A Different Monster Hunter: The Witcher Review

A Different Monster Hunter: The Witcher Review

I haven’t covered a game with exorbitant amounts of content lately. I’ve stuck to smaller adventure games with few side quests and branching paths. This is my first large RPG since Dying Light, so I’m going to take a more structured approach instead of an anecdotal one.

Story

CDProjekt Red based the Witcher series on Polish novels from the nineties about a mutated monster hunter, or witcher, named Geralt. Though he dies at the end of the books, the first game picks up at his resurrection with–AMNESIA:

downloadNot long after Geralt’s miraculous recovery, members  from the rebel group Salamandra attack Kaer Morhan, the headquarters and training grounds for other witchers. These rogues steal the mutagens and potions used to give the witchers their, for lack of a better word, superpowers. Until now these were protected secrets, and Geralt must hunt down Salamandra and figure out their plans. On your journey, you meet the residents of Vizima and the surrounding areas. You find priests, warriors, witches, merchants, and average townspeople. Soon you’ll also find that these sleepy towns are a façade that covers up a racial and political power struggle. Nonhuman races–elves and dwarves–are the lower class, and those fighting for the church are quickest to believe this. On the flip side, elves and dwarves formed the Scoia’tael, a vigilante group whose actions feed into the public’s belief that nonhumans are savage. This complicated societal structure plays well into the choice mechanics.

Like many modern Western RPGs, the Witcher series employs choices, some meaningless and some monumental. During the Prologue, you’re forced to choose which of two battles to fight–go with Triss to defend the lab or stay and fight a large monster called a frightener. Your decision affects the events that follow, and at the end, Vesemir asks Geralt if he thinks he made the right choice. If the player hasn’t caught on yet. This lets you know subtly to make your decisions carefully from here on out, even if they seem innocuous at the moment.

Unlike my experiences with Dragon Age: Origins, the Witcher series’ morality system weaves a complicated web instead of remaining on two separate poles. Geralt can to constantly switch sides of the current fight with a single choice and even stay out of political matters entirely. Witchers traditionally go where the money does, not where the passions do.

Not spoiling anything, the people you choose to support or let live out of indifference are there to help you in the end in a way that isn’t contrived like many others who attempt this format.

And that long ramble brings me to–

Gameplay

Now if the goal of a witcher like Geralt is to hunt beats, how is the combat? In a word: easy. Using your sword is a matter of aiming the camera at the enemy and clicking the mouse in counts of three. That is the only combo. Any upgrades to the attacks doled out are applied automatically without any additional button presses needed. The only decisions lie in which fighting style you choose and which sword. Geralt has two different swords, one for humans and one for monsters. Each sword then has three fighting styles–fast, strong, and group. Which you use depends on the number of enemies and their speed and accuracy.  At no point is there an increase in the difficulty of execution, only an increase in the opponent’s strength. This imbalance keeps there from ever being a true challenge. The only times I ever lost were when I was either unprepared or impatient.

The strategy instead lies in the use of items and magic. Geralt uses potions to increase his attack, defense, health and vitality regeneration, and other statistics. The trick is you can’t use them all at once because of toxicity and other ill effects. Using too many potions lowers your ability to fight well, so you must prioritize. Other potions give you advantages at a cost, e.g. increased accuracy for decreased defense. Then after deciding on what concoctions to swallow, you then must think about blade oils. While JRPGs depend on elemental relationships (ice and fire, water and electricity), Witcher uses the enemy’s species to dictate weaknesses. You have oils you can apply to each sword specific to necrophages, insects, specters, etc. These are essential when encountering hoards of the same enemy type. Otherwise you may get overwhelmed quickly.

Now how do you get all these potions and oils? This game has an alchemy system you can access while meditating, also known as how to pass time quickly. You use herbs you pick and monster parts you carve off of enemies to create everything you need. Each potion requires a certain quality alcohol base, and each oil needs a type of animal fat. Before you make anything or collect any ingredients, you have to find or buy the recipes and encyclopedic entries. This style creates a certain collection mechanic to make sure Geralt is the most well-informed hunter in the land. You also only have limited inventory space for these supplies, so must either constantly make potions, or prioritize which ingredients you want to collect.

Now the most integral part of any large-scale RPG is the quest system, and that is where Witcher shines. A few of the story quests continue throughout entire game with updates to your journal with each piece of new information. Then each chapter has its own main quest, whether it is exploring the bumps in the night on the outskirts of town or figuring out if there is a mole in the monarchy. AND THEN the chapter has its own contained side quests such as contracts to fight certain monsters or killing large game for trophies. AAAAND THEN you have side quests that continue throughout the entire game such as perfecting your dice poker skills or climbing the ranks as a fist fighter in local pubs. There is so much content and such a variety, but the structure keeps you from getting overwhelmed by possibility. You only obtain a certain number of quests in each chapter and must complete them immediately, helping you figure out the order in which you need to finish tasks and letting you know when you are ready to progress through the story.

And lastly that takes us to–

Performance

For a game released in 2008 for the PC, it still ran poorly on my 2014-era desktop. It constantly dropped frames and only ever hovered around 45 FPS. It crashed at least once every other time I booted it up. Whenever the game would start to lag, I would get that same heart-in-throat feeling I would from playing the Sims on my MacBook after not saving for a while (Seriously, if there was ever an example of compatibility not equaling functionality, but that’s for an other time). I also encountered certain bugs that have been around since launch. I would go looking on CDProjekt Red message boards to find a solution to what felt like a very unlikely problem only to find it had been around since the game’s inception. Once I was supposed to escape from the sewers with a ladder, but for some reason, the cutscene where the soldiers bring in the ladder just never happened. I wasted two hours running around underground thinking I hadn’t done something to trigger it only to figure out all I needed to do was load a previous save and cross my fingers.

Despite some of Witcher‘s lack of reliability, the graphics still looked great. Though the scenery and animations are dated, they are not distracting. While not the best, they still look realistic and don’t hinder a new player’s experience. It’s on par with Bioware’s Dragon Age: Origin which was released around roughly the same time.

And with that we have–

Verdict

Even with its quirks and low level of difficulty, I can’t recommend it enough. To finish all the side quests, I put in over sixty hours and never got sick of it. The only thing I would do differently looking back is play on a higher difficulty. It is incredibly cheap now, and if you are looking to play through the series, start here. I got this game on sale for $1.50. No joke. Keep an eye out, and play it ASAP.

Stay tuned.

 

Mighty Girl Sleuth the Third

Mighty Girl Sleuth the Third

Another season, another Nancy Drew mystery. If you haven’t seen my past reviews from my favorite adventure game series, click here and here. Having discussed the general details of these games before, this review will focus solely on the specifics of the most current one, Sea of Darkness.

Ten years after playing my first one from the series, and I am still buying them twice a year. Though always a different theme, location, and story, the basic gameplay stays the same. While I’ve been able to plot the evolution of the Sherlock Holmes’ titles from the same genre, the Nancy Drew formula is left untouched. Though iterative, I–once again–couldn’t get enough.

This time around, Nancy travels to Iceland to look into how a treasure hunter disappeared while renovating the historic ship “Heerlijkheid” in Her Interactive’s latest game Nancy Drew: Sea of Darkness. After you arrive, you do what you normally would: talk to people, pick up stray objects that you might use later, and solve many a puzzle.

Also like usual, the characters have one-note personalities. You have loud and burly ex-sailor Gunnar, the overly polite Cultural Center worker Soren, the slippery and sneaky treasure hunter who isn’t missing Dansky, and the stiff and distant town legacy Elizabet. Everyone has the one or two necessary characteristics for a passable NPC, but they come off as caricatures. Any other adventure game with flat characters would invoke wrath, but, call it bias, I’ve never played the Nancy Drew games for the characters–I play for the puzzles.

Sea of Darkness had more intuitive environmental puzzles while the logic puzzles lacked variety. For once the abundance of hidden passageways and secret locks aren’t impossible to find. Between the books and documents you find around town and the conversations you have with the locals, you can logic out the steps needed to progress through the game without resorting to a walkthrough or a wiki. For example a mid-game trek through a set of ice caves felt straightforward and easy to navigate instead of the equivalent of sifting through a city leveled by an earthquake.

Despite this improvement, the logic puzzles are a step back. With a few exceptions, most of them are variations of Sudoku–also known as the bane of my existence. As a frequent shopper for puzzle books, I get frustrated with how Sudoku has saturated the market. I find it boring and repetitive with no departure from the formula in sight. This made the developer’s choice to replace all my favorite Nancy Drew brain teasers with ten Sudoku puzzles is a waking nightmare.

Even with my frustration, my surprise at the game’s easy-to-follow narrative and environment outshone my disappointment, making this a strong addition to this long-running series.

Stay tuned.

Did She or Didn’t She? Her Story Review

Did She or Didn’t She? Her Story Review

Her Story is a nonlinear narrative detective game that experiments with story the same way some of my favorite books and movies do.

When you open the game, you find yourself faced with a ninties-era desktop with a few Readme documents that explain the only mechanic: the database. Detectives have pulled old interview tapes from 1994, but they are in small segments and out of order. Luckily the police tagged the films with keywords you use to sift through the evidence. The system limits each search to the first five entires though, so as you listen, you must find ways to narrow down the results.

Now all the clips are multiple interviews with a woman whose husband turned up dead. When you first pull the database up, it suggests you start your search with the keyword “murder”. From there you will discover names, places, and other clues that will help you piece together what really happened to the victim, Simon.

The game gives you a couple of different ways to organize what you find. You can tag each fragment with your own keywords if you start to notice a pattern. You can also use the “Add to Session” function in the database to try to place clips from the same interview in order.

But despite these two mechanic’s usefulness, they in no add to your progress in the game or the story–it’s what makes this game different from other detective games. Not only is the story nonlinear and its interpretation up for debate (Seriously, the Reddit is getting heated over this), but it also has no formal ending. After you uncover certain video clips, you get the option to end the game yourself, an instant message popping up to ask you if you found everything you are looking for.  Because in the real world you get no certainty. You might have all the DNA, confessions, and other kinds of proof, but you know the validity of neither the evidence nor your conclusions. Reality is never simple.

When reading previews and articles about Her Story, one of the biggest discussions is about whether this title is a game or experience. While a game’s definition is subjective, I feel this is definitely one. Though the win state is nontraditional, it still exists. The developer made the player responsible for the ending of the game, and for that I am grateful.

Stay tuned.

Hey Look, Over There! Sherlock Holmes and the Mystery of the Persian Carpet Review

Hey Look, Over There! Sherlock Holmes and the Mystery of the Persian Carpet Review

Sherlock Holmes and the Persian Carpet is a hidden object game–kind of.

Same as Mystery of the Mummy, this one came with the Sherlock Holmes game pack, and the Steam reviews were not good:

Not even a loyalist would play that one.
Not even a loyalist would play that one.
So basically a game for psychics.
So basically a game for psychics.
So many hearts, so much hate.
So many hearts, so much hate.

As some describe the mechanics similar to hunting for a grain of sand in the Mediterranean Sea, but a lot of reviews are people were angry it was a hidden object game. Luck for me, I’m in the minority of Steam users who don’t absolutely despise them.

In middle school and sometimes high school, I would go online to those casual sites like Big Fish Games and download the free limited time demos to keep busy. Think free mobile gaming before that was an option. I played the first few games from the Mystery Case Files series this way, and they weren’t bad. They were reminiscent of the I Spy book series with crowded rooms and crazy objects. Now we get a weird hybrid that feels a lot more like looking for your lost set of keys in every room of the house. The Persian Carpet takes the best and worst parts of both the adventure and hidden object genre and mushes them into something unrecognizable.

Let’s break it down, starting with the adventure genre:

GOOD

  • The game had a lot of puzzles. None of them were normal or logically worked into the game’s plot. Theywere thrown in without reason after finding certain puzzle pieces, but a lot of them were at least fun. Especially this decoded message:

    All my spy dreams have come true.
    All my spy dreams have come true.
  • The objects you found belonged to suspects and were used as evidence. None of it was random. Finding ashes in a dirty garden might be hard, but it makes a lot more sense than if it asked me to look for a clown figurine.
  • Although tedious, the deduction board was a nice touch. Here you take all the items you found over the course of the game and use them to link suspects to the victim, different rooms, potential murder weapons, and time of death. It reminds of those crimes shows where they break into a person’s apartment and see their walls covered in photos, maps, and red yarn. I’m sure the audience is supposed to find them obsessed and crazy. I’ve always wanted my own.

BAD

  • While some of the puzzles are great fun, others are not. One is just like the review above described. You have ten numbers and five guesses to figure out what they are before the puzzle and sequence resets itself. Often with these puzzles, there is a strategy for figuring them out. Here I couldn’t come up with one. Another is that damn four ounces of water puzzle. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, it plays off of the basic mathematical idea that two odd numbers always add up to an even number. You then must use two containers and one bucket of water to come up with an even amount of fluid. In this case, you use a 5L and 3L to make 4L. This puzzle is in every game. It was just in Mystery of the Mummy. I think I could solve it at gunpoint.
  • They added in a step where you analyze evidence, but all that really means is you click a lot. You put everything under the microscope, and click on it. You aren’t looking for anything in particular–only clicking to pull out a smaller sample. Considering it’s primarily a hidden object game, it would make more sense if fewer pieces of evidence needed analyzing, but those that did had pieces of metal and skin embedded in them. More fun, less extra clicking.

And as for the hidden object genre?

GOOD

  • People play hidden object games in a number of different ways. Some want them as easy as possible. Some want the pressure of time, others the punishment of clicking in the wrong place. Here you get three play modes. I played on Casual mode since I wanted nothing more than to get through it and see how it was. This meant I got extra hints, no penalties for clicking everywhere, unlimited time, and several puzzle skips. The Detective mode gives you fewer hints and puzzle skips and time limits. Lastly, there’s Adventure mode. Where the first two modes give you a linear progression, unlocking a scene at a time, here you can search through rooms and put together clues in whatever order you choose. Looking back I wish I had chosen this mode, but I’m not really looking to replay this one.
  • The rooms, characters, and artwork are ornate, detailed, and true to the time period. Frogware never fails at capturing nineteenth century London:
2015-05-26_00003
The game gives you these congratulations after everything you do.
2015-05-26_00001
I’ve never seen someone so unsurprised about being trapped in a flower.
Must be a good guy.
Must be a good guy.
  • A lot of the rooms felt empty. You look through a bedroom and a dressing room, both of which look the way you’d expect. This made searching much more tedious. Instead of looking optical illusions and tricks of the eye, I was literally grasping at pearls. Really, at one point, I had to find nine pearls hidden around a half-empty room.
  • The usefulness of the objects found was fun but also a hindrance. Sometimes you were stuck since the order in which you found things mattered. You haven’t found that monkey wrench? Better stare at that screen for twenty minutes? And don’t worry. You will waste a hint since there’s a good chance the first thing it will show you is the place you already know you need to look but you can’t yet.

Overall, if you don’t like hidden object games, you’ll hate it. If like hidden object games, there are better, longer, and more creative ones. If you like Sherlock Holmes games, there are better stories. If you like squinting, maybe pick this one up.

Stay tuned.

Logical Leaps and Bounds: Sherlock Holmes and the Mystery of the Mummy Review

Logical Leaps and Bounds: Sherlock Holmes and the Mystery of the Mummy Review

Sherlock Holmes and the Mystery and the Mummy is the first Sherlock Holmes game, and that should say enough in itself. Some of the more recent games aren’t exactly the pinnacle of game design, but this one clearly shows its age. With its confusing point-and-click/first-person hybrid, constant game of find-the-right-pixel, and terrifying animation and audio, this inaugural installment of the Sherlock Holmes PC games needs a nip and tuck.

Holmes is at a friend’s mansion who is an avid collector of everything Egyptian. He then spends the rest of the game solving nonsense puzzles and making alarming deductions with logical valleys deeper than your local chasm (that’s a thing, right?). Yes, that glass was broken by something delicate. No, you don’t know it’s by a woman’s shoe. It all consists of finding every clue and using them in all the right places. This wouldn’t be out of the ordinary if not for its impossibility:

  • Sherlock’s hand controls all the clicking, and the differences between the icons for move forward and pick something up are indistinguishable. One is a slightly pointed finger with a cupped hand as if you are trying to signal to your rescuers without tipping off your kidnappers. The other is only a barely cupped hand. That’s it. No differences. I would love to show you some screenshots, but the Steam overlay I use for capture wasn’t compatible with this title, and I was too frustrated at the time to think of a backup plan; I wanted out as soon as possible. Instead here’s a link to a video that also has the most annoying water-dripping music loop I have ever encountered so you can see what I mean. Video credit goes to AdventureGameFan8

     

  • In these detective-style point-and-clicks, usually the games use books, NPC dialogue, hidden notes, and other believable mechanics to help the player solve the mystery by dropping subtle hints. You make the player work until each clue they have found has a purpose. While not realistic when compared to the real world, this strategy is tradition for a reason. Here not every piece is used and some lack any kind of connection to one another. Oh, those two staffs go in that statue down the hall? Cool. I guess he held left out with his those empty hands and my pockets overflowing with nonsense.
  • Over the last month or so (and for most of my gaming life), I’ve lived one rule: if an adventure game is frustrating your, take to the Internet. If a walkthrough fails you, that’s when you’ve really got trouble. When using an item, the developers made the correct place to click only a few pixels big. Instead of looking up what to do with an item or where to use it, I was scouring message boards for advice on the precise location to click. Even on the puzzles I figured out on my own, I ended up having to look some part of the puzzle up. Nothing takes the hot air out of my ego like using a walkthrough for an entire game.

Overall, I only enjoyed the game out of loyalty. As someone who has played and owns boxed copies of all thirty-something Nancy Drew games (don’t look at me like that), I was expecting some issues with the first game. It obviously had no idea what it wanted to be besides a game that featured Sherlock Holmes. Sadly they fumbled it. They clearly got better with time which is all you can ask. Now onto the next Sherlock Holmes game where you can, believe it or not, talk to people.

Stay tuned.

Hey Look, Another Adventure Game: Cognition, Episodes 2-4

Hey Look, Another Adventure Game: Cognition, Episodes 2-4

After roughly twenty game crashes and three Exorcist-style glitches, I’ve finished all the episodes of Cognition: an Erica Reed Thriller. Technical difficulties aside, the gameplay was only overshadowed by its outstanding narrative.

Let’s get my performance issues out of the way because I hate holding them against my enjoyment of this title. To the developer’s credit, Phoenix Online Studios is still active in the Steam Community helping address any technical difficulties even a year and a half after the first episode’s release. My disappointment is not with having to use a few tricks and workarounds to keep the game running but instead with the inconsistency of what works and what doesn’t. For all the episodes, I had to make sure Raptr was not running any processes in the background or the game would freeze each time I walked across the screen. But after this being the only necessary fix for the first two episodes, the last two gave me loads more trouble. I had to force-quit Episode Three at least ten times and didn’t figure out why until Episode Four’s title screen wouldn’t load. Turning the Steam overlay off kept the crashes to a minimum. I expected gameplay to change and evolve between episodes–not troubleshooting techniques.

The graphical glitches weren’t game-breaking by any means, just hilarious. I mean seriously, look:

2015-04-30_00003 2015-04-30_00002 2015-04-30_00001 2015-05-01_00001

My favorite was when she started rotating the same way except around her entire torso. Unfortunately I couldn’t get a screenshot because I turned off that feature for the sake of getting the game to run.

Okay, now to the fun part.

None of the titles from my last month of adventure games have drawn me into their stories except maybe the history in A Golden Wakebut Cognition focuses a small ensemble of characters and threads its story carefully. Now let’s see if I can explain its excellency without geeking out and spoiling everything.

This fifteen-hour game has death, kidnapping, serial killers, conspiracies, government cover-ups, and a dual narrative introduced halfway through without ever feeling like it is only for gasps. Granted a few twists were predictable, but it didn’t lessen their impact on the story since my personal investment in all the characters was immense. Transitioning from a classic procedural to a crime spree epic felt natural and planned all along. I want to say so much more but this adventure game is so steeped in its plot that it’s next to impossible.

I have to semi-ruin one plot point for you; otherwise I have no chance of discussing the gameplay. You find out another one of the characters has psychic powers, and that person becomes a playable character for the last half of the game. I loved this from a writing perspective but had a hard time dealing with it from a gameplay standpoint. In the last two episodes, you are constantly changing characters and have to trigger so many different events to progress. For example, I was in a lakeside cabin playing as both Erica and this other character and was looking for a toy figurine. There were only three places it could possibly be, and I figured out it was the fireplace. I got a cup of water and was ready to put out the flames, but I couldn’t do it until the new character gave me permission. Seriously, I kept clicking on it as Erica, and she refused to do it until I clicked on it as the other character and was given permission. What?

With this dual narrative path, I was afraid of encountering the same problem from the first episode where the developers crammed too many new mechanics into a small chunk of gameplay, but that wasn’t the case. While Erica sees the past through cognition, this other character sees the future. Other than that, my understanding of the mechanics transferred, keeping the learning curve from becoming impossible. Unfortunately switching characters was still tedious, but I just think I wasn’t focused enough. Whenever I figured out a solution after getting stuck for a while, it was usually because I wasn’t paying enough attention to the details. Except for what I mentioned above, a majority of the last three episodes avoided adventure game logic.

Overall, I would play this game again and wish for a sequel even with the game-breaking issues I had. Obviously if adventure games are not your style to begin with, I don’t think you will find this worth the trouble, but if Cognition sounds like your jam, it will be.

Stay tuned.

Hey Look, Another Adventure Game: Cognition, Episode One Review

Hey Look, Another Adventure Game: Cognition, Episode One Review

Note: Though I had a number of technical issues with the first episode, I’m holding off on elaborating on the performance aspect of the game until I get further into the series. 

Cognition: An Erica Reed Thriller is an episodic, paranormal, point-and-click FBI procedural, and it matches the tedium of bureaucracy (and my description of it) perfectly.

Erica Reed is a FBI agent who lost her brother to a serial killer three years ago, and it colors her reckless style of investigation. Apparently the term, “Wait for backup,” sounds like a foreign language to her. She also has psychic powers that allow her to channel past memories, future memories, and read minds through the sense of touch. In the first episode, you get a close look at her day-to-day life, relationships with other agents and employees, and the quirks of her personality. For someone whose every other action is accompanied by an eye roll, she is a prankster, hard worker, and stubborn woman. With all the adventure games I’ve played as of late, I’m pleased with the amount of characterization in a short amount of story; I wish I felt the same way about the gameplay.

I’ve never finished an episodic game–something hard to imagine in the height of Telltale’s titles–so I’m not sure if the style of the first episode is expected, but this first episode was short on consistent gameplay and instead piled on new mechanics. Storywise, I enjoyed seeing Erica’s powers develop, but it made the gameplay unbalanced. She has three types of powers:

  • Cognition. Touch recently used items and see an attached action or memory.
  • Projection. Combine three related objects or events to reenact an event.
  • Regression. Clear up a person’s memories by pinning down the details.

Cognition was by far the easiest technique and the one you use the most. Projection came into play a few times, and I struggled with all of them, never learning how to best apply it since every room has too many combination options–far more than the tutorial segment. Regression was the most fun, but my understanding was as murky as the memories I was trying to clear up. In the tutorial, you recall the correct answers from earlier parts of the game, but in the one other instance, you must do research, something it took me an hour too long to figure out. Basically, the psychic abilities played out like “Goldilocks and the Three Bears” without any power that was just right.

As with any point-and-click, the backtracking was abundant, but this time it works. You run (thank goodness it’s running) from office to office, crime scene to crime scene, and it put me in the right mood. The realism down to the daily tedium of waiting on the elevator and filling out paperwork is admirable for someone who grew up on procedurals and wished she was a spy or detective. But one design choice pulled me out of the immersion. Having to perform actions in a needlessly specific order is simultaneously an adventure game tradition and one of my biggest pet peeves. If I manage to think ahead of the game’s progression, I want to move forward, not be held back. Instead of making me proud of myself, it confused me by forcing me to guess the hidden stepping stones to the next part. For example, Erica was having trouble with her visions and needed to revisit a psion who had already helped her. Each time I tried to go the antique shop she owned though, Erica said she had no reason to go there. Doesn’t she know I know better? No, instead she wasn’t reassured until she met a girl at a cemetery who had also visited the woman. Yes, this spoke greatly to Erica’s stubbornness in theory, but in practice it only highlighted her stupidity.

With the first episode’s setup, I’m excited for the next installment in the game. I hope I can attribute these issues to exposition and are not a sign of things to come. Stay tuned.

A Family Curse: Blackwell Legacy Review

A Family Curse: Blackwell Legacy Review

As I mentioned in a previous post, I was excited to find more to play from Wadget Eye Games, the publisher of A Golden Wake, and I had Blackwell Legacy waiting in my library. Like the former, it is a traditional point-and-click only this time with a lot more ghost hunting and dense puzzle solving.

The story revolves around Rosangela Blackwell whose aunt has just passed away. She grew up with practically no one and took care of herself, but all the pity in the world wouldn’t make me want to spend more than a short elevator ride with her. And although she works part-time for a newspaper, and her social anxiety and pessimism is exaggerated to the greatest degree.  Also her character traits are the reason for the impossibility of the game’s very first puzzle. Rosangela refuses to approach her neighbor in the park because she is surrounded by people, so you have to walk back and forth until you’ve tangled the leash of the neighbor’s dog around the lamp-post it’s tied to. This forces her neighbor to leave the crowd of three whole people to talk to her. For a title that presents itself with 2-D environments, this 3-D logic kind of solution is hard to figure out–especially in the very first puzzle! I’ve said before your success in adventure games is often based in your ability to interpret the developer’s kooky logic, but I was hoping for some kind of learning curve–not an impossible wall to climb. Here you can’t even use prior knowledge to understand. After nearly a half-hour of going everywhere and clicking on everything, I had to look it up. It’s an ego blow to avid point-and-click fans.

After this confusing start, Rosangela gets a call from her editor asking her to report on the suicide of a local college student right after she discovers her family’s ghostly secret. I won’t get into the details because it is explained fully so far into the game that I don’t want to ruin it, but mainly she comes from a line of mediums and has a paranormal partner. Your goal is what you’d expect: help the restless spirits make peace.

As for the rest of the frustration, I was the only person to blame. Not doing things in the right order will keep dialogue options from activating. I would miss objects I could click on, leaving me without the literal pieces of the puzzle. It hurt to have so much trouble with these because they were often my favorite mechanics. For example, the notepad with all of my information and what I use to talk to all the NPCs made me feel like a real reporter and detective, and if there is something I love, it is to live out my Nancy Drew dreams. Once I finally figured it out, it made sense, but I didn’t get the full immersion I was hoping for due to my confusion.

Between the story and the mechanics, the story is what shone here, or what there was of it. I expected the length, but it felt like a tutorial or prologue to a game. I got enough time to get to know the two main characters and the basic style. A series with five games over eight years, and it feels like the developers were already planning sequels. Unlike the common cash grab motive you suspect with many companies, here it is as if they knew they had a greater story to tell. I just wish a little more of it was realized ahead of time and put in the first installment. And the side characters were flatter than the coast. They were either caricatures or bland with few exceptions. The recently deceased collegiate’s roommate was great–a typical anti-establishment shell filled with normal and varied human reactions. I caught her in a small lie, and her defenses crumbled, turning her into a real person. The same isn’t true for the others. The RA was nothing but a vehicle for jokes about guys with girl names. The girls at the center of the mystery were all empty canvases with one trait a piece to give them a semblance of personality–and even the choice to give them any characteristics serves the mechanics more than the story.

I know it sounds like I didn’t enjoy the game, but I did. I didn’t get enough time to truly enjoy the good parts, and I don’t have any more games from the series waiting in my Steam library. I highly recommend playing it, but maybe try to get the series all at once; then you can get a fuller experience. But if you are happy with a three-hour introduction to the world, go right ahead and try Blackwell Legacy. It’s great fun.

Stay tuned.

Welcome to Coral Gables: A Golden Wake Review

Welcome to Coral Gables: A Golden Wake Review

A Golden Wake is a slice of historical fiction based in the Florida land boom of the 1920s. After Alfie Banks loses his job at his father’s real estate agency in Manhattan, he moves to Miami to help George Merrick open up Coral Gables and make his father proud. This point-and-click adventure title uses real historical and local figures and bases its events around the Jazz Age, the Great Depression, and two landmark hurricanes. You are a man put in a desperate situation as he repeatedly tries to follow his true American Dream, and you find yourself making unthinkable decisions because you feel for him.

For a small game from a one-man studio, the details are closely attended to. It is fully voice acted with Alfie’s character sounding like a spot-on Rob Lowe impression. The writing is everything you could ask from a period piece, down to corny one-lines like, “Ain’t that just the berries?” The graphics are basic, reminiscent of the pixellated adventures in the 1990s. The developer hit exactly what he was aiming for though the occasional attempts at adding pupils look a little…kooky:

The game is easy by point-and-click standards–and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. For you to make it through your average adventure game with little to no trouble at all, you must follow whatever convoluted logic the creator had while in development. If you can’t get into this often impossible mindset, the only thing you can use is luck. Here you get your options narrowed down and clear tasks asked of you by the self-appointed movers and shakers Alfie works for. Even better is locations disappear from the map of Miami as you finish and find everything you needed to. This means that if you start to take the “click all over the screen and hope for the best” approach, you won’t waste your time somewhere with nothing to find.

Though I appreciate and respect the authenticity in the details, especially considering this title comes from a one-man indie studio, it becomes grating after a while. For example, each time you leave your sales office, you must stick around while Alfie walks to his lemon of a T-Bird, waits for the engine to turn over, and then watch it crawl out of the dusty parking lot.  When working within a genre often filled with wrong turns, missed chances, and careless mistakes, you don’t want to sit through a repetitive and unstoppable animation before you can backtrack to the right place. Some of the descriptions are unneeded. At the beginning of the game, Banks put his hat on his desk. If you clicked on it, he went on to explain that he sets in on his desk because the office doesn’t have a coat rack. Even though said hat played as a catalyst for future events, I still didn’t need to know that.

Technically it was great despite its simplicity. Occasionally I had to restart the game because the text windows started exiting out automatically before I could read them, but it wasn’t a hassle. You can save any time, and the load times are snappy.

For the story alone, I would have to recommend it. It is a small piece of history that I honestly wasn’t aware of but now want to read everything about. At one point you have to persuade William Jennings Bryan to do promotional work for you. Where else can you do that? It is short and more effective for it. If you have any interest in the subject, it is worth playing through with a walkthrough merely to enjoy the pacing and writing.

I read some customer reviews and many said this wasn’t their favorite from the publisher which has me pretty excited to play the others I have waiting for in my library. If it gets better than this, I have a fun few weeks to look forward to.

Stay tuned.

Fight the Power with…Spaghetti? Stick It to the Man Review

Fight the Power with…Spaghetti? Stick It to the Man Review

Stick It to the Man! is an adventure game in the style of old Lucasarts titles. The art style is what you would have if the people in Psychonauts were made out of paper and missing their jaw bones. You are a young man named Ray who works as a hard hat tester who ironically gets hit in the head by a package that falls from the sky. It turns out it held this little alien creature who nests inside his head, giving him the power of what everyone in the game calls a spaghetti arm. With this odd power, he can read people’s minds and borrow their thoughts in the form of stickers fulfill other people’s wishes.

This mechanic gives Stick It to the Man! a clearer path to follow than the old-school point-and-clicks, especially after you help the first NPC in a chapter; this creates a chain reaction of good fortune that a town this dark could probably use a lot more often.

How dark, you ask?

Shhh, you asked.

Early in the game, you come across a magician talking to a medium, attempting to contact his dead wife. The catch? She died when her husband cut off her legs during a magic trick. For his dead wife to find peace and stop haunting the town, you must find her a new set of legs. Once you find these–because yes, you find a spare set of legs lying around town–you can borrow the medium’s turban, taking her power with it. Then you give this to a therapist whose patient is grieving the death of his judgmental father. This lets the son talk to his dad to make peace. When he instead continues to criticize his kid, you can literally paste a smile sticker on the father’s face, giving the father-son duo both the illusion of reconciliation.

The tasks you complete weave a theme throughout the game. So often your invisible interference as a third-party works one of two ways. Either you are a benefit, exposing lies that were used as ammunition (i.e. a set of triplets who tricked one brother into thinking he was the runt instead of the tallest of the three), or you allow the characters to follow desires that are sure to end in disaster (i.e.  reuniting a man with his shallow girlfriend who left at a moment’s notice for an old man with shiny dentures). This gives credibility to both of the clichés–the truth will set you free, and ignorance is bliss.

As with any adventure game, you want to make sure you listen to what everyone says and what they want, or you will get lost. Though the game is fairly easy, the couple of times I got stuck, I had forgotten about a person who was an obvious fit for the sticker, i.e. Santa asking for a chimney. This is where it is helpful to have an inventory if you can use it to your advantage. Though you can only hold one sticker in your hand at a time, you are given infinite pockets that you access with the scroll wheel on your mouse. This, for your average gamer, makes it easy to keep track of what you have, but if you are me, you keep forgetting what you have since it’s not always on the screen. I would never want that since it would clutter the UI and hinder the experience, so my only advice? Don’t be me.

While playing through this game, I kept taking screenshots when I saw something I thought was funny, and now I have too many to show you. I don’t want to spoil the game here, but I’ll post a gallery of them after this review so you can see my favorites. I played this game in one five-hour sitting (and that was with getting confused a couple of times) and am itching to go through it again for laughs, so I think even spoiling some of the jokes and story points won’t ruin the entire experience.

Now the length is perfect for what the game offers. Each chapter introduces a slightly different mechanic and centers around it. One will solely consist of people-pleasing, and the next will only have you avoiding and tricking guards. The only complaint I can think of is that it’s hard to guess how long a section is from the start. You barely play the game for the first two chapters since the first is exposition and the second is a tutorial level. Later in the game, you might spend forty-five minutes on one chapter and then speed through the next in ten minutes or less.

Overall, I adored this game. I had wanted to play it for a while, and I wish I hadn’t waited so long. Now to see what bite-sized game I can power through next.

Stay tuned.