Gaming Reviews

[Review] Her Story (PC) (2015)

I have played a handful of games that have touched on the subject of criminology, where you play a detective on the beat picking up clues, interviewing suspects and arresting perps. Some games do the subject well and are intuitive (see Cold Case Files: the Game or Unsolved Crimes), while some crime games, not so much (see Crime Scene or CSI: Dark Motives). Never have I had a crime-themed gaming experience like what I had with Her Story. Instead of getting clues at the start, you are using already-collected evidence to come to a conclusion.

Her Story opens with a feeling you have gone back in time to the days of Windows 98, as you are presented with a dusty CRT computer monitor. A database program from twenty years ago is running on-screen. No sound is present, except for the faint humming of overhead fluorescent lights which can be seen reflected in the monitor.

A handful of live-action videos are open and available on-screen for viewing. All are short clips (30 seconds or less) of a woman who appears to be in a room being interviewed. They all seem to be out of sequence. The subject matter of what she says instantly piques your interest as you soon realize this woman is being asked questions about the whereabouts of a man named Simon and her involvement with him.

The videos available to you on-screen have been watched…now what? You are given a text box on-screen inviting you to enter random search terms of your choosing. You come to realize you are searching a police investigation database to view the videos. You pull clues from what the woman had said in previous videos and try entering them in the search box. More video results come up based on your search terms. You notice this woman is in all of them, and you learn soon enough Simon is dead and she is a suspect.

Her Story loops around and subtly confuses. Just when I thought I had the sequence of events down, the game pulls a fast one. I take to writing things down in my trusty pocket notebook, like a cop would. More search terms, more videos…suspense ramps up…soon enough, the ending reveals itself…

I am not going any further into the gameplay, except to say Her Story is very much a unique interactive and satisfying experience that I won’t soon forget. Do yourself a favor and get this game!

5/5

Her Story
Sam Barlow
2016

Side note: The “Win 98” desktop shortcuts are .txt files, a trash bin and a game that are active too. You can open them and view them! 

[Review] Titanic Mystery aka 1912 Titanic Mystery (Nintendo Wii)

Onward on another adventure reviewing Titanic-themed games. I have reviewed three so far, and show no signs of stopping. Tired yet? No? Then, ALL ABOARD!

I have forever been searching for half-decent hidden object games for the Nintendo Wii…and ever since I found Mystery Case Files: Malgrave Incident, a great game on the Wii, I held out hope. The game, Titanic Mystery continued to come up in my hidden object searches for the Wii, but it has also been difficult to find around these parts. Funny too, another game called 1912 Titanic Mystery also came up in my search…but impossible to get as it appeared to be only available in Europe.

As you can surmise from the title of this blog post, these games are one and the same. Don’t ask me why, but the packaging for North America calls this game Titanic Mystery, yet the game itself on-screen is called 1912 Titanic Mystery. At any rate, I managed to find a copy at an EB Games, and asked my sweet hubs to bring a Wii upstairs to the living room where I game so I could review this for y’all. What a guy!

A replica of the original Titanic has been built and is set to sail on the anniversary of the sinking of the 1912 Titanic. All of the ancestors from the original voyage are invited to board and experience Titanic II’s maiden voyage across the Atlantic. The media are out in full-swing and everyone is excited to participate… Everyone except for a terrorist who has communicated with you that they have planted a bomb somewhere on-board, and you must find out who has!

Throughout the game you get a bit of a history lesson on the Titanic. You are made to search for missing pages from a diary authored by a young woman who was on the maiden voyage of the Titanic. You get to know some of the characters on the ship – a tad stereotypical in nature, that can somewhat be akin to a poor man’s Love Boat, complete with an Isaac knock-off. The person responsible for planting the bomb keeps dropping notes to you around the ship, and fascinatingly, all the characters seem to know the notes are for you!

Seriously, I am making this plot line more exciting than this game actually is. In truth, the gameplay of 1912 Titanic Mystery is quite dull and repetitive. Hidden object scenes force players to search for the same object over and over. The same mini games are also provided, such as “unscramble the image,” or “find all the birds in this scene.” Yawn.

This game is visual all the way, and unfortunately, the images were super blurry on the Wii version. The Wiimote allows you to zoom into a scene to get a better look, but honestly, in most cases, all you see are blurred images. The hidden object scenes, in particular, give you a headache.

This scene above is pretty much the resolution I got. Now, imagine zooming in on it… 

Let’s also address the fact that the Wii can be glitchy at the best of times if you don’t have your Wiimote and sensor bar configured properly.  When I first started the game, I ran into this issue – my bad. But, once I fixed everything, I would still experience issues with trying to select things on-screen. I am not sure if this was me, the Wii, or the game itself.  Like most of the other Titanic games I have played so far, 1912 Titanic Mystery also has a PC version. Mind you, I don’t know which came first – the Wii version or the PC version – but I’ll put money on the PC version being much better visually and the gameplay being more comfortable.

Thankfully, unlike Murder on the Titanic for the Nintendo 3DS, you are able to skip puzzles in 1912 Titanic Mystery, but the game weirdly penalizes you 10 minutes…odd since the game has never given you a timer anywhere in its gameplay, so I am not sure where this would have any impact except perhaps on achievements, which I never received. Lastly, I might have been rewarded with a decent ending had I finished this. I just…couldn’t do it. The graphics were way too blurry, and because of the repetitive gameplay and glitchy mechanics, I decided to move on.

Maybe the PC version is better?

1.5/5

1912 Titanic Mystery
JoinDots / O-Games
2009

[Review] Murder on the Titanic (Nintendo 3DS)

I have been on a tear with playing Titanic-themed games lately, and was excited to find Murder on the Titanic for the Nintendo 3DS for sale in the Nintendo eShop, a game with the notoriety of being the first hidden object adventure game being sold there (according to Nintendo). The game seemed decent on preview, with a solid story and puzzles to match. I decided – what the hey…let’s try it. I soon realized this good-looking game was lipstick on a sweaty pig.

Murder on the Titanic begins with the story of a killing that occurs on-board the Titanic the night of the ship’s fateful voyage. The victim was a coal shoveler down in the Titanic’s engine room. Not to fear, the Captain happens to know the great Inspector Magnussen is on board and calls on him to investigate the death. The Inspector agrees to be discrete as the guests are unaware of the murder, but could cause a frenzy should they find out. You play as Magnussen, searching for clues in hidden object scenes and solving puzzles with the obvious ultimate goal being you find the killer. Of course, all of this seems like foolish busy-work, considering we all know how the evening ends…

I have to say, that I was impressed with the overall look of Murder on the Titanic; the graphics really looked great. The problem I have is with the game’s puzzle mechanics. Like Hidden Mysteries: Titanic (the last game I reviewed), Murder on the Titanic is a port from the PC version, and unfortunately it shows. Clicking around in hidden object scenes was fine; it was if you needed to do anything more, like drag an item or pick it up to move it; sometimes these games don’t do those mechanics well on the 3DS (let alone the DS…). In one scene, I was to use my stylus to move a crate under a pile of fallen pipes. The game refused to let me select the crate…at least not until a game crash resulted in me having to start the puzzle over from scratch. Amazingly, I was then able to move the crate. This glitchy nonsense happened several times throughout the game.

Porting problems from PC to 3DS persist in Murder on the Titanic, particularly in the hidden object scenes. Normally, in any game that provides a hidden object puzzle, a list of items to search for is provided. The 3DS version of Murder on the Titanic’s hidden object scenes oddly provided a shortened list of search items with a fraction of the objects the PC version provides…I assume as much because I was able to click around the scene randomly on items that weren’t listed and still gain points for finding them.

Forget porting issues, I had one serious problem with Murder on the Titanic that is completely inexcusable: You CANNOT SKIP A SINGLE PUZZLE.

The ability to skip puzzles is one gaming mechanic that is a standard in casual gaming, and sets them apart from other gaming genres. If a puzzle is too difficult or boring, one should have the ability to skip past that puzzle so they can continue in the game; they should NOT be held back by that puzzle. Often, when a skip button is provided, gamers are given a penalty like a reduction in points, or are punished by adding or reducing time to their clock, thereby affecting their game achievements. Not allowing to skip past a particular puzzle leaves gamers with only two choices: persevere, or abandon.

Friends, the developers did a massive faux-pas with Murder on the Titanic, and this was made all the more obvious when I wasted spent HOURS trying to figure out how to solve one puzzle. I was stuck but had no choice; it was solve it or bust. No thanks to the internet, I toiled (and boiled…and fumed…) on this one puzzle. And I wasn’t the only one that ran into trouble: this freaking puzzle caused some outrage on forums around the internet from gamers unable to solve it. What makes it worse – the puzzle in the 3DS version differs from what is in the PC version, and with no walkthrough available online for the 3DS version there was ZERO help out there.

You are left to solve this puzzle FOR HOURS while the likes of Inspector Magnussen,
Brendan Fraser and Jessica Fletcher stare back at you…Lawd ha’ mercy…

I eventually figured out the solution to the puzzle, but it cast huge shade on how I felt about this game. What was typical irritation that I get with the usual tomfoolery that comes with a bad 3DS port, turned into frustration, and the conclusion that this game is not recommended to even the expert casual gamer. I hope that anyone reading this to figure out if Murder on the Titanic is for them will understand this fact going in…

HOURS, I tell you…

Maybe the PC version is better?

1.5/5

Murder on the Titanic (Nintendo 3DS)
Easy Interactive
2012

[Review] Hidden Mysteries: Titanic – Secrets of the Fateful Voyage (Nintendo DS)

As mentioned in last week’s post, this Spring I got onto a real Titanic kick. This inspired me to find some Titanic-themed games, including looking at my own collection of games. I happened to find Hidden Mysteries: Titanic – Secrets of the Fateful Voyage for the Nintendo DS some time back and decided it was time to dust it off and give it a go.

I have played a game from the Hidden Mysteries series before – Hidden Mysteries: Buckingham Palace was a decent hidden object standard for the PC, and I seem to remember there not being that much wrong with it. How far removed this game is… Hidden Object: Titanic was originally released on the PC, and ported onto the Nintendo DS. Let me tell you, this port ain’t good.

The game tells the story of Margaret Ashley and her adventure traveling on the Titanic to America. Ashley is a newlywed who boards the ship with her husband, Robert, an egomaniac who is newly wealthy and has some serious concerns around image. Margaret’s mom, Mrs. Brown, was against the union from the start, and is hell-bent on stopping her daughter from leaving England, going so far as to stop her at the boarding gate! After some convincing, Margaret manages to go aboard with her mother satisfied she will see her daughter again. But, not before Margaret and Robert soon discover someone pick-pocketed one of their tickets. Because Robert is no gentleman and needs to board immediately to have a bath and a highball (seriously!), Margaret is left to search the ship for the culprit and ends up shaking down the ship’s ragamuffin, George, a young boy suspected of the theft. She also encounters Mr. Tavalouris, the Titanic’s Shipwright who created a secret hidey hole within the ship where he is living. His sanctum’s entrance just happens to conveniently portal into Margaret’s stateroom (how convenient). Thanks to meeting Tavalouris and George, and having to put up with her selfish husband, Margaret is put on mission after aimless mission, fixing plumbing, running errands and trying to now please all the men on this ship. The story follows the real story line of the Titanic (hits an iceberg, not enough lifeboats…), but seriously veers off-course somewhere around the point Margaret finds a sarcophagus in the cargo hold that is supposedly cursed. Yeah, it’s all random, dumb and unnecessary.

Margaret meets and talks with a handful of people in the game; dialogue choices are given that are supposed to impact the outcome of the story. This impact might have been what happens in the PC version of the game, because I can tell you, it didn’t matter what dialogue you chose, there was little to no consequence when I played the DS version. One example happened when Margaret and her mother were talking before boarding the ship. Margaret had a choice to tell her mother she never wanted to see her again, or tell her she would return to England for Christmas. I played through this part twice (because the game crashed on me…), both times choosing opposing dialogue. The outcome for both was, “I’ll see you at Christmas.” At this point I am concluding the DS version is a very lazy port from PC.

Other port problems persisted with Hidden Mysteries: Titanic, such as vague or confusing puzzle instructions, and often you were left wandering around trying to figure out what you had to do next. The menu system provided a “hint” button that was broken, and not that this was necessarily the game’s fault, but walkthroughs for this game online are scant. There are PC walkthroughs, but following them can be a bit confusing as the DS version is missing several puzzles from the PC version.

Probably the best part about this game was how it looked. The graphics are pretty decent overall, but unfortunately this is counteracted with a crappy menu system, boring story-telling and shoddy game mechanics.

Maybe the PC version of Hidden Mysteries: Titanic is better?

1.5/5

Hidden Mysteries: Titanic – Secrets of the Fateful Voyage (DS)
Gunnar Games
2009

[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

[Review] Silent Hill: Downpour (PS3)

Silent Hill is a survival horror franchise that I have a little history with. I played Silent Hill: Shattered Memories on the PSP five summers ago and was terrified most of the time. I reflect back on that survival horror game, and consider it one of the first from the genre that got me into playing scary games in the first place. When the hubs suggested we play Silent Hill: Downpour together on the PS3 this past December, I agreed to it. Together, we slogged through it over a couple of weekends.

You play as Murphy Pendleton who is, at first blush, all kinds of bad. In prison serving an unknown wrap, Murphy is making enemies everywhere he goes, including officer Ann Cunningham, who has a serious bone to pick with him. It is while being transported to another penitentiary that Murphy’s bus crashes, killing everyone on board but Murphy. He is left to his own devices in the forest, but before he can even think of his freedom, he finds himself amid the eerie, rainy and somewhat abandoned town of Silent Hill, a perpetual hell where there is never any escape. While in Silent Hill, Murphy is pursued by monsters which he must defend against. He goes searching through the town, exploring abandoned buildings to find clues about his fate and objects he can use for his escape. Silent Hill’s gloomy buildings can transform spontaneously into a parallel universe where the walls turn dark, blunt obstacles turn sharp, and red shadows chase and disorientate Murphy.

Murphy’s back story is a mystery from the get-go. You are given very few details about him, and as the game progresses things eventually fall into place (sort of), but it’s a long winding journey. The gamer is provided with flashbacks periodically that lift the curtain a little on Murphy, but I have to say the pacing of the story was very slow, and I soon found myself impatient, wondering why the hell this guy was in Silent Hill, and why the heck I should bother saving him in the first place.

You direct Murphy in third-person gameplay. Like other Silent Hill games, Downpour had some jump-scare moments, especially when Murphy suddenly entered into the evil parallel world where he was being chased, or gets confronted by a monster. To that end, I found the combat in Downpour was pretty lame. You are only able to pick up one weapon at a time, each often felt pretty ineffective. Along the way you are given a gun, but the aiming sucks, so it barely did anything. Beating a creep down with any weapon, in fact, felt like an exercise in futility, and we often found ourselves running away from a monster as a more effective method than sticking around.

Wild guess: Which screenshot comes from Silent Hill: Downpour and which is from Alan Wake?*

Throughout my experience with this game, I couldn’t help but think the game designers of Downpour took inspiration from Alan Wake, nicking some key plot tropes from one of my favourite games. In fact, I can think of at least 10 similarities between the two:

  • A gloomy landscape
  • Forest hiking
  • Use of a flash light
  • Flocks of birds that attack
  • Flashbacks to the past
  • Riding a Gondola lift
  • Breaking into spooky buildings
  • Trespassing through diners and gas stations
  • A Female police officer
  • And look out for gusts of wind and fog; the monsters are coming!

There are more but, this list is a start. Whether by accident or coincidence, Downpour has really tapped into obvious parallels with Wake. The whole time, I turned to the hubs and said, “I feel like I’ve played this before….This feels like Alan Wake…” Except, Alan Wake is two years younger than Silent Hill: Downpour…and does things a lot better than this game; the story, weapons and general gameplay were much more enjoyable.

I can’t help but feel disappointment with Silent Hill: Downpour, especially since Shattered Memories was so engrossing. Take a pass on Downpour – there are better survival horror games out there.

2/5

Silent Hill: Downpour (PS3)
Konami
2012

*Alan Wake is on the left, Silent Hill: Downpour is on the right.