I Feel Like Falling: Mirror’s Edge Review

I Feel Like Falling: Mirror’s Edge Review

There are many reasons first-person platformers are not commonplace–depth perception, mobility, and, most importantly, controls. Mirror’s Edge does everything it can to make the formula work.

Mirror’s Edge tells a story of a world where runners–basically professional parkour enthusiasts–fight against monster-like capitalists. At least that’s what I got from the story. The game was on the shorter side for its big world, so what shone instead of the details were the characters’ relationships. At the center, yo have Faith, a runner, whose only family is her sister Kate, a cop. Without spoiling anything, this dynamic–each other’s everything  on opposite sides of a polarized world–is the meat of the sandwich…Eh, not my best metaphor, but it works.

As for the landscape of the city, I only understand that the Big Bad was the Big Bad because the game said the people in blue were bad. I’m excited for the sequel so that I can learn more about this world. The little information I was given piqued my interest in a way this title never satisfied. I want to feel and understand the political and moral motivation as clearly as I did the familial ones.

Now this game’s mechanics were solid for such an experimental IP. If you play can play with keyboard and mouse, do. The only limitation is the constant need for precise controls of both Faith and the camera. Not only do your jumps need great timing, but so does the direction in which you’re looking. “Runner vision” highlights usable objects and ledges, helping you always know your intended path in this fast-paced game. Sometimes you must run and think about where you’re going later. When leaping towards the side of a building, you have to make sure you point the camera above your intended landing spot, or you will fall short and be treated to the sound of your legs breaking against asphalt below.

In case you haven’t kept up over the months, I obviously loved this gameplay. I wish I could fly across buildings like a cross between a spy and a superhero. Though the controls take some adjusting, the tutorial explains everything and provides the perfect playground on which to practice. You don’t have to leave until you want to, letting you hone your skills before starting the campaign.

As for the graphics, they are still gorgeous years later. The stark colors are still novel with the lands of gray and brown EA normally deal in (ignoring Plants vs. Zombies and Peggle, of course), and it could easily have been made today. One hint though–don’t bother with the PhysX settings. Its incompatibility with my graphics card caused the game to drop to a record low one FPS.

Overall, I adore this title and can’t wait for Catalyst. This too short for its own good title left me unprepared for the credits. Maybe it was too short, or maybe I’m just selfish. Either way, this long awaited –and even longer only rumored–can’t come quick enough.

Not Enough Cthulu: Awakened Remastered Review

Not Enough Cthulu: Awakened Remastered Review

Sherlock Holmes: The Awakened Remastered is the series’ first entry to resemble the games’ now standard formula. Sadly I’m still waiting on a story I don’t lose interest in halfway through.

This game has a darker start than its predecessors from the get go. After noticing blood spatters in town, Holmes ends up in a dark cave full of Cthulu carvings and a mutilated body stuffed with snakes. Yes, everybody, we’ve got some H.P. Lovecraft up in here!

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Cthulu
Cthulu,
Cthulu,
and even more Cthulu.
and even more Cthulu.

Someone in town is performing some dark rituals, and Sherlock Holmes must stop the sacrifices. Exciting, right? While the narrative starts and ends strongly, the middle is muddled and only benefits from its gameplay.

Fro the first time in the series, the great detective is a travelling man, letting the player visit not only nineteenth century London, but New Orleans and Scotland as well. With the obvious exception of Baker Street, Awakened has no backtracking or retracing your steps. Each chapter leads you to a new historic location.

The user interface and controls are even clearer. The icons finally change when hovering over an interactive item. The inventory system isn’t clunky with all the collected items a right-click away. But most exciting of all is that Awakened introduces the series’ WASD controls, something most adventure games don’t dare do. I love the flexibility this allows. It ups the difficulty it takes to find what you’re looking for, but it isn’t the same pixel hunt as past games in the series.

Now I have yet to mention the puzzles, and there is good reason for that–there really weren’t that many. All the puzzles consist of following the culprit’s trail of breadcrumbs across the Atlantic instead of…lots of Sudoku (Can you tell I’m still bitter?).

If you want to get into the series and play them in any sort of order, I would start here. While not the best, it’s far ahead of the previous ones. It is accessible to a new audience while not setting your expectations too high. Just don’t boot it up if you have an issue with reptiles or tentacles.

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.

Final Fantasy VII: Is It Necessary?

Final Fantasy VII: Is It Necessary?

Note: After some much needed family time, I’m back! I had this written up around the time of E3 but am just now getting to typing it up. It might not seem as relevant as when I wrote it, but hey, you know how the cliché goes.

One of best kept secrets at the Sony E3 conference was the upcoming console remake of Final Fantasy VII. Ever since the tech demo for the PS3 showed the potential of recreating Midgar for the modern era, fans have clamored for a full remake. Now nearly ten years later, fans are getting just that. Despite my excitement, I have an unpopular question: is it really necessary?

Graphically, it will clearly look like an improvement. Past and current players argue that its outdated graphics make it inaccessible today, but disagree. While out of the all the games, it is showing its age, I think we need a different one if we are talking about updating graphics for playability’s sake. The FF games from the NES and SNES apparently have timeless graphics, or at least that is what any indie developer would tell you to justify the heaps of pixellated platformers hitting the market lately. FFIX continued with the more classic sprite model. FFX and the entries to follow are all based on the same character style still being used today. That leaves us with the awkward first forays into the use of 3D models with FFVII and FFVIII.

Having played neither of them in their respective hay days, I didn’t have nostalgia obscuring my view of the games. Also I played through all of FFVII and the first disc of FFVIII, so I like to think I can speak on their appearance. FFVIII is not the most popular entry, but I found the way its graphics stretched across a current television impossible to look at after a while. While Cloud and Barrett look like the goofiest polygonal models with Q-tip biceps, their movements and actions in the environment are still clear. On the other hand, Squall looks like the developers tried meld the style of the FMV cutscenes with his sprite in a way that turned out as anything but cohesive.

I’m glad his bit of fan service is finally on its way after so many teases and pieces of misinterpreted information, but uncertainty tempers my excitement. Will this pull resources from the upcoming Final Fantasy XV and any other new games? What if the current team of Square Enix people can’t manage to get lightning to strike twice? Will Cloud rock a dress just as well in HD?

Regardless, I do have a few things I am either looking forward to or hoping happen:

  • Spot-on voice acting. The Kingdom Hearts series did the casting for all the FFVII characters perfectly.
  • Challenging trophies. While ultimately pointless, they make playing ports/remakes/updates more fun.
  • A clearer understanding–or possible update–to the Materia system. Reports suggest a reworking of the battle system, so hopefully this will get tweaked.

As for my long shots?

  • An emotion-filled Cloud.
  • Have the Buster Sword actually be the strongest weapon in the game.
  • Aerith lives…long enough for me to make my white mage a demigod.

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:
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The game gives you these congratulations after everything you do.
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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.

Is This Fun? Papers, Please Review

Is This Fun? Papers, Please Review

I don’t know how to figure out if Papers, Please is fun. Seriously, any barometer of fun I’ve used is incompatible. It is a social experiment, faux history lesson, and paperwork simulator wrapped up in one dark, pixellated ball.

You play as a checkpoint worker for the fictional country Arstotzka, one of many that make up this knock-off Soviet Russia of the 1980s. You must validate passports, entry tickets, and ID cards, while doing your best to keep your family alive. With each citizen you correctly let through or deny entry to, you receive five credits. At the end of the day you must decide how to allocate these funds, whether it is food, heat, medicine, booth upgrades, or other miscellaneous options. More often than not, you have to choose between necessities, crossing your fingers you get through the night.

The complex decisions don’t end there though. Not long into the job, you start to hear from rebel groups. Something fishy is happening in Arstotzka, making you question the validity of your employer’s requests. Then sometimes people in danger show up with improper paperwork, and you must decide between doing your job correctly and helping out. With branching choices every day on the job, there are twenty endings total. I tried to get as many as I could before doing this review, but after landing in jail once for going five credits into debt, I am on a communist hot streak.

This game effectively conveys its messages or at least the ones I got from it. You see how the old and inflexible communist regime only led to further unrest and corruption when left unregulated. Also following rules and traditions without reason is never a good idea. The cliché about knowing who you’re getting into bed with has never been so true.

Overall I can’t stop playing but could never tell you why. Maybe it’s a masochistic need to make me constantly wonder about the fate of my ever-growing family or the adrenaline rush I get when the citation printer starts going. Only thing I can say with certainty is that I clearly have a problem.

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:

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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.