A Look At the Mirror’s Edge Catalyst Beta

A Look At the Mirror’s Edge Catalyst Beta

At some point in time, I registered for the closed beta for EA’s upcoming Mirror’s Edge Catalyst and then promptly forgot about it. Therefore I was surprised to find my access code in my email last Friday morning. After entering that code Saturday morning (okay, afternoon) with my cup of coffee, my weekend disappeared.

After playing the first Mirror’s Edge last summer, I was salivating for a sequel. It was hard to imagine having to wait nearly a decade for any new parkour endeavors. The first game only dipped its shock-conducing tennis shoe soles into its dystopian world and felt more like an experiment than a full-fledged idea. With nine years to ruminate and rethink Catalyst is everything I wanted from the inaugural title—at least from what I could tell from the beta.

The beta had the first four main missions and any available side missions, upgrades, and collectibles. It’s clear from the start that Catalyst suffers from the early stages of today’s open-world epidemic. While Mirror’s Edge had linear chapters with a few collectibles in each, Catalyst has a map filled with markers for delivery missions, player-created time trials, and runner bags filled with graffiti decals. Fortunately I’m not sick of open-world games, but if you are, you’ve been warned.

The game opens with Faith’s release from a juvenile detention center run by KrugerSec, a fairly in media res start for a long-awaited sequel. So far there’s no mention of Kate or the dramatic rooftop ending to the first game. After getting her GPS monitor for her parole, Faith gets pulled away by her old runner gang, reinstating her fugitives status only three minutes into her lawful freedom. Now she’s back to running missions to earn scrip and pay back her debts to Dogen.

The three biggest changes in Catalyst are the structure, and the addition of an upgrade tree, and the combat system. Instead of completing each chapter in order, you can complete the main missions at your own pace, choosing to freelance and run deliveries or hack security systems instead. You won’t want to get too far off track because while you earn experience with everything you do, your available upgrades only grow as you progress through the main campaign.

The upgrade tree consists of three categories: movement, combat, and gear. While the latter two are straightforward, the movement tree is frustrating. Most of the options were moves that were available at the start of the first game—rolling, quick turning, and lifting your legs to gain speed. From what I could tell, you unlock these early on, but nothing is earlier than usable in the tutorial.

As for the performance, it ran moderately well on my mid-range PC when I put the settings on low. The main issue I had was a slowdown whenever I started running. In general it was tolerable, but it made some of the more difficult timed delivery missions impossible. Why does the timer start while the environment is still loading in?

Mirror’s Edge Catalyst releases next month, and I can’t wait. To enjoy it fully, definitely make sure our computer can handle it. Platforming takes precision, and that’s hard to do when you fall off the building before the game registers you hit jump.

…or maybe that’s just me.

Stay tuned.

Sunless Sea: Games I Should Have Played

Sunless Sea: Games I Should Have Played

Like most plans on this site, I was going to put together a “Games I wished I’d Played” list. Then I messed it up by going and, well, playing those games. So here is the first of a few belated 2015 reviews.

Now let’s talk about Sunless Sea.

The world and lore in Sunless Sea comes from Failbetter Games’ original title Fallen London. I stumbled upon Fallen London in 2014 when I was waiting on a shunt surgery and was having trouble with any game with lights and movement, i.e. all of them. Fallen London is a free browser roleplaying game that takes place in a dystopian Lovecraftian London. You create a character, talk to people, and go through stories based on choice, RNG, and skill checks. Sunless Sea takes all of this and adds ship combat, survival skills, and cannibalism.

It’s kind of the best.

I’ll start with character creation. You don’t do much. First name your character and pick an avatar. Then pick your ambition; this dictates if you have won the game. Search for your father’s bones, gain riches, or explore the world. Last pick your past. Whether you choose a poet, veteran, or priest, each provides a different initial stat boost.

Stats, you say? Are there skill trees? Experience? Unimaginable wealth?

…No.

But your odds improve with RNG. Let’s be honest. Unless you are out sailing, this game plays like a choose-your-own-adventure novel on plutonium. Pick sides in wars between mice and guinea pigs. Sneak human souls past Fallen London’s customs—if you can. Barter with a gorilla mayor. It’s all up to you.

Sunless Sea breaks modern conventions, reinventing older ones instead. All these events happen through text and RNG. Make choices and use stats such as Hearts, Mirrors, and Veils (I know, nothing in this game is normal) to try and succeed. Think a tabletop RPG with less flexibility.

Then you get to the more modern part of the game. To travel from place to place, you captain your upgradable ship around, manned by officers you recruit and supported by crew you hire in Fallen London. Stock the hold with fuel, supplies, and nefarious wares. Your map starts off looking like the cartographer spill ink all over the page, and you must fill it out through exploration and a lot of patience. The ship has two speeds—molasses and maple syrup—and it takes many real world minutes to sail between ports. Fortunately finding each new area is rewarding for several reasons. By discovering new places, you advance the plot, uncover moneymaking opportunities, and find different stories that you use as currency. The people, animals, and creatures at each port are willing to trade goods and information for tidbits from other lands. Traveling lets you learn secrets, find treasure, and slowly discover the details of the world. The only way to win is to keep finding new places to make progress finishing your current ambition.

Now I’ve been keeping something from you. This game is a roguelike, meaning I died three times in my first two hours of playing. To stay alive you must keep your crew fed and your ship fueled. You must avoid getting wounded and keep your ship from getting destroyed. You must survive random encounters such as mutiny and the wrath of the gods. For a game that at its core is a text adventure, Sunless Sea asks a lot of the player’s survival skills and ability to plan and prioritize. If you get caught too far from home waters with a dwindling crew and no fuel or supplies, you better have eleven different back-up plans.

If none of your hopes and dreams pan out and you end up dying at sea, you have a couple of choices to make from the afterlife. If you got far enough in the game to own real estate and write a will, your property transfers to your next captain. There are also several legacies you can leave for your next character depending on what you did in the game. None of these are mutually exclusive. Unlike the legacies, you can only choose one “Warrants of Redemption”. This decides what stats, supplies, and officers roll over to your next playthrough.

Pro tip: always choose the Correspondent warrant. It lets your map roll over all the areas you explored and without having the map randomized the port’s locations. Exploration is painstaking for your first few captains, so it helps ease the pain of death that you will at least know where you are going when travelling the next time around.

Now after all of this talk about death, let’s talk about winning. I’ll be honest. I have played thirty hours of Sunless Sea, and I have yet to win. I came close once, but then there was a mutiny aboard my ship, killing me and sinking my ship. Completing your ambition takes a long time since they all require many hours of sailing. The only way you can end the game without dying is by retiring in Fallen London. If you find your father’s bones or whatever you set out to do and retire, that’s considered a win. If you feel satisfied with a run or are ready to start over, you can still retire; it’s considered a draw. Even if you succeed and complete your ambition but die at sea before retiring, that’s a loss.

So play carefully, win slowly, and die strategically.

Like I said, nothing about this game is normal. Thank goodness.

Stay tuned.

My (Very Short) Games of the Year!

My (Very Short) Games of the Year!

Last time my year-end round-up focused on what HD remakes I had played that year. For me 2014 was more about replaying new versions of old games I played either as a kid or as a teenager. Fortunately I managed to play a grand total of FIVE games from 2015, four of them for PC.

Lucky for me, that means no picking and choosing but instead ranking very single game I played that released this year.

So let’s get it started already.

5. Gravity Ghost

First things first—if you read my review, you know I don’t hate Gravity Ghost. Between the heartwarming/soul crushing story, art style, and relaxing gameplay, I loved the afternoon I spent with it. And by I loved the afternoon, I mean I laid on the floor crying with my dog after finishing.

I also want to make it clear it ranks over many games I played this year. It is only outranked by these.

Damn, I still feel guilty.

This game is perfect for if you are stressed. The physics-based levels are not precise, but watching the swirls of the girl’s white hair and the colorful planets against the twinkling dark sky are entrancing.

The number of levels is perfect too. While so many games this year looked to pack in content of varying degrees of quality, Gravity Ghost curates its short levels down to roughly a hundred short experiences, never overstaying its welcome.

4. Witcher 3: Wild Hunt

When looking back, I will remember 2015 as the year of the Witcher. Since the summer, I have played—and nearly completed—all three games in the series. This year I got invested in the characters, lore, and politics of Temeria and the Nilfgaardian empire.

So why number four?

Once again I enjoyed others more. Though I had fun the entire way through, the Witcher 3‘s main plot was not paced as well as its predecessors. Without spoiling anything, Witcher 3‘s second and third act could have easily been combined. Even more confusing, the first act somehow consisted of three separate story arcs. My English major sensibilities of the traditional dramatic structure and five acts plays are seriously shaken by this.

With a game that takes a minimum of eighty hours to finish—and that’s with barely exploring the map—it must have a logical pacing to propel the player forward. So while I enjoyed nearly everything about it, the way it drug on in the second half killed it for me.

Also I am an insensitive prick with no understanding of human emotion who ended up alone despite romancing Triss for three games straight.

3. Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate

The one title not on PC, but it released this year in North America and took up a lot of time.

Fun story first: Over the summer, I was visiting my parents with my then seven month old and newly adopted puppy Remy, I was running errands and didn’t have his kennel with me, so I left him in my childhood room alone for a couple hours without thinking about the 3DS I left on the charger.

I came back to find carnage. Remy ate the charger first, pulling the 3DS free in the process. Then he pulled my Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate cartridge free and chewed it to bits. Then he spent the rest of his time nibbling at the plastic around the game slot.

And that’s how my dog killed more monsters in two hours than I did in a hundred.

Anyway this was my first Monster Hunter game, and it was the perfect place to start. Whenever in combat, I rarely think strategically, but Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate forced me to. Every weapon and monster means you must fight a different way, and if you aren’t efficient and don’t focus on offense and defense, you will just die. It was a great game and a learning experience.

Now my boyfriend always complains that I refuse to play multiplayer, I might have to soon. Since getting my new copy, I have yet to hunt a single monster.

Maybe I’ll need his help now.

2. Dying Light

One of my top choices for superpowers is to parkour like runners in Mirror’s Edge or, in this case, Dying Light

As my first zombie game, it did not disappoint, but the movement system is what won me over. The closest I will ever come to flying is scaling city buildings in record time using my brute strength.

What I appreciated most was how well the game rationalized its apocalypse:

  • The zombie virus broke out at the Olympics, explaining the speed with which it spread, and the number and diversity of both zombies and survivors.
  • Because of the athletic nature of the event, it also explains how so many people are capable of the feats displayed in the game.
  • The area is in quarantine, meaning the rest of the world is not infected, but there is a temporary cure that holds off the virus if you take regular doses.

Basically it wins the logic versus mechanics award of the year, and in a medium where you must suspend your disbelief and more than I wish, I appreciate the sense Dying Light makes.

And the winner is…

Remy the Monster Hunter!

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Just kidding, it’s Her Story

And I know, I know. I chose an indie darling. Sue me.

But don’t because I’m super broke.

Her Story has stuck with me. I still vividly remember when and where I was when I played it on release after counting down the days until its release. My nana had died the week before, and I was at my boyfriend’s parent’s house in their living room alone. I sat at their table, pretending I was a detective.

It wins the award for being the only game I played by myself this year without Netflix playing in the background.

If you argue it’s not a game, you’re silly because it has a clear win state and a database to complete. But honestly, I also appreciate pleasant discourse, so feel free to comment what you think.

I love its disjointed narrative and how what it’s about is still debated to this day.

I love the slow reveal of who you’re playing as in the game.

I love the silly nineties desktop user interface, complete with the glare that comes from the old rounded monitors.

I love how something so simple conceptually could feel so big to me.

I love it all.

Next up: The games I wish I had played in 2015.

Stay tuned.

The Renesmee of Item Shops: Recettear Review

The Renesmee of Item Shops: Recettear Review

After my long break while I attempted NaNoWriMo and fell eighteen thousand words short with a game-ending illness on Thanksgiving, here I am back with a new review while I put off gathering my Game of the Year thoughts.

Recettear is a hybrid between a dungeon crawler, a management game, and a roguelike as well as a bitch to spell. Recette is the daughter of an item shop owner who decides to go out on an adventure and never returns—you know, like all responsible single parents. She mopes alone until the item shop’s proprietor, Tear, shows up and demands payment. After realizing the situation at hand, Tear helps Recette open the item shop back up in hopes of getting Recette back on her feet and getting her money back. Recette must make weekly payments on time or Tear shuts the whole place down.

As for the name? It it literally Recette and Tear mushed together like an impossible-to-pronounce sandwich. It’s Twilight all over again.

Recettear falls across multiple genres while still playing from the perspective of the unsung hero of RPGs—the merchant who buys and sells all the random stuff you need. First you must manage the item shop, setting prices, haggling, and mastering the buy-low and sell-high philosophy. As you gain experience and your merchant level grows, you can take orders ahead of time and buy items from customers.You can purchase items from the guilds in town if your stock is running low, or tag along with an adventurer to pick up treasure.

That’s where the dungeon crawling comes in. In this town, adventurers give their cards to merchants, vowing to give their loot to them after finishing a dungeon. You get to play as them though, enjoying classic hack ‘n slash combat as a break from the business world.

As for the roguelike elements, if you don’t make your payments to Tear on time, the game resets, putting you back at day one. Fortunately your merchant level and inventory persist, making it easier to make the earlier payments each time.

I could never figure out whether Recettear’s difficulty had more to do with chance or skill. Because of supply and demand, items sometimes sell for either triple or a third of their normal price, meaning you can make a week’s worth of profits in a day or go broke before the end of the week. I found myself reloading old saves repeatedly, trying new strategies for each week I failed. Unfortunately the price changes are not set but instead randomized, meaning you can never count on the same circumstances twice.

One part of the game irritated me more than any other: the customers. Not all of them, of course, but this small game only has a few customers. You have the old man who thinks you’re ripping him off, the little girl who thinks your prices are unfair, the dithering husband sent by his wife, and the housewife whose rebelling against your prices. While clearly a way of saving time on character models, they still all haggle the same. If you have a day where your only customers are little girls, there is a good chance your day will end at a loss. If the old man spends all day shouting “Make it cheaper, girlie!”, you might voluntarily close your shop down.

Overall, Recettear is loads of fun, even if the odds don’t always go your way. (I almost made an “odds be ever in your favor” Hunger Games joke there, but I refrained. You’re welcome.) If you want relaxing dungeon crawls and a nerve-wracking management in your life, this is the only way to go.

Stay tuned.

The Evolution of the Witcher 3: Wild Hunt

The Evolution of the Witcher 3: Wild Hunt

Fun fact: I was hoping to do a review on the game soon, but considering I’ve been playing eighty hours and I’m still not done with the first act, that clearly isn’t happening any time soon. Bless the hearts of anyone who reviewed this at release because I can’t imagine rushing this game. So far the scaling makes it possible to mainline the story quests, but why would you want to? Most of the character interactions and quest variety is in the details.

Like Assassin of Kings, Wild Hunt made a lot of effort to revamp a lot of aspects of the series. Some revert back to the original title, some meld both its predecessors, and some are all its own. Let’s go ahead and break it down.

This title adds in some missing open world concepts and basic logic. Players get a comprehensive world map with no limitations on travel. No long do you fail quests just for not finishing them in an unspecified time limit. So far quests tied to characters remain active–even after they leave the current area. With the increase in content, that’s appreciated. I could barely make sense of the proper order to finish quests in the previous titles; there’s no way I could do it now.

With these new, sprawling maps, you can fast travel. With the confined spaces and joy of exploration in the first two, I didn’t mind. But here the maps are so big that more of your time playing would consist of backtracking than anything else. You have to walk or ride your horse until you unlock an area’s signpost.

Same goes for searching all the question marks on the map. It feels like the game was jumbo-sized to offset this new convenience. I love it. I’ll fast travel to a nearby village or mountainside and clear out all the monster nests, abandoned sites, and hidden treasure.

Now that I’m done acting like the first person to ever play an open world game, let’s get to the systems that are constants in the series: alchemy, inventory, and combat.

Alchemy

The alchemy system is an odd one. It harks back to needing a strong alcohol base to make everything, but you only need to make bombs, blade oils, and potions once. After using the materials the first time, you’re given three to five uses depending on the recipes–normal, enhanced, and superior, respectively–and once these run out, you must meditate. If you still have alcohol in your inventory, the system replenishes your used items. It’s odd because I feel like I have better access to alchemy materials now that I don’t need as many.

You do have recipes for exhaustible items, but they are mainly for magical alchemy ingredients and some alcohol bases. It’s a weird circle, but I enjoy it. I get a big thrill from finally tracking down everything necessary for a new kind of bomb or a manuscript page for an upgraded potion.

Inventory

Now the inventory system is the love child of the first two in the series. The beautiful grid system is back, letting you better visualize what’s in your pockets. But you have unlimited slots, your capacity limited by the weight of the items instead–just like the second. You can carry more by using upgraded saddlebags, a weird one logically but is still useful. Still, I like it even with the weight component.

Combat

Now the combat is WONDERFUL–even with the group style still not making a comeback. You have your normal signs, fast and strong attacks, and wheel of doom a.k.a where you keep all the bombs. You can finally drink potions with a button press again, and you can use a crossbow to auto-target flying enemies. Dodging only takes two key presses in the direction you want to go. Honestly it is not all that different from the second game’s combat, but the few tweaks make it smoother and simpler.

An important PSA: only attempt to steal while breaking and entering. The guys won’t stop you from entering strange houses, but don’t you d are rifle through barrels in plain daylight. Finally the Witcher has added some logic to its looting. If a guard sees you pilfer a bottle of dwarven spirit, he will rain down his axe, but guards and home and store owners don’t mind you clearing out their entire inventory of broken oars and silver platters.

Also I hate water levels, just so you know.

Stay tuned.

Division of Puzzle Research: Puzzle Agent Series Review

Division of Puzzle Research: Puzzle Agent Series Review

The Puzzle Agent series consists of two games from Telltale stemming from them collaborating with animator Graham Annable that feel like watered-down Professor Layton games.

The series follows FBI agent Nelson Tethers as he investigates the shutdown of eraser factory in Scoggins, Minnesota. If that doesn’t sound odd enough for the federal government, Tethers works in the Puzzle Research division, and one of his co-workers is in the Vegetable Crimes division. With that said, Puzzle Agent is a modern callback to the silliness of the pre-Walking Dead Telltale game. Considering Annable worked on the Sam and Max games, this vibe makes sense, and the understated humor is what motivated me through the slower parts of the game.

Now like I said, the structure is identical to the Professor Layton games. You get straightforward story bits bookending logic puzzles of all sorts. So let’s break it down the same way.

The story is fun and quirky. Tethers is investigating the eraser factory because the ones from Scoggins are the unnamed President’s favorite. The townspeople are fascinated with puzzles and gnomes, unusual and slightly chilling for this small and snowy town. Those little lawn ornaments have never been as creepy as when they start showing up in unlikely places–and not always inanimate.

At best, the story progression is awkward. The dialogue and voice-acting is slow, and though that suits the small town, it’s not necessary. If the scrolling text in the speech bubbles went faster, I could forgive the slower voice overs. It especially doesn’t help that much of the dialogue sets the tone more than it furthers the story, making this molasses-style pace all the more impossible.

Both Puzzle Agent and its sequel feel less like two separate games and more like a two-chapter story, the first act being the first game and the other two in the second. The first ends with zero resolution, and the second ends with way too much.

Still I enjoyed the characters and the writing, my problems lying mainly with the chosen delivery method.

Now the puzzles were great though the game’s interface for them was a frustrating miss. You get your jigsaws, your ordering events, your who-ate-what dinner parties, your birds smuggling gnomes–all your average puzzle game offerings. They are all fun though sometimes so easy you don’t realize the obvious answer. Other times you can’t figure it out because the puzzle is vaguely worded.

This is the only time I feel it’s necessary to talk about the two games separately instead of as a unit. The first Puzzle Agent‘s puzzles are perfect. At no point were they unfair or poorly worded. Any time I got stuck or second-guessed myself, it was my fault. All you needed was the information the game gave you, your brain, and maybe a piece of paper if your spatial reasoning skills are shit like mine. After these great puzzles, the second game has a poor choice of words and insists you know concepts like binary code, astronomy, and calculus. Seriously, I only made it through one of the game’s puzzles because I knew dx comes after an integral sign, and googling binary code for the number four.

The frustrating thing both puzzles had in common though was their awful choice of an interface. At no point can you see both the rules and the solving area. If you’re solving a logic puzzle with five constraints, you better write those down or be okay with constantly flipping between the two screens. I used so much scrap computer paper to save on this. You solve the puzzles in a manila envelope, so it wouldn’t be hard to fathom you putting multiple pieces of paper beside each other. Ugh.

Overall, I don’t think these were great puzzle games, but they were a nice way of packaging some fun logic puzzles. Instead of feeling like a fleshed-game despite so few mechanics like the Professor Layton series manages every time, Puzzle Agent and Puzzle Agent 2 manage to make you cross your fingers you’re about to run into another puzzle before you’re bored or the game crashes.

Stay tuned.

 

Transistor Review Stream

Transistor Review Stream

Hey guys!

Later tonight I’m trying something a little different. I finished Transistor last week but am going to play through the New Game Plus mode as a way of reviewing it without spoiling it. I fell in love with this one so much, I want to experience with y’all!

Come hang out at my channel twitch.tv/heycrumbles at 9:30 p.m. EST. Woo!

1, 2, 3, 4: Counting Kingdom Mini-Review

1, 2, 3, 4: Counting Kingdom Mini-Review

Counting Kingdom is an edutainment that I think is meant for kids but was still fun to play through in one sitting on a Saturday night–because I am thrilling.

As the defender of this kingdom, you must fend off number monsters by adding them up to equal the numbers in your spellbook. You use potions to change the numbers on the board, freeze lines of monsters, and clear entire rows of foes. All of this is turn-based, so you don’t have to add too quickly. You could even use a calculator if you really wanted to.

I know this all sounds incredibly simple, and that’s for a couple of reasons. One, because it is, and two, the element of chance does up the difficulty in the later levels. The basic gameplay is very easy, making it ideal for helping your kids with addition or just helping you fine-tune your basic math skills. You can even combine the numbers on your spell cards to make it so you can clear more monsters off the board at once. If you clear the entire board in one move, you get a score bonus. The difficulty comes in when some monsters appear, and you suddenly can’t cast a single spell. You can only use monsters that are in adjacent spaces, and you have no control over neither the rows they enter from and nor the order they appear. This can leave you restarting levels on a game meant for children. I had to try some of the later levels multiple times before making it through with three stars, and it was all because of the chance.

Either way it is a fun learning tool for children and great to play together. I had fun playing by myself as an adult, but I also love math, so I could be an outlier. It’s cheap on PC and even cheaper on mobile, so it’s great for a day at home or a night on the go.

Stay tuned.

Whodunnit? MURDERED SOUL SUSPECT Review

Whodunnit? MURDERED SOUL SUSPECT Review

MURDERED SOUL SUSPECT is an investigative game that tries many different mechanics but succeeds in very few of them.

You play as Ronan, a detective who is thrown out of a window and shot at the start of the game. From there he must figure out who killed him and why before he can leave the in-between plane on earth. Ronan gets assistance from a young girl named Joy, a medium who witnessed his murder. Between her account of the events and a symbol left at the scene of the crime, he suspects a serial killer dubbed the Bell Killer took him down and must follow his trail around Salem, Massachusetts. It sounds like a thrilling concept but was somehow so boring that I kept skipping cutscenes in a story-based game. In case you haven’t realized by now, that is unheard of for me.

There are two main reasons I couldn’t stomach the narrative. One Ronan is unlikable and barely redeemable as a protagonist. His only personality trait is TOUGH, a postmortem cigarette always in hand. His only backstory is that he’s a bad boy who reformed for his now-dead wife and joined the police force. There’s nothing about him that makes me want to make sure he reunites with his wife on the other side. Besides being one-dimensional and boring, he is mean. The young girl Joy who is helping him is also looking for her missing mother. When she says halfway through the journey that her priority is to find her missing mother because there’s a chance she’s, you know, not a ghost, he calls her a bitchy teen. What’s worse? She apologizes for being too harsh. At that point I went from uninterested to wishing I could make sure he lost in the end.

Along with a leading man I couldn’t stand, the story is entirely too predictable. MURDERED SOUL SUSPECT makes the common noir mistake of using predictable red herrings. They are supposed to throw you off of the real suspect’s trail, but I never believed one of the misdirections for a minute. On the other hand, the ending was still satisfying. I saw neither the real culprit nor his or hers motive coming. If the writers had left out all the false flags, the story would have been strong. It wasn’t predictable from the start, so why the need to try so hard?

Outside of the story, the gameplay and mechanics didn’t do much to draw me in either. The investigations felt less like I was playing a detective novel and more like I was playing a glorified hidden object game without a word bank. All you do is run around the area in third person and hope a keyboard prompt pops up. At no point do you get to reconstruct the crime scene or try to make sense of the clues after you find them. Instead you sometimes answer the question, “Which clue is relevant?” Um, I like to think they all are since I spent a half hour searching the room for them. Other times you are asked to determine the order of events, but the events given have no logical time stamp on them. They are regular clues that happened in no particular order, leaving you to click on everything and using trial and error to figure out the solution.

Outside of the investigating, you spend a lot of time hunting down collectibles that contain extra story bits, and somehow this is a lot more fun. While both used the same mechanic–searching aimlessly in a limited area–not collecting every piece of lore didn’t hold up my progression for a half hour. Not finding the clue hidden behind a picture that I swear wasn’t clickable the first ten times I looked does.

Now one of my biggest pet peeves not only in games but in everything with a story is something that doesn’t keep its own rules. At the beginning of the game, tutorial Wednesday Addams tells you that you can walk through walls, but not into buildings without an open window or door, but sometimes you can, and sometimes there are ghost walls you can’t walk through even though they have the word ghost in them, and are you getting my point? You never know where you can go and when because MURDERED SOUL SUSPECT wants to pretend it has some logic to it when really the developers didn’t want to abide by any set of rules. For example you can walk through mausoleums without anyone letting you in, but not other places around town. Why? You tell me.

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See, I wasn’t exaggerating.

Also while the game has no map, you do get waypoints that lead you to your destination, making me wonder why there couldn’t be a map in the first place. Ronan is a local, so why you have to wander around Salem like a tourist who spilled Gatorade all over her map is completely illogical. I wish the developers had at least taken on the approach that large-scale RPG makers do where locations become available on a map as you explore them. Backtracking to find collectibles was nearly impossible because everything in town looks the same, and the waypoints constantly rubber-banded in terms of how far away I was from my destination. The moment you got only a few meters away, you were either met with an impassable obstacle or the distance suddenly went back up to thirty or so meters.

Now I know Salem’s residents weren’t the brightest back during the Witch Trials, but they haven’t seemed to get any smarter. To keep the town from feeling empty, the developers programmed NPCs to wander around the streets in the same pattern over and over again. Considering the game takes place in the middle of the night while a serial killer is on the loose, deserted streets would make sense. Instead we get a bunch of insomniac townspeople with no sense of self-preservation.

My last complaint is specific to the PC version. The menus and inventory were hard to navigate because every time you opened them up, you never knew whether you need the keyboard or the mouse to move around. I would spend minutes throwing my mouse around before I realized it wasn’t working and needed to use the arrow keys. the bane of a right-handing PC gamer’s existence.

In case you can’t tell, I couldn’t wait for this game to end after playing for only an hour. It was full of ideas that were never fleshed out, and an impossibly impossible story. It’s frustrating and not worth your time.

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.