PC Games

[Review] Bottle (2016)

It’s been a couple of months since I played a game. In this time I had some upgrades installed in the ol’ PC that required a total wipe of my hard drive. Although some might find this bothersome, I always see some opportunities in starting fresh. So, I took some time to set up the computer how I like it, and this week, I felt like playing something. I decided to break ‘er in with Bottle, a very simplistic walking simulator.

You are a solitary man living in a cabin in the woods in the dead of winter. In the first scene you hear a cork pop and liquid pouring into a glass. You open your eyes, and immediately walk around collecting notes from someone presumed to be your loved one, and by the tone of the notes, you can deduce they are no longer with us. You travel through the woods, following a path and encounter apparitions of your loved one. She says nonsense and then vanishes. You also encounter deer. Sooner or later you encounter a monument, a hollowed-out church and more notes in broken English. The game then abruptly ends with confusing finality.

Bottle was created by Tonguc Bodur, a developer known for creating Drizzlepath, another walking simulator that is sitting in my Steam Library. This game was cheap – I paid a buck – and it’s also short, concluding after an hour with no save point. Bottle forces you to play the entire game in one sitting.

The controls in Bottle are simplistic, using the keyboard WASD keys to move, and the mouse for direction. I got to hand it to Bodur: the graphics are ambitious – beautiful – but, at times they were confusing. As a gamer, you are often searching for visual cues that signal an area that needs to be checked out or interacted with, and often this comes in the form of twinkling objects or areas. In Bottle, every rock and tree top shimmered, making me think every hemlock and boulder needed attention, when all it was was sunlight on snow.

Glowing Orbs

There are also similarities to Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture in golden orbs of light that appear a few times in the game; I am assuming these indicate where the dead once were, but can’t be sure. Nothing much happened for me when they appeared except a crescendo of piano music. There is also a “Bottle Dark” feature in the game that allows you to play Bottle at night; it’s the same game but you travel by the light of the moon.

Bottle Dark

The objects you interact with are few and far between in Bottle; aside from collecting notes, there was your overcoat and an axe you are allowed to touch once. The deer don’t move when you walk up to them and there isn’t much else to interact with. There are some unsettling moments in Bottle, especially when you are alone and see apparitions, or hear the noises of the wind and wildlife filling the soundtrack, but the feelings quickly pass. After 30 minutes of the same I asked myself what more there was to all of this. It’s an afternoon trek through a wintry forest where the enjoyment is supposed to be in walking around.

If you are looking for a juicy plot, Bottle is not your game. I found it mostly dry in the plot department; I couldn’t see the point to any of it. If you are looking for an hour trek through a pretty simulated forest, this is what you are looking for. Don’t expect much else though.

2/5

Bottle
Tonguc Bodur
2016

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[Review] Mystery Case Files: Ravenhearst (Nintendo 3DS / PC)

The Mystery Case Files series is an extremely popular and far reaching series that is mostly known among casual gamers. I have played several and reviewed three. Any of them I have played, I have enjoyed, and I thought it was high time I investigate other MCF games in the series. This time, we will look at Mystery Case Files: Ravenhearst.

Ravenhearst tells the story of a mysterious mansion in England with a past. Inside is the long lost diary of Emma Ravenhearst who tells her tale of love and loss. Her story is slowly revealed as her diary pages are released to you after you have solved hidden object, jigsaw and elaborate domino-effect puzzles. The mansion’s many rooms and grounds are unlocked to reveal further puzzles to solve, and you must beat the clock as each puzzle gives you a time limit (I loathe time limits – what for??).

Having played several PC games as of late, I was feeling a little like my Nintendo 3DS was being neglected, so I decided to play Ravenhearst on the ol’ hand-held. It’s a game I originally bought on the Nintendo eShop. I knew going in that this was a port from PC game, released on the 3DS in 2013 (the original is from 2006 on PC), but took a chance that maybe some independent developer spit-shone it clean to make it a not-so-terrible experience (maybe?).

As I have been repeating like a mantra, ports to the Nintendo DS and 3DS are often not great, and unfortunately, this game was NO EXCEPTION. Dude, I had to make an appointment with my neurologist after playing Ravenhearst on the 3DS for an hour – eye strains and migraines abound. Each hidden object scene had objects appearing too small and blurry like smeared poo. To make it worse, the music was poorly mixed here. In one scene, I could tell where the music looped from the obvious digital “pop” I heard over and over. Really bad. I had to quit before finishing. It was a game for the senses, and not in a good way. Maybe the PC version is better?

Luckily, I hoard boxed PC games, and found a copy of Mystery Case Files: Ravenhearst in my collection. I recollect a few years back, buying the Mystery Case Files boxed collection from EB Games. Once I wiped the dust off of it and loaded it onto my PC, I was ready to go to town on Ravenhearst.

Except…the game did not get along very well with my PC’s graphics card as it flashed incessantly all over my TV. After much fiddling with resolutions and compatibility modes, the only way I could get Ravenhearst to stop flashing was to play the game in windowed mode as opposed to full screen.  The mechanics and gameplay are pretty much the same in both PC and 3DS versions, although things do look better on PC. Having to play in windowed mode however, objects were small, which can be fixed by using the Ease of Access Magnifier. Still, I found playing the game a tad uncomfortable this way.

Once I got it going, Mystery Case Files: Ravenhearst was an ok hidden object game for its 2006 release, if a little stale. In similar fashion to other HOGs I have played, this one offers the same scenes to search, the same objects to search… which can be a bore, especially when what you are rewarded with are diary pages to a story that is unengaging. I think this one does suffer the ravages of time especially since the genre has had a long time to hone its chops and I concede that latter Mystery Case Files games have done this a lot better. Moving on…

Nintendo 3DS (2013) – 1.5 / 5
PC (2006)- 2.5 / 5

Mystery Case Files: Ravenhearst
Big Fish Games

*NOTE: Images are from the PC version of the game.

Now for other Mystery Case Files I’ve reviewed:

MCF: 13th Skull (PC)
MCF: MillionHeir (Nintendo DS)
MCF: Malgrave Incident (Wii)

[Review] Drawn: The Painted Tower (PC)

I first reviewed Drawn: the Painted Tower in October 2013, just when I started to gain traction with this blogging thang. Back then I wrote that I had just started playing adventure games three years previous…people, that was 8 YEARS AGO!!

In the summer of 2013, the hubs and I traveled to Barrie, ON to Video Time, where I found, among other dusty games, Drawn: the Painted Tower in box for $5. The artwork attracted me instantly, as well as the fact it was a Big Fish Game which was my main gaming wingman back then! This was not the first time hearing of Drawn…the game was held in high regard as one of the must-play adventure games in the casual gaming community. At its release in 2010, Drawn: the Painted Tower arrived right at the dawn of the casual gaming “golden era” when hidden object adventure games slowly began to show some decent production value with story, graphics, artistry, menu design and…most of all great puzzle play. It was a slow climb from the pixel dregs, but Drawn: the Painted Tower really gave casual gaming producers a run for their money.

Having already played it, I sort of ignored the Steam bundle sales of three Drawn games for one low price that kept popping up periodically. But, then the price of the bundle last summer became way too good to pass up. Having reviewed it over 4 years ago now, I thought it wise to take another look at Drawn: the Painted Tower. Glad it did!

Iris is a little girl who has the ability to make her drawings come to life (sort of like Simon and his chalk drawings, but this game is a lot more elaborate). She is living in an oppressed and evil kingdom, whose king would like nothing more than having Iris’s powers for himself. Her family sends her into exile to protect her. She goes into hiding in a tower she has constructed in her drawings, making even more paintings in the tower to hide in as well. There you are tasked with finding her in the labyrinth of mazes and gorgeous paintings to save her before the king finds her.

From the first title screen, Drawn: The Painted Tower was nothing but beautiful, sad, and absorbing, with a lovely soundtrack to match.

An interesting twist is being able to enter Iris’s living paintings to explore, find necessary tools and solve important puzzles. The gameplay is linear, yet I did find there was quite a bit of backtracking and some pixel hunting. However, hints are given along the way, as well as a task list to complete, so there is no question as to what you need to do next. The puzzles were not your typical fare, and are memorable; one that I particularly loved was where I got to mix paints and then use them to paint a wooden toy and stone carving!

When I originally played Drawn: the Painted Tower, I had written that I finished the game in under two hours…that can’t be right, unless I am losing my touch or they expanded on the story, because this time it was over 4 hours for me, but it was time well-spent. If you ever find the opportunity, play Drawn: the Painted Tower – I recommend it!

4.5/5

Now to play Drawn’s two sequels!!

Drawn: The Painted Tower
Publisher: Big Fish Games
Released: 2010

[Review] Voodoo Whisperer: Curse of a Legend (PC)

Lillian is a young girl growing up in 19th Century New Orleans; a place steeped in traditions of Black Magic. Lillian has been cutting her witchcraft chops with famed Voodoo Whisperer, Marie Leveau…and good thing, because Lillian’s friends and family have just become possessed by an evil demon and it’s up to her to save them from certain fate. Given a trusty recipe book, Lillian (you) scours the town for important ingredients to blend together using a mortar and pestle. A little alchemy…a little chant…maybe a voodoo doll…and poof! She breaks the spell.

Voodoo Whisperer: Curse of a Legend is a hidden object game that had been long forgotten about at the very dingy bottom of my Steam library, and its purchase was likely a flash Steam sale in 2014. I chose to play this one on a whim.

Developed by Gogii Games, Voodoo Whisperer tries hard to do something a little different with the hidden object genre. Sure, there are the familiar puzzles we often see with this type of game. But, being somewhat of a period piece set in the 19th century, Voodoo Whisperer never deviates from the epoch. It provides a good ambiance in decent graphics and enjoyable classical music (great oboe!). It helps too that hidden object scenes have you searching through objects of the time period (monocle, cane, felt hat, lace hanky) which shows great attention to detail.

Speaking of…Kudos to the developers for providing  an on-board magnifying glass so you can zoom in on the hidden object scenes. And, how about that in-game map? Applause!

With all these accolades, I still had a problem with Voodoo Whisperer…in that it got a little repetitive. In the game, Lillian had to save at least 5 people, and each one had a spell she had to break by finding ingredients to create a potion. The game indicates areas to search, but some areas had you look into drawers, closets and rooms only to have the game tell you “there’s nothing there” or “it’s just an empty drawer…” What? Why waste my time with that? There was also a lot of back-tracking to find certain missing ingredients which got tiresome and frankly tedious. With the outcomes of breaking the spell being the exact same with every person, I found myself hoping the end would come soon and that it would all be worth it.

Let me tell you, that ending…

Folks, the end of Voodoo Whisperer left it at quite a disturbing cliff-hanger and concluded with a “…to be continued…” slate. Reading online, there was supposed to be a part 2, but the project has been shut down indefinitely as the developer and publisher parted ways. Too bad, because the ending left Lillian in quite a terrible predicament.

[spoilers spoilers spoilers – (scroll over the area below to see)]

Lillian falls into a well, only to have an evil spirit seal the well head with a wood cap…leaving Lillian in peril.

[End of spoilers spoilers spoilers]

Overall, Voodoo Whisperer had some great gaming elements that I wish other HOG developers would implement. And about the tedium, I admit some people don’t mind the repetition in gameplay that this game offers. I only wish the developers followed through with their plan for sequel, because that ending! Yikes!

2.75 / 5

Voodoo Whisperer: Curse of a Legend
Gogii / Strategy First
2014

[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

[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] 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!