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Friday, 25 July 2014 00:00

Abyss Odyssey Review (PC)

I have no idea what to think of this game. It's really weird, but not in any quantifiable way. Or at least not one that I can easily verbalize. It is so janky with everything it is trying to do that it is infuriating to play, but at the same time I can't just dismiss it as some crap game that no one should play. I'm so confused right now.

Abyss Odyssey is about a wizard. This wizard is so powerful that he fell asleep and created the eponymous Abyss, this huge network of connected rooms filled with monsters, treasures, and weird black and white levels that come right the fuck out of nowhere. He also created Katrien, as well as the Ghost Monk and the Pincoya, who you will play as. You must journey through the Abyss to wake up the wizard and put an end to his nightmare. Along the way you'll find pages from the wizard's journal which will tell more of the story and maybe explain some of things that happen because of the wizard's dream.

This game is very stingy with information on how to play it. One of the biggest aspects of the game is its fighting system. If you've ever played a fighting game then you know that a good training mode can really help you enjoy the game more. At least for me it can. In this game we get a single page with the buttons you use for attacks that you have to navigate to inside of a menu that's in another menu. You're never told that holding the stick forward, up, down, or not at all will change the type of basic attack you do. In a way, this can be very good. Having tutorials out the ass on a game can be really irritating, especially if it's a style of game that you basically know the controls for, and it's something new then it's rewarding to be able to figure out the controls on your own. But this is a fighting game style system, where knowing what the buttons do is crucial to being able to play it.

Even when it does tell you information it can sometimes be misleading. When you die in the game, you're given a chance to come back. You immediately respawn as a soldier, which is a different soldier depending on who you're playing as, and if you can make it back to an altar you will be revived at full health and can continue on. The text box that told me this appeared when I approached what I thought was the first altar. It had a floating stone mask that broke when I got near it, I could set a check point there, and configure my skills. Going through this area I died. I came back as a soldier and made a mad dash for the altar. When I got there, nothing happened. I spent five minutes trying to figure out how to get it to come back but I couldn't. So I moved on. Turns out there's a second kind of altar, and it's this one that lets you respawn. Why the hell would the note about respawning at altars appear at an altar you can't respawn at? With this other altar I also found a merchant who sold me weapons and potions and the like. He also had camp tokens. Camp tokens are what you use to set checkpoints at altars so when you die for realsies you start from there and not the starting town. I had no idea how to get my hands on one of these things and I didn't come across the merchant until my fourth or fifth attempt because I didn't know there even were merchants in this game. It didn't help that he blended into the background, though.

This is a problem that does carry to later in the game. As you go deeper into the Abyss the levels start to change. You start out in standard dark caves, but then you get ice levels and lava levels and plant levels. In the plant levels, stationary enemies that shoot poisonous barbs at you or launch vines out blend in with the environment. I cannot tell you how many times I'd be running down a path to all of a sudden realize one of these things was in front of me. And the poison barb plant thing keeps shooting at you so you could easily get to point where he gets to juggle you a bit by having you getting damaged by the poison, making you unable to dodge the next barb he shoots, which poisons you again.

Speaking of juggling, the combat system in this game is not great. It feels incredibly stiff and slow, to the point where it almost feels unplayable. I mentioned earlier that the direction you're holding the stick affects what kind of attack you do. With Katrien, holding the stick forward makes you do a two hit combo, while not holding the stick in any direction is a three hit combo. But you have to come to a complete stop before it registers that you've let go of the stick. I would be running along and stumble into a random encounter with a group of enemies, which normally I hate because fuck random encounters but here I don't mind it because it doesn't interupt the flow of gameplay, and I would let go of the stick to do the three hit but if my character was still finishing the stop running animation she would do the two hit.

But even when you get the hang of that part of the combat it still feels weird. Any time I've gotten a combo higher than three was total luck and I could never recreate it. Cancelling, which is kind of a core part of fighting games in this day and age, is a special skill that you can deplete and have to wait for it to recharge. And you start out only being able to cancel once, so if you end using your cancel to dodge out of the way of an attack and you get hit anyway because the dodging in this game only works sometimes, you have wasted that cancel and now have to wait for it to recharge before you can cancel out of an attack again. It all feels so clunky and awkward, but at the same time weirdly engaging. Around my ninth tenth attempt I started to get into a rhythm and was actually doing pretty well. It was so bizarre, but I felt like I was starting to understand it. That eventually fell through and it went right back to being bad, but that feeling kept coming back.

I only ever felt that with Katrien, though. The Ghost Monk and the Pincoya I never understood. The characters, while the control the same, have different weapons and attack styles. Katrien uses one-handed swords and is quick than the others (I think). The Ghost Monk uses two-handed swords and is slower but stronger than the others. The Pincoya uses staff weapons which gives her more range than the others. I never felt like I was finally getting the Monk or the Pincoya. I would've needed to play hours and hours of them and I just didn't have the time or the interest.

All the characters also have a magic attack. It's the exact same for each of them and does the exact same thing. Once the mana meter is full they send out a ball of light that deals a lot of damage to anyone caught in it, and when they die their soul falls out. You can then collect one of these souls and turn into that enemy. Aside from bringing you back up to full health when you turn into them, I have no idea why you would want to do this. It's just another new move set you have to figure out.

This game was also sold on the platforming, and it feels as bad as the fighting without the benefit of the clarity I sometimes got. The turning is what really kills it for me. When you change the direction your character is moving or facing, it takes a bizarrely long time. Not that long, but long enough that you can notice it and really feel it. And you can only change direction while you're on foot. Once you're in the air, you have a decent amount of air control but you're always facing the same direction. So if you try to jump up a wall that's behind you, you have to wait for your character to turn around and then jump it. It's a small thing, but it's also a very important part of platforming to have a fluidity of movement. This doesn't feel fluid. It feels like a rusty system of gears.

Finally there are RPG elements. You earn XP to level up your character which unlocks new special attacks and skill points to unlock more cancels and level up your special attacks. It's pretty basic and doesn't add much for me. But with the RPG elements comes random weapon drops or finds, which don't make a whole lot of sense in game. Each of the three characters can only use one type of weapon, and they can't pick up other types. So it doesn't make a lot of sense when I'm playing as Katrien and every weapon I find is a two-handed weapon. If you were able to pick up these weapons and sell them to the merchant for gold that'd be one thing, but since I can't pick them up at all, let alone sell anything to the merchant, it makes no sense as to why they would be there.

Even with all of that bitching I just did, I find the game oddly okay. Yes, the fighting and platforming are very awkward, it's an awkward that you eventually accept. Yes, the game doesn't explain shit to you, but if you keep bashing your head into it over and over you'll figure out what most of it means. Add to that a premise I think is interesting and graphics that look fine, this is a game that I can't say is good but I just barely enjoyed it, too. Take that for what you will.

Published in PC

Poor old Clementine. Those three words sum up the entirety of The Walking Dead's young heroines premiere episode of Telltale's astounding episodic video game. Season 2 opens with a brutal introduction as to how Clementine has lost her innocence in the post-apocalyptic zombie infested North America. At first I was apprehensive about starting Season 2 of the Walking Dead, mainly because my original choices from Season 1 were locked away on my dusty Xbox360.

Reviewing these episodes on the PC, I began to wonder if the lack of a previous save would hinder my game play experience. I was wrong. The Walking Dead: Season 2, Episode 1”All That Remains” gives the player an opportunity to create a new version of a beloved character that you once thought you knew inside and out.

twd s2e1 clementinecampfire

Telltale Games has managed to create a wonderful blend of cinematic storytelling with interesting game play. The foundations from Season 1 are still there, but now seem polished and easier to navigate. It seems like Telltale have used the success of their other property, “Wolf Among Us” to evolve their 'bread and butter' franchise into something better.

As The Walking Dead is leaning more towards a storytelling, cinematic experience, the existence of visual bugs is something I could easily forgive. However as episode 1 progressed, I did begin to feel that the storyline itself was becoming a little too vague. It was brilliant to be able to search through every scene and piece together some form of back story to each location; and the frantic button bashing that's deployed during the zombie fights were highly entertaining and did push me to the edge of my seat.

But, as each scene ended I did feel a little lost in the sense that I had no idea where this story was going. Once Clementine finds herself part of a rag tag group, it's difficult to try and gauge the wants and needs of each person. Being the eyes and ears of Clementine does limit the player into trying to figure out what's really going on in the bigger picture.

It is of course understandable that you cannot be privy to everyone's motivations by the end of the first episode, but a little more should have been handed to the player, if only to wet their appetite for things to come. It is apparent that a major threat is on the horizon but the ambiguity, mainly caused by controlling such a young character, forced the first episode to lose its sting out with the usual shocks of people dying and decisions being made.

Although in saying that, Telltale has done a wonderful job of pushing and pulling the main protagonist, Clementine, in ways that I never expected from a video game. After one episode, they truly have created some haunting scenes that rival any of Season 1's highlights. Dog lovers, watch out.

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Clementine herself is slowly shaping up to become a fully fleshed out character, no matter your choices. Some of the most satisfying dialogue options come from making Clementine sound like a mean badass. You really do see yourself creating a young, crazy, killer reminiscent of Natalie Portman's role in Leon.

Again, Telltale has pushed the boundaries of the players moral thinking via subtle conversational hooks. In season 1 we were faced with Lee having to either cut his arm off or execute a friend. In season 2, we find ourselves having to decide whether or not to execute a dog and also maliciously blackmailing a pregnant woman that you just met.

Overall, episode 1 has been a strong start to Telltale's season 2 of The Walking Dead. It's a brilliant insight into the struggles of a young woman dealing with the moral choices of a post-apocalyptic world. However, the overall story arc lacked substance and hopefully the up and coming episodes will flesh that area out.

Published in PC
Tuesday, 04 February 2014 00:00

Baldur's Gate II: Enhanced Edition Review [PC]

 

Christmas is over. The two super hyped "next generation" consoles have released to massive sales even with very limited libraries. Everyone has finished the launch titles they were interested in and the rest have not come down to the magical preowned pick up price yet. There is nothing new on the horizon with naught but a trickle of ports and indie games to keep gamers going until the tail end of march when the next big system sellers Titanfall and infamous: Second son come out.

Looking at the respective stores for new releases each week is like looking for a snowball in the desert.
So these next gen consoles are relegated to being pretty dust collectors for the time being as gamers look elsewhere for the next gaming fix.

PC & iOS seem to be evergreen sources for games however this January again both are rather sparse on the release front. However there is one shining beacon through the bleak winter: Baldurs Gate 2: Enhanced Edition.

baldursgate screen02Originally released back in 2000 (14 years ago at time of writing) based on Advanced D&D mechanics Baldurs Gate 2 managed to sell over 2 million copies, no mean feat considering how complicated this system is.

Combining the original campaign Shadows of Amn with both add ons Throne Of Baahl and Black Pits 2: Gladiators of Thay, there is a massive amount of content contained within, encompassing hundreds of hours of gameplay.

Baldurs Gate 2 features the traditional Isometric RPG with movement and actions controlled via mouse clicks and hot keys (if you so desire). It's very simple on the surface but as soon as you dig into the menus and all the options available for each character within, things start to get real complex, real fast. This is not a game for the casual gamer.

This is further reinforced by the steep difficulty curve, beginning in a dark dingy dungeon (as is common with many RPGs these days) with a group of up to 4 (depending on conversational choices) facing off against ever growing groups of goblins swiftly becomes tricky if you don't have your wits about you. Upon finally exiting this dank dungeon you are greeted with a diverse interesting world to explore and the adventure can truly begin. I wouldn't like to spoil the story for those reading this review but I will say that it's not exactly Lord Of The Rings in terms of quality but it is a compelling story nonetheless that is well worth playing through and has more than a few twists and turns along the way to keep you guessing.

baldursgate screen01

For this enhanced edition, several new areas have been added into the main game which are all presented organically into the main quest and extend the playtime still further, if you were to attempt to see everything in the game you probably wouldn't need to play anything else till the summer.

Yes there's nothing groundbreaking or particularly new here but this is the best version of one of the greatest RPGs ever and that in itself is to be applauded. The graphical update is noticeable and more than acceptable but can't quite quite match the polish of more recent games of a similar ilk such as Diablo 3. The soundscape is well crafted and everything is as you would expect sword clattering, box opening noises are all present and correct and the score is well realised. The voice acting is fairly good though the characters aren't quite as well realised as they could have been.

Throne of Baahl adds more of the same adventuring contained in the main campaign but here it finishes up the story started in Child of Baahl, which can be found in Baldurs Gate: Enhanced Edition.

Black pits 2: Gladiators of Thay is the weakest part of the package focusing on gladiatorial combat confined within an arena whilst it looks and plays just as well as the rest of Baldurs Gate 2, the lack of freedom holds this section back with it's lack of a sense of scale and without a particularly compelling story it's rather a damp squib when compared to Shadows Of Amn and Throne Of Baahl.

Overall this is a great package and unlike other so called enhanced/definitive/Goty packages it is fairly priced at $24.99.

Baldurs Gate 2:Enhanced Edition is available now on iPad, PC, Steam and Mac.

8/10

Andy Urquhart
42 Level One

http://www.42levelone.com=

 

Published in PC
Monday, 13 October 2014 00:00

Asus GL551j Laptop Review [PC]

When I was younger, I put a pair of house speakers in my used 1979 Mustang . I did that because I was a kid and kids like loud cars. Plus I liked telling people that I have house speakers in the back of my car. A couple of years later, I spent way more money than I should have installing a full blown audio system in my Audi 5000. I did this even though there was a flashing red light on the dash telling me the brakes didn’t actually work. I did that because I was a kid and kid like loud cars. The other night I was riding down the road in my Crown Vic listening to some radio station that claimed to be ‘Hot’ through the stock speakers and I kinda missed having a trunk full of bass. But not really. Because I’m an adult.

It may sound like I’m lamenting the path to adulthood, but I’m actually not. I can fondly look back on the days when it was important to let everyone I drove by know what type of music I was enjoying. These days though, it’s more important to me that I enjoy the music. Because I’m an adult.

AsusKeyboardCloseup2

A few weeks ago, a package was left at my door containing a shiny new ASUS gaming laptop. A GL551J to be exact. Since it was a ‘gaming laptop’ I had certain expectations when I opened the box. I expected a firebreathing, neon clad, vent covered, wildly shaped beast of a machine ready to rip the throat out of anything I could throw at it. The GL551J did not live up to those expectations. And that made me happy. It seemed to have been built for a group of people that are often overlooked when it comes to high end gaming hardware. Adults. I have no aspirations to lug around a 10 pound machine whose first purpose is to let everyone around me how extreme it is. There’s a demographic of people who like to set up shop in Starbucks, flip open their PC and make sure that anyone within earshot knows that they’re in the middle of an intense firefight on ARMA at 60 frames per second. But I’m an adult, so I don’t go to Starbucks to pimp by computer to strangers. Hell, I don’t even go to Starbucks. I have a Keurig which makes a great cup of coffee in under a minute right in the comfort of my own home. The GL551j is a powerful gaming laptop that does it’s best not to call attention to the fact that it’s a powerful gaming laptop.

The Asus doesn’t fly completely under the radar though. It’s still sports a Republic of Gamers logo on the case along with a keyboard backlit in red. But it’s a far cry from the boy racer looks of offerings from other vendors. You could easily get away with sitting down in the office breakroom and finishing off a few levels of Defense Grid 2 while your co-workers think you’re catching up on some late reports. At 6 pounds the laptop isn’t svelte, but it’s still a good traveling companion. Sitting on a plane while exploring the realms of Dragon Age won’t leave you with a scorched crotch, since the single side exhaust vent does a good job of shooting the heat over to the traveller in seat 15B. As far as power goes, it’s a gaming laptop. So you can play games on it. But if you’re into running benchmarks trying to reach 120fps at 4k resolution, then this isn’t the machine for you. The Intel i7 cpu and Nvidia 860m GPU do a great job at getting you up and running at 1080p all day long (or about 3-4 hours on battery), but you won’t be bragging to all of your friends about your incredible 3DMark numbers at 4k resolution. But adults know that 1: 3DMark isnt a game, and 2: You didn’t just drop $1,099 on a laptop to look at statistics.

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At a little over a thousand dollars, the GL551J won’t force you to sit down with your kids and explain to them why they won’t be going to Disney World this year. Asus has managed to pack a lot of performance into the unassuming satin black finish for a price that won’t force you to put in overtime at the office. It’s difficult to find which, if any, corners were cut. Although the 15.6 inch display has a slightly washed out look to it that kept me angling it away from the light. My time with the Asus did have one hiccup. I don’t know if was because I had a well used review unit or because of some other reason, but every so often the screen would go black when I set it down. And it would only come back when I pressed the latch on the battery case. At first it was an annoyance, and then it became frustrating. I’m an adult. I don’t have time to be fiddling with battery latches.

The Asus made me wonder how the kid version of me would have liked it. The version of myself leaning against a mechanically dangerous Audi with a sound system that cost more than the car. Wondering if I should spend my latest paycheck adding another amp or chrome exhaust tips (spoiler, I did both). That kid would not have looked twice at the GL551j. He’d be asking ‘where’s the neon?‘ and ‘why aren’t there more vents all over it?’ The kid me would not have liked it. The adult me however, likes it a lot.

It’s been a long time since I’ve gone through a neighborhood revving my engine while blasting the radio in a car with no brakes. Now my car has more power under the hood, and can stop on a dime and my ears don’t ring when I turn the radio off. Being an adult doesn’t mean you give up all the fun stuff kids have, it just means you don’t spend time and money trying to impress everyone else around you. I don’t have time for that. Because I’m an adult, and I have games to play. And the Asus GL551j is just the machine to play them on.

Take a look at our unboxing of the GL551J
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Published in PC
Wednesday, 20 January 2016 11:52

SOMA Review [PC]

Introduction to SOMA Video Game

SOMA by Frictional Games can be described as a combination adventure puzzle search and find role playing video game. In my opinion SOMA is a video game that has to grow on you. In other words, when you start playing SOMA, you may think there is nothing unique or different about it. These were my initial thoughts; however, I decided to give SOMA the benefit of the doubt. As I got further into the video game play, I got the impression Frictional Games was attempting to provide a different type video game playing experience from the usual type video games I’ve played before. By the way, I played SOMA on my Alienware PC.

As a summary of SOMA, the main protagonist, Simon Jarrett, experiences adventures not of his own choosing as a result of a brain scan that seemed to have gone haywire -- to the point where he is transported to all types of environments while facing various dangerous situations.

Positives of SOMA Video Game

SOMA, in my opinion, has excellent voice acting including that of the main video game protagonist in the game, Simon Jarrett. As you venture through the SOMA video game environment, additional, expert voice actors are added to the cast for video game characters such as Amy, Carl and others.

I think SOMA has good sound effects. When you hear the stomping steps of the robot villain as it approaches near, you get the feeling that it is right there with you, wherever you are playing the video game. As the robot villain gets closer, the stomps become increasingly louder. As it moves away, the sounds become fainter which gives you the impression that it is safe to either start or keep moving around the SOMA environment.

I liked the puzzles within the video game play with problems you had to solve. For example, in this game you are faced with having to log into a computer; however, the challenge is you do not have the i.d. number to access the system. You have to not only figure out how and where to get the i.d. number, but you must also try to stay away from the robot villain as well. To add to the challenge, you must remember how to get back to the location of the computer, once you have found the i.d. number.

PreviewScreen 02

SOMA gives you lots of missions to complete which are necessary to advance through the video game. Sometimes you get your missions directly from a computer within the video game itself. For example, during the initial part of the game, you must locate the communication center which is a room with a domed ceiling. This, of course is easier said than done, because in trying to do so, you must not only remember where the communication center is once you get this mission -- but you must also try to locate it in what seems to be a gigantic, partially dilapidated mechanical plant that is not the safest place to be.

Some of the puzzles involve opening locked doors, which may sound simple, until you find out you have to roam around the massive plant to locate a special type tool to do so. Once found, the tool is added to your inventory. I liked that you can retrieve your tool as well as other items added to your inventory as needed by just the simple push of the tab key -- if you are playing SOMA using your PC. Bonuses are also added to your inventory during gameplay as well. For instance, during the early part of SOMA video game play, I earned a special trading car as my bonus.

I think SOMA has detailed, realistic-like graphics that complement the sound effects. In the scene where I was trying to get away from the robot villain, the mechanical plant was so realistically illustrated, I got the feeling I was actually fleeing down the winding metal stairs, rushing to get safely away from it.

If you like exploring environments and real worlds in video games, SOMA may be your type of video game. You can spend quite a lot of time roaming the areas within the context of either escaping villains, locating items, going to and from different locations or other travels depending on the missions or challenges.

Additionally SOMA video game play provides a level of suspense of not knowing exactly what is going to happen next. In a way, SOMA plays like a mystery novel where as you turn the pages, you can delve more into the various actions taking place. The difference, of course is as the video game player, you are the one who must guide the character in order to solve the mystery. From the SOMA video game play, the mystery appears to involve some type of devious underhanded actions going on that are revealed the longer you play SOMA. You, as well as the main protagonist, Simon Jarrett, are learning more about what is happening to him as you advance through the video game.

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Some of the puzzles in SOMA, in my opinion, were creative. For example, once you located a computer, there is a section of the video game, where instead of inputting an i.d. number to log in, you had to realign vertical and horizontal lines within the computer screen so an emblem on the screen defragmented just right for a connection to take place.

Another positive of SOMA was the checkpoints. I liked that if for some reason you were destroyed during the video game play, the checkpoint started at a logical place -- so time was not wasted repeating video game play that had already been completed.


Negatives of SOMA Video Game

I mentioned previously that exploring the SOMA environment was one of the positive attributes; however, there is a not so fun side of this exploration. Even though there was a map of the mechanical plant on a computer within the video game -- SOMA did not provide a map to help you navigate through different environments. Many times, instead of following a map on the screen, you had to try to remember locations based on either the layout of the building or signs posted in the plant.

Since there is not a SOMA map, you will probably end up retracing your steps or going in circles until you determine the correct way to go. This happened to me quite a lot during the SOMA video game play, with me sometimes opting to check out either the hints or a youtube video of SOMA game play to find out where the character should go next and to avoid circling the environment over and over again.

A hint given during the underwater scene was to follow the lights, which was not helpful since there were a myriad of lights in the hazy darkness of the environment. To me it was a waste of time for the character to follow lights that sometimes took him back where his travels began in the first place.

Regarding the robot villain in the early part of the game -- you are not able to fight or defend yourself against it. If you do not get a chance to hide before it spots you -- it will destroy you. Your defenses are to hide until it’s out of sight or to run away from it and hide somewhere else. The plus side is the robot villain moves very slowly which gives you a chance to get away.

SOMA gives you the option of moving items within the environment around, similar to other similar type video games. However, in my opinion, there was no need to be able to move some items that did not serve to advance the story along or help solve puzzles. For example, I was able to move boxes and some other items around for no other reason except that I could do so. Initially when I played this video game, I was under the impression I was moving around items for a specific reason -- but this was not the case.

I know video games do not depict real-life situations because after all -- they are video games. However, I think the developers may have been stretching this a little too far when after Simon Jarrett experienced lots of perils, he reaches a computer and Amy, the person he is talking to on the computer, asks him what is going on. I agreed with Simon Jarrett when he indicated he had no idea and thought that she (Amy) knew. My thought was unless Amy had Simon under surveillance during his earlier adventures, how would she have known what had been happening to him which could have led her to ask such a question.

Even though I did not mind playing this video game as the male character Simon Jarrett, I think it would have been a plus if I was given the option to play as either a male or a female. Additionally, I understand SOMA is rated M for Mature, but personally, I did not like the video game dialogue that was sometimes laced with profanity.

The above being said, overall, I think SOMA has an interesting storyline and challenges. The major minus for me was the lack of on screen map or hints or options in the video game. In my opinion, some of the long stretches of travel during the game where you are simply moving the character along from place to place, would have been ok, if there was a simple diagram to show where you should go next. Even if a map was not used, visual hints could have been displayed to help move Simon Jarrett to his next missions quicker-- which would have eliminated wasted time moving the character around needlessly, sometimes in the wrong directions while playing this video game.

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Rating of SOMA Video Game

Initially I was going to rate this video game lower because of the tendency for repetitive game play due to non-defense capability of the main protagonist as well as the lack of maps or helpful hints. However, I reconsidered my rating taking into account the attention to detail of the video game graphics, the creative storyline as well as the good sound effects and voice acting.

On a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being the lowest score and 10 being the highest, I give SOMA a rating of 7.

Availability of SOMA Video Game

SOMA is rated M for Mature and is available for purchase on Steam, the PlayStation 4 store, GOG.com and the Humble Store.

Published in PC
Friday, 18 July 2014 00:00

Review - Divinity: Original Sin [PC]

 Recently I received a gift of Divine Divinity and Divinity: Original Sin on Steam as a belated birthday gift from one of my best friends, David. He had been keeping watch on Divinity: Original Sin while it had been in development and thought I might like it. I had never heard of the series nor its creator Larian Studios, but I was willing to give it a go.

Divinity: Original Sin is a top down, third person, isometric view RPG. Think of the way the Diablo series looks and you get the idea. However, the game play has very little in common with the Diablo series.

First things first. The character creation.

Character creation is interesting because you start by making two characters. The appearance editor is okay. It has a several options for both male and female characters, but nothing really to write home about. However, the class or abilities portion of the editor is where it shines. Yes, you have 11 classes to choose from, but each of these can be modified by the player during creation. Playing a Wayfarer but don't want the Pet Pal talent? Change it to something you feel will be more useful. The only part of the editor I took issue with was the character portraits. Despite there being many, I really felt like it was still too easy to come up with an appearance for your character that didn't have an analogue in the portrait selection.

The visuals and audio for the game are both well done. The maps and general animation are on par for this style of game, but the spell and particle effects really kick it up a notch. Some areas you walk through will have seeds and leaves blowing by your field of view, making the game feel more alive and further immersing you in the game. The sound track for Divinity: Original Sin is truly top notch. Normally I tend to turn music way down or off in games because often times I find it jarring and that it doesn't fit the mood of the game. Not so in this case. The first time I heard the theme music at the beginning of the game I was hooked. And the music in the game is no different. It just sounds great and works.


Looks like you passed out around a lot of combustibles, little goblins.

Divinity in gameWhere Divinity really shines for me is the feel of the game play. I have never played an RPG video game that feels so close to playing a pen and paper RPG, ever. The game doesn't spoon feed you your quest information or where to go. You have to spend time conversing with NPCs and looking for clues. For the most part I really like this, but there have been a few times now where I've missed a vital clue or it just seemed there wasn't one.

The combat also feels like a table top RPG too. When out of combat you just roam around at your leisure, but once you go into combat it goes to an initiative based turn system like most pen and paper RPGs. Once in a fight you rely on action points to determine your movement and what attacks or actions you can take. This might not sound very interesting, but believe me when I say that the combat in this game is some of the best turn based combat I’ve ever experienced in any game. There is so much that goes into an encounter that it's really hard to describe it with out writing a small book, but i'll touch on one of the coolest parts; that being the area effects. With your elemental attacks as a magic user or a ranged attacker, you can set the field on fire to burn anything coming at you. Fire isn't working? Cast a rain spell to douse the fire and create steam clouds which you can then hit with lightning to electrify. This is just one example of many.

My only real issue with Divinity: Original Sin is also one of its strengths. The conversation. On one hand you have these great moments of dialogue between your two main characters that can reveal a lot about their personalities and back story and reward you with in game bonuses. On the other hand dialogue with random citizens is the same thing over and over. I would have preferred that there be no conversation option with the background players because they all pretty much have the same dialogue options which tend to be pretty jarring and pulls me out of the immersion of the game.

Divinity: Original Sin in a very well done RPG. I think for true fans of the genre it's a game well worth owning and playing over and over again. If you are hoping for another Diablo clone or something hack n' slash, don't bother.

 This review originally appeared on GameonGirl.com

Published in PC

It’s been at least 15 years since I last picked up Jane Jensen’s point-and-click adventure classic Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Father. Some revere the title as the best Sierra game of all time, which is quite a bold claim, and although I can’t say I appreciate it that much there’s no doubt it’s a special game. Now, nearly 20 years after the game’s 1993 release an updated 20th Anniversary version is upon us complete with new graphics, a new voice cast, and even some tweaking to the more obtuse gameplay mechanics and puzzles. We got a chance to check out a demo that contains a handful of days and around 90 minutes of gameplay (roughly 10-20 percent of the game) to check out these updates.

Right when you boot up Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Father 20th Anniversary (Gabriel Knight from now on) it’s like journeying back to the first time you played it - and first timers, fear not, it mostly holds to contemporary standards for an adventure title. Initially I didn’t think much had been done to the game. The opening seemed the same, the credits definitely were (which gave thanks to the original voice cast for some reason), and although the opening seemed tweaked I thought it was pretty much the same. Upon booting the original (available on gog.com for modern machines) boy was I reminded how thick nostalgia goggles can be, it’s a complete overhaul.

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Gabriel’s world has been re-imagined in that fantastical but realistic style I see represented heavily in title like The Sims, where there’s a bit of a cartoon twist but also grounded in reality. This is important because although Gabriel Knight sprinkles in some amusing moments and laughable dialogue, it is a story about voodoo murders and has plenty of violence to and dark situations to match. Granted this new title is being built in the Unity Engine, which is why you will see it on both PCs and mobile, but I’m really liking what that engine can do to breathe new life into 2D based games with 3D graphics. Each scene has been given the same care and attention to detail that made the original so special from the graphics to the thematic music and most notable with the voice acting. Many may disagree, but I never cared for Tim Curry’s voice work in the original, it seemed wrong for a creole accent and like he was mocking the character with each line. I was unable to get his exact name, but the new voice actor for Gabriel seems much more fitting. He brings that snarky pedigree with a somewhat smooth accent that I’ve come to attribute to the character proper (although keep in mind that back in the 90s I would frequently switch from having the sound on and off thanks to text of all speech). From the early parts I saw the other voices are great at emulating the originals as well, especially the narrator, but they more assisted in tricking me into thinking I was playing the original rather than improve like with Gabriel’s character. Some of the functions like how to interact with items and select the multiple options you have with each have been greatly improved, especially because it seems optimized for mobile, so you no longer have to scroll between functions and instead just click on something and all available options are displayed. This streamlines the “try anything with anything” nature of a point-and-click adventure and I feel is essential for those of us who have either never played the game or can’t remember almost any of the puzzles. While it seems like the puzzles haven’t changed - my demo was, in terms of content, identical to the original game - perhaps the full release will feature new content or puzzles. Even if that’s not the case, it’s still a brilliant game that I will have no problem returning to upon full release, perhaps even on that dreaded mobile platform I try to consistently ignore. All in all it does prove that a fresh coat of paint, a few audible tweaks, and streamlining the guess-and-check nature of this classic does do it good. Purists of the genre need not worry, there is still some challenge here and none of the puzzles have been made much easier by the new streamlined feature, it merely doesn’t display the ability to do the many things that would get you that “I can’t do that” voice prompt. Gabriel Knight is back and fans of the original or those that haven’t experienced it may want to take notice when the game launches on October 15.

Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Father 20th Anniversary will be available October 15 on PC, Android, and iOS for $19.99. It can be pre-ordered at this time for a discount on the Pheonix Online site (store.poststudios.com) as well as gog.com and Steam (store.steampowered.com ). This demo was provided for preview purposes by the publisher.

Published in PC
Friday, 02 May 2014 00:00

Moebius: Empire Rising (PC)

If you are a gamer of a certain age then the name Jane Jensen will catch your interest. She is the writer behind many classic Sierra Online games and the creator of the Gabriel Knight adventure games. Recently she has taken to Kickstarter to back two games. The first of those two games has been released, Moebius: Empire Rising.

If you are a gamer of a certain age then the name Jane Jensen will catch your interestMoebius: Empire Rising is a point and click adventure that tells the tale of Malachi Rector, an antiques and art appraiser. He is very intelligent and sharp eyed in his chosen profession. He is also something of an aloof snob and an ass. He is hired by semi-secretive organization (F.I.T.A.), run by a man named Amble Dexter, to go to Venice to investigate a murdered woman and determine what historical figure her life most resembles. While there he is attacked by ninjas who then scan all of the information he has on the murdered woman. He reports back to Dexter that, while her life closely resembled Livia Drusilla, she did not match completely.

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Working for himself again Malachi is next in Cairo to appraise ancient artifacts from a mummy's tomb. While there he saves ex-special forces American, David Walker, from the same ninjas who attacked him in Venice. He decides to hire David as a bodyguard. In many ways David is a typical American, blonde haired, blue eyed, jock, who likes to tell bad jokes. (How many Special Forces soldiers does it take to change a light bulb? Sorry that's classified information.) When the ninjas attack a third time Malachi and David are able to stand their ground and fight them off. He finishes his business in Cairo and returns to New York.

Malachi believes the ninjas are part of something bigger and asks to meet with Amble Dexter. He is surprised when Dexter insists that Malachi bring David to the meeting. At the meeting Dexter reveals that F.I.T.A. believes in Roman philosopher, Paramedes’, theory that everyone is an "echo" of someone in the past. From there the story takes some strange twistsNot like reincarnation where a person was someone else but now living a new life, but that same person living the same life event for event in a new generation. Their overall goal is to make Senator Markam, whom they believe is the echo of Augustus Caesar and will bring hundreds of years of prosperity to America, the next United States President. Malachi agrees to help in their endeavor.

From there the story takes some strange twists from a detective adventure towards one of a more supernatural vein.

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The mechanics of Moebius: Empire Rising is pretty standard and sound for a point and click adventure. No major problems arose when I used the controls. It does have a quirky playing feature. In most point and click adventures you can pick up and carry almost anything. In Moebius: Empire Rising, you can’t just pick up whatever you want and carry it around. Certain items needed for a puzzle can’t be picked up until you hit the right “trigger point” that will allow you to pick up that item. This causes a lot of backtracking during game play. The oddest of which is when you try to get into a VIP tent to meet Senator Markam. You practically go from one end of Manhattan to the other, working back and forth gathering the items you need. By some strange coincidence the Senator's rally lasts just long enough for you to do all this and then ends the moment you walk into the VIP tent. It's a slight stretch of your suspension of disbelief, but it’s not a game breaker.

The graphics are where the breaks start happening. Moebius: Empire Rising has anexaggerated comic book look that turns into the late 2000's video game style. All the characters have long thin limbs, except David who looks in normal proportion. The style is fine. It's clipping and other effects that fail. Feet go through floors, legs sometimes twist in unnatural ways, and at one point Malachi moves a chair, but he doesn't actually grab the chair as it magically moves, his hand floats on top of it and the whole thing shifts. Little things like this took me out of the game. The worst offender was the water reflections. Now in the background things like trees and buildings that didn't have as much definition are reflected fine. It was when characters stood next to the water with their backs to it. The reflection was not their backside reflected, nope. It was a complete recreation of their front. So unless everyone has their face on the front and back of their head, something's not right here. The first time I saw it I thought the game was going into a dream sequence of some sort.

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I do have to give great praise to Moebius: Empire Rising's voice actors. They turn in some fine performances. I think the real audio gem though is Jane Jensen's husband, composer Robert Holmes. Robert provides a great soundtrack that wouldn't sound out of place in a Hollywood spy thriller.


Moebius: Empire Rising's story starts a bit slow, but by the third and fourth chapters things start getting interesting enough that I want to see how it will end. Malachi is a really hard hero to cheer on. His aloof attitude never really endears himself to the player. The only thing that makes him seem to have a heart is subtle underlying relationship between him and David. At one point David tells Malachi that he is meeting Malachi's assistant, Gretchen, at a nightclub. Malachi asks that David not get involved with his only other employee, to which David replies, "She's not my type." At the nightclub David hints around that he's not interested in Gretchen. Towards the end of the conversation Gretchen tells David point blank to not get too close to Malachi, that, "he will break your heart." The possible gay romance never really moves up from a subtle possibility. It gets to a point where you wish it they would either just come out with it or drop it.

Jane Jensen can tell an interesting tale in a video game still, but there seem to be some stray parts to Moebius: Empire Rising that just doesn't pull me in. Moebius: Empire Rising has flashes of a good gameA main character I have a hard time caring for and a subtle romance that doesn't go anywhere are things that push me away from a game. Throw in graphical elements that completely take me out of the game and we are starting to have real problems. I have to say the puzzles hold things together fairly well, but an adventure game needs more than just puzzles to engage a player. Moebius: Empire Rising has flashes of a good game and you can see where Jane Jensen wants to take it, but as a whole it falls to the middle of the road. If you're a fan of Jane Jensen or point and click style games it might be worth it, but it's a pass otherwise.

Published in PC

The Walking Dead Season 2 – Episode 2 “A House Divided”

After a slow moving, character driven first episode. Telltale's The Walking Dead returns with a bang in its second episode of the video game series. The patient set-up that we witnessed previously pays off when we watch the relationships forged break down from the offset.

We continue to follow Clementine as she falls down the rabbit hole towards a bleak outlook towards life. However, the episode itself leans more towards revealing one hell of a menacing villain in the form of Carver (voiced by the excellent Michael Madsen). I immediately felt a vibe from Carver that was reminiscent with the television's Governor, and the comic books excellent character, Negan.

Madsen manages to portray a subtle, yet terrifying presence throughout the episode that sets up what can only be a harsh, bleak future for Clementine and her group. The added addition of the majority of the group already having had a run in with Carver heightens the tensions and action.

twd s2e2 zombiepole

I truly hope that this also sets up Carvers downfall and we can witness some violent revenge from either Clementine or another group member.

Back to Clementine, and Telltale have shifted the overall feel of the character. In episode one, we were forced to feel uncomfortable with the decisions thrust upon Clementine. The killing of the dog springs to mind as an example. In episode two though we're reminded that no matter what we have Clementine do, there's always somebody else that's worse than you. In this case, it's Carver.

Episode two's explosive third act really hits home that Clementine has had to make some major decisions concerning the future of the group, mainly forced by Carvers actions. We see Clementine either cementing her trust in certain characters, or damaging relationships for the greater good.

I felt that this final 30 minute action pact third act really changed Clementine dramatically, and it certainly was the first major change since teaming up with Lee in Season 1. The stress and urgency of each scenario really hits home the moral dilemmas poor Clementine has to deal with.

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The scope of episode two was quite impressive. A lot of ground is covered during the two and a half hour game play with the majority of game changing decisions embedded within some gripping conversation.

Depending on your actions and choices, you may have a wildly different experience with each decision than the next person. It all boils down to where you take Clementine over the 5 day time period that episode two is set around.

twd s2e2 bridge

The action sequences themselves are by far the best that Telltale have created and I truly was on the edge of my seat frantically trying to find various items to take out zombies whilst saving a character on a bridge. The tension and slow build up we witnessed previously is really paying off and heightens these explosive sequences to its maximum.

Overall, Telltale have really pulled out all the stops with episode two. It's constantly full of fantastic, and gripping dialogue; ever lasting consequences (good or bad); and brilliant action scenes that really get the player involved with the narrative. Clementine's character arc remains to be the most impressive section of season 2 as we watch her wander a dark and brutal path.

 

Published in PC
Wednesday, 08 October 2014 00:00

The Vanishing Of Ethan Carter - Review [PC]

 Please Note: This review does not contain any spoilers.

Lately there has been this push in game development to move beyond the formulaic nature of what big name publishers think works in video games.  It doesn't take too long to see the slew of complaints coming out of major titles these days: the explanation of game mechanics is too long, pacing is terrible, show don't tell, cutscenes are not a great method of storytelling.  From the presence of these forumlas and subsequent gripes, there has been born a new style that I like to refer to as a "just play" game.  The Vanishing of Ethan Carter doesn't tell you a back story, it doesn't tell you what to do, it simply has one initial message that tells you it's an unguided free-form experience and then lets you go.  While I'm sure most gamers will get the jist of what's expected and what to do, I'm sure there are some people out there who will simply freak out and not be able to handle a game where their progress isn't being tracked, where there are no goals or achievements, and where at any given moment you have no idea what to do.  If you are one of those people, just turn away now because you will never find solace with Ethan Carter.  On the other hand, if you just want a lush, gorgeous world to explore and in the end get rewarded with a thought-provoking experience that almost never has to concede to game mechanics, then this could be up your alley.

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You enter the game on a forest-covered path as detective Paul Prospero, who immediately explains that he has supernatural abilities that assist you in discovering what has happened in the town of Red Creek Valley.  It was just as easy to imagine myself as the protagonist and the voice of Prospero merely lending the narration,  but regardless of how you want to view it this is the point where your journey begins.  It's a bit jarring to be dropped into a forest with no indication as to what's going on or what you are supposed to do and with each clue of the game's handful of mechanics and potential puzzles I found myself getting more confused and a bit overwhelmed.  Don't let this discourage you, enough people have played through it and made it out on the other side to assure that eventually you will make the progress you need.  Exploration in this title is so wonderful thanks first and foremost to the game's gorgeous graphics.  Built on the Unreal Engine, it looks almost photorealistic.  Everything from the backdrops to the textures of the ground are handled with the utmost care and the attention to detail must have been a pain for developer the Astronauts to assemble, but the payoff is a world that looks alive and never pulls back the veil to reveal its artificial nature.  The trade off for such wonderful graphics is that you will want a decent graphics card to support them, which my GTX 760 2 GB did a decent job of keeping up with in 1080p although I had to drop a few settings from the highest.  You may notice a random stutter or framerate drop, but the forums on Steam have found a decent solution and the rest can be chocked up to limitations of the Unreal Engine streaming in the next area.  If you're moving at a regular pace and trying to take in everything it's not all that noticeable, but if you find yourself having to backtrack - which you should prepare to have to do - it can be a bit of a nuisance.  Graphics aside the accompaniment of ambient sound effects and a subtle ochestral music assist in the richness of the world, yet again encouraging you to get out there an explore.  

voec 3That's not to say that The Vanishing of Ethan Carter is all about wandering about in the woods looking at minutia, because I would have led that this was an art exhibit instead of a game if that were the case.  It presents itself as a mystery and that comes with it the inclusion of investigation, puzzle solving, and naturally wandering upon grounds where you might not be welcome.  Something has clearly happened in Red Creek Valley and it isn't long before you start to see hints of the past emerge to make your earn the title of detective.  It's at this point that one of this title's main flaws appear in full effect: without guidance you have almost no way of knowing when you have completed an area or puzzle.  Logic dictates the game will give you some sort of indication that you are done, which this game does, but when you go in blind and with no direction you could easily assume it may not.  Couple that with the initial tasks of the game being somewhat complicated and you almost wonder if the point was to eventually have you backtrack to complete what you started.  I don't like to return to areas I've already been and I view it as even more of a misstep when the backtracking works to remind me that I'm playing a game, complete with its experiential limitations.  For all  the work The Vanishing of Ethan Carter does to immerse you, it almost seems misguided when a player can bypass a significant mechanic and plot point only to be forced to spent long stretches returning to clean up that mistake later.  Perhaps it was a concious decision or perhaps the Astronauts were unsure how to balance explaining these early concepts without breaking the ultimate goal of letting the player lead the experience, but either way it's quite a setback.  In all honesty I had to restart the game within the first two hours when I realized what I had left behind and thought about how long I would have to retread my steps to clean things up.  I also discovered from breaking my experience into three different sittings that the checkpoint system is a bit broken and works more like a bookmark of new accomplishments as opposed to the save location that you will begin when playing again.  What I mean is that I could see the familiar "scene saving" message on the screen (there's no direct saving or loading on this game) and quit out, but when I restart later I'm dropped in a completely different part of the map where I last accomplished something new and might have to spend minutes if not tens of minutes returning to where I left off.  If you perform all the duties that an area has available to you before moving on the system should work like a true checkpoint, but from my experience you will often have to return to clean things up and at that point may checkpoint yourself far from where you want to go next.  It might surprise you to discover that as annoying and blasphemous as these factors may be, they hindered but didn't ruin my experience of what is otherwise an enchanting work.

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Once these intial hiccups are overcome and you are getting work done in Red Creek Valley, the subsequent events make it all worth it.  Each encounter or puzzle will make you think, but I never found myself stuck for too long nor was I unable to figure out what I was being asked to do.  You realize just how much testing must have gone on to throw people into an unexplained situation and yet give them enough subtext that they are able to easily navigate provided that they just allow themselves to stop and think about it.  As my momentum through the campaign grew I was rewarded with both plot and design twists that kept me hooked.  If you can't already tell from the screen shots it's a slightly eerie and ominous game from start to finish.  I also never worried about how much I had played or how much game I had left while traversing the story.  I just kept playing as long as I was entertained and when I got tired I would stop, but it wasn't long before I felt the pull to return and complete the mystery.  By the end of the game's approximate 4-6 hour journey, I was pleasantly pleased with the outcome both in terms of the story and looking back at The Vanishing of Ethan Carter from a macro perspective.  Some may find that this length is short, but I felt it was as long as it needed to be and may have been in danger of wearing out its welcome had it been padded down with additional content.  There's no doubt about it, this is a thought-provoking experience that will leave you wanting to talk about it with someone. If you're craving something fresh, look no further than The Vanishing of Ethan Carter.

Final Score: 8/10

A review copy was provided by the developer for review purposes.  The Vanishing of Ethan Carter is available on Steam for $19.99 and should be released on PS4 early 2015.  It took the reviewer 5 hours to complete with an overall playtime of approximately 7 hours.  

Published in PC
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