PC Games

[Review] Dear Esther: Landmark Edition (PC)

I’ve been on a real Walking Simulator kick thanks in part to a recent playthrough of What Remains of Edith Finch. So naturally I wanted to dive into Dear Esther, a seemingly popular Walking Sim by the developers who brought you the grand Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture.

Dear Esther is a story that begins with you walking around a large island. As you hit certain targets in the game, a male voiceover starts to speak, “Dear Esther…” The voice tells you stories about himself and some history of the island. The sequence of the story is disjointed, but you quickly get the sense that what you are hearing are letter excerpts from a man to his beloved.

The island is pretty bleak for the most part as sunken ships dot the shoreline and hollow houses perch on the edges of the path. Items are located that indicate someone was once there. A large lighthouse can be seen in the distance. You walk and find obscure clues in caves. Just when you think you’re at the end of one path, another one opens up to you.

You are alone with only this inner voice to piece together why you are wandering the island. You definitely have a palpable sense of dread and sadness. Something happened here. Something happened to Esther. Something is about to happen to you.

Dear Esther is a simplistic game: you use your WASD keys to move and there are no save states. Largely, it’s a mystery waiting to be solved. I normally relish mysteries, but I can’t say I particularly enjoyed this one. The story is obtuse, and left me starving for clarity. I was also largely disappointed in the game’s overall graphic environment. Rocks looked like turds, and there were a lot of rocks! For the most part, the graphic jewels occurred towards the end of the game, but until you get there, you get smeared dulled landscape and blocky objects devoid of tonal gradation. Puzzling especially considering I was playing the Landmark Edition, an overhauled version from a very pared down release from 2008 that was supposed to be a vast improvement.

Probably the nicest scene in the entire game…at the game’s end.

Jessica Curry composed the acoustic music in this game, and I wish I could say it was the best I ever heard. It probably was except my quick-draw thoughts of “Geez, this is one ugly game” overpowered the background noise. Sorry, Jessica…

Yeah, I can’t say I enjoyed my stroll through Dear Esther

2/5

Dear Esther (Landmark Edition)
The Chinese Room
2012

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[Review] White Haven Mysteries (PC)

Something happened at the old White Haven…Dr. Conlon the head researcher was doing trials on a serum that would reverse the effects of mental disorders testing it on young patients. Some would say he managed to help his patients reverse the effects. If only the Federal Drug Administration would have approved the antidote already instead of banning it! It didn’t help that those five children administered the serum ran away from White Haven causing so much negative attention…which inevitably caused the manor to shut down and 20 years on it’s slated to be razed. Dr. Conlon has since disappeared from sight to parts unknown…

How is it you woke up at White Haven’s dilapidated doorstep? You are groggy and can’t remember how you got here, or why. You are met with a little girl who knows you and says you used to live there. She lures you into the manor – and the door shuts on you abruptly. The little girl vanishes down the corridor. You roam the halls seeing her in an apparition. You feel like you are going insane. A voice gets in your head, saying you must find the antidote before you go crazy. Who was that man’s voice? Dr. Conlon? Who is that little girl? Do you know her?

White Haven Mysteries has been sitting on my Steam account since 2013, and I have to wonder why I waited so long to play it. It’s a pretty good game with an interesting story. The game is from 2012, but don’t let its age fool you: everything looks fairly modern. And if you want to get creeped out, you’ll find it in the unsettling imagery, as well as music that reminded me a lot of Alan Wake (one piano note playing on a loop, and the sound of a gust of wind deafening you).

I really enjoyed the hidden object scenes in this one. The game does have typical scenes, but also did something a little different to make the game even more challenging:

Yeah, man! This HOG is worse than looking through a junk pile…

Canadian game developer Gogii also gave some nudge-winks at their Canadian roots, infusing some “very Canadian” items in their scenes, including having to locate Canadian old-school $1 bills (not in use in Canada since 1987…) and an airline ticket that looks destined for Europe, but the YYC destination would send you to Calgary, Alberta.

Overall, I’d recommend White Haven Mysteries. I see it go on sale on Steam frequently: pick it up on sale for cheap!

4.5/5

White Haven Mysteries
Gogii
2012

[Review] What Remains of Edith Finch (PC)


The Finch family have seen their share of tragedy. Edith Finch, 17, knows this all too well. As the last living member of her large family, having gone through the death of her mother, Dawn, a couple of years earlier, she reluctantly sets out to document her family’s legacy. Her Mom left her with a key she thinks gains her entry into the old Finch homestead on Orcas Island, Washington. The house itself is an interesting structure; its profile, strange. It stands perched on the edge of a cliff overlooking the ocean. It was abandoned 6 years ago when Dawn decided in haste to take Edith and leave. Grandma Edie was left behind; the nursing home was to pick her up in the next morning.

Just looking at the home from the grown-in path, you can see it holds some secrets. What happened there? What is this place? Why did they leave? Edith gains access to the property and begins her journey. What she finds is a house that has been left untouched. The dining room table is still set with plates from their last night’s Chinese meal.

A lifetime was lived here as books are stuffed in every corner, and pictures fill the walls. This house is out of the ordinary, however. Some would say it’s cursed as each bedroom belonged to a Finch family member who has since passed, and the door to each is sealed up from the outside. Edith gains access to them via elaborate secret pathways, and finds shrines to her relatives, as well as clues and stories around their passing. All the while we also learn why Edith has come here; her discoveries are memorialized in a journal that will remain a testament for the next generation…

When I first started What Remains of Edith Finch, I wasn’t sure what to expect. A Walking Simulator, your journey begins at the mouth of a trail leading up to the Finch home. A fence and a gate stop you. “No Trespassing” signs are posted, and immediately I said, “Oh goody!” An armchair urban explorer for DECADES, I have always loved to read stories, look at photos and videos of abandonment, and wonder “what happened here?” What makes people leave a house and all the contents behind forever? I have quite an imagination…

(The truth is usually less glamorous; an estate dispute among family, or the property gets sold to a developer, and they are slow to do anything about it…but I digress).

What Remains of Edith Finch does everything right: the graphics, the atmosphere, the story, the music, the character development…I’m gushing. I can’t help it: this game is pretty darn good. It explores the connections between family and the mortality we all must face. Each member of the Finch family is given their own time; and some of the tales told are disturbing, but for the most part, heartfelt. Don’t get too hung up on it being about death – I mean there is plenty here. But, the stories are touched with a bit of legend, humour, imagination, but most of all, love. The interactivity is wonderful and there is something to like that would appeal to everyone.

This game is short (under two hours). You can easily replay it and notice something new you never did before too. The beautiful and emotive score by Jeff Russo (from the band Tonic) adds to this rich story; and vinyl natch fans will dig the brown smoke vinyl release the score was given that I have yet to pull the trigger on (a lil $$ for this Canadian…).

I highly recommend What Remains of Edith Finch. Do yourself a favour and PLAY IT!

5/5

What Remains of Edith Finch (PC)
Giant Sparrow
2017

[Review] Drizzlepath (2015)

From Tonguc Bodur, the creator of Bottle (a game I reviewed last year), comes another walking simulator called Drizzlepath. This one has mixed reviews on Steam, but what the hey, I must have got it for $1 on sale. It was touted as “a relaxing journey to the top of the mountain”. Who else needs a stress-free trip up a mountain? Count me in!

Drizzlepath starts with you amid a landscape of mountains, falls and a lake. You are in the lake treading water and make your way to shore. Immediately you are met with a bale of turtles basking in the sun. Now, this was a surprise! Turtles happen to be one of my favourite animals ever, so I couldn’t help but feel encouraged this game was going to be something special.

You follow a fenced trail around the hillside and eventually you navigate to the top of a mountain. As you traverse, you are met with a drizzle of rain, and a serene landscape. I was excited to encounter more animals along my way, including chickens, frogs, and even lobsters. Several homes dot the landscape along the way, but you can’t access inside of them, and no one is around to talk to.

I’m the type who likes to break the trail and explore the surroundings…I quickly realize why the creator put up fencing along the path: the areas outside it were not graphically developed quite as nicely as along the path. That’s not to say the imagery along the path was overly polished; often, the mountains and grass missed detail; areas were blurry or filled in with streaks of colour. Although not a complete wash, I do wish there was a bit more attention paid to the detail in the landscape, especially when energy was obviously spent on such a minute detail as rendering droplets of rain precisely as I walked along the landscape.

Admittedly, I was disappointed there weren’t more interactions with people, places and things in this game. Perhaps if you were able to pick things up, collect things, read or enter some of those buildings, I would have gained some understanding as to what the goal of Drizzlepath was. Unfortunately, there wasn’t much to grasp on to, and the game’s disembodied voiceover wasn’t much help with my enlightenment. I am figuring the narration plays a role in the overall plot, however, the female they got to narrate speaks with a thick accent that I can’t place, and was difficult to understand. There was no closed captioning here to help; where are the subtitles, people?! From what I could understand, most of the dialogue sounded like nonsense: all I caught on to was something about knives and donkeys, and waking “your Apache friends up” (?!). Obviously, the narration of Drizzlepath must be an important element of the game and I didn’t catch any of it at all. I am certain there is a story behind this walk, but I have no clue what it was. Particularly puzzling was the weird and abrupt finale:

[scroll over for SPOILERS]

You find yourself at the end of the path where you find a tent and a roaring fire pit at the edge of a precipice. Three men with their backs to the camera are standing just beyond at the edge looking out into the distance.

[END OF SPOILERS]

Others were saying how relaxing a game Drizzlepath is, but frankly I felt unsettled most of the time. To me a relaxing walk is wide open spaces. Very often in this game, I was wading through thick brush or squeezing through crevasses or walked along very narrow paths. Not to mention the time near the end when I tumbled down into the drink…and I think, died. I made it back to life through a checkpoint in game.

There are other games in the Tonguc Bodur universe, including sequels to both Drizzlepath and Bottle, but I am holding off exploring those for now. Overall the stroll in Drizzlepath was more enjoyable than its younger sim sister, Bottle, but Bodur needs to do much better with making the plot lines in his games much more accessible than he has been, especially if he wants a wider audience. To appropriate a phrase, “man cannot live on scenery alone…” That is pretty much all you get here.

2.5/5

Drizzlepath
Tonguc Bodur
2015

[Review] Diablo II (2000)

For over two years now, the hubs and I have been seeking co-op hack-and-slash RPG games in the dungeon-crawler vein of Torchlight or Victor Vran. We had recently tried Grim Dawn, but exhausted it. All through playing these games, the hubs wanted to play Diablo 2, but it was always too expensive to buy on Blizzard’s Battlenet. Finally, with a game-breaking glitch experienced with a recent play of Sacred at Christmastime, we were left hanging. I told him we should just buy Diablo 2 already; we hadn’t splurged for our wedding anniversary in the fall, so why not?! Glad we did; Diablo 2 is certainly one of the best in the dungeon-crawler genre!

Diablo 2, as you might expect from its name is a “conquer the evil” type game. This game starts where its predecessor, Diablo (1996), ends. The hero who captured Diablo in the first game has become corrupted and now Diablo’s hoard which include his bros of Darkness, Mephisto and Baal, have joined the evil party, wrecking havoc in the world. As a wanderer through town, you hear these stories of evil from the townfolk and take up the fight.

Diablo 2 being a typical RPG, you must manage your weapons, armor, skills and health in an inventory. Each town has its own merchant and people you encounter that direct you to quests. The missions have you explore landscapes and dungeons, fighting dragons, possessed ogres and demons, and of course spiders (no game of this nature would be complete without some insects!). Players are able to escape an area and return to town through portals accessed via town scrolls purchased through the merchants. With each level up, you can assign skills to a skill tree, and with that assign special skills to your weapons.

The game consists of 4 Acts, with an expansion game called Lord of Destruction. The hubs and I played the game together on PC over our LAN. We started playing Diablo 2 at Christmas. With 5 character classes to choose from (Amazonian, Necromancer, Sorceress, Paladin and Barbarian), I chose an Amazonian female I called “Olbag” (as always). Olbag’s specialty is archery and throwing spears and javelins; she was a lot of fun. I got only so far into the game when some weird Windows update caused me not to be able to use my original profile. Sigh! Alrighty, then; I started over with an Amazonian I called “Olbitty.”

This second time around, as we progressed into Diablo 2, we experienced some things about it that we figured came down to the game’s age. The most significant of which was the fact that if you died you lost everything, including items in your inventory, all your money, the armor on your back and any weapons you were carrying, unless you traveled back to your corpse and reclaimed it! This is a common experience in games like these that you must be mindful of. At least Diablo 2 provides you with a personal stash in town outside of your main inventory where you could store a weapon or two, along with some extra health potions and armor to tide you over; otherwise you are fighting to return to your corpse with only the clothes on your back (a common situation I found myself in)! The inventory was also teeny tiny to start until you got a Horadric cube in Act 2 that expanded the inventory space.

I assigned the Rain of Vengeance skill to my bow, which would to shoot a radius of arrows at enemies!

The hubs and I were enjoying Diablo 2 enough, and put up with its shortcomings. Out of curiosity, he decided to explore any mods that might improve the gameplay. With a game as old as Diablo 2, there had to be something out there…and he found it in the Diablo 2 Median XL overhaul mod. The hubs tried it on his own and was impressed. What this meant though was that we would have to start the game over again, including a new profile. I left Olbitty behind at Level 12 and welcomed “Olbread”!

The inventory space given after mod.

With the Median XL mod, my enjoyment of Diablo 2 rose tenfold. Immediately at Act 1, gamers were blessed with the Horadric cube, thus starting out with a large inventory. We were also able to port to town whenever we liked instead of having to buy town scrolls. The quality of the weapon drops increased and any gold picked up between you and your co-op partner were shared between you. You also got to keep everything you held in your inventory if you died, which happened to me a lot in later Acts. Leveling up progressed quickly in this game – before I knew it, I had exceeded my Level 12 spot within an evening. One thing that was missing from Diablo 2 was a jeweler / gem meister that could remove gems from socketed items. I seem to recall this dynamic from Diablo 3…thankfully, the gem drops were frequent and useful throughout the game.

I definitely recommend Diablo 2! It’s a fantastic dungeon-crawler hack-and-slash game, and is definitely fun in co-op. I would hazard its replayability is quite high too. Make sure to check out the Median XL mod, you won’t regret it!

Before mod: 3/5
After mod: 5/5

Diablo II + Median XL mod
Blizzard
2000

[Review] Theatre of the Absurd (PC)

Theatre of the Absurd is a game I bought on Steam in May 2014 in a Silverback Games gamepack. Silverback Games is a Canadian developer that brought us the great Empress of the Deep series (“The Darkest Secret” got a 4.75/5 from me when I reviewed it September 2014!). And on preview, Theatre of the Absurd looked like creepy fun. What could go wrong?

Scarlet Frost is an expert on the occult who is called to Doctor Corvus’s estate one dark night to authenticate his Habsburg cube, a red box that holds a captured demon. The troubled Corvus loses his temper and throws the cube, shattering it and unleashing the demon who captures and possesses his young daughter. Scarlet is to use her forces of good to save the young girl. She is tasked with exploring Dr. Corvus’s weird “theatre of the absurd,” a massive mansion, to find pieces of a magical bell that will exorcise the demon. Each room is creepy, and demonstrates Corvus’s disturbing obsession with the devil.

I could really buy into the darkness vibe of Theatre of the Absurd. The music was foreboding, and there were some unexpected jump-scare moments not often seen in a hidden object game. However, the story itself was pretty thin and the tasks and puzzles were repetitive and uninspired.

In the first scene, you are having to save Corvus’s daughter by giving her water of Horus, an elixir that would temporarily relieve her of her possession. This could only mean the potion would wear off, and you would have to find more water of Horus to help her. I had enough of this task by the second time…

It didn’t help there were elements of the game that I feel were unrefined. Some of the hidden object scenes were blurry to the point I was reduced to pixel-hunting around and using hints to find certain objects. The puzzles felt ho hum fare (run steam through the pipes). And while I pile on, I also noticed odd errors in navigation in the game: an arrow would direct you to go one way, only to click it once to have you loop back to where you stood!

I tried to forge ahead with Theatre of the Absurd but alas, I found myself losing interest by the third chapter. Maybe someone else will feel this game is fun, but I would highly suggest you try Silverback’s much better offering, Empress of the Deep: the Darkest Secret.

2.5/5

Theatre of the Absurd (PC)
Silverback Games
2012

[Review] Princess Isabella: A Witch’s Curse (PC)


Princess Isabella is set to marry her beloved Prince Adam, but an evil witch has put a curse on the entire castle. All who live there have been locked away in a series of mirrors which have been shattered and scattered throughout the castle. You must find the mirror shards to free your loved ones. Each room is locked within the castle which you must open to free the curse. A combo of puzzles, hidden object scenes and scattered mirror shards are available in each space. A fairy follows you throughout the game, providing you guidance and hints, as well as the ability to cast spells. Once all the mirror shards are found, you are to fit them together in each mirror frame to make an image of a loved one to free them from their curse.

Hall of Mirrors

When I found Princess Isabella: A Witch’s Curse on sale on Steam, the comments about it were generally positive. A game from 2009, Princess Isabella seemed to conjure up very happy memories for some from when they would play casual games as children. This game was also a nice bonding experience between parents (and in some cases, grandparents) and their kids who would play together. People were going on about how good a game this was, so when it was on sale, I snapped it up. On preview, its graphics appeared a bit dated, but I wanted to see what the fuss was about.

Considered one of the first of its kind according to some sources, Princess Isabella has the notoriety of being one of the first hidden object games to follow a non-linear environment. Most HOGs from this era forced you to follow a certain series of steps to proceed in the game, but Princess Isabella allows you to move freely from room to room as you wish, which is helpful as there are about 20 rooms to navigate. Thankfully, there is also a trusty map to allow you to port to a particular room quickly, and even provides guidance if there is a task that still needs completing (…and y’all know how I appreciate a good map!).

As an expert HOG player and seasoned reviewer, I am careful not to criticize the decade-old Princess Isabella too much. The game is generally meant for newcomers to the genre, not for the expert, although I think it has something to offer both camps. Some of the charms of this game could also be construed as irritating. The constant hinting by the fairy who is always there in wait, as well as the continuous unskippable dialogue would be extremely helpful for some, but would surely grate on others. I chose to mute my game and listen to some music instead of relying on the soundtrack, and my enjoyment of the game improved tenfold. I mean, everything is better with the very à propos RUSH A Farewell to Kings playing in the background!

Overall, Princess Isabella: a Witch’s Curse wasn’t a bad game at all. I would definitely recommend it for newcomers to the genre, and even to the seasoned gamer… It is usually cheap on Steam…so why not?

3/5

Princess Isabella: a Witch’s Curse
Gogii
2009