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.

The Summer of Batman

The Summer of Batman

I have a confession to make. Despite my gender-neutral childhood with Polly Pockets and Tonka trucks, I never got invested in superheroes growing up. Maybe it was my aversion to fantasy. Outside of Harry Potter, the same old fairy tales I heard again and again, and medieval movies (ahem, Princess Bride), my favorite pieces of fiction were all based in reality. Instead my full-blown mania was caused by what I sub the summer of Batman.

Three summers ago, I was broke. The mother of the kids I nannyed for cut my hours, and I was paying bills with barely any left over to live off of, only a step above scraping by. With unexpected free time, I was so bored I replayed Final Fantasy XIII and played all of XIII-2. If you know anything about me, I was pretty desperate. I needed something new to throw myself into. Something all-consuming.

I picked up the Game of the Year editions of Batman: Arkham Asylum and Arkham City for PS3 during a crazy summer blowout! I had two straight weeks where I had once again been told the kids were at their dad’s and not my responsibility. After looking online, I mainly bought it for the combat system and stealth sections. Unexpectedly, I fell in love.

Before this game, the only encounter with Batman I had ever had was the Adam West series. I remember watching it as a kid during the summer–incredibly appropriate considering its level of camp–but I never got caught up in the character; I just thought it was funny. When The Dark Knight came out back in 2008, Many people told me I had to see it, oh my goodness, it will change your life, you won’t believe it, I was immediately turned off. For me, it was less of a conscious effort not to show an interest in anything popular but instead a problem with authority. No one had a good reason for me to watch it besides saying it was a good movie or life-changing. So now I was, left at nineteen, with a clean Batty slate.

I still remember starting the first game vividly. I came home from the store, popped it into my PS3. It was late afternoon at this point, and the house was already getting dark. My boyfriend was hesitant to turn lights on until you were likely to break a leg in the darkness. The lightning off the title screen lit up the entire loft area, startling me. In no way was I prepared for atmosphere, but on the initial walk through Arkham Asylum, I learned that style was a strong (Bat)suit.

But as a newbie, I had so many questions.

  • I love that he doesn’t kill people, but he is very okay with concussions and possible brain hemorrhages in this game. As someone whose had ten or so brain surgeries, I can’t get my head around that. If I was a bad guy who probably doesn’t get medical insurance from the Joker, I might just want to die.
  • Can he anonymously lend some of his gadgets and armor to the military? Bullets might take him down faster, but he sure deals with them a lot better than a cop in your normal bulletproof vest. Also, imagine everyone with grappling hooks. Everyone.
  • Does Gotham City not have capital punishment? Some of the people housed in the asylum seem the type to have earned the death penalty at some point.
  • Explosives. Murder bad. But…explosives.
  • Gotham should look into outsourcing their city employees if the rich man who never worked a day in his life is the only who can properly enforce the law. Really, are there any competent workers in town?

Despite so many conflicting logical fallacies in the lore–some of which are probably answered if you look deeper than these games (really, I’m not even trying to answer my own questions)–I loved the gameplay. The combat is simple but so fun. The stealth bits are puzzles of where and when it is best to use which gadgets and skills. The side quests are original and fun. The Riddler challengers are my favorite. From collectibles to actual brain teasers you must solve, they are great. And as you figure them out, you hear him get increasingly more irate. Gotta love getting under the skin of a smug smartypants.

After finishing a majority of both of the games in a matter of weeks, the summer was coming to a close. I was miserable at work with a boss wrapped up in her own life, and all I wanted to do was quit. At this point I was working two jobs to try to make ends meet and never knew when I was working for her. For the first time in my life, I quit. It was no way related to Batman. I probably still would have up and quit my job if I had not picked up the games, but having done so, it adds some vigilante-style poetic justice to my actions.

Since that summer, I’ve definitely showed a lot more interest in superheroes in general. I don’t want to list my credentials though disclaimer: I am sadly not a comic book reader since I wouldn’t know where to start. But all the summer blockbusters are an excellent gateway drug. Any suggestions other than that (movies, books, comics) are welcome! Other than that, 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:

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.

Baby Boggy in the Shallow, Green Swamp: Detective Grimoire Review

Baby Boggy in the Shallow, Green Swamp: Detective Grimoire Review

Detective Grimoire is a PC port of a mobile adventure game developed by SFB Games. Its art style, voice acting, and pacing are spot-on, making the exceedingly easy gameplay a lot easier to swallow.

You play as Detective Grimoire (obviously) as he investigates the murder of the owner of Boggy’s Bog, a tourist attraction smack dab in the middle of the creature by same name’s habitat. Somehow the founder ignored all things logical and ecological and transported the swamp and all of its spookiness to the middle of nowhere, and now the employees are capitalizing on it despite many others disagreeing with the practice. Therefore it is no surprise when the owner turns up dead, and everyone is a suspect.

I know I have complained about mobile ports to PC before (and if you didn’t know, look here), but this is an instance where it works. The basic touch controls translate perfectly to a point-and-click system. The only oddity is the puzzles as they are clearly meant to let the players mess with the touch screen than actually have anything to solve. They are not just easy by adventure game standards–they are easy period. For once I even turned off hints and highlighted areas to amp up the difficulty, and I don’t usually shy away from any help with this genre.

All you have to do is make sure the handles don't cross the middle. That's it. Nothing else.
All you have to do is make sure the handles don’t cross the middle. That’s it. Nothing else.

From simple mazes to mixing primary colors, the puzzles work more like tasks, never making me pause for a moment to think about the solution. There really weren’t very many, keeping it from hindering the gameplay; instead the focus was on conversation.

Usually conversing with NPCs is one of the most tedious parts of the genre, but here it was the highlight of the entire experience. Outside of a few set dialogue options, you are free to present clues and the profiles of other suspects as you please. You can either take the efficient path where you try to only ask about relevant evidence (how I started) or ask them about anything and everything you have in your trenchcoat’s pockets (how I ended up playing).

 

The requisite joke about video games.
The requisite joke about video games.
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The inexplicable logic of inventory systems.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The interrogations are the best part. By asking questions and uncovering clues, you get a dialogue option called, “Challenge,” for each suspect. Here you can ask them a series of questions that will catch them in a lie, get them to tell the entire truth, or make them remember something important, OF course these are in line with the game’s overall easy difficulty, working like a multiple choice test where you get an infinite number of retakes. Sometimes you get to choose your own witty banter between important conversations, letting you decide what kind of smartass detective you want to be.

If you are a completionist, this game’s default interface will get you excited. It’s littered with percentages for you to max out, and your notes have blank spaces for every piece of evidence you have yet to find.

100 percent has never come so easily.
100 percent has never come so easily.

 

And every time you do find a new clue, you get a chime. Actually, the entire game’s sound design is spot on. All the noises for right and wrong answers and the variations in the score are as beneficial to the mood and setting as the writing and art style. The few chosen moments of silence are expertly done, the screen going dark, the font turning read, and the character’s voice deepening ever so slightly.

Overall Detective Grimoire was a quirky piece of noir I was hoping for, and not even the lack of challenge could bring it down. If you are looking for a few hours of oddities worthy of modern-day Cartoon Network, check it out. Now for you to wait and find out when I will ever get off of this adventure game kick. 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.

I Was Blinded by Science: Sokobond First Thoughts

I Was Blinded by Science: Sokobond First Thoughts

Sokobond is a PC puzzle game that combines logic, strategy, and chemistry into a simple and slick experience, but it does not come without its difficulty.

Your main goal on each level is to create a molecule using the atoms given. You can only control how one of the elements moves and cannot rotate it at will. This means the path you need to take to form the mystery molecule is the real challenge, not identifying which one you are trying to form. I have to say that thrilled me considering my abounding love for puzzles and complete ignorance to many of the basics of science. Despite doing decently in Chemistry in college, I can’t for the life of me remember what determines how many electrons an atom has and at this odd hour of night can’t find an explanation that makes sense. If you are smarter than me and the knowledge is of any use to you though, I have yet to meet an element with any more than four electrons though make sure to consider that I have only solved half the puzzles.

The visuals are clean and uncomplicated, only illustrating what is necessary for the task at hand. The atom you control moves promptly by using the arrow keys, and I have yet to encounter a problem with responsiveness or accuracy of movement. Luckily the game comes with an undo button, letting you go back one move, something helpful in a game with an infinite number of turns. Instead of a linear progression, you gain access to all locked levels touching the one you just finished on the grid which is starting to take the shape of the periodic table. This unique way of accessing levels allows you to move on to another puzzle when you get stuck, helping squelch some of the frustration I felt with the more difficult ones.

The best part of this game is subtle–the learning. The win screen after each level is a clear lesson. You get information on the molecule you created–what it is, where it’s found in the real world, its uses, and other interesting facts. Here are few of many:

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What you don’t realize is happening is you’re developing a slow understanding of how molecular make-up works. I was never an expert at chemistry in high school, but now I know that atoms bond through their electrons and must stop once they run out of free ones; atoms can even double and triple bond if there are enough free electrons. If schools used this level of interactivity and creativity for the more complex subjects such as math or science, we would all be better off.

Stay tuned.