunken ship. The museum conducts tours of what is left of the ship, with informative exhibits about the Titanic, including its history and information about the fateful night. While on the tour, she happens to find her great-great-grandmother’s half-broken medallion among the ruins of the ship. Upon this discovery, Lillian encounters the spirit of Rosemary, who tells Lillian her story and begs her to help her by going back in time to collect keys that will open the gates and save those people from certain death. To help her, Rosemary transports Lillian through time, back to 1912 via a mirror to allow her to search for these keys. You lead Lillian through the ship, exploring rooms and completing a variety of puzzles, to be rewarded with a precious key. Collect all six keys to fulfill Rosemary’s desire to save those people.

Let’s be honest: as odd as this game’s plot sounds, Titanic’s Keys to the Past was a gasp of fresh air compared to the flotsam of the last few Titanic games I have played lately. Each puzzle was, at the very least, easy enough to figure out. Puzzles vary from HOGs, to mazes, to “unscramble to picture,” to “match the images”. The puzzles were admittedly not difficult, but were a decent pastime, fun enough to play through. In some cases you are able to bypass a puzzle by playing a match-three game instead, but there is a catch in choosing it…you are told you need to match three items enough to gain 200 points in 2 minutes and 40 seconds – it’s harder than it looks! Why such a random time? You got me!

Probably the best part about Titanic’s Keys to the Past that added to the enjoyment of the game was the fact that I could SEE! Images were clear, even when zoomed in. This game is also a port from PC, and unlike game ports to the Nintendo handhelds that I have experienced as of late, this port to android is adapted well for touch screens.

With all the positive feedback I could give to Titanic’s Keys to the Past, I can only wish the game didn’t crash so damn much…Yes, yes, this game crashed…several times. Enough to really piss people off on the reviews on Google Play. I have no idea why there were crashes. If I were playing this game on my old android ASUS eeePad Transformer tablet, I might explain that it was me crashing – not the game (in its twilight years, everything was crashing on that thing), but, I have a Samsung Galaxy Tab A now with the latest OS – no reason for crashes. Keys to the Past crashed a lot, but thankfully it auto-saved, so not much was lost in the way of game progress. Despite this snafu, amazingly, I was a CHAMP, exercising patience and restraint with this game, seeing it to the end.

Titanic’s Keys to the Past costs ~$3.50 on Google Play…Would I pay for this knowing it has this crashing problem?…Hmm, let me be contrary, and say probably not. However! I have hope the developers fix this issue so I could get behind it fully. I actually don’t think this game is that bad…but it does need fixing…

2.75/5

Titanic’s Keys to the Past
Apar Games
2012

[Review] Titanic: Adventure Out of Time (1996) (PC)

I don’t know what it is about Easter that inspires bingeing on everything of a similar theme. Last year, Spring 2016, I watched most of the Kurt Cobain themed films and documentaries…This past Spring, I found myself on a massive Titanic binge. I suppose the mood struck ever since I rewatched the 1997 James Cameron Titanic movie in March.

As a gamer, it’s easy to wonder if this epic sinking ship ever was the subject of a video game. Well, my search hit the jackpot, and I apologize in advance, gentle reader, as I have played a few of them now, and will be writing about them in future posts…

It was one of my most intriguing search results that carried me down a techie rabbit hole, so to speak. Among the Android hidden object games and Nintendo DS cartridges, I discovered an old-school Titanic-themed point-and-click adventure game from 1996 called Titanic: Adventure Out of Time that exists and is available for free…I said, FREE, yo! Heck yeah! I’ll give free a try! But, judging from its age, I knew the possibility existed there’d be some compatibility issues with my Windows 10 machine. Not to fear, many people managed to get the game playing, so I decided to give it a try.

The first step was to install something called DOSBox in order to run Titanic: Adventure Out of Time. DOSBox, in the simplest of terms, is a program that emulates old-timey PC games. At first I thought I’d be having to code my way through DOSBox’s installation. Thankfully, it wound up being less arduous than that – thorough instructions exist all over the place, and I have little fear navigating the guts of my computer, so I managed to install and get the game running. I giggled with glee when I first started the program, and the Windows 3.1 window popped up. Just then my husband walked in and said, “You’re running DOSBox? What?! You installed DOSBox to PLAY A GAME?? Wow, that’s hardcore!” Uh, thanks! {Psst, it wasn’t that difficult…}

Titanic: Adventure Out of Time sees you as Frank, an old British spy who failed a mission on the original RMS Titanic in April 1912, and who, having escaped its tragedy, is now living in London in 1942. A bomb hits his apartment and knocks him out, propelling him back in time to 1912, on-board the Titanic, on the fateful night it hit an iceberg. This is where you as Frank can “right some wrongs” by completing tasks assigned by your Superior, Agent Penny Pringle. Some of the missions involve speaking with suspicious passengers and retrieving items which would prevent the two World Wars and the Russian Revolution from ever starting. You are to complete your missions before the Titanic sinks, which, if accomplished, ensure a happy ending of waking up from your knockout, at home, and living in peace. There are different endings too, depending on what missions you completed before the ship sinks. A number of side-missions are available that you can complete that really have no bearing on the game’s outcome, but can allow for a full-bodied experience.

The mapping system

What puts this game above a lot of other games during this time period is the graphics. The developers were seeking an authentic Titanic experience, and a lot of care was put into ensuring a complete computer-generated replica of the mighty ship was created. Let me tell you: the graphics are incredible. The gamer is permitted and encouraged to tour the majority of the ship. Every inch, including statues, was represented. Maps are provided of the ship to allow you to port to different areas of the ship without having to walk through the entirety of the ship to figure it out yourself, and you are also welcome to ask around to key ship personnel where certain areas are if you get lost.

Smethells and Penny Pringle: You raannng?

When you first “wake up” from your unconsciousness, you will find yourself on the ship in your sleeping quarters. Your personal assistant, Smethells, is at the ready to instruct you on your first task of the evening. Immediately, you will be introduced to this game’s character animation, which is unexpected. Essentially, the animation consists of multiple photographs of real actors mouthing the dialogue, which has then been strung together in a sort of stop-motion animation. It was quite intricate, and I could imagine by its quality, that it would have taken forever to create! Depending on the character you encounter, you are given dialogue choices which can affect the outcome of your interactions with that character, so you must choose wisely.

Third Officer Morrow

One example where this plays out is when you must gain entry to the ship’s deck so you can access the wireless room and bridge. These areas are heavily guarded by Third Officer Morrow who will tell you to get lost unless you choose the right dialogue and help him out with a tiny side-mission. You’ll figure it out quickly as you cannot move ahead with the game without accessing these areas. The majority of the game is not timed, so you are not rushed through, until a completed key mission triggers the ship to crash into the iceberg, and start the clock. You are then beating the clock to find your way to a lifeboat so you can make your escape.

Hit an iceberg, and the ship floods…

When I started playing this game, I realized quickly that this Titanic game, for the most part, is not obviously linear. I could start a mission and then start another mission as I went. As it can be the case when you don’t follow a walkthrough, I wound up having an abundance of tasks to do ALL AT ONCE, completing tasks out-of-order. I started to write stuff down in a notebook, otherwise, I think I would have been completely lost! And not to fear, this game did not penalize you for starting something out-of-order like some games can. The developers obviously thought that this was a possibility. I mean, if you are welcome to tour the entire Titanic, then certainly you are bound to run into tasks to complete out of sequence.

You can use the fists in the forefront to punch this guy out. Interesting game dynamic

If I were to give any critique to Titanic, I’d say the missions were aplenty with: Talk to this person…Talk to that person…Get this and bring it to that person…Talk again to the person. It got a bit confusing at times, keeping all the dialogues and missions straight. Sometimes the activities did surprised me though, for example, I got to play blackjack, spar in a game of fencing, and punch a guy out – good times! But, no doubt, this game is very dialogue heavy, with at least 21 characters and their stories to keep track of. Get your pen and paper ready; you’re gonna need it!

As great as the graphics were in Titanic, there was still a sense of foreboding, aided by a somewhat creepy soundtrack that looped over and over. Further, not every person you see on-screen is an active character that you are meant to have a conversation with. Those “characters” are basically background and stand about static, but turn to face you, say nothing, and turn back around when you click on them. That was a little unsettling, but I think that sense of dread was the point. You are on the Titanic, and it’s only a matter of time before you have to get off the ship!

Overall, I enjoyed Titanic: Adventure Out of Time very much, and am glad I put the effort into installing DOSBox to play it. If you are comfortable with installing emulators, then this one might just be up your alley. It was quite a unique experience I won’t soon forget.

Gameplay 3/5
Graphics 5/5

Titanic: Adventure Out of Time
Cyberflix
1996

[Brief Review] Shovel Knight (Nintendo 3DS / Xbox One)

Shovel Knight, it’s not you, it’s me.

I thought I would join in and play the Cartridge Club’s game of the month for August, instead of going my own way. I had no idea what I was getting into, but was soon introduced to a lil dude dressed in an iron suit that uses a shovel instead of a sword. He’s cute, and blue, and he won me over. It started out a typical platformer, that was easy enough to play. Looks can be deceiving, however…

Shovel Knight is similar to Mario games, in that you lead Shovel Knight through mazes, up ladders and push through obstacles to proceed to the end boss. You are given a map to maneuvre to the next stage, and as you finish a stage or defeat a boss, another area of the map unlocks. Along the way, Shovel Knight uses his shovel to dig tunnels and find needed treasure.

The game looked good, and was totally playable…up to a point. I’m not sure what I was doing wrong, but while playing on 3DS, I could not get Shovel Knight to jump right…or he kept dying…or I couldn’t fire his flare wand right. I tried really hard to push through, and wanted to succeed. I even started the game again on the XBox One to find out if maybe the 3DS’s controls were messing me up. Unfortunately, it didn’t seem to matter; as much as I enjoyed what I did play of Shovel Knight, I just could not progress in the game. 4.5 hours later, and I was still on level 2. …And I chose to walk away satisfied in knowing I played Shovel Knight as well as I could. Nothing is wrong with this game, except that it was too difficult for me. Kudos to those who played it all the way through.

Shovel Knight (3DS/Xbox One)
Yacht Club Games
2014