mystery games

[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!

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[Review] Crime Scene (Nintendo DS)

I was so looking forward to playing this one! After I completed Unsolved Crimes for the Nintendo DS, I went searching for other DS games like it, and the game, Crime Scene, kept popping up. (I can hear readers scream “Phoenix Wright”….don’t worry, folks, I have it in my library…) Crime Scene is a rare title and difficult to find in my area…but after six months of searching, I finally found it at my local EB Games. Crime Scene wasn’t cheap ($19.99, new for a game from 2010). I was anxious to play it over my vacation, and started playing it immediately…And darn it, if I have anything good to say about it. It blows.

As it often goes with these Cop Shop type games, you play as Matt Simmons, the newest and eager forensic investigator of the Crossburg Police Department. Using your instincts, know-how and latest forensic equipment, you investigate the 5 murders plaguing Crossburg by interviewing suspects, analysing evidence and reporting back to your Superintendent, Alexandra Malone. Your skills are tested every step of the investigation. You better study hard and have a steady stylus hand in Crime Scene, or Malone will send your ass packing quickly.

No doubt, the game looks great! The imagery is crisp. But, don’t be fooled by its appearance, as its mechanics are broken. The “charm” to Crime Scene is the part where one collects evidence using a number of different given tools – latex gloves, cotton swabs, an X-acto knife, tweezers, fingerprint powder and tape, and luminol & black light. The police department is counting on Simmons knowing how to use these items to solve the crime, so the game equips players with an integrity meter that gauges how well you as Simmons are doing. The game provides you with confusing instructions on how to use each of these tools while in play that one must figure out while the clock ticks down fast. When time’s up, your integrity can take a nasty hit. The tools are used by dragging them with the stylus and holding down the L or R bumper. Sometimes they don’t work properly at all and the game penalizes you severely. In one situation you are to take a blood sample as evidence by dipping a cotton swab in solution, then rubbing it on a blood stain. I couldn’t figure out why my swab kept breaking mid-sample, causing me to have to re-take the sample. Every time I “broke” a swab, my integrity meter would decrease. In another scenario, I had to cut evidence out of fabric using an X-acto knife, and I’ll be damned if I could get the knife to cut anything.

The actual analysis of evidence is treated in a series of mini-games, which at first blush seem fun enough. In one game, you use a pipette to draw a sample of blood to place on a microscope slide. Once the slide is prepared, you use a laser to zap red blood cells. Reading this back, it sounds like it’s lame…and really, it is especially if you were asked to repeat these mini-games several times within the case. And like I said, if you don’t get the tool mechanics just right, you lose the game, so make sure you save often so you can re-start the game at a save point (that is… if you plan on playing this). I, for one, was sent packing many times. It never got easier.

Many of you will NOT remember when I reviewed the CSI: Dark Motives game for the DS…mainly because it was the second or third game I reviewed for this blog over three years ago and no one was paying any mind back then. At that time, I said you were better off eating a Mr. Big chocolate bar than play that game, mainly because the game was confusing, unforgiving and had broken mechanics; your only consolation was to eat a Mr. Big. Same goes for Crime Scene, only this time I’ll take a Coffee Crisp, please, because, if I gotta replay that damn crime scene one more time, I might as well gnaw on something that tastes like delicious coffee wafer dipped in awesome chocolate, thanks.

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2/5

Crime Scene (Nintendo DS)
Dev: Nobilis / South Peak
2010

[Review] Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture (PC)

Collaboration post! 1537 and Caught Me Gaming have joined blogging forces to bring you a fulsome review of the game, Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture: I take on the game, 1537 takes on the soundtrack! Please go read his fantastic post here!

About eight years ago, I read a book called, “the World Without Us,” which looks at how planet Earth would manage if humans were to suddenly disappear (Spoiler alert: the world would get on just fine without us). Whenever I hear of games where I explore abandoned towns, this book pops into my head. Without having all the information, a game title like Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture conjures up thoughts of this deserted earth. What should I expect? The environment overrun with weeds? Should I bring a machete?

With talks of a rapture, I also thought I would get some doomish church sermon out of it too. Thankfully, there was no such sermon, or talk of Armageddon for that matter. But, this game does leave one with thoughts and questions that last beyond the end of the game.

Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture (referred to as ‘Rapture going forward) is a mystery adventure game that takes the form of a first-person walking simulator. You are dropped in the middle of a small English village where all its inhabitants have disappeared. You are left to wander the town, exploring buildings to get clues as to what happened there. Interactions with phones and radios randomly scattered throughout the village allow users to hear odd messages from Scientist Katherine (Kate) Collins, and her husband Stephen Appleton who both worked at the town’s Observatory and who were trying to find an explanation for the mysterious patterns of light that have suddenly appeared in the sky. With it is a desperation to find a correlation between the light and the terrifying health-related illnesses happening to the local townfolk. The game also delves into the personal lives of Stephen and Kate and their interactions and interrelationships with the locals. Orbs of light are found everywhere within the game, are non-threatening, and very much used as a device of guidance when one gets disoriented. They also invite players to interact with them to trigger cuts scenes that tell a richer story of what happened here.

A walking simulator such as ‘Rapture where there is no threat of attack or enemy is a blissful experience. The scenery in the game was so realistic and lovely. Combined with a beautiful soundtrack that marries an atmospheric opera with minimalistic music, you get a sense of what you would experience playing this game. Yet… there is definitely a creepy, unsettled feeling, walking through this abandoned town, into people’s homes, half expecting to run into someone…and maybe I’ve played too many survival horror games, but I for sure thought a zombie was gonna jump-scare me straight from my relaxed state. The most unsettling had to have been the beep-booping sounds coming from random radios and phones found scattered in backyards and along to streets.

There is plenty done right in ‘Rapture. For one thing, I have to give props to the devs, The Chinese Room, for creating a game that honours accessibility, particularly for the hard of hearing. Not only does the game have optional closed captioning, but also the ability to make the audio cues visual, as in the instance of a radio making sound, it will show a flashing icon in the direction of the sound. Also, often I get motion sickness with first-person walking simulators without a cross-hair in the centre of the screen, and thankfully, ‘Rapture has that option.

The game was originally made for the PS4, and ported to the PC. Having played the PC version with mouse and keyboard, I have to say it played okay, if it had a few rendering issues with objects appearing blurry at times. But, predominantly my main complaint had more to do with a very fundamental device that was missing from the PC version – a PROPER manual save. That’s right folks, there was no ability to save at will within the game… that is until The Chinese Room heard the ire of fellow gamers who were asking for refunds because of it…. The only time the game would save your progress was when you would find a glowing orb that would change into a cut scene. For a game that is open-world – that encourages the player to wander and explore – it was impractical to walk around and NOT have a manual save state. The first evening I spent in ‘Rapture, I wandered for an hour and a half, but it only saved 25 minutes worth of gameplay. What’s the point? I looked online for a solution, and thankfully, the developers pushed a patch that allowed players to click on framed maps found around the tiny village to save the game manually (this solution was found on Steam in the forums here, in case anyone is interested). Incidentally, this does not seem to be an issue for the PS4 – they have a suspend mode whereby the game can be paused, which was not possible with the PC version. Anyway, props to the devs for fixing this downright annoying problem. Why they didn’t think of this as a problem before, I have no idea.

Overall, I didn’t regret my time spent in ‘Rapture. It’s a gorgeous game, and if walking simulators are your bag, don’t pass this one by!

Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture
The Chinese Room
2016 (PC) / 2015 (PS4)

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

Jessica Curry Everybodys Gone To The Rapture 08

[Review] Mystery Case Files: 13th Skull (PC)

I got a lot of boxed games…and they are begging to be played! Most are point-and-click, and most I’m sure you’ve never heard of! Here is one of them!

Mystery Case Files: 13th Skull is the seventh installment of the Mystery Case Files collection by Big Fish Games. I have some familiarity with MCF games, having played Mystery Case Files: Malgrave Incident on the Wii a couple of years ago, as well as Mystery Case Files: MillionHeir on the Nintendo DS. I like the series as every game is unique in its own right, either by its storytelling, or graphic execution. The production value is predominantly top-notch, and 13th Skull is no exception.

Sara and Marcus Lawson move from Ohio into a run-down mansion amid the swampy bayous of Louisiana, along with their daughter Magnolia. Soon after settling in, Marcus goes missing, and Sara calls upon you, a detective, to find him. In the meantime, you must rummage through this dirty creepy mansion, interview rednecks and avoid alligators all in the name of detective work, just so you can locate Sara’s husband. While gathering evidence, you discover that the mansion and town are steeped in pirate history, the townfolk are superstitious and a brigand by the name of Phineas Crown once lived and buried his treasure at the mansion. There is also gossip around town of the curse of the 13th Skull, a spell that is cast on anyone who locates the treasure. Sooner or later, Marcus is found, along with some interesting plot twists. Arr Matey!

13th Skull is a point and click hidden object adventure game that does very well to encapsulate a feeling of the old South with its characters, settings and music. The puzzles in this game are typical, but fun and challenging. What sets this one apart from other HOGs, is the use of live-action interview scenes that the gamer is made to participate in to advance the story. The major characters of the story – Sara Lawson, her daughter Magnolia, their superstitious housekeepers, and some town locals are represented. The game places the full-motion actor within the game’s UI, so it appears as though the actor is living in this virtual world. The interview part is an interesting aspect and enriches the experience. The acting? Well…it’s a bit cheesy and exaggerated, but I liked how Big Fish Games tried to do something different within a hidden object game.

Although the puzzles were challenging in 13th Skull, there happened to be several instances where you would have to scour the game’s numerous scenes, including the bar, swamp, cemetery and the Lawson house’s 10 rooms to find one single object needed to continue in the story. At the end of the puzzle, it was easy to lose track of where you are going and what you were supposed to be doing next. This is a minor critique, and the game comes with a walkthough to help you out, if you are so inclined to use it.

Critiques aside, 13th Skull is a fun game that shouldn’t be missed, and fits nicely within the pantheon of Mystery Case Files games.

3.5/5

Mystery Case Files: 13th Skull (PC)
Big Fish Games
2010

[Review] Sudoku Ball – Detective (Nintendo DS)

Anyone like Sudoku? If you are not familiar with this challenging grided number-placement puzzle, get going! Along with crossword puzzles and search-a-word, it is my favourite pencil-to-paper puzzle game. I started enjoying them about 15 years ago when we’d occasionally get a free newspaper delivered to our house. Now, I have a couple of Sudoku games on my tablet and phone. It’s fun and challenging enough to give the mind a little exercise. So when I discovered a Sudoku puzzle game for the Nintendo DS, Sudoku Ball – Detective, I was all over it! And imagine: Sudoku tied into a story-based murder mystery! What a great concept! I’d buy that!

…and I did. And the game is…ehhh…

Edward G. Bannister, a retired Scotland Yard detective, is investigating the sudden death of his close friend. The story is all too familiar: you play as Edward as he interviews suspects, picks locks and lifts fingerprints to search for clues…except instead of you doing any of this, you play Sudoku Ball, a variant of Sudoku where the Sudoku grid is bent in a 3D sphere shape. Once you complete a puzzle, you get a clue which is used to carry the story. The puzzles in the game vary in level of difficulty and from timed to untimed. In the timed components, if the clock runs out, there is no real penalty, as you are able to restart the puzzle after rewatching a short clip.

I have encountered some terrible DS games in the past, and although Sudoku Ball – Detective is not the worst I’ve played on the system, it is on this side of mediocre. I wanted so much more for it than I got especially since I like Sudoku, and there are FREE Sudoku games in the mobile environment that look and play better than this. To be fair, Sudoku Ball – Detective is from 2009, so time hasn’t been kind. The graphic rendering of the characters looked ghastly, and the Sudoku puzzles are pixelated and blocky. One thing I hand it to this game and the DS for that matter – it has very decent handwriting recognition whereby you fill in a Sudoku square by hand-writing in the number with your stylus. The DS then replaces your handwritten number for a typed equivalent. It was quite intuitive – it even got my lazy lefty chicken-scratch pretty well! But alas, this is where the good ends. The tale wasn’t all that engaging and after awhile, I quit paying attention and just played Sudoku. If you wanted to, you could bypass the story and play the 90 standalone Sudoku puzzles, but again, why would you want to? Those puzzles just look terrible on the DS.

If you come across a copy of Sudoku Ball – Detective, feel confident in passing it by. There are so many free methods of playing Sudoku that are so much better than this.

1/5

Sudoku Ball – Detective (Nintendo DS)
Dev: Playlogic
2009

[Review] Outcry (PC): Dude, It’s a Burnout’s Dream

Sometimes, I can only assume some many games are inspired and created because someone got high.

I’m a straight gal – hardly drink, don’t smoke, never done drugs. That said, I think I would have probably enjoyed the game, Outcry, a lot more had I been high on illicit substances. A bizarre plot, unsettling imagery and a very dull and effing confusing gameplay make for the psychedelia that is Outcry.

Here is the synopsis of Outcry from the box it came in: ” Assume the role of a middle-aged writer who receives a strange invitation from his brother that he hasn’t seen in years. Accepting his invitation, you are soon confronted with his sudden disappearance and his connection to a mysterious machine which, according to your brother, (acts like a “toke-up” iron lung which releases the smoke from burning leaves of some hallucinogenic plant. Your bro gets high off the fumes and this) separates one’s consciousness from one’s body.” *

As you play, you discover that this mystery machine is nonsense B.S. because…

[SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS!!] (Highlight the area below with your mouse to reveal)

<ahem> As I interpret it…YOU are actually dead (you drowned when you were a child) and your bro is trying to channel you. He feels guilt about the drowning and wants to turn back time, so he creates the machine…which is a total waste of resources when all he needs to do is contact his weed dealer, put it in his pipe and light up. None of this makes any sense to what goes on in the plot especially when you (who is supposedly dead) interact with live characters in the game.

[END OF SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS]

The Good: Vivid imagery. Haunting score. Made me say “whoa” a few times.

The Bad: Everything else. Shitty plot, confusing gameplay, oddly syntaxed English.

The Good, redux: Good for getting a buzz on. Pass that pipe over here…

Outcry is a first-person adventure game. You move around the scene with a mouse click from room to room, pick up objects and solve confusing puzzles as you go along. You do not speak, and there is no internal monologue to tell you whether what you are doing and where you are going is the right thing. Your brother’s narration is front and center as he reads you every word of every journal and scrap of paper that you pick up (and there are about a dozen of them, so better get comfortable).

With all this dialogue, I would have thought I would get a clue what was going on. Alas, something continuously got lost in translation as this brother’s English tried to be esoterically formal, but frankly failed as he would change his tense on a dime and some of the wording used was just…odd English. Weirder still, the narrator was obviously English-speaking…why he wouldn’t say to the developers, “Hey, Dude with the bunny eyes: that doesn’t sound right!” is beyond me. The gameplay confused me and the narration did not help. Playing this game in tandem with a walkthrough early on was the only way I could keep playing Outcry because I was LOST in the forest without a sandwich, man!

The visuals in Outcry were psychedelic, bizarre and extremely unsettling…yet, very well done. If I didn’t know any better, I would have thought I was playing a survival horror game.  You play in this sepia-coloured world for the most part that has that faux “scratched film-reel” look. The game’s camera would constantly move you back and forth – you never stood still – which added to the unsettled psychedelic element. Backgrounds would also move on their own, so shit was moving all over the place in a wavy continuum which disturbed me. However, Outcry‘s gameplay itself was so…dull. Disturbed, yet dull; Interesting juxtaposition, isn’t it?

I obviously don’t recommend Outcry as a game to play for straight enjoyment. Make sure you have a little “something” to take the edge off if you find yourself a copy. Hey, as they say: if you got ’em, smoke ’em!

6.5/10

Outcry (PC)
Developer: Phantometry / The Adventure Company
Released: 2008

*What is in parentheses is what I wrote to simplify the plot for you.

*Originally reviewed in March 2014, reduxed 2016.

[Review] Unsolved Crimes (DS)

I have opined on this blog about some of the games released for the Nintendo DS – games that don’t utilise the dual screen properly, mechanical issues with the buttons and navigation, awful graphics, right down to an absolutely shitty plot. Games have continued to disappoint me on the system and yet, being a glutton for punishment, I continue to play them so I can prove myself wrong.

People, I have good news to share! Unsolved Crimes for the DS is a game to add to the good pile. I picked this one up for $5 in a pile of junk at the Hock Shop in Sudbury, a couple of years ago. It sat on the shelf until I was recently looking for something with an interesting crime story.

The year is 1976. You are a rookie detective, newly hired for the NYPD Homicide squad, arriving on the scene as the city is brought to its knees by crime. You are partnered with experienced no-nonsense cop, Marcy, and together you investigate new homicides, build cases and solve them, all under the watchful eye of Captain Abbot. Soon into working your first case, Marcy learns her sister Betsy, a famous model, has just been kidnapped! Inspite of this, Marcy continues to investigate cases as a method of distraction. But, you soon realize too that she and the Captain have little patience for your lack of experience, so you better buck up, keep up with the pace, and get a clue, or you’re out!

Betsy’s kidnapping is interweaved among the 12 cases in total that this game offers. Each case, for that matter, varies in severity of homicide, from a poisoning to an axe murderer. You are briefed on each case by the Captain Abbot before heading out to the crime scene. You are then given a dossier on each suspect and any clues found. From there, you are challenged to figure out and deduce who is responsible for the crime, and report back to Abbot. The game gives you some multiple choice questions to answer in order to get to the bottom of who did the crime. It also challenges you to back up your statements with evidence found or witness statements found in your dossier. I found each murder case to be unique, and situations where you’re backing up your suspicions to be particularly challenging. If you screw up (which happened a few times for me) you can get kicked off the force. But, don’t worry, you can revert to a safe point and start the challenge all over again until you get it right.

The game makes use of the DS in a good way, using both top and bottom screens. The detective dossier was easy to access, and I give the game extra bonus points for providing gamers with a “notepad” component that allows the player to write little notes with their stylus of any clues they need to remember. Layouts of crime scenes could also be annotated.

Where the game suffers is the usual issue of graphics, as some scenes appear blurry… which happens to be my main complaint with the DS in general. In one scene, I was in some slimeball’s messy apartment searching for a random clue, only I could not find the darn thing until I consulted a walkthrough. You were made to zoom into a particular area. Sorry, the DS is just not made to magnify well.

Overall, Unsolved Crimes is a real departure from some of the crappy games I have played on the DS – I highly recommend this one! Add this one to your collection!

8/10

Unsolved Crimes (DS)
Empire Interactive
2006