[Review] Alan Wake Was My Disturbing Boyfriend (Xbox 360)

Confession time.

I have been happily married for years to a wonderful guy. But, for the better part of one month, I was obsessed with a different guy.  His name was Alan Wake, and I was enraptured by the man, the myth, THE GAME for most of February 2012, and as long ago as that was, I have to say the memory of that game stays with me to this day.

The first time I saw any part of Alan Wake I was standing in an EB Games waiting for my hubs to decide what current offering he was going to buy, when one of their TVs started playing the trailer to Alan Wake. I was instantly taken in. It had a few criteria I was interested in – it looked realistic, dark, and appeared to have an intriguing story behind it. But above all, it looked scary.

I had some experience with scary games – Shiver: the Vanishing Hitchhiker (of course), Silent Hill: Shattered Memories for the PSP, and the Walking Dead game on the XBox 360 come to mind. I had sweat through those games and made it to the credits unscathed. So, I thought, I could take on Alan Wake on the 360.

Alan Wake tells the story of a writer of thriller fiction whose wife goes missing while they are on vacation in rural Washington State. As he searches for his wife, he finds himself in a nightmare of sorts, where he is living in the plot of one of his scary books, but one he doesn’t remember writing. Armed with a flashlight, he ventures into the darkness of the forest looking for his wife, fighting enemies (also called ‘the Taken’), evil ravens and possessed inanimate objects. The light is the one thing that protects you from enemies, so you are searching relentlessly for batteries for your flashlight, some flashbangs, a spotlight or streetlight to save you from the evil (and to get to a safe point). Guns also help you to attack your enemies.

I found ‘the Taken’ scary as heck, and I think that is what freaked me out the most about Alan Wake. My nightmares often have scary dark figures chasing me, so imagine being surrounded by dark shadowy figures that wield axes or sickles at you, and yell odd things that scare the crap out of you. Thanks to a decent 5.1 stereo system, I got to hear ‘the Taken’ in all their angry surround-sound glory (you can listen to them here, if you don’t care about spoilers). Partner this with a misty dirt path through the forest in darkness, and you have the makings of a horror game.

Speaking of, the scenery in Alan Wake is truly breathtaking. You can tell the developers took five years to make this game. No detail was overlooked, nor overworked.

The final screen! I had to take a picture!

The final screen! I had to take a picture!

Alan Wake made me keep the lights on when I played it. My hands shook in petrification. I was even dreaming of the game in my sleep. At one point I said to the hubs that I thought I’d have to put the game down for awhile. The further I went into the game though, the more I wanted to see how the story ended. I would then find the courage to carry on and fight some more Taken. And I am glad I did – Alan Wake is one of my all-time favourite scary games.

Also read: Alan Wake’s American Nightmare

Alan Wake
Developer: Remedy Entertainment / Publisher: Microsoft Studios
Released: May 2010 (North America, Xbox 360)

This blog was originally posted in June 2013 – but because of my recent appearance on the Retro Fandango podcast where I proclaimed this game as my favourite, I spit-shone’er and made it new to you. Hope you enjoyed!

[Review] Sacra Terra: Angelic Night (PC/Android)

99 cents! 99 cents! I got this game for 99 cents!

Ahem, actually it was $1.02 Canadian on Google Play, but still…El cheapo. I came upon an app called Appsales that notifies you of Android apps on sale. Flipping through, I was curious to see if there were any games that have gone down in price. According to Appsales’ history, Sacra Terra: Angelic Night was advertised for $1.02, a 50% discount four months ago, and surprisingly, it is still at that price. I couldn’t resist playing this game on my Android tablet, as I had played it on PC a couple of years ago and had fond memories of it. Sacra Terra: Angelic Night is full of everything – great graphics, great gameplay and plenty of hidden object puzzles to keep the HOG fan happy for at least a couple of hours. It is from Alawar, the developers that brought you Twisted Lands: Shadow Town, and that game wasn’t bad.

Angelic Night starts predictably in an abandoned mental hospital where you wake up disoriented. You soon discover a spell has been cast, and demons representing the 7 deadly sins are poised to take over the world. It is your task to destroy these demons and save the world from damnation. Soon, you meet up with an apparition of a beautiful angel who is there to guide you through your task.

I really enjoyed this game for its puzzles and hidden object scenes alone. The plot was a bit of a stretch, and what was this game’s weakest element as it had some confusing plot twists and turns that really went over my head. At any rate, the graphics were well-rendered, and you could actually see even the smallest speck on screen. The PC and Android versions are very similar; it has been two years since playing the PC version, so the brain’s a little foggy – but I’d hazard they are the same game.

The negative for me? The Android version of Sacra Terra: Angelic Night crashed every time I moved from one scene to the other on my tablet. Every time! I’m not sure if my tablet’s recent update is causing problems…I would still recommend buying this game on either the PC or Android device, even while it might crash – that says something about the game!

99 cents / $1.02 for Sacra Terra: Angelic Night on Google Play – right now! I think the PC version costs $10.71 on Big Fish Games. Either way, pick it up!

Sacra Terra: Angelic Night
Developer: Alawar
Released: 2011

Credits: ggpht /

[Review] Secrets of the Dark: Eclipse Mountain (PC) – Keeping it Fresh

Hot on the heels of the recently-reviewed Secrets of the Dark: Temple of Night comes its sequel, Eclipse Mountain. This game was included on a Secrets of the Dark two-pack gaming CD I picked up recently. Because I loved Temple of Night, I was interested in trying out Eclipse Mountain to see how the developers, Orneon, made out creating a sequel to such an awesome HOG. Although the game was noticeably shorter than its predecessor, I found the setting fresh, the graphics professional, and again, the music was exceptional.

In Eclipse Mountain you travel to Thailand to search for your vacationing friends who have been spirited away by an evil dark soul. You get to explore the humid shacks and cultural temples for signs of your friends. Like Temple of Night, you have to darken settings in order to see the evil spirit; a cool detail which allows you to search other settings and play more puzzles.

I loved the South East Asian flavour given to the game; it was a welcome change where many hidden object adventure games are set in Latin America. The ‘hint’ button was a lotus flower, which was a nice touch. The game was noticeably shorter (or maybe because I enjoyed the game so much I breezed through it…) and I wouldn’t consider it the best HOG I’ve ever played, but, it’s still a worthy game.

I recommend buying the Secrets of the Dark two-pack which includes both Temple of Night and Eclipse Mountain for under $10. You will not regret it!

Secrets of the Dark: Eclipse Mountain
Developer: Orneon / Publisher: Big Fish Games
Released: 2012

Credit: Jayisgames

[Review] Twisted Lands: Shadow Town (Android) – Don’t Judge, Just Play

When I first got my Asus eeePad Transformer Android tablet, I went onto Google Play searching for hidden object games to play. Of course, being a cheapskate, I gravitated towards the free games. As I have directly pointed out several times on this blog (just check the Android category for details…), a lot of HOGs games for the Android tablet are crap. But, I persevere to find one that works well and is enjoyable to play. And I found it in Twisted Lands: Shadow Town.

One thing though: Don’t judge this game on the free version, whatever you do. If you were to play only the free version, you would pass on it. The free version is very stunted, confuses the player and is way too short to determine whether you want to pay full price for the full version (which was $0.99 on Google Play).  Just pay the buck for it – you will not be disappointed.

Twisted Lands: Shadow Town finds a couple renting a fishing boat for a day to do some snorkeling. The guy likes to dive in and search for treasures, while the girl says dry above reading a magazine while she works on her tan. While travelling back to shore, the boat throws the guy out and crashes on an island. The girl survives, but by the time the guy gets to shore, his girl is missing – whisked away by some shadowy assailant. Guess what you have to do now?

Okay, okay – the story is over-used.; searching for your loved ones is a tired trope. But, here’s what you get for your buck:a long adventure game with challenging puzzles! The production level of the game is about medium-level; the animation and graphics, for the most part are professional-looking, with some cheesy cut scenes. The game itself is fun enough to see it to the end. The ending – not to give away spoilers – opened the door for a sequel as it ended on a cliff-hanger.

What I am holding onto is that for the first time, I have found a hidden object game for Android that hasn’t frozen mid-play or locked up my tablet. And that, I would pay a buck for!

Twisted Lands: Shadow Town
Developer: Alawar
Released: 2010

[Review] Secrets of the Dark – Temple of Night (PC)

Right now I am sitting in my living room, writing this review with my mother-in-law next to me. She is on her laptop playing Secrets of the Dark – Temple of Night, totally engrossed in the game. I lent her my copy as she has been playing social HOGs on Facebook and was getting tired of relying on others to let her advance in her game. I felt Temple of Night was a great first introduction to playing HOGs on the PC. I hope the game doesn’t spoil her too much…

Why, you ask?

Because, in my opinion, Temple of Night is one of the best hidden object adventure games ever made. I have played many a HOG, and I put Temple of Night in my pantheon of top HOGs (along with previously reviewed Shiver: the Vanishing Hitchhiker) for its quality of production, gameplay, graphics, music (yes, MUSIC!) and story.

I had played Temple of Night two years ago on PC; a friend’s copy through Big Fish Games. I wasn’t able to finish the game, however, due to a glitch in the game that basically had me at a dead end. Desperate, I looked online, and discovered that some casual gamers were experiencing the same problem, and that Big Fish Games was developing a patch for it. I moved on to another game before I could see Temple of Night to the end, but it was strong in the back of my mind that I needed to play this game again. So, when I found it at Walmart packaged with its sequel, Eclipse Mountain – for $9 – I was sold!

This game engrossed me as it had me go to a dusty abandoned Mexican town searching for journalists who have mysteriously vanished. The story is steeped in legend from the Aztecs (although not sure how historically accurate – it kept saying Mexico is in South America…). Along the way you encounter evil spirits who stole your journalist friends to feed off their souls for all eternity. These spirits would only appear in the dark, so if you were to draw the curtains or turn off the light in certain rooms in the game, the scenery would change into dark crypts, caves and temples where you are able to explore further and play extra puzzles. The graphics are excellent and the music is well-composed. Its soundtrack really does set the mood for the game.

I really do give Secrets of the Dark: Temple of Night a high recommendation. Run to Walmart and pick up the two-pack!

Secrets of the Dark: Temple of Night
Developer: Orneon / Publisher: Big Fish Games
Released: June 2011

Credit: Big Fish Games

[Review] Time Hollow (DS) is Time Well Spent

Who wouldn’t like to go back in time and change bad events into good ones? I know there are some mistakes I wouldn’t mind righting…That is the premise of Time Hollow, an adventure visual novel game I picked up last week for the DS. A twisty and turny plot, great graphics and overall great gameplay make Time Hollow one you want to play on the DS.

Time Hollow tells the story of Ethan, a teenager whose parents mysteriously go missing overnight. He wakes up to discover they had actually disappeared twelve years ago…and that he is now living in some weird parallel universe. He finds a special “hollow pen” tied to his pet cat’s collar, and Ethan soon discovers this pen can be used to open a portal to the past. Each portal he opens with the pen allows him to change elements of the past and thus the outcome of the future. Of course, with each portal Ethan creates, there is always a domino effect that can sometimes backfire on him. I won’t say any more about the plot as I might end up spoiling it for you so I’ll stop right there.

Right off the bat, Time Hollow looks good, complete with smooth graphics and natural voiceovers. The game even has a decent opening track that I found myself tapping my foot to. My only complaint about the gameplay is that sometimes I felt a bit lost as to where I was supposed to go to next, but unlike HOGs where you have to constantly backtrack and click through the scenes to your next location, Time Hollow gives players a map, where all you do is click a location to be transported to it. This is one game that I found myself looking forward to seeing how the story would end.

After I finished Time Hollow, I decided to read what others thought of it. Frankly, I couldn’t believe the number of negative reviews people gave it, and I am confused as to why. Its score on Metacritic is 64%, including a 5.5 out of 10 given by Gamespot…I say: ignore all the nay-sayers and play Time Hollow yourself. I really enjoyed it, and I think it’s a solid adventure game for the DS.

Time Hollow
Developer: Tenky / Publisher: Konami
Released: September 2008 (N.A.)


[Review] Infernus: Verse 1 (Android)

Imagine waking up in a dark prison cell, not knowing where you are. All you know is your mattress is funkified, the floor hasn’t seen Mr. Clean in years and your neighbour in the cell across the way likes throwing rocks at you. That is the premise of the survival horror game Infernus: Verse 1, which I played on my Asus eeePad Transformer Android tablet. The game is free on Google Play.

The very first thing you see as the game starts is a concrete wall with some sort of stain on it. You can hear the clap of thunder as you scan your new surroundings, and the creepy airy atmospheric music starts. You look around your cell and soon figure out this is no room at the Comfort Inn – time to find your way out! In order to do so, you have to explore your surroundings, pick up items and try to escape.

Infernus: Verse 1 is very short – 4 minutes to be exact. The game looks okay and it tries hard to creep you out with lighting and the airy dungy-basement music… That is, if you can actually play the darn game effectively. My main complaint about this game is the controls. Man, they suck – plain and simple. At one point, I was supposed to put a mirror piece up on a window sill and look to see what is beyond it. I couldn’t, because I was stuck at a weird perspective that I could not get up from.

I restarted the game and tried again several times, and each time I experienced a different problem. One time I could get the perspective right, but then I had to reach down and lift up a tile from the floor. I couldn’t manage that – the game would not detect my finger. Another time I was stuck between the bed and the cell’s bars. In the end, I checked someone’s YouTube tutorial (which looked as though he was also having a difficult time with the controls) just so I could see how the chapter ends already.

Infernus: Verse 1 was frustrating. Too bad: I wanted to see where this was going, but if the controls for part 2 are like part 1, I am not going to bother putting down $0.99 for the sequel. This is not to say others won’t have an issue with the game with their Android tablets, but buyer beware!

Infernus: Verse 1
Developer: Moloten
Released: 2011

Credits: 1. Google Play / 2.

[Review] Hardy Boys: Treasure on the Tracks to Boredom (DS)

Straight up, I never read the Hardy Boys as a kid. I have some idea what they are about – two teen detective bros who solve crimes…what else is there? Well, I did read more into their background…their father is a detective and often allows his boys in on some of his most confidential cases. I suppose this is how we find the boys investigating a whopper of a mystery in The Hardy Boys: Treasure on the Tracks game for the DS.

The Romanov family was once a wealthy dynasty in Russia that had many riches, but that had everything taken from them during the Russian Revolution of 1917. The Tsar, knowing he would be deposed in short order, supposedly hid his family treasures away, and left clues to their location in paintings he had commissioned, but had also hidden items on the Royal Express – a train which treasure seekers get invited to ride on every year from Paris to St. Petersburg in the hope of uncovering a treasure. And guess what? This year the Hardy Boys get a stab at the mystery!

For starters, it being the Hardy Boys, you would expect this game to be suited for children. I found the game very slow in momentum. The cut scenes are very draggy and unskippable, but thankfully, the dialogue scenes advance with the touch of your stylus. Controls are touchy and at times it’s hard to find the arrows that will allow you to exit rooms. There is no voice acting in Treasure on the Tracks, so gamers would need to have the attention span to read everything. Graphics are simplistic, with barely any animation to speak of. The music is repetitive. In fact, the best looking thing of this game was actually the cover of the case that housed the game.

Let’s talk about the very simplistic mini-games of Treasure on the Tracks. How about repeatedly (read: every chapter) finding ripped up scraps of paper scattered around Paris and Vienna – that’s fun, right? Endlessly finding five similar objects in a picture then joining them by drawing a five-point star between them – fun! Pilfer through strangers’ sleeper cabins looking for clues before the security guard catches you – ooo! Better hurry, or else the mall cop might kick me off the train! The best part was when the boys were bullied by a grey-haired dude called “the Baron” who claimed he was the heir to the Romanov fortune, and using this as a means to get the boys to cook him dinner. Then, you actually had to “make” him dinner, complete with “cutting vegetables” and “stirring the pot”. The boys whip him up a soup, and in the end, in a great lesson in manners, the Baron doesn’t even thank them!

Really, you would be playing Hardy Boys: Treasure on the Tracks for the story, because the little mini-puzzles within the story were repetitive and boring. I couldn’t see any child finding this game fun, interesting or engaging in the least. And I hazard those that have found it fun and interesting haven’t been exposed to the plethora of even better FUN games available for the DS. And to that I say: stick with me kid – you won’t know what hit you!

Hardy Boys: Treasure on the Tracks
Developer: Her Interactive / Publisher: Sega
Released: 2008

Credit: IGN


[Review] Living Legends – Frozen Beauty (PC)


Hot humid days (or is that daze?) are upon us. What better way to cool off but to play an adventure game set in Winter? I’m half kidding – go, and be outside among the warmth while you still can. I live in Canada, so the hot days are too few. But, if in the evenings you are searching for a decent casual game to play, let me say that Living Legends: Frozen Beauty, is THE ONE adventure game you do not want to pass on this summer. I played this on PC, and couldn’t help but remark at how intricate a game it is. Plenty of puzzles, a long game play and an even impressive and fulfilling bonus chapter are some of the reasons I really enjoyed this game.

Frozen Beauty‘s story is a take on the classic Snow White tale. There is a queen who has chosen one girl – your sister – to become her successor. Everything is all sunshine and roses, until the queen takes her prisoner and it’s up to you to save her. It’s a simple story, but one that lends itself to some flexibility and creativity when trying to create an adventure / hidden object game.

Frozen Beauty looks great, and has challenging and varied puzzles that include hidden object, but not exclusively such, and they seem to get increasingly more difficult as the story progresses. It is also the type of game where there is a labyrinth of scenes, rooms and places to explore, so you can get lost. The animation and voiceovers of Frozen Beauty were well-produced, and the game had a serene score that gets inside your head. The story is long; it took me over 5 hours of game play, not including the bonus scene which I clocked in at over 1 hour and a half, so you get your money’s worth. The developers, Friends 4 Games, also created Living Legends: Ice Rose last year. I haven’t played that game, so I can’t speak to its greatness, but it may give you some idea what you would be in for with Living Legends: Frozen Beauty.

So have your lemonade under that shady tree. Enjoy working in your garden. Sweat like crazy while going for a run in the heat. But make sure you find time to play Living Legends: Frozen Beauty. It’s the Casual Gaming Sleeper of the Summer! Happy Gaming!

Living Legends: Frozen Beauty
Developer: Friends 4 Games / Publisher: Big Fish Games
Released: June 2013

Credits: 1.


[Review] The Passenger (Android)

I’m starting to think these games for the Android Tablet in the Google Play store are like a book written by Joyce Carol Oates. I watch the trailer (or read the dust jacket as it goes) and am immediately drawn into the game. I put money down, and start to play, only to be disappointed by its execution. This is exactly what I’ve ever gotten out of an Oates novel (no offence to Ms. Oates and fans who like her novels – I love the synopses she weaves on the dust jackets, but end up not liking her actual books). I wonder what attracted me to the game in the first place, but stronger still, I am left feeling like I got suckered.

This is the case with my latest choice, The Passenger, an Android game I played on my Asus eeePad Transformer the other night. What drew me to the game was the beautifully hand-drawn graphics, and the potential for a decent story. But unfortunately, my love for the graphics of this game is where the affair ends.

The Passenger is a dude in a trench coat who, when we first see him, appears to be in the midst of some sort of domestic issue with his family and he is kicked out of his home, forced to ride trains endlessly. Then, like a hobo, he proceeds to hop off trains at certain points where he goes searching aimlessly for stupid stuff and is forced to solve an endless array of dumb puzzles.The dude is a little figure on screen that you give direction to by pressing your finger a few inches ahead of him to make him move. That’s okay, except the little figure moves slower than molasses. So if you get clues on how to solve a puzzle in one scene, but solve the actual puzzle in another, you have to leave that scene, and have your little dude walk…back…three…screens…to get your clue, then have him walk…back to the actual puzzle to solve it. This eats up time and gets on your nerves.

*poke poke poke* I said left, dammit!!

The Passenger, overall, is frustrating – instructions on how to play are given at the start of the game, but as you play, there is no direction on how  you are supposed to go about solving these puzzles. No hidden object scenes, only hunt and peck around the screen where you pick up a shovel…some matches…You are not sure what the point of this story is, and never learn, as this game is easily only 30 minutes long, and then it ends. There is supposed to be a part 2 to the Passenger, but I am not invested in this dude and his story enough, so I doubt I will be buying. $0.99 from the Google Play store was enough of a loss for part 1. My advice – stear clear of this one.

The Passenger
Developer: Loading Home
Released: 2013 (so sez the Google Play store)

Photo credits: 1. / 2. androidmarket