PC Games

[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] Glass Masquerade (2016) (PC)

If you’ve been reading Caught Me Gaming for any length of time, you should know by now you can count on me to find games that are a little obscure or off the beaten path.

I had never heard of Glass Masquerade before my “recommended games” queue in Steam pointed me to it, and let me tell you, it is one of the most unique and precious virtual jigsaw puzzle games for the PC I have ever come across. My past experience with this type of casual game has been a succession of cheap-looking, pixelized and badly rendered games (none of which have been worth reviewing as of late…). So, coming across this beaut was worth writing home about.

Glass Masquerade sees you traveling the world – 25 countries, in total – solving a jigsaw puzzle of a clock face designed to represent each country. The clocks are each unique, their puzzle pieces like shards of glass, atypical of your standard jigsaw piece. The goal, of course, is to fit all the shards into the clock face, and they all fit a certain way. These clocks, once completed are absolutely gorgeous: Think an art deco stylization in stained glass is the best way I could describe it.

This game is relaxing and meditative, and what helps achieve such an atmosphere is the moving soundtrack composed and performed by Nikita Sevalnev (Sand Countries is my personal favourite).

Glass Masquerade is fun, relaxing and completely re-playable. It’s indeed a hidden gem, and I highly recommend it!

5/5

Glass Masquerade
Onyx Lute
2016

[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

[Review] Victor Vran (PC)

The latter half of 2016 is where I hit quite a dry spell in the gaming department. No time! With a busy time at work and kitchen renos, it just seemed like I couldn’t get there. It wasn’t until Christmas 2016 when I finally got back at it thanks to a stint in the Borderlands again (the DLC’s great) that got the craving flowing, so to speak, for more heavy gaming.

Action RPGs are fast becoming an immersive favourite of mine, and I never thought I would get there. I have played several, from Mass Effect, to BioShock, to the Torchlight series and of course, Borderlands, but playing them has always come as a suggestion from the hubs, and never from me. RPGs can have a bit of learning curve – for one thing, you often have to manage your character and weapons quite a bit, and know what you are doing so you don’t die repeatedly. Some of these games give you strict parameters, such as only being allowed to carry a certain number of weapons on your adventures, or penalize you for dying, either by reducing your money or energy. My most recent RPG, Victor Vran, actually got all the elements right and was a fun game to play.

Victor Vran was a game that was sitting in my wish list on Steam for at least a year. Once the hubs and I had finished Borderlands 2, we were searching for another game like it to play together, and came upon this one. It wasn’t cheap – $27.99 to be exact…sorry, too rich for my blood! I put it on a wish list and hoped for a sale. It wasn’t until a Winter sale on GOG saw the price reduce to $12.99 that I took the plunge. It was definitely money well spent.

The fantasy city of Zagoravia has had an evil curse befall it. Vampires, insects, skeletons and zombies are overrunning the city, and the Queen seeks help. In comes Victor Vran; just some demon hunter dude who was passing through and who gets recruited to help find out who is responsible for the curse and why.

Victor Vran, unlike other RPGs, provides a simplicity in practically every aspect that anyone new to the genre could get behind. It has an easily accessible hub / menu system where you can access and swap out weapons with ease. You don’t have to choose a character class to Victor; instead you are given a choice of wardrobe, which in itself will give you more armor, critical hits in combat, or health regeneration, depending on which you choose. My Victor was dressed in the finest Zealot’s outfit, one that provides a high armor rate. Along the way, Victor collects weapons and demon powers in dungeon-crawling and loot drops. Each level offers something interesting and challenging in their venues and boss fights. Most levels offered secret passageways that were difficult to locate, but where you were rewarded with a treasure chest containing bonus gold or other prizes. Each level has a star rating to indicate difficulty. The game challenges the player to ramp up the difficulty within each level by turning on provided hexes that give constraints (such as bosses become more powerful, armor takes longer to regenerate, your health takes a huge hit when under attack…). It’s an additional challenge that can become addicting; seeing a four-star rating at each level across a map gives you a sense of accomplishment!

This game offers what seems like a limitless amount of inventory slots, the likes of which I doubt I have ever seen ever in playing an ARPG. You then have to go through and figure out which ones to equip in your weapons and power slots which can seem like a daunting task. The weapons provided give you varied choice – rifles, bow and arrows, scythes, hammers, and swords – all with their own powers and deficits. My weapon of choice happened to be a Coldsnap Scythe, one with a sharp blade and frosting powers that become more powerful the more I used it.

There is also the ability to add powers to weapons and outfits to make them more powerful by transmutting them, a method by which you would pair the item of choice with a demon power from your inventory. If there was anything that I found confusing, it would have been how to transmute something. I managed to add powers to a few weapons, but the game offered a recipe guide that sort of confused me and I never got that aspect working satisfactorily. But, it didn’t seem to matter in the long run. As long as I had a decent weapon, I got through; everything evened out.

There is some cheesy humour in Victor Vran, from the snide remarks coming from a disembodied voiceover, to some of the enchanted dancers and skeletons that can enrapt Victor, and even get him dancing. One could easily draw comparisons to Diablo 3 and even the Torchlight series in terms of the type of demons you fight and the dungeon-crawling; the similarities abound, which, for those in love with the Diablo canon, may hate on Victor Vran for some of its simplistic characteristics. For others, they might find comfort in finding a game that can tide them over until the next Diablo is released (whenever that happens); your mileage may vary. I, for one, enjoyed this experience, and recommend the game!

P.S. I just learned a few weeks ago that a Motorhead expansion for Victor Vran was in development, and is supposed to be released later in 2017. Apparently, members of the band were consulted. I have no idea what this will look like, but I am definitely interested!

3.5/5

Victor Vran
Dev: Haemimont Games
Released: July 2015

[Review] Overcooked (PC)

As of this posting, I have been on a well-deserved week-long stay-cation. From day zero, the hubs and I have been obsessed with playing Overcooked on the recommendation of Chris, Myles and Kathryn from @FlockofNerds. We’ve been “cooking up a storm” ever since!

Overcooked is a cooking strategy game where you play as a short order cook trying to fill orders as quickly as possible. You are given a food order with a set of required ingredients. For example, pizza requires dough, tomato, cheese and maybe sausage or mushrooms depending on the order. Each ingredient needs to be chopped. All the while you are washing dirty dishes and watching the oven to ensure your prepared food doesn’t burn. If your kitchen has a mouse problem, you have to contend with your produce going missing.

As you level up in Overcooked, the venue and layouts of the kitchen can change and impact how your character moves through the arena. In one level, your kitchen is divvied up among the back of three flatbed trucks, one of which moves around, and happens to be the only one with the essential ingredients to make your food. The complexity of the food you are making also changes (beef burritos and rice anyone?). You have to watch what is going on the entire time to ensure orders are prepared right and on time. Points are given when orders go through correctly, and lost if you screw them up. At the end of the timed challenges, you are given up to three stars depending on your score. The hubs and I played Overcooked together in co-op and it really got competitive for us: It was “three stars or bust”! The end boss is a real trip – I don’t want to ruin it for you, but let’s just say that it’s one-a spicy meat-a ball!

Overcooked is a very polished game, with cute characters, a neat little navigation map and catchy music. The developers, Ghost Town Games, paid serious attention to the details. Likewise, those that play Overcooked must pay attention. This game reminds us of some practical life lessons in game play, namely, keeping the communication pipeline open with your partner. As in life, it is important to let the other know what you are doing and where you are going. Screwing up is common in Overcooked, so be prepared for failure. And if you have any neuroses about that, you need to remember to take it easy on yourself and your partner, because the game is worth playing together to the end.

We played Overcooked on PC via Steam, but it’s also available on the PlayStation 4, Xbox One and Nintendo Switch. Go on, buy it! And make sure you play with a partner!

Overcooked (PC)
Ghost Town Games
August 2016

[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